I was recently lucky enough obtain an advance reading copy of Kate Forsyth’s new novel, Bitter Greens, to read during my Christmas break, and was bowled over by its magnificent blend of history, fairytale and sheer storytelling flair. Bitter Greens will be released this month by Random House Australia, and not only has Kate agreed to be our guest on Writer Unboxed for a two part interview, she’s also giving away a copy of the novel to a lucky WU reader. Post a comment on Part One of this interview by April 12 to be in the draw, which is open to readers from any part of the world.
Kate is an extremely versatile writer, as you’ll see in this interview, and she seems to thrive on challenge. With Bitter Greens she’s done something entirely new. I couldn’t wait to ask Kate about the creative process for this particular project, which combines her scholarly interest in fairy tales with the creative passion of a true storyteller.
To introduce the novel, here’s a quote from Kate’s website:
Bitter Greens is an historical novel which intertwines a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale with the dramatic true life story of the woman who first told the tale – the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It moves from the dazzling court of the Sun King in 17th century Paris and Versailles to Venice in the 16th century, and is filled with romance, magic, history and danger.
JM: Kate, congratulations on this wonderful new novel and thanks so much for agreeing to talk to Writer Unboxed. Bitter Greens is one of those books that breaks out of recognised genre moulds – it’s part historical novel, part fairytale, and part serious examination of gender roles, power and cruelty in 16th and17th century France and Italy. I want to start at the very beginning. I know you’ve loved fairytales since childhood. Will you tell WU readers about your first encounter with the Rapunzel story?
KF: I first read the Rapunzel fairytale when I was a young girl in hospital, suffering a series of treatments and operations for a damaged tear duct. I was given a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the stories in that little leather-bound book have been my favourite fairytales ever since – among them, of course, Rapunzel. I felt a great affinity with that other young girl, locked away alone in a tower as I was confined alone in my hospital ward. I loved the fact that her tears had the power to heal the Prince’s blindness and wished that my own tears, weeping constantly from the damaged tear duct, would heal mine.
JM: What would you like our readers to know about Bitter Greens?
KF: I began wanting to retell the Rapunzel fairytale, which has fascinated and puzzled me ever since I first read it as a child. I’ve always loved both fairytales and retellings of fairytales, but it seemed to me that most reworkings of the Rapunzel story sidestepped the biggest problems in it. For example, why did the witch want to lock her in a tower. Why was Rapunzel’s hair so impossibly long? Why didn’t Rapunzel ask the prince to bring a rope so she could climb down and escape?
The other big problem with fairytale retellings, I think, is that they can lack surprise and suspense, the two ingredients I consider the most important in creating a compelling narrative. The stories are so well-known that it’s difficult to build suspense, or create switches and reversals, when the reader knows the story so well. Most writers solve this problem by subverting the tale, but this usually fails to surprise as well. I wanted to be faithful to the haunting, beautiful feel of the familiar tale, while still writing a gripping, unputdownable novel.
JM: I understand that at a certain point your publisher took a change of direction about marketing for the novel. Could you tell us about that? [Read more…]