It’s on: MWF 2013

The Melbourne Writers Festival kicks off for me tonight and I feel a little bit like it’s Christmas!

I’m starting off my festival experience with some philosophy, hearing Peter Singer speak on ‘Effective Altruism’ as part of the Big Ideas series.

Effective altruism is an emerging movement of people who have  accepted that we ought to live more altruistically, and make our altruism as powerful as possible.  Philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer will discuss the ethical issues that effective altruism raises, and introduce this developing concept by presenting the effective altruists themselves: who they are, how they live, and why they have chosen to live that way. 

As controversial as he might be, Peter Singer I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts.


I often ask myself about the complexities of altruism, especially in terms of what’s reasonable to expect of each ourselves and others, and I expect this session will be extremely enlightening.

Are you going to anything at the festival this year? If you’d like to join me at the MWF this year, don’t forget to tune in to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates.

If you’d like to know more about what I’m going to check out at the Melbourne Writers Festival, read more here…

Hide and Seek: The Shadow Tracer

Today I’m pleased to be able to welcome a brand new TBYL Reviewer to the team, Narelle Connell.  Narelle is a fellow book worm, and I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of the many books I’m going to send her way. Today she’s reviewing Meg Gardiner’s The Shadow Tracer (Penguin) a thriller, penned by ‘the next suspense superstar’ according to Stephen King (quite an endorsement, yes?)

Here’s what Narelle thought of this wild ride of a novel…


shadow tracerWhen someone wants to find you badly enough, vanishing is no longer an option.

Sarah Keller is a young single mother living in Oklahoma with her five year-old daughter, Zoe. Her day job is to hunt out people on the run and bring them to justice. So imagine how it looks when a school bus accident sends Zoe to the ER and tests reveal Sarah can’t be Zoe’s mother.

Sarah has been living a lie for years and finally the truth is coming out. Who is she? Who were Zoe’s parents? And why does Zoe’s identity bring the FBI down on Sarah’s tail in mere minutes?

The FBI is the least of her worries, though. Sarah needs to keep Zoe off the grid, but with a sinister religious cult also preparing to attack, where on earth can they hide?

Something deadly lurks in Sarah’s past and its resurrection brings terror to all it touches.

Straight away, I was hooked by the premise of The Shadow Tracer, a fast-paced and intricately crafted thriller that focuses on Sarah Keller, a woman on the run with five year Zoe in tow. Sarah has spent the last five years raising Zoe on her own, making a living as a skip tracer tracking down people who don’t want to be found. Over time, Sarah has learned to lead a quiet life that draws no unwanted attention to herself and Zoe.

But, all this is shattered when Zoe’s involvement in an accident leads to information that threatens to reveal both their true identities and sets in motion a chain of events involving the FBI and a religious cult that is hell bent on finding Zoe and destroying anyone who gets in their way.

From the beginning I was both empathetic to and intrigued by Sarah’s character, wanting to find out more about the events that led Zoe to her and sent her into hiding. Gardiner takes the reader along on a rollicking ride through Texas and New Mexico as Sarah and Zoe become fugitives. Along the way, they encounter an FBI agent with his own reasons for wanting vengeance, a nun with some unusual skill sets and a US Marshal prepared to flout the rules.

The action and plot move almost as quickly as Sarah does across the desert, making this book a page-turner I was eager to keep reading until the end. I was especially intrigued by Sarah’s efforts to leave no trace behind and the methods she uses, contrasted with the underhand efforts of those on her tail to track her and Zoe down. Although the novel’s main focus is on the action, through her relationship with and fierce protection of Zoe we see a softer side to Sarah that keeps the reader hoping she can stay one step ahead.

texas“When Beth died, Sarah had thought nothing could be worse. How wrong she’d been. 

The sun glared white in the windshield. The highway arrowed to the vanishing point on a horizon of wind-bent grass. She wiped away tears with the heel of her hand.

Disappearing was possible. Look at the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Those posters of sullen criminals showed men and women who had vanished. Some of them had been on the run for twenty years. If they could do it, so could she. 

That’s what he’d told her. Get out of here. Run. Hide. 

