I recently had the pleasure of launching Kate Forsyth’s wonderful new novel THE WILD GIRL, published by Vintage Books in Australia, at an event in Sydney. I interviewed Kate here on Writer Unboxed when her previous book for adult readers, the stunning blend of history and fairy tale BITTER GREENS, was released in 2012. Kate is an incredibly hard-working writer, energetic and versatile. She has written books for children, young adults and adults, and has ranged across the genres of fantasy, historical fiction, literary fiction and poetry.
I was delighted when Kate took time out from a hectic round of promotional appearances to give WU a mini-interview about THE WILD GIRL.
Q. What’s the premise of your new book?
THE WILD GIRL tells the story of the forbidden romance between Wilhelm Grimm, the younger of the famous brothers, and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most compelling and powerful fairy tales. Set during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars, THE WILD GIRL illuminates how the Grimm brothers came to discover their famous fairy tales, as well as telling one of the great untold love stories of all time.
Q. What would you like people to know about the story?
THE WILD GIRL is an epic romance set in one of the most dangerous periods in history. It illuminates the story of the famous Grimm brothers and what drove them to begin collecting their tales, as well as exploring what life was like in Europe at the time Napoleon set out to conquer the world. Inspired by a true story, it is filled with romance, passion, drama and heartbreak.
Q. What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
The novel is told from the point of view of Dortchen Wild, who has to overcome many obstacles before she can be with her one true love, Wilhelm Grimm. She wishes to be a dutiful daughter to her autocratic father, but, on the other hand, she longs for freedom and a life of self-determination. Her world is racked by war and famine and disease, and she must overcome the shadows of her past and her own demons before she can at last find her voice and win her love.
Wilhelm Grimm is desperately poor and cannot afford to take a wife. Dortchen Wild is forbidden to even see him by her cruel and overbearing father. At times it seems impossible that they could ever be together. Both have a long journey ahead of them before at last true love triumphs.
Q. What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
There were so many challenges for me in writing this book, its difficult for me to list them all. My first major problem was my poor German, and the fact that so much research on the Grimms has not been translated into English. I tried for months to find a German research assistant and translator, but, for one reason and another, was unsuccessful. Then one day, quite by accident, I stumbled upon the blog of a German artist and cartoonist who wrote about how a small, white cot in her family, which had been passed down through the generations, was the same bed in which the Wild girls had heard all the fairy tales they had then told the Grimm brothers. I corresponded with this artist and discovered she was a direct descendant of Rudolf Wild, the elder brother of Dortchen. She was able to help me in so many ways, including translating Dortchen’s memoir and Wilhelm’s diary into English for the first time. She was such an amazing help to me, but then I had to struggle with the fact that I was spinning a novel – one that was inspired by fact but was a fiction nonetheless – out of her family history. This troubled me for some time and inhibited my writing, until I realised that all novels are by their very nature a work of fancy, and that all I could do was be true to the story as I saw it.
Q. What has been the most rewarding aspect of writing this book?
The extraordinary response to the book so far. Dortchen’s story of love, faith and courage has captured the imagination of so many people, as it captured mine, and I feel so proud of being able to illuminate her forgotten life story and bring her out of the shadows at last.
Vintage Books’ Australian edition of THE WILD GIRL was released in March 2013. The UK edition will be published in July/August 2013.