By Kate E. Stephenson
In this third week of April 2013, I hereby call to order the 18th meeting of Kate’s Book Club. Every week, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate. If you missed our last meeting, it’s easy to catch up.
Club members, this week meet Kate Forsyth.
Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling, award-winning author of 25 books, translated into 13 languages. Her latest book for adults, The Wild Girl, is the story of Dortchen Wild, the young woman who loved Wilhelm Grimm and told him many of the most famous fairy tales in history. Kate has also written many novels for children including The Gypsy Crown, The Puzzle Ring, and The Starthorn Tree. A direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, Kate is currently studying a doctorate in fairytales at UTS. Follow Kate on Facebook or send her a line.
Now get swept away as Kate answers all our questions:
Who named you Kate and why?
I was christened Katherine, after my aunt and various other far distant relatives, but called Katy all of my childhood. When I went to university, and first began to be published, I called myself Kate as it sounded a little more grown-up and sophisticated.
How did you become an author?
I’ve always wanted to be an author, and so I spent my teens and my twenties writing novels and poems and trying to be published. By my mid-20s, I was working as a journalist and getting quite a wide array of stories and articles and poems published, but a book contract eluded me. So I quit full-time work, studied a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, and wrote what would become my first published novel. ‘Dragonclaw’ was published when I was 30.
What was the muse for your first completed/published book?
I wrote (and completed) my first novel when I was seven. It was called ‘Runaway’, and told the story of a brother and sister who escape their cruel aunt and uncle and have all sorts of adventures on the way to their nice auntie’s house. I wrote half a dozen more novels as a child and teenager – and first tried to get published at the age of sixteen. It took me another fourteen years to finally get a book contract. That was for ‘Dragonclaw’, which was inspired by a dream. I had seen a baby lying in autumn leaves, cradled among writhing tree roots. An old woman found her and picked her up, wrapping her in her cloak. She then slipped through a crack in the tree trunk and I knew that she lived inside the tree and that she was a wood witch and could talk to animals. I knew magic was outlawed and the witch lived in danger. I knew the baby was somehow important. That was all I began with, a shred of a mysterious dream, and out of it I spun nine books, and well over a million words.
What are you currently working on?
My latest novel ‘The Wild Girl’ was published a few weeks ago, and I’ve been on a national tour talking about the book, and my inspirations and challenges in writing it. ‘The Wild Girl’ tells one of the great untold love stories of history, the romance of Wilhelm Grimm and the young woman who would become his wife, Dortchen Wild. She grew up next door to the Grimm brothers and told them many of their most compelling fairy tales. It was a time of war and turmoil and famine, and the two star-crossed lovers had many obstacles in their way till they could at last marry and live happily ever after.
Once my promotional tour is underway, I need to do some work on my doctoral exegesis, plus I’m planning a five book fantasy adventure series for children, which will be great fun to write after a year or two spent in such a challenging and research intensive book as ‘The Wild Girl’.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
I think managing to juggle my writing career with my family commitments. I’m married with three children, and so I’ve always had to build my writing time around my family’s needs. An author today also has to do a great deal of publicity and promotional touring, and that can be very hard on my husband, who has to manage the house and the kids while I’m away. I’m very lucky to have such a supportive family.
What’s your favorite word?
What’s your least favorite word?
Who’s your favorite literary character?
At the moment, Dortchen Wild.
What’s your favorite quote?
‘A writer should be like God: invisible yet ever-present.’ E.M Forster
If you weren’t an author, what profession would you like to try?
I cannot bear the thought of doing anything else but writing. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. If I couldn’t write (God forbid the thought!), I’d have to find something to do with books.
If you could do one thing in your life over, what would it be?
I’d travel the world for a year or two. I went straight from school to university to full-time employment and never had a chance to travel where the wind blew me.
And now, Book Clubbers, Kate Forsyth blows us into the Wild world. As always, it’s time to read. An excerpt from The Wild Girl:
‘Wild by name and wild by nature,’ Dortchen’s father used to say of her. He did not mean it as a compliment. He thought her headstrong, and so he set himself to tame her.
The day Dortchen Wild’s father died, she went to the forest, winter-bare and snow-frosted, so no one could see her dancing with joy. She went to the place where she had last been truly happy, the grove of old linden trees in the palace garden. Tearing off her black bonnet, she flung it into the tangled twigs, and drew off her gloves, shoving them in her coat pocket. Holding out her bare hands, embracing the cold winter wind, Dortchen spun alone among the linden trees, her black skirts swaying.
