Kate Forsyth is best known for her historical novel Bitter Greens, which interweaves a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale with the true life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force. Kate has continued her fascination with entwining fairy tales with historical fiction in The Wild Girl and The Beast’s Garden. Her latest novel, Beauty in Thorns, blends the Sleeping Beauty legend with the world of the Pre-Raphaelite painters.
Kate is also the author of several children’s books and has also published two heroic fantasy series, The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride. She is a five-time Aurealis Award winner.
She is married with three children, and lives in Sydney. She is also a direct descendant of Charlotte Barton, the author of Australia’s earliest known children’s book.
What is the inspiration for Beauty in Thorns? Is there a particular theme you wished to explore?
Beauty in Thorns tells the story of the passions, scandals and tragedies behind the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones’s lifelong fascination with the Sleeping Beauty fairy-tale, which he painted half-a-dozen times over the course of his life. I have been interested in the Pre-Raphaelites since discovering their work as an undergraduate. My interest was reignited while I was studying my Doctorate of Creative Arts in fairy-tale studies. I wrote a thesis chapter on William Morris, who wrote the first creative response to ‘Rapunzel’ in the mid-19th century. I got interested in the Pre-Raphaelites’ use of fairy-tales, which echoed my own, and one day stumbled upon the story of Edward Burne-Jones and his famous ‘Legend of Briar Rose’ quartet of paintings, which in 1890 sold for the largest sum ever paid a British artist. It was just such an intriguing story, and contained within it all the things that interest me – art, poetry, mythology, love, death, and obsession.
What particular aspect of this period of history inspired? Why?
It is always the story that compels me to write a novel, not the setting. However, I’ve always loved the Victorian era and have read a great many books set during that period, both fiction and non-fiction. It was such a time of change and unrest, and the psychology of the time is just fascinating, with its twin obsessions with sex and death. I was really excited to have the chance to study it and bring it to life on the page.
What resources did you use to research Beauty in Thorns? How long did it take to finish the novel?
I began work on the novel in November 2014 and finished the final edit in March 2017, so it was a long and challenging project to work on. I read all the books about the Pre-Raphaelites that I could find, plus countless journal articles and blog posts. I spent a lot of time examining the art and poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites, and trying to understand the thoughts and motivations of the artists and their models.
What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?
Keep on writing. The perfect phrase rarely comes with the first draft anyway. Sometimes the subconscious mind needs time to dwell on something before it comes up with the answer.
Is there anything unusual or even quirky that you would like to share about your writing?
I like to start a new book when the moon is new. It means that I can try and get everything else done first and get my desk cleared, and be ready to focus all my energies on the next project. It gives me a clear start date, and feels somehow energising and inspiring. It also stops me from procrastinating or taking on too much other work.
Do you use a program like Scrivener to create your novel? Do you ever write in long hand?
I keep a notebook where I jot down ideas, questions, and lists of things to do, as well as word counts, diagrams, maps, photos and other sources of information and inspiration. I write most of my poetry long hand, as well as songs, spells, charms and incantations that I might be working into the book.
However, I type the narrative straight into Word, which I find very simple and easy to move around in. I work away steadily, usually writing in a linear fashion, though I often circle back to rewrite a scene or chapter as needed, or to add in a new scene.
Is there a particular photo or piece of art that strikes a chord with you? Why?
The key works of art that helped inspire Beauty in Thorns were ‘Proserpina’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the sequence of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ paintings by Edward Burne-Jones.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Read as much and as widely as you can. Make writing a natural part of your daily routine. Be steadfast and unshakeable in your faith in both yourself and your story. Have courage, in both your writing and your life.
A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets. The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention.
Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be racked with grief and scandal.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum.
William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, seventeen-year-old Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.
Meanwhile, fifteen-year-old Margot Burne-Jones was her father’s muse. He painted her as the ‘Sleeping Beauty’, a fairy-tale that had haunted him all his life. Yet Margot was growing up, and longed to be awakened to love.
Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.
HNSA 2017 Conference
As a co founder of the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) and programme director of the 2017 HNSA Melbourne conference, I am delighted that Kate Forsyth is our patron and will be celebrating Beauty in Thorns at our History with a Twist cocktails on 8 September. There will be lots of prizes including the chance to win a 1:1 Skype session with Kate for yourself or your book club.Come and join the fun. More information is at the HNSA website.
Kate is also appearing in conversation with Deborah Challinor on 10 September, and will join Anna Campbell and Luke Devenish to read their saucier scenes in our Beyond the Comfort Zone: Writing Sex and Violence.
The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University. This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.
In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses.You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card.
Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.
Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!
Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!