Five years earlier she’d done exactly that. Now she was doing it again. She blew past a road sign. WELCOME TO TEXAS, THE LONE STAR STATE. ” 

With surprising plot twists, well crafted characters and a heart-racing showdown, I thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow Tracer and definitely recommend it.


Find out more about Meg Gardiner’s The Shadow Tracer here…

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Healing: Currawong Creek

Today’s novel, reviewed by Tam, had her reflecting on this great rural land of ours…


Currawong Creek by Jennifer Scoullar (Penguin) is a beautiful story of family, healing and self-discovery set against the backdrop of the amazing Australian outback!

currawongBrisbane lawyer Clare Mitchell has a structured, orderly life. That is, until she finds herself the unlikely guardian of a small, troubled boy. In desperation, Clare takes Jack to stay at Currawong Creek, her grandfather’s horse stud in the foothills of the beautiful Bunya Mountains.

Currawong feels like home and Clare relaxes for the first time in years. Her grandad adores having them there. Jack loves the animals. And Clare finds herself falling hard for the handsome local vet.

But trouble is coming. The Pyramid Mining Company threatens to destroy the land Clare loves – and with it, her newfound happiness …

I loved this novel from start to finish. It is full of powerful, individual characters that I found myself caring for quickly. Clare thinks she has her life on exactly the track she always wanted for herself. She has a successful career, handsome boyfriend and a lovely organised apartment in the heart of Brisbane. However, all this gets incredibly complicated when she takes guardianship of Jack, a troubled four year old who one morning is abandoned, left in her office by his mother, one of Clare’s clients.

Clare is faced with a challenge she could never have seen coming.

Clare hasn’t spoken to her grandparents or visited their farm for fifteen years, but with the arrival of Jack she starts thinking back to her own childhood. Jack proves to be more of a handful than Clare anticipated, and this prompts her to take a trip to a simpler life, to reconnect with her grandfather and revisit the land that she loved most as a child, Currawong Creek.

When Clare arrives at the farm she reconnects with Harry, her grandfather. She also meets the handsome local vet, Tom. These three, plus young Jack bond quickly, forming a family and the growth and healing begin. This story shows the influence that caring people can have, but interestingly, also the natural healer that the land and animals can be.

Another aspect of this story is that of the environment, and the environmental issues that face Australian farmers. The residents of Currawong find themselves fighting against a big corporation, Pyramid Mining Company. Pyramid want access to the land to do exploratory mining for coal seam gas. The little guys against the corporates! Jennifer Scoullar tells an interesting tale of the immediate rights the mining company have to the land, the effect that the mines have on these homesteads and the struggle the farmers have to maintain what have been their homes for generations.

Having grown up on a farm myself and in a small town, I found myself thinking back to these memories vividly. Feeling as though I could almost smell the land, hear my grandparents speaking and re-living the adventures. This made me connect with this story so much more. A truly wonderful novel showing struggle, laughter, sacrifice and love and the power of the beautiful country we are living in.


You can find out more about Jennifer Scoullar’sCurrawong Creek here…

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Encouragement: Actually, I Can

Today’s book is one I’ve been looking forward to for some time – it’s the much anticipated Actually, I Can from Nicky Johnston (Rough Draft).

actually i canNicky’s first two books Go Away Mr Worrythoughts and Happythoughts are Everywhere are amongst my favourite books for kids, and Nicky’s work with kids working through anxiety is priceless. We were really lucky to have Nicky join us for one of the TBYL Events earlier in the year (you can read about it here) and I’ve been eager to find out what she had next up her sleeve to help with the little worriers in our lives.

Actually, I Can is the story of Connor and Amelia. Connor, a little worrier, is afraid to try many of the things that Amelia takes in her stride. She encourages him to be brave and give things ago, and although it takes him a little while to let go of his fear, he does with her encouragement eventually put his anxiety aside and realise that actually, he can.

It’s a positive message, easy relatable and of course accompanied by Nicky’s gorgeous illustrations. The books is both easily comprehended by children, and enjoyable for adults to read.

Personally, there are two things that I love about this books. The first is that it is refreshingly realistic. It acknowledges that not all kids are frightened all of the time, and likewise, not all kids are brave in ever circumstance. Connor and Amelia, adorable characters, take it in turns to support and encourage each other, resulting in them both being able to have a wonderful day out together!

