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Kate Forsyth, Author of BITTER GREENS, on Re-Inventing Rapunzel

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the internationally bestselling & award-winning author of thirty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both adults and children. She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite 20 Novelists, and has been called ‘one of the finest writers of this generation’. She is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers, and has told stories to both children and adults all over the world.

Her most recent book for adults is a historical novel called The Wild Girl, which tells the true, untold love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, The Wild Girl is a story of love, war, heartbreak, and the redemptive power of storytelling, and was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013.

Kate is probably most famous for Bitter Greens, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Bitter Greens has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’, and has been nominated for a Norma K. Hemming Award, the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Fiction, and a Ditmar Award. Having already sold more than a quarter of a million copies world-wide, it is being released in the US in September 2014.

Kristin Centorcelli: Congratulations on the new book, BITTER GREENS! Why did you decide to tackle the origin story, I suppose you could say, of Rapunzel?

Kate Forsyth: I have always been fascinated by the “Rapunzel” fairy tale and have wanted to write a retelling of it for a long time. While I was planning my novel, I was thinking of where and when I could set my story and so began to wonder where the story had come from. I began to research the history of the tale, and so stumbled upon the fascinating life story of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, who wrote the story we know now of as “Rapunzel” while locked away in a convent. I was struck between the similarities between her life and that of the maiden in the tower, and so began to imagine a parallel narrative, weaving back and forth between the real woman’s life and the life of the story she told.

KC: You obviously did quite a bit of research for the book. What was one of the most interesting things that you discovered?

KF: I found out so many interesting things! I discovered out how to cast a curse with only a black candle, a pin, and a handful of grave dirt. I found out that vichyssoise was invented because of the Sun King’s fear of being poisoned (there were so many food-tasters between the palace cook and the king, the soup was cold by the time it reached him). I discovered that, in Renaissance Venice, people suspected of being witches were buried with a brick jammed into their jaws to stop them eating their way out of the grave. The research for Bitter Greens was absolutely fascinating!

KC: You’ve written quite a few children’s books as well as a number of adult novels, but what was one of your favorite things about writing BITTER GREENS?

KF: I loved setting my novel in the decadent worlds of Renaissance Venice and 17th century Versailles, and being able to delve deeply into those historical eras. Bitter Greens has a lot of darkness and a lot of sensuality in it, things I cannot really do in a children’s book, and so I also really enjoyed writing those scenes.

KC: On your website, you describe books as a kind of magic, and indeed, fairy tales are the stuff of magic. What are a few of your favorites, besides “Rapunzel”?

KF: I was given a collection of Grimm Fairy Tales when I was a little girl, and all the stories in that book have remained my favourites: “Six Swans”, “Snow White”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “Hansel & Gretel”. I also love “Beauty & the Beast”, and Scottish tales such as “Tam Lin” and “The Selkie Bride”.

KC: What was one of your favorite stories as a child?

KF: I have always been a real bookworm! When I was a child, my favourite writers were C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books, Enid Blyton and the Famous Five, Elizabeth Goudge and ‘The Little White Horse’, and historical fiction writers like Rosemary Sutcliff and Geoffrey Trease.

KC: You’ve been reading, and writing, from a very early age. If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?

KF: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe! I can still remember the sense of utter enchantment.

KC: What are you currently reading? Are there any books you’re looking forward to?

KF: I’ve just finished The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which I really enjoyed, and am now reading That Summer by Lauren Willig which is fabulous so far. I have on my reading pile Madame Picasso by Anne Girard, Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, and A Garden of Letters by Alsyon Richmond, all of which I’m really looking forward to.

KC: What’s next for you?

KF: I’m now writing a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ version of “Beauty & the Beast” set in the German Resistance in Nazi Berlin. I’ve just been in Berlin to do the final research and it is the most fascinating city!

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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