Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Birthday

Today is the birthday of Australian author Kate Forsyth!

Kate Forsyth is an Australian author known for her children’s books, her heroic fantasy series, as well as her historical novels. With more than twenty books under her belt for both adults and children, there are stories to suit all ages. She has also won or been nominated for numerous awards, including winning the Aurealis Award five times. Before becoming a writer, Forsyth worked as a journalist before then moving on to freelance work to have more time to focus on her writing. Having written her first novel at the age of seven Forsyth has gone on to become an internationally bestselling author, and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Forsyth’s love of fairytales is one of the reasons I really like her, her adult historical fictions Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl allow a backstage pass behind the fairytales we know and love today, including new insights into what the truth is behind these gripping stories. Bitter Greens about the origins of the tale of Rapunzel, and The Wild Girl about the woman and the love story behind many of the Grimm Brothers fairytales. Understanding how these timeless tales came about gives them so much more meaning and puts important and forgotten faces in front of stories where they belong.

One of the other things I love about Kate Forsyth is her ongoing and enduring passion for fairytales. It is a joy to hear her speak about fairytales and her passion, as well as the impact and influence they have had on her life, as is listening to her discuss her passion for books and reading in general. I implore you all to pick up one of her books, any of her books, and start reading them straight away, and I wish Kate a very happy birthday!

To learn more about Kate and her work just pick a link and start clicking!

 All Your Bits and Pieces Needs

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Published: 20th March 20123349b-goodreads-button
Publisher: 
Vintage Australia
Pages:
 576
Format: 
Book
Genre:
 Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★   – 5 Stars

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-four years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition, retaining her youth and beauty by the blood of young red-haired girls.

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of parsley, wintercress and rapunzel from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off unless he and his wife give away their little red-haired girl. And so, when she turns seven, Margherita is locked away in a tower, her hair woven together with the locks of all the girls before her, growing to womanhood under the shadow of La Strega Bella, and dreaming of being rescued…

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love.

Bitter Greens is the story of the fairytale Rapunzel, told against the backdrop of seventeenth century Europe and through the lives of many extraordinary women. The story focuses on three women in particular, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force – a member of King Louis XIV’s court, Margherita – a girl stolen from her family and shut away, and a courtesan surrounded by magic – Selena Leonelli. Each of their stories is told through an intricately threaded narrative and through the eyes and lives of these women, a wonderful story is told about passion, history, and fairytale.

The way Forsyth connects each of these stories together is brilliant. Her storytelling ability is engaging, mystical, and pulls at all the right emotions. What she has done is create a compelling novel that is based on history, based on the life of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, based on a period of time with royalty and court, convents, and just to keep things interesting, the Black Death.

The story starts with Charlotte- Rose and we learn of her banishment from court and it is through her new life in the convent that the stories of the other women are brought to life through the tale told by Sister Seraphina. The altering nature of each woman’s story was particularly enjoyable because it allowed you to feel like you too were being told the story in multiple sessions by someone. An entire story cannot be told in one afternoon in the garden, and Forsyth does not try to pretend like it is possible.

As I read about the convent life Charlotte-Rose endures I remember liking it to a women’s prison, though I’m sure that is a slight exaggeration but the way Forsyth describes it, especially coming from the life Charlotte-Rose had in court, it seems like a horrible place to end up and made me wonder why anyone willingly chose it. But as we see it through Charlotte-Rose’s eyes we are only exposed to her view of things, and it is writing like this that is truly excellent. The story Forsyth writes is enthralling and is one that is packed with detail making you feel like you are there beside each character the entire time. This is not just for Charlotte-Rose’s story though, the details throughout this book are extraordinary and there are minute details and grand details that not only add to the story but make you admire the writing and writer even more so.

By telling us the three women’s stories – Charlotte-Rose, Margherita, and Selina Leonelli, you learn that everyone has a story. The women in this story do not necessarily start out as the people they become, nor do they remain the same people there were, there are, like for everyone, many influences in their lives and each of these unique women are certainly victims of their circumstance, but it is what they do with it that can change everything and makes this a gripping story.