The second thing that I love about this book is that the lesson is an important one for kids and adults alike. I’m sure I’m not alone in being held back by anxiety and fear at times, and as I read this book to Oscar, it is a reminder that I should resist ‘paralysis through fear’, if for no other reason than to teach my own kids to do the same.

I was intrigued to find out a little more about Actually, I Can and asked Nicky a few questions last week…


This is a similar but new story to your previous books… could you tell us about the inspiration behind this story?
I am often asked by parents of ‘little worriers’ how to handle their child’s constant ‘what if’ questions. I encourage parents to challenge these thoughts, prompting their child to answer their own questions – of course the answers can have either a negative or positive outcome, depending on what their thoughts are at the time.

 ‘Change your thoughts to change your feelings’ was my inspirational statement for Actually, I Can, demonstrating that Connor actually can have some fun, once he began answering his what if questions in a positive way.

Are you planning to work this book into your school talks and productions at all?
I love all school visit opportunities and the theme of my books work perfectly throughout my presentations. We all have ‘what if’ questions, and worry thoughts, and by sharing my own journey of writing and illustrating, I am able to help children learn ways they too can build their resilience to things as well as maintaining a positive outlook on their world, all while inspiring them to consider their own writing and illustrating skills.

With the theatrical production of Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts being so well received in primary schools, I would love to see Actually, I Can also become transformed into an additional theatrical production. Discussions and ideas have already begun with the many creative people I have worked with Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts production. There is so much possibility and potential for this to develop in the future, I am reaching for the stars and aiming high!

Your illustrations in this new book are beautiful, how much time did you take putting this new set of works together?
I really wanted my illustrations of Actually, I Can to be a different style from those of my first two books. The recent illustrations took much longer in their design and creation than my previous books, taking me almost 8 months to complete. I enjoyed creating them all and I even have a few favourites too, which is quite unusual for me. There were many illustrations that didn’t make it into the book and I love sharing this insight with children during my school visits.

What’s the take home message of ‘Actually, I Can’?
When you change your thoughts from fear to belief, the way you feel and the outcome will always seem better. It is amazing what you can achieve when you actually let go of your fears, believe in yourself and just have a go. The skill of learning to ‘let go’ is a great concept for children, and with practice this can become an easy way to live, it gets harder as we grow into adults as our thought patterns are far more set in concrete – but even then it is always still possible to learn.


What’s the feedback been like so far?
I have been quite overwhelmed with the feedback since the release of Actually, I Can beginning of August. Parents, teachers, children and reviewers have all been extremely glowing in their comments and feedback.

Here are just a few messages I have received…

‘Beautifully written and illustrated’

‘Gorgeous, heartfelt, life changing are three words that aptly describe Nicky’s books’

‘Thank you for giving us another bedtime favourite book’.

The two young characters are lovely, do you have any future plans for them?
Both Amelia and Connor have become characters that children have already become quite taken with.

I love their opposite personality characteristics, yet understanding and admiration for each other.

There is definitely another adventure of Connor and Amelia that will be told in the future, so, be sure to keep an eye out for another children’s book with an even greater insight into how well these children know each other and grow together.


You can find out more about Nicky and her books at the Happy Hero website.

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Opulence: Torn

I’ve said it before, but once again – I love it when one book’s theme follows sweetly on from another…

Last month I enjoyed Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl and in doing so, learnt a lot more about the politics, hardships and bloodshed of the Napoleonic era. I was neck-deep in the early 1800s and loving it.

tornAnd so, you can imagine my delight when I received Torn by Karen Turner (Palmer Higgs Books)…

1808. When 14 year old Alexandra meets Patrick, her handsome and notorious step-brother, she is confused and resentful as he shakes the foundations of everything she has ever known. Driving a wedge between Alex and her brother Simon, he tears apart the fabric of her quiet world. Yet she is intrigued by the enigmatic Patrick and finds herself increasingly drawn to him.

These are the years between childhood and womanhood, during which Alex begins to realise that her growing affection for Patrick owes nothing to sibling fondness.

But these are turbulent times for England and Patrick and Simon, answering the call of adventure, join the fight against Napoleon with devastating consequences.