Snow lay thick upon the ground. The lake’s edges were slurred with ice. The only colour was the red rosehips in the briar hedge, and the golden windows of the palace. Violin music spilled into the air, and shadows twirled past by the glass panes.
It was Christmas Day. All through Cassel, people were dancing and feasting. Dortchen remembered the Christmas balls Jérôme Bonaparte had held during his seven-year reign as king. A thousand guests had waltzed till dawn, their faces hidden behind masks. Wilhelm I, the Kurfürst of Hessen, had won back his throne from the French only thirteen months earlier. He would not celebrate Christmas so extravagantly. Soon the lights would be doused and the music would fade away, and he and his court would go sensibly to bed, to save on the cost of lamp oil.
Dortchen must dance while she could.
She lifted her black skirts and twirled in the snow. He’s dead, she sang to herself. I’m free!
Three ravens flew through the darkening forest, wings ebony-black against the white snow. Their haunting call chilled her. She came to a standstill, surprised to find she was shaking with tears as much as with cold. She caught hold of a thorny branch to steady herself. Snow showered over her.
I will never be free . . .
Dortchen was so cold that she felt as if she were made of ice. Looking down, she realised she had cut herself on the rose thorns. Blood dripped into the snow. She sucked the cut, and the taste of her blood filled her mouth, metallic as a bullet.
The sun was sinking away behind the palace, and the violin music came to an end. Dortchen did not want to go home, but it was not safe in the forest at night. She picked up her bonnet and began trudging back home, to the rambling old house above her father’s apothecary shop, where his corpse lay in his bedroom, swollen and stinking, waiting for her to wash it and lay it out.
… She slipped into the alley that ran down the side of the shop to its garden, locked away behind high walls.
‘Dortchen,’ a low voice called from the shadowy doorway opposite the garden gate.
She turned, hands clasped painfully tight together.
A tall, lean figure in black stepped out of the doorway. The light from the square flickered over the strong, spare bones of his face, making hollows of his eyes and cheeks.
‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ Wilhelm said. ‘No one knew where you had gone.’
‘I went to the forest,’ she answered.
Wilhelm nodded. ‘I thought you would.’ He put his arms about her, drawing her close.
For a moment Dortchen resisted, but she was so cold and tired that she could not withstand the comfort of his touch. She rested her cheek on his chest and heard the thunder of his heart.
A ragged breath escaped her. ‘He’s dead,’ she said. ‘I can hardly believe it.’
‘I know, I heard the news. I’m sorry.’
He did not answer. She knew she had grieved him. The death of Wilhelm’s father had been the first great sorrow of his life; he and his brother, Jakob, had worked hard ever since to be all their father would have wanted. It was different for Dortchen, though. She had not loved her father.
There was a long silence. In the space between them were all the words Wilhelm could not say. I am too poor to take a wife . . . I earn so little at my job at the library . . . I cannot ask Jakob to feed another mouth when he has to support all six of us . . .
The failure of their fairy tale collection was a disappointment to him, Dortchen knew. Wilhelm had worked so hard, pinning all his hopes to it. If only it had been better received . . . If only it had sold more . . .
‘I’m so sorry.’ He bent his head and kissed her.
For just a moment, Dortchen let herself kiss him back. Then she drew away and shook her head. ‘I can’t . . . We mustn’t . . .’ He gave a murmur deep in his throat and tried to kiss her again. She wrenched herself out of his arms. ‘Wilhelm, I can’t . . . It hurts too much.’
He caught her and drew her back, and she did not have the strength to resist him. Once again his mouth found hers, and she succumbed to the old magic. Desire quickened between them. Her arms were about his neck, their cold lips opening hungrily to each other. His hand slid down to find the curve of her waist, and she drew herself up against him. His breath caught. He turned and pressed her against the stone wall, his hands trying to find the shape of her within her heavy black dress.
Dortchen let herself forget the dark years that gaped between them, pretending that she was once more just a girl, madly in love with the boy next door.
Don’t I know the feeling. But the question is can it last…. I don’t know, but I’m about to find out. Until next time…
Kate’s Book Club is a column on Kate-book.com featuring interviews with authors named Kate, as well as reviews of books starring Kate characters. It runs on Kate-book.com every other Wednesday at 10:30am, and is written by the self-admitted bibliophile Kate E. Stephenson, who you should follow on Twitter here. Oh, and write to Kate to suggest authors and books we should read for future columns.