As I say there are many points of view as well as jumps in time through this book, meaning every perspective and every story can be told. This does not result in any confusion however as each story is woven together beautifully, heartbreakingly, and magically all at once. They are all connected, flowing one after the other, twisting together with such ease that you never lose your place, nor forget what has come before. You do however get so engrossed with each story that Forsyth is telling you are suddenly brought back to reality when the scene chances again and you realise you are in a memory, or the past, or someone else’s mind.

Bitter Greens isn’t so much a story within a story, but at the same time it is. Sister Seraphina tells the tale of Margherita to Charlotte-Rose, but through these two stories we see many other stories emerge, histories and pasts, all connecting together in the epic tale filled with history, passion, and longing. It is truly spectacular and a joy to become lost in and the historical aspects only add to the wonder. The detail and the complexities certainly show the years of research behind it, even passing comments can be something wonderful as you recognise a small seemingly obscure part of history being referenced.

Along with everything else this book has to offer from, the way Forsyth brings the story to an end is superb. The details possibly forgotten by the reader are brought back and reconnected to the story and a full circle is made where you didn’t know one needed completing. After initially being a tad saddened by the ending I soon recovered and understood. It is also hard to argue with history about where a story ends up. What was also wonderful was that the Afterword provides you with a brief ongoing story about Charlotte-Rose’s life, and what became of her and how her story got to be told, there is also additional information in the Forward.

There is a lot of power in Bitter Greens, not just in the life and realities people had to deal with during this time, but also the power of the people, the women, and the stories of the past. Historical fiction, good historical fiction, can make you see the past in a new light, bring out the everyday and make it shine. That is what Forsyth has done with this book, made it not just Rapunzel’s story retold, but looked at where she came from and how she came to be with integrity and adventure.

This book not only makes you realise there are more fairytale writers away from Grimm, Perrault, and Anderson, but discovering how these stories were created is astonishing. The fact that there is so much truth threaded into this work of fiction is marvellous and it makes you wish that some of the magical elements were a little bit real. Though having said that there is actually more reality than magic, and what magic there is is more on the unconventional side than fairytale magic typically is, enough to steep it more in reality than pure fantasy.

I explained this book to my sister as one she must read. She argued she did not like historical novels but I told her this was too good a story to pass up. I believe my words were “But it has fairytales! And prostitutes! And the plague!”. Possibly not the best argument but it is certainly not an untrue one. Bitter Greens does have all of these things, but what Forsyth does with the fairytales, prostitutes, and the plague is something to be admired, she takes these components and captures them into this story and turns them into a novel that is must read for lovers of history and fairytales alike. This is so much more than a simple Rapunzel story, it is a story that will leave you amazed, educated, and delighted.

The Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference

I discovered the greatest thing this afternoon. I got an email from Sarah Gibson, the filmmaker who wrote and directed the stunning series on ABC and gorgeous website about Re-enchantment, and she was sending out an email to say that her book “Re-enchantment: Ways to Interpret Fairy Tales” was available from the iTunes store for $4.99. That was cool enough, but then, underneath it also had a note to say that Sarah would be speaking at the Australian Fairy Tale Conference on Monday June 9th in Sydney. And I was like, the what now? Now I did not know that there was a Fairy Tale Conference, I thought I had been missing out for years on fairy tale conferences but it seems this is the inaugural year. I am seriously considering going as well; I think it would be wonderful.

The conference is being put on by the Australian Fairy Tale Society with the theme ‘The Fairy Tale in Australia’. The society, which is a national not-for-profit, are focused on “collecting, preserving, discussing, sharing, and creating Australian fairy tales.” according to their website. The conference is being held in Paddington at the Paddington Uniting Church and the standard cost is $95, less if you are a member of the society. The program is also available from the society website where you can see the breakdown of the day plus the special guests. There are a range of wonderful people speaking including Sarah Gibson, Kate Forsyth, as well as a many others.