In a family ravaged by war and deceit Alex finds herself betrayed in the worst possible way.

This is the story of one woman’s passionate struggle for love and hope against all the constraints of her time.

The bookish universe is a funny thing and so I followed its trail into a brand new period adventure.

Torn is set in London’s high society, an opulent setting where each family estate is more impressive than the last. The story’s main character, Alexandra, is a tomboy, but no less a part of her fine surroundings. She may resist, but as she grows, she finds herself drawn into the dance the same as everyone else.

Her occasional, unconventional boyish attire does little to discourage her admirers, and she finds herself betrothed, again her will…

“Oh heavens, Alexandra, what is there to understand? Lord Elginbury approached me several summers ago. Nothing was ever formally agreed, but recently our communications resumed, and yesterday a mutually favourable arrangement was achieved. You ought to consider yourself fortunate – it’s an enviable position, a perfect match that will benefit both families.”

“He has seen me?”

“Yes. The boy visited with his parents several years ago and attended the solstice ball. He thought you… suitable enough, even if you were in the garden wearing a pair of Simon’s breeches when he arrived.”

Despite being promised and her reluctance to behave in an entirely ladylike manner, Alex does find herself growing into her womanhood and in turn feeling herself fall for the bittersweet charms of her step-brother Patrick.

From this point, the story revolves around a ‘will-they-wont-they’ plot. Their relationship is feisty, heated and eventually passionate. Still, I was questioning all the way though – is this really a happily-ever-after story? Will Alexandra’s hard-headness push Patrick away, or will his good looks lead him into temptation?

Karen Turner has a great story to tell, and even though I was a little unsure about the authenticity of some of the language used, I was sufficiently drawn in by the beautiful descriptions of landscapes, gowns, riches and love triangles.

It’s an enjoyable story and one that’ll be thoroughly appreciated by fans of period dramas.

If you’d like go into the running to win a copy for yourself, all you need to do is email with the subject line TORN. Include your name and address and I’ll draw a winner on the evening of 31/08/13.

Plus, you can find out more about Karen Turner’s Torn here…

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A Match Made in Heaven: Red-Hot Reads

It’s midweek, it’s windy and cold, and all I can think of is how much I need a little reading break.

You too? Then here’s a great new initiative that’ll be sure to float the boat of you raunchy romance readers out there…

Screen shot 2013-08-14 at 1.41.59 PM

Cosmopolitan Magazine & Harlequin Australia join forces to bring you the publication of number one bestselling author Sylvia Day’s newest work, launching Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin eBooks.

Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin is a new eBook program published by Harlequin in association with Cosmopolitan, the world’s largest women’s magazine.

“Cosmopolitan and Harlequin is a match made in dating heaven. Cosmo readers love a sexy read and they don’t come better than those penned by #1 bestselling author Sylvia Day. We’re excited to introduce this sexy collaboration to the Australian market and we know our readers will devour this fun, fearless fiction,” said Bronwyn McCahon, Editor of Cosmopolitan.

afterburnSylvia Day, a multi-award winning novelist whose titles have been bestsellers in Australia and  New Zealand as well as around the globe, will launch the first Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin eBook, Afterburn, tomorrow, 15 August 2013. The follow-up title, Aftershock, will be released on 12 November 2013.

You can find out more about getting your hands on this book, here…

Both titles will feature characters newly created for the Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin program. Afterburn and Aftershock will also be released as a two-in-one paperback in November 2013, the first Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin title to be published in print format.

“I’m thrilled to be launching theCosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin series of fresh and sexy contemporary romances,” said Day. “My stories are known for featuring fun, fearless and Cosmopolitan-type heroines as well as delicious, dangerous heroes synonymous with Harlequin. Afterburn and Aftershock will be no exception. I’m excited to share these sizzling new romances with readers and to do so hand in hand with Harlequin andCosmopolitan, beloved brands known for giving women exactly what they want.”

So if you’re looking for something fun and sexy to read, a perfect way to wind down at the end of the day or help you take a moment out of your busy week, just for you, why not check out this great new partnership?!

Find out more on the Harlequin website.

