It’s been a while since I’ve had anyone over for a cuppa and a chat, and who better to begin the new year than Kate Forsyth, who just came in at number 22 on Booktopia’s list of Australia’s Top 50 Favourite Bloggers?
I remember seeing Kate speak several years ago at a Romance Writers’ Conference, and being in awe of her ability to talk sensibly about world-building and characterisation. Her fantasy and historical novels, for children and adults, are sweeping stories of epic proportions, in which readers truly enter a different world. And she makes it look easy.
I met Kate again at an Australian Writers’ Centre lunch (she’s a presenter, I’m an online tutor) last year and nearly fell off my chair when she casually mentioned that she’s written more than 20 books. Egad!
So I thought I’d best get her in here to find out exactly how she does it.
AT: You’ve written more than 20 books across different genres – adult, children’s, poetry – but much of your work has been in the area of fantasy – what is it that drew you to fantasy in the first place?
Kate Forsyth: “I have always loved reading books that are filled with history, suspense, romance and magic – and so that is what I like to write. About half of my books are old-fashioned heroic fantasy, and the other half are historical novels with a twist of magic in them. All of my books draw upon the deep well of myth and fairy tale and folklore. Why am I drawn to such stories? I don’t know. It’s part of the mystery of creation.”
When you first began writing fantasy, it wasn’t overly fashionable, but it seems to me that that has changed – why do you think that has happened?
KF: “I don’t actually agree with you there. When my first fantasy novel, Dragonclaw, was published in June 1997, I was luck enough to catch a massive tidal wave of interest in fantasy. Robert Jordan, Tad Williams and Robin Hobb were all selling strongly, and the first Harry Potter book was published in the same month as mine. My timing couldn’t have been better if I had planned it that way.
“It is true fantasy fiction had languished a little in the 1980s, when lit-grit ruled, but by the late 1990s it was very popular. Australian authors such as Sara Douglass had already proved that Australians were prepared to buy up local fantasy titles in a big way (as long as they were good!). Why was fantasy so hot then (and now)? I believe it is because readers had got so tired of self-referential post-modernist texts and were longing for a return to narrative. Crime and romance and other strong narrative genres also became very popular around that time, and continue to sell very well.
“Basically, I believe people love a good story … one that makes you laugh and cry and gasp and fear … and that is what I always try and create.”
What are the core elements of a fantasy novel?
KF: “A big story, in every sense of the word. Big ideas, big problems, big drama, big action. Characters you can love, and love to hate. A fascinating world that feels real. A plot full of twists and turns and switches and surprises. And, possibly most importantly, sincerity. I think the writer has to care about what she or she is writing, and have a story they’re genuinely compelled to write.”
Where do you begin when you’re writing one – world building, character?
KF: “I always begin with the story. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about it, and about the people who might inhabit such a story, and the place it might be set. I only begin to write once I have a strong sense of the shape of the story, its narrative arc. I always know my beginning and my end, and a few key scenes along the way, before I start writing.”
Your new novel, The Wild Girl (out April 2013), is not fantasy, but still has its roots in fairytales, an area of strong interest for you. Do fairytales still have a place in a world where facts and information are so much a part of our daily life?
KF: “Of course! Fairy tales, like all stories, are essential to human beings. They encode the life lessons we all need to learn. They teach us empathy and wisdom, and they offer us an escape into boundless possibility, enabling us to re-imagine the way our world should be.”
Last question, how do you write so many books? Do you have a strict writing schedule?
KF: “Well, I write all day nearly every day. During the week, I’m usually at my desk from 10am to 6pm with a short break for lunch. One the weekend, I usually only write for a couple of hours, and quite often I only write in my diary or work longhand in my notebook to give myself a break from the computer. Of course, when I’m on a research trip or touring for publicity I don’t write so much – but then I really miss it. I love the discipline of what I do, the intensity of focus. I don’t know how else to do it!”