Kate Forsyth on How Writers Work

Kate Forsyth is my guest this week on How Writers Work

How did you get your first book published?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be.
All through my childhood I wrote many poems and novels, and sent out my first manuscript when I was sixteen – it was handwritten, in my very childish handwriting, on loose foolscap pages. I didn’t know any better! Well, I didn’t have a typewriter and computers were barely invented. It was rejected, of course, but came back with a lovely letter saying that I clearly had talent and must keep writing.
So I did. I laboured over a magic realism novel all though my early 20s, while working as a journalist, and began to have poems and stories published. I sent out my novel a few times, and it was almost published three times, but fell through every time, much to my despair.
At the age of 25 I had a quarter-life crisis. I decided to give myself five years, to pour all my energy into getting a book published, but that I’d have to reassess my life if I couldn’t get published by the age of 30.
I quit my job as a journalist and began freelancing to support myself, and I applied to do my Masters of Arts in Writing, using the magic realism novel I had been working on as my thesis.
I began writing the first draft of Dragonclaw while I was studying for my first year exams, probably in reaction to the “fictive discourses” we were told to construct in our writing classes. About 50,000 words into the first draft, I sent off a few sample chapters to Gaby Naher at Hickson Associates.
She came back the next day, saying she loved it, and when could I get her a complete manuscript? I wrote madly for the next few months (practically ignoring my studies and work commitments).
I finished the first draft, she put it up for auction, and I signed with Australian, US and German publishers by the end of the month. This made me particularly happy, since it was two days before my 30th birthday! I made my deadline by a whisker!

What is your daily routine?

My son normally brings me a cup of tea around 7am, and I write in my journal and drink my tea looking out over the harbour to the sea.
Once I’m up, I’m busy getting my children off to school and doing as much housework as possible. While I eat my breakfast, I read articles or blogs on the web, and check twitter.
Between 9am and 10am, I walk the dog.
At around 10am I make a cup of tea, eat a banana, and turn on my computer. I answer important emails, and flag others to deal with later.
At around 10.30am, I open up my novel manuscript and read over what I’ve written the previous day or two. I edit and rewrite and cut and add, till I’m happier with the way the chapter is sounding, and then I begin to try and push the story further along. Word by word, sentence by sentence, scene by scene, is my mantra. Sometimes I’ll need to stop to read through my notebook for inspiration, or look things up in my research books or on the internet. Other times my fingers fly over the keyboard.
At 12.30, I stop for lunch. I’ll read a newspaper or a magazine, or a book on writing, and I might check in on facebook and twitter, or check my emails again (I turn them all off once I start writing). I’ll walk around my garden and pull a few weeds, or rub away any aphids on my beloved roses. I normally put on a load of washing too (I have 3 kids!)
At 1pm, I begin work again. I push on through until my kids get home at around 3.30 and I might stop and have a cup of tea and hear their news of the day. (If I’m writing well, I only call out ‘how was your day, honey?”) I work on through to about 5.30pm, and then I stop and begin to think about cooking dinner and supervising homework and tidying up the mess. We all eat together and clean up together, and then I usually read my daughter a story and put her to bed.
Three to four nights a week, I’m back at work around 8.30pm and work through to 9.30 or 10.30pm. I then read in bed till lights out time. If I don’t work, I’ll have a hot bath with lavender oils and read my book in the bath.
I often teach writing one night a week as well, and sometimes I’ll take a night off and go to the movies with friends, or go to a literary event.
I try and take most of the weekend off to spend with my family, work in the garden, catch up friends and of course, to catch up on the housework. I will usually do an hour or two of work, often not actually writing, but looking after administrative tasks or answering emails(I get a lot!)

Tell us about your writing room

I have a book-lined study with a big desk at the window overlooking the garden, and with a view to the sea. All my reference books are on the two big shelves against the wall, plus a shelf filed with my journals (I’ve been writing a journal since I was 12 years old so I have a lot of them!). The other wall is covered with framed posters of my book covers, fan art, or some of my favourite illustrations from my books. I also have a big vase of flame-coloured silk poppies on my desk, for stimulation and beauty. On my filing cabinet I have a friendly gargoyle that I bought at an antique store many years ago. The back wall is covered with a bookshelf that holds all my own books – there’s quite a lot of them now with all the foreign editions!

What is your latest book?

My latest book for adults, Bitter Greens, interweaves a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale with the scandalous life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Moving from the dazzling court of the Sun King in 17th century Paris and Versailles to Venice in the 16th century, Bitter Greens is filled with romance, magic, history and danger.

Juliet Marillier has described the book as “compulsively unputdownable”, while Pamela Freeman, winner of the 2006 NSW History Prize says, ‘Philippa Gregory, watch out!”
Here is the blurb:
Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens …

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of parsley, wintercress and rapunzel from the walled garden of the courtesan, Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off … unless he and his wife give away their little girl.

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, growing to womanhood, Margherita sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does …

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love.

I’m now working on another historical novel for adults: The Wild Girl tells the love story between Wilhelm Grimm, younger of the famous Grimm Brothers, and the girl who grew up next door, Dortchen Wild, who was the source of many of the brothers’ most powerful fairy tales. War, poverty, cruelty and their own fears conspire to keep them apart. It will take great courage and faith to overcome the obstacles in their way and find a way to be together.
Interwoven with the true story of Dortchen and Wilhelm is an imaginary retelling of ‘Thousand-Furs’ set in Germany during the terrible years of the Nazis.

The Wild Girl will be published in April 2013.



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