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Foundations: Warrior Princess

Today, Carolyn finds out more about what it takes to be a real-life warrior princess…


Do you like autobiographies? Are you inspired by personal memoirs? If you answered Yes to either of these questions then I think Warrior Princess by Mindy Budgor (Allen and Unwin) should be the next book on top of your reading pile!

warrior princess

Warrior Princess tells Mindy’s story, in particular, her quest to become one of the first female Maasai warriors. One of forty-two Kenyan tribes that have upheld ancient cultural ways to this day, Maasai tribesmen are world renowned warriors, and Mindy makes it her mission to learn more about them.

Mindy is a young Californian entrepreneur looking for a change from the Western corporate world, when she comes across an opportunity to volunteer in Kenya. During her visit she becomes mesmerised by the Maasai tribal leaders and their ways of life. This meeting has her looking at her own life and material needs and during her last night in Kenya she asks the leader about the roles of females in their culture. She is told that women are not strong enough or brave enough to be allowed to become warriors. This answer lights a fire within Mindy, inspiring her to try and make a change to the role of tribal women.

I instantly liked Mindy. She is clever and funny and writes as if she is talking just to you. Mindy needs to have her family’s blessing before she can embark on her journey, and this proves to be her first hurdle. Reading about what she does to get their blessing, and get to Africa was very entertaining. She has a very clever way of manipulating the truth whilst never doing anything to harm anyone.

Mindy returns to Kenya, where she ploughs head-first into her quest to join the group of non-English speaking men. She describes the hard work, her distaste of some of the traditions of the Maasai and whilst reading, you feel it all with her.

Not everything Mindy experiences is hard work, she easily finds a perfect American travelling partner as well as the right guide to take them into the jungle and straight through the rites of passage of a Maasai tribe. I’m not sure if these two achievements were really as easy as they seemed or whether it is just Mindy’s optimistic nature that made it appear that way. Either way it was great to read about things going to plan. She was determined to make the trek and getting there seemed quite smooth compared with the day-to-day activities of becoming one of the first female Maasai warriors.

I guess it depends on the type of person you are, but I was quite happy to experience Mindy’s journey through her writing rather than actually undertaking a similar trek through the African wilderness. I appreciated Mindy’s vivid descriptions of her time in the jungle. She made it clear why she had to embark on this journey and I’m so glad she penned her experience for others to enjoy.

“Topoika eyed me, and I knew he wanted me to jump, but I didn’t want to look like an ass. I would be lucky if I could heave myself up more than three inches off the ground. I continued on as a backup singer while Magilu sang and Maani jumped.

The singing and jumping continued in full force for at least another thirty minutes. My body and soul were owned by the music. Feeling as if the group was coming to life and telling me to jump, I replayed the step-by-step muscular movement and went for it. My knees bent and my legs reacted, allowing me to soar in the air. As my feet hit the ground, the earth and I exchanged energy while billows of dust formed around my boots. I was part of the dance, and the dance was part of me. And while I was only airborne for a moment, for that brief moment my inner warrior was leaping out of me. It gave me faith that I was on the right path”.

Mindy is now a Maasai warrior as well as an official member of the tribe. She has assisted in laying the foundations to having the law changed in Africa allowing women the right to become warriors. This law is due to be changed in 2016. Mindy is inspirational. She is very open about her personal failings and over time demonstrates what she has learnt from the Maasai. These ancient core values make sense of how to conduct oneself in the modern world. Warrior Princess is not the kind of book that I am normally drawn to however, I did enjoy it. It is an easy read and a wonderful account of a young woman finding her calling in life. Reading this may inspire you to take a leap of faith like Mindy did and listen to your inner voice and be rewarded for doing so in the end.


You can find out more about Warrior Princess by Mindy Budgor here…

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Heatwave: A Bitter Taste

After reading A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell (Penguin) you’d be forgiven for thinking that London is intensely bleak, even when the sun is shining…

This dark and sordid tale, is lead by, and perhaps also coloured by drug-addicted investigator Catherine Berlin…

A Bitter TasteTreachery becomes a habit. 

London is in the grip of a stifling heatwave. The city has slowed to a claustrophobic shuffle. Heroin-addicted investigator Catherine Berlin suffers while working the lowest of investigations: matrimonial.

