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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Interview with Kate Forsyth, author of 'The Wild Girl'

This week I read and loved Kate Forsyth's new book 'The Wild Girl'. A beautiful, epic love story about the power of stories and dreams. Forsyth takes the tales we've all grown up knowing by heart, and shows us how little we actually understand of their origins and meaning - to show us that sometimes, stories are more about the telling than the tale. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. 


Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ - that is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?
I use both methods, to be honest. In the early stages, as I'm daydreaming about the book and beginning to see my way clear, I very much trust the story to evolve naturally in my imagination. I do a lot of research and jot down lots of thoughts, images and ideas, and try to get a sense of my characters and so forth. I then begin to plan my story, but again in a very natural and intuitive way. I cannot start writing until I have the novel's title and my first line, and a clear sense of where the story is going. I also like to know how its going to end, and a number of important scenes along the way. As I begin to write, I will discover more about the story and its shape will become clear to me. Then I usually write very swiftly, holding it all together in my mind. New ideas will come, earlier ideas will be abandoned, the story will knit itself together ... and I really love that process.

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘The Wild Girl’, from first idea to final manuscript?
It took quite a few years, but that's mainly because I was working on my novel BITTER GREENS during those years too. The idea came to me because of research I was doing for that novel, and so I had to wait till it was done and I had the space and time clear to really begin to work on THE WILD GIRL.  The research was intensive, so that took absolute ages. Once that was all done, the actual writing took me about nine months to a year. 

 Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?
I always begins with the story, and it grows from there. Usually the idea comes to me in a flash, and then I get all excited . I get more ideas than I can ever write, though, and it can be quite hard to put the idea away and keep focusing on the job in hand. I tend to write the idea down in a notebook, put it away in my bottom drawer, and then go back to the novel I'm meant to be writing. 

Q: You had me from the Foreword with this book, when you point out that the Brothers Grimm were men in their 20s, living during the time of Napoleon and Jane Austen. I had never thought of them that way, and I wonder if you can remember when you first had the light bulb moment about the Grimms? And I wonder if that realization was also the moment that you decided to dig deeper and make a story out of them?
When I was researching the origin of 'Rapunzel' in the early stages of working on BITTER GREENS, I read a book called 'Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm's Fairy Tales'. That was my lightbulb moment - it was when I first discovered  the romance between Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the girl who lived next door, and the first time I realised so much about the Grimms, and their background, and the sources of their stories. I knew at once I had to write a novel about them. 

 Q: You touch on your research in this book, in the Afterword when you talk about reading personal letters, memoirs and diary entries of the key players but also psychologist studies and writings from fairy tale scholars (not to mention your research on the Napoleonic wars!). How much research did you accumulate in the writing of this exquisitely detailed book – and was there any factoid or interesting insight that you had to leave out, but would like to share with us?
The research took me a long time, because I knew nothing whatsoever about the Napoleonic Wars, or Germany in the early 19th century, and almost nothing about the Grimm Brothers. 'Clever Maids' only mentions Dortchen briefly and I had to do a whole lot of digging up to discover anything more about her. I loved the research, though - it was fascinating. And of course there were many things I could not use, because they did not touch upon my narrative. I'd have loved to have had Napoleon as a character, for example, but he never came to Hessen-Cassel, the small town where Wilhelm and Dortchen  lived, and so I had to leave him out. 

Q: There’s something rather feminist about the Brothers Grimm, looking back on it. As you say in your Afterword “more than half of the tales were actually contributed by educated, middle-class young ladies of their acquaintance.” To think that all those infamous stories were passed down and recited by women, it’s a rather nice thought (even if most people attribute them entirely to the Brothers). You’ve certainly written Dortchen Wild as this strong, female character who triumphs over adversity just as the heroines in the stories she tells Wilhelm. Did you think it’s rather sad that the role women played in shaping the Brothers Grimm is fairly unknown? And is that partly what inspired you to write this book?
Oh yes, that was definitely one of my purposes in writing the novel. I'm drawn to the stories of amazing women who have been forgotten by history.  

Q: What is your favourite Grimm’s Fairytale?
I'll pick three! 'Rapunzel', 'Six Swans', and 'The Leaping, Lilting Lark', which is a variant of 'Beauty and the Beast' that Dortchen tells Wilhelm. I'd never heard it before and its very beautiful.

Q: What are you working on right now, and when can we expect it to hit shelves?
I'm working on a 5-book fantasy adventures series for kids aged 9-12.  It comes out in late 2014. Then I'll write another adult historical novel, set in Nazi Germany, that retells 'The Leaping, Lilting Lark'. 

Q: Favourite author(s) of all time?
Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, Tracey Chevalier, Joanne Harris, Philippa Gregory, Robin McKinlay, Sarah Dunant, Juliet Marillier, Kim Wilkins, Kate Morton, Karen Maitland, C.J. Sansom, Marina Fiorato, oh, too many to name!

Q: Favourite book(s)?
Anything written by the above authors .

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?
Be brave, have faith in yourself, trust in the story. 


  1. Oh the Six Swans, I wonder if its the one I am thinking about - maybe I need to go dig out my Grimm fairytales book ...I never have read it cover to cover.
    Pabkins @ My Shelf Confessions

  2. Great interview Dani!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd OUt


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