Authors discuss their writing techniques.
Hi, I’m Mark O’Bannon. Welcome to this rare look into the secrets of storytelling from published authors. Today, I’m joined by, Kate Forsyth, the bestselling and award-winning author of 25 books, including “The Witches of Eileanan” series.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
I have always wanted to be a writer, for as long as I can remember. I began writing stories and poems as soon as I could hold a pencil, and wrote my first novel when I was seven. I’ve been working on one novel or another ever since. I began to be published in my late teens and early twenties – poems and stories and articles – and worked as a journalist for most of my 20s. My first novel was published when I was 30, and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
I guess it having that first novel published. I’d always believed fervently that it was my destiny to be a writer, but I had bad days of doubts and fears. I still do! However, now I know it’s part of the creative process and perhaps a prompt to make sure you are always stretching yourself creatively.
Where do you get your ideas from?
The world is brimming over with story ideas. I have more than I could ever write! I think everything that interests you, or worries you, or badgers away at you, is a story idea. You just need to recognise it and use it.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
I like the very basic planning tool Who, What, Where, When & Why. It contains everything you need to begin building a story.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
I draw my inspiration from the past – old stories, old beliefs, old superstitions – and so my books tend to be a blend of the historical and the fantastical. Some are very firmly grounded in the world as we know it, others are set in an imaginary realm, but I like to think they are all filled with history, suspense, romance and adventure.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
Many of the ideas I have books at the moment seem more historical than fantastical, but I get new ideas every day.
Do you work from an outline?
I always have a strong sense of the story shape before I start writing. I don’t do a chapter by chapter breakdown usually, and if I do, its very brief. However, I can’t start writing until I have my beginning, middle and end – plus a few key scenes along the way.
How do you build your story?
First I think about it and daydream about it, and write notes to myself, and start my research, then slowly the story takes shape in my mind. When I have a strong sense of the story arc, and my characters, I begin to write. I start at the beginning and work my way methodically towards the end, often stopping to edit and rewrite and reshape.
For you, what makes a great hero?
A character that comes alive on the page, someone who is vivid and believable and full of verve, and someone that grows and changes as a result of his or her experiences.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
That I was a control freak J
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
I spend a lot of time researching – I think it makes all the difference. It can help you conceive the story, as well as make the story ring true. Luckily for me I love research – its simply reading with a purpose.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
I have ideas for books set in Cornwall, Germany, France and Spain
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
I am always more interested in the story – theme is what grows naturally out of telling the story.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
Oh, absolutely! Dialogue always adds zing and sparkle and humour. Here’s a favourite passage from my most recent book, ‘Bitter Greens’:
‘I am speechless,’ I said, staring around.
He smiled. ‘Not a word I usually associate with you.’
I pouted. ‘I know, I know. Maidens should be mild and meek, swift to hear and slow to speak. Such a shame I’m not like that, isn’t it?’
‘A shame you’re not mild and meek, or a shame you’re not a maiden?’
I tilted my head. ‘That doesn’t seem a very gentlemanly question, sir.’
‘Won’t you call me Louis?’
I gave an internal shudder. I could not bear to call him that. It was the King’s name and seemed laden with menace to me. ‘That seems a little familiar, don’t you think? We’ve only known each other a few days.’
‘It seems like much longer.’
I repressed a smile. ‘Is that a compliment or an insult?’
‘Oh, absolutely a compliment.’
‘Perhaps it could be more prettily phrased?’ I suggested.
‘I’m sorry. I’ll try and do better next time.’
‘Perhaps a rondeau to my eyes?’
‘I don’t even know what a rondeau is. Some sort of poem, I’m guessing.’
‘Oh, ignorant man. It’s a poem of fifteen lines with a rhyming scheme of two. And “eyes” is so easy to rhyme with. Skies and pies and guise . . .’
‘And thighs,’ he suggested.
‘How about “unwise”,’ I returned swiftly.
‘How about “tries”?’
‘There’s always “despise”.’
‘You’re really rather good at this. I fully expect a rondeau to my eyes next time we meet.’
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I have a very strong writing routine that I hate to have disturbed. Basically my days begins with a cup of tea and some quite thinking time in bed, then the rush to get my kids to school, then an hour’s walk with my dog by the ocean, and then a cup of tea and my computer on. I work from 10 through to around 12.30pm, when I break for lunch, then I’m back working till my kids get home – usually around 5pm. I cook dinner and clean up and help with homework, and then I either read or I go back to work for another 2 hours. I try not to work weekends, but towards the end of a novel I usually work for 2-3 hours a day on the weekends too.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Because I am such a disciplined writer, I rarely get any type of block. I’m sometimes unsure of how to proceed, but then I sit down and work it out. If I’m still struggling to find the answer, I go for a walk, and let my subconscious mind mull it over. Sometimes I’ll leave that scene a few days and work on something else. There’s always something to do.
How do you go about fixing a story?
I write lists of things I need to do, and then I go and do them.
How do you know when to stop?
I always know my end-point before I start writing and so I always know what I’m working towards. I’m also very conscious of my word count. I tend to write big, complicated novels and so I’m always trying to keep my word count under control. I’ll think to myself ‘do I really need this scene?’ before I write it, so I’m not wasting time writing unnecessary scenes.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Be bold, have courage, take joy in your writing.
So, what is YOUR plan for the zombie apocalypse?
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
I think my latest book, ‘Bitter Greens’ is the best thing I’ve ever written. It was a big risk for me, and technically very challenging, but I think my risk has paid off.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a historical novel for adults called ‘The Wild Girl’, which tells the story of Dortchen Wild who grew up next door to the Grimm Brothers and told them many of their most compelling stories. Dortchen Wild and Wilhelm Grimm fell in love, but were kept apart by war, tyranny, terror and famine. It’s a beautiful and poignant love story, filled with drama and darkness as their lives are played otu against the background of the Napoleonic Wars.
I’d like to thank today’s author, Kate Forsyth for being with us today.
I’d like to thank you as well. Please check out the other great interviews in this series with authors, and remember to keep writing! The next published book could be yours.
– Mark O’Bannon
About the Author
Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of 25 books, translated into 10 languages. Her latest book for adults, Bitter Greens, interweaves a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale with the scandalous life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Her latest book for children is The Starkin’s Curse, a tale of high adventure and true love set in the same world as her bestselling novels The Starthorn Tree and The Wildkin’s Curse. Kate is currently studying a doctorate in fairytales at UTS. Her website is www.kateforsyth.com.au
Visit Kate Forsyth online:
Adult books: http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/adultbook
Children’s books: http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/childrenbook