The city’s junkies are in the grip of a drought of a different kind. Sonja Kvist a strung-out ghost from Berlin’s past, turns up on her doorstep. Sonja daughter is missing. An unpaid debt leaves Berlin no choice but to take the case of the missing ten-year-old. 

Berlin is back. And soon the hunter becomes the hunted: corrupt detectives are on Berlin’s tail chasing drugs she doesn’t have, a young girl is murdered and the matrimonial case unravels. 

And the temperature keeps rising.

Despite her pervasive cynicism and being both physically and emotionally damaged, Berlin still can’t resist the pull to do the right thing, to search for a girl lost in a dangerous city. She’s doing it for Princess, she’s doing it for Sonja, but most of all she’s doing it for atonement.

Even though this book is relentlessly gritty, A Bitter Taste is a really enjoyable read. It is fast-paced, with Berlin pushing against the clock, the weather and her physical limitations. It offers up varied story-threads, well intertwined and played out by multiple characters, all of whom are playing for a piece of a very unappetising pie…

Kennedy ruminated on the fact that Bertie had him sitting in the back of a stinking hotbox of a van in Silvertown when he should have been off-duty.

It was funny how it was always him doing this sort of thing. Bertie saved himself for the high-end stuff, like belting people. Kennedy didn’t have the stomach for it. Occasions when his own buttons were pushed were rare, but when they were it could get ugly.

He raised the telephoto lens and peered through the tinted back window at the building down the road. It was quiet, apart from a lone figure limping across the gravel towards the portico. There was no sign of a vehicle or a departing mini-cab, s she must have walked from the DLR station. Kennedy tightened focus.

It was the woman he’d noticed the other day crouching against the wall, watching the place. He took a few shots just before she disappeared around the back of the building. Probably another junkie looking for a connection. Good luck, love, he thought, that’s what we’re all waiting for. He was bored half to death. Maybe he would take a closer look.

The story is dark, but not disturbingly so, and it frantically, but satisfyingly resolved at its conclusion.

I’ll admit, I found it a little funny how relative the term ‘heatwave’ can be. Each section of the novel begins with a temperature reading; 28C, 29.5C, 33C. It worked well as a device to communicate a rising heat, but I found it difficult to stop myself thinking; “33 degrees, bah, that’s nothing! She should try 43 degrees!” Nonetheless, the sense of relief brought by the final section, entitled ’12C’ was both felt and appreciated.

I was really drawn into the twists and turns of this novel, and am sufficiently intrigued by Berlin’s scarred state to want to go back to Book 1 in the Catherine Berlin Series, In Her Blood and take a look. I’m sure it’ll be more of the same grit and grunge!

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If you’d like to find out more about A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell, visit the Penguin website here.

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Meeting Kate Forsyth

On Monday night, we held our second online TBYL Event at which we meet the lovely Kate Forsyth. Kate joined us on Facebook, where we were able to enjoy her insightful answers to our fast-firing questions.

In case you weren’t able to tune in on the night, here’s a transcript of our chat with Kate, about her, about her writing, and about her latest novel The Wild Girl

TBYL: Welcome everyone! I wanted to start with something that’s perhaps a little obvious, but interesting… what drew you to fairy tales in such a way Kate?

kate forsythKate: I’ve been fascinated by fairy tales ever since I was a little girl in hospital and my mother brought me a copy of ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. I was a very sick little munchkin and there was not much escape for me except through the pages of books. I particularly loved tales of adventure and magic and transformation – stories that took me away from my hospital bed and let me do all the things I could not do – run and fly and gallop on horseback and travel to strange and wonderful lands and have strange and wonderful adventures. I particularly loved the fairy tales, I think, because they are stories of triumph, transformation and true love, and so speak to our secret longings and desires. I wanted to be free, I wanted to be well, I wanted to be safe home and in the arms of those who loved me, and that’s what fairy tales promise us.

TBYL: That’s so true Kate, I can completely relate. My love of books started when I was laid up as a kid with pretty nasty asthma. Did you have a particular favourite, either then or now?