The conference is on the Queen’s birthday long weekend for those considering going, and at $95 for a day of listening to how Australia plays a role in the creation of fairy tales, it is a pretty good day. You can register your place on the website, as well as check out more about the Society and the conference.

e-flyer

All Your Bits and Pieces Needs
Australian Fairy Tale Society Website
Australian Fairy Tale Society Facebook
Re-enchantment website

 

Also, for those interested in Sarah’s ebook here is some more information.

RE EBOOK COVER 7Written by Jungian analyst and filmmaker Sarah Gibson and designed by Rose Draper, this eBook presents new ways to interpret fairytales in a visually stimulating and immersive way. Chapters explore the hidden psychological meanings of fairy tales symbols and motifs. They unlock the secrets of the emotional power of fairy tales and why they continue to stir our imagination. The eBook features video, audio, animation and stunning visual design. It showcases re-imaginings by over thirty contemporary artists. Be curious. Be surprised. Be inspired.

Buy from iTunes

iTunes preview

 

iTunes Preview

 

Newcastle Writers Festival 2014: Saturday

nwflogoReading Ryan O’Neill’s post last night about his Newcastle Writers experience reminded me I haven’t done my own, then I realised it was no longer a couple of days ago it was an entire week! Where does the time go? So I have finally found some time to tell you all about my awesome time at the Newcastle Writers Festival.

After the enjoyable and amazing time at the opening night on Friday, I was up early and off to Newcastle City Hall for day one of the festival. My first session, ‘From Little Things: Writing for Children‘, was excellent. On the panel was Kaz Delaney (aka Kerri Lane), Wendy Harmer, and Jesse Blackadder with Linsay Knight moderating. The mood in the room was wonderful, there was laughter and joking, each of the panellists played off each other and watching them joke and interact was as enjoyable for them as it was the entire audience.

Stories on writing were discussed and Kaz Delaney told us that she felt she was born to write and told us about her vast collection of books for children. With 69 books under her belt Kaz was first published at 9 with what she called a blatant rip off of the poem “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth. She also mentioned that some people have passions –  animals, the planet etc and her passion is children. I thought that was wonderful. Being passionate about writing is one thing but when you couple that with being passionate about children as well I really think it would help your work.

Wendy discussed her creation and development of her Pearly series. Pearly is a fairy that lives on a fountain in a park and as a big fairy fan,  Wendy said the idea for Pearly came very easily. She also said she wanted to create a fairy that didn’t look like other fairies, those that seem to look like Paris Hilton with wings; she wanted a fairy with daring do.

What I loved about Wendy was the reason she chose to set her Pearly series in a park. She said that most children don’t have gardens, instead they go to the park, Wendy herself took her daughter to the park. Because of this they cannot enjoy the magic of having a fairy at the bottom of their garden so by having Pearly live in the park it showed children that even if they didn’t have a garden they could still enjoy the magic of fairies.

Jesse Blackadder, an author who I had not previously heard of, is someone who bases her stories of real things that happen, she takes them and brings the story to life. Listening to Jesse talk was enjoyable, she was funny and played on the vast success of her fellow panellists and joked about her far fewer books, and amongst the strong presence and humour of the others Jesse held her own quite well.

She told us about her new book Stay, a story about a fibreglass Guide dog statue that had been kidnapped from Hobart and taken to Antarctica. She discussed the true story it was based upon as well as the issues she had trying to make an inanimate object tell its own story. Jesse also told us when telling stories about real events in real places it was important to her to go to the places themselves, and so having been to Antarctica, Dubai and numerous other places she was able to bring the story to life.

The entire session was excellent and one filled with learning, insight and a lot of laughter. All the panellists gave us a reading from their book, and as much as I loved them all I must say Wendy’s was the most animated. Naturally by the end of the session I was eager to read all of their books which resulted in the buying and signing of books from each author.

Linsey Knight, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, Jesse Blackadder

Linsey Knight, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, & Jesse Blackadder

The next session I attended was ‘Kate Forsyth in Conversation‘, a wonderful hour where Magdalena Ball discussed with Kate her creative journey as well as retelling fairy tales, and writing best selling works based on fables and fairy tales. So many wonderful lessons were learnt in this session, so many excellent quotes about writing, about fairytales and about creating I could hardly write fast enough to capture and remember it all.