Kate: I have quite a few. ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Six Swans’, ‘Beauty & the Beast’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’, ‘The Snow Queen’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, plus many lesser known ones. I love Romany tales, and wove quite a few into my children’s historical adventure THE GYPSY CROWN. I love Scottish fairy tales as well, and drew upon Scottish folklore in my children’s time travel adventure THE PUZZLE RING. Many of my other books draw upon fairy tale and folklore as well – its what I love to do.

TBYL: I’ve seen quite a few films lately that try and do the same thing. Do you enjoy that type of adaption too, or do you prefer it on the page?

Kate: I always prefer it on the page! I so love films too, but a novel is my favourite thing in the world.

TBYL: Kate, could you please tell us a little bit about your research process? It’s clearly very thorough…

Kate: I love to research. I do it with total commitment, even obsessiveness. I want to know EVERYTHING! I’ll read anything and everything I can find on the subject, and search out lost letters and diaries and books, hoping for that elusive lost secret, that hidden fact that will make my novel come to life. It often takes me a very long time, but I’m happy and content as long as I know it will help the novel. To write The Wild Girl, I read up on the lives and works of the Grimm brothers, I studied the Napoleonic Code, I found out how laudanum was made (I could make you some right now if I had a lump of raw opium and some brandy), I found out how 19th century women made soap out of their own urine and ashes from the kitchen fire, and I cooked bread soup from my family, using an old German recipe (its surprisingly tasty).

TBYL: Would you tell us how to make bread soup? I was wondering the whole way through the book!

Kate: I’ll post the recipe on my blog for you – its very simple!

TBYL: Did you have to travel at all for your research or was it mostly done from home?

Kate: Oh no, I always travel. I feel it’s so important! I went to Cassel (now spelt with a K) and to the Grimm museum and the palace – amazing! I like to breathe the air, touch the earth, feel the cold, imagine myself into the place…

TBYL Reader (Jason): Did you have any additional scenes/chapters that were cut for the final edit… say subplots or something that did not make it in the end?

Kate: Oh yes… I thought Jakob might have been gay and I had a few scenes that intimated so… but the novel got too long and I thought I should focus on Wilhelm and Dortchen. I also cut out about 25,000 more words about Dortchen’s childhood.

TBYL Reader (Jason): Do you find making these cuts difficult or is it simply a case of stick to the main story and they either add or distract from the overall clarity of the storytelling?

the wild girlKate: It always hurts but then I know the book is better for the cuts, and sometimes you need to write and write and write to find your story – but end the all that writing is now not necessary.

TBYL: I was fascinated by Dortchen and found myself feeling so sorry for her, whilst at the same time being impressed by her competence and bravery. Did you mean for her to be a heroine in the way that she is?

Kate: Of course! I felt a very strong connection to Dortchen from the moment I read about her. Her birthday is only a week before mine – we’re both Geminis. I thought all the time what it would be like – to be a young woman and not permitted to work, to travel, to love as you please – to live under your father’s domination all the time.

Her life was full of everything I love in a story – romance, tragedy, passion, struggle, and, finally, triumph. Plus, of course, the fairy tales. I never knew that so many of my favourite fairy tales had been told to the Grimm brothers by this one young woman. I was fascinated by her and her tales, and I wanted to rescue her from oblivion. I think we’d have been kindred spirits if we’d grown up next door to each other.

TBYL: How did you first hear of Dortchen?

Kate: I first read about Wilhelm and Dortchen’s romance in Clever Maids: A Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Dr Valerie Paradiz, which examines the oral sources of the famous tales. Dortchen’s considerable contribution was analysed, along with many others, and then – in the final chapter – it was mentioned that eventually Wilhelm and Dortchen married. As soon as I read about Dortchen and Wilhelm, I knew I had to write a novel about them. I was utterly electrified by the heartbreaking beauty and romance of their love affair and by the stories she told.

TBYL: One more about character from me and then I’ll hand it over to others… As much as I was fascinated by Dortchen, I was equally horrified by her father. I was also very confused by him. How do you go about painting such a terrible, conflicted character?

Kate: Well, it’s never easy. I struggled with what Dortchen’s tales were telling me. I didn’t want the story to go into quite such a dark place. I had to be true to the inner life of the stories, though. Nothing else made sense. Once I decided to build the story in that way, I tried to write those scenes as quickly as possible, so I could exorcise them from my imagination. I had terrible nightmares. I’d wake in the dead of night, unable to breathe, unable to make a sound, feeling the weight of it crushing me to death. It was never easy. I felt I had to write it away, write myself free, and that is what Dortchen does… though her stories are told, not written. She told stories to save herself, and that utterly pierced my heart.

TBYL: Were Dortchen’s nightmares your nightmares?

Kate: Yes. They were. Strange, I know.

TBYL: Shows an incredible investment into the story. The descriptions of Herr Wild, his clothes, his scent were horribly vivid…

Kate: Horrible is the right word. I felt it, smelt it, suffered it… I don’t know how else you can bring it to life.

TBYL: I think I was lucky that he didn’t not remind me of anyone I knew, otherwise I think I would have found it near on impossible to read a few of the more barbaric scenes!

Kate: I know a few people who found those scenes very difficult (as did I!), but then also found Dortchen’s healing and recovery so beautiful and powerful.

TBYL: Absolutely! I loved the rituals that she used to heal herself. Were these based on your research?

singing larkKate: Oh yes. It took me a long time to work out these scenes. I knew I needed her to go to Old Marie, I knew it had to be to do with the earth, and with old German superstitions. I knew it had to do with cleansing and exorcism because of my own dreams.

TBYL: It was such a relief as a reader when she finally confided in Old Marie…

Kate: In fairy tales, there is often a magical helper who the hero fails to listen to and only when the hero learns to listen does the hero learn wisdom and so triumphs – Old Marie was my magical helper.

TBYL Reader (Kateness): Hello Kate, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions on your work. I am wondering if there are any other tangents of Dorchen’s story that you feel like you might like to go back and explore some more? Are you ever tempted to go back and write the story of another character you’ve met along the way?

Kate: Kateness, I always come up with other ideas of novels when I’m writing – for example, I loved Bettina von Arnim and thought what a fascinating character she’d make… but I feel I’ve done that now, I’ve done that era and that circle of friends and I want to move on now.

TBYL Reader (Barbara): Picking up, in some way Jason’s questions, have you “finished” with Dortchen and the Grimm’s now or do you imagine writing more that picks up their story? Also have you started on a new project?

Kate: Barbara, I’m always working on a new project! So many ideas, so little time!

TBYL: Can you tell us a little about your other work Kate? I’m pretty new to your collection, and I’d like to know where you think I should go next?

Kate: I’d try BITTER GREENS next. It’s a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’, interwoven with the dramatic, true life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century noblewoman Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It’s full of romance, passion, obsession, betrayal, and ultimate triumph – I think you’d enjoy it.

TBYL: I’ll ask my final question for the evening. It might be a bit predictable, but Kate, do you think that you’ll keep writing your fairy tale revisits? What do you have planned next?

Kate: At the moment I’m writing a five-book fantasy adventure series for kids (I tend to alternate between adult and children’s books). Then I plan to rewrite one of Dortchen’s tales, ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ (a Beauty and the Beast-variant), setting the novel in Nazi Germany. That will be another intense, dark, soul-shaking book, but extraordinary to research and write.

At this stage we called it a night, having typed our fingers to the bone. I hope you’ll agree, this Q&A session was a fantastic way to get to know Kate a little bit better, and I can’t wait to read more of her books.

If you’d like to find out more about Kate’s novel, you can visit her website here…

A big thank-you to Kate and to all the TBYL readers who got involved in this event.

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Out Now! TBYL News: All Things Bookish August 2013

This month’s edition of TBYL News: All Things Bookish… is now out, complete with give-aways, new reviews and upcoming events at That Book You Like…

honey brown and cover 2This month we’re enjoying conversations with two talented Australian authors – Kate Forsyth and Honey Brown. It’s a fantastic chance to get to know these authors a little better, and to find out more about how they write, about their titles and a little of what’s next for them! Online author chats are a new addition to TBYL and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

Also, there’s lots of new reviews to be read on the TBYL Blog, a chance to win a copy of the intriguing novel Torn, by Karen Turner, and also great new items in the TBYL Store.

Happy reading, enjoy our August edition!

Click here to read TBYL News: All Things Bookish… August 2013

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This’ll mean that you get our monthly news by email, on the first Monday of the month. Perfect!

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