Kate read to us from her novel Wild Girl, gave us insights in her research and her ideas, and even gave us a sneak peek into her new story that she was starting once the festival was over. For Kate immersing herself in the research was important, knowing about every detail about her characters was important, whether it was what they ate, believed, or how they peed. She also explained her four stages of writing, how she developed and planned her ideas, and the influences writing one novel can have on another.

Kate told us that if you have the compulsion to form life experiences into words than nothing should stop you, but she also said you cannot give someone the gift of writing, you may be able to teach it, but it is not the same. This was something I heard later in the weekend as well, and certainly something I hadn’t considered before.

Listening to Kate tell stories about how she started as a writer, how she writes and the work she puts into her books was inspiring, I have seen her a few times now over the years and every time she manages to amaze me more. Once again, more books were bought and signed.

Magdalena Ball & Kate Forsyth

Magdalena Ball & Kate Forsyth

My last session was ‘Once Upon a Time: Exploring myths, fables, and fairy tales‘, again with Kate Forsyth but with John Hughes as well and Jenny Blackford moderating. Discussing the idea of reinventing fables and fairy tales into new inventive stories is something I adore doing and love reading about. John and Kate immediately addressed the incorrect notion that fables and fairytales are just for children, not to mention how and why these stories have lasted for millennia.

Kate said she believes that a story is retold if it is a story of longing and need and some kind of dilemma, and the stories that are retold and retold and shape shift really touch a core in the listeners. As she beautifully put it, she feels like a relay runner carrying on this beacon of stories, behind her is centuries of storytelling. I thought that was a wonderful way to describe it.

This was another session of excellent quotes about us as people, about our need for stories and love of them. From the cleaning up of darker tales in the Victorian era, and the Grimm’s changing the stories as well it was clear that these stories have been evolving for awhile. Naturally Disney poked its nose into this discussion about it taming down of fairytales further, but Kate wisely pointed out that Disney probably is the true source of the fairy tale revival, and that they did a wonderful service by keeping stories alive that may have been forgotten. John also pointed out that you cannot say these stories can only be used for high literature purposes and no other. It is really up to the person telling the stories how they want to do it. As Kate said, with each retelling of a tale the teller brings their own concerns to it. By the end of the session I has learned so much and gotten so many new ideas and motivation to write my own stories. After the session was over, yes, many books were bought and signed once more.

Kate Forsyth, Jenny Blackford, & John Hughes

Kate Forsyth, Jenny Blackford, & John Hughes

At the end of a very long first day I was on a buzz of knowledge and awe and just general happiness to be there. This is what I love, learning about how people write, where their inspiration comes from, but also the chance to broaden your own mind and gain new perspective and welcome new ideas and challenges. I truly adore this (and other) writing festivals. Not only do you learn so much but you also get exposed to great authors you may never have noticed or even considered before.

Tiddas Talking: Good friends and writers Anita Heiss and Lisa Heidke in conversation

This afternoon I went to the wonderful author event at Charlestown Library with Anita Heiss and Lisa Heidke who were talking about writing for women and the importance and joys of friendship. Anita Heiss, author of the new release Tiddas as well as Avoiding Mr Right and  Not Meeting Mr Right teamed up with fellow author and friend Lisa Heidke, author of Stella Makes Good, Claudia’s Big Break , and What Kate Did

Lisa Heidke

I will admit I have not read a lot/any “Chick Lit” but I am starting to, I had read about Lisa and Anita’s books though and they grabbed by attention, and having just purchased one of each I am looking forward to diving in. I grew more eager the longer I listened to them chat and I especially liked that Anita’s were summed up as “social justice, Australian national identity, in the friendship guise”.

Even before the pair started to discuss their books it was wonderful listening to the friendly banter and jesting between them. I saw a few similarities with myself and friends, and I’m looking forward to still acting like that and being that close years down the track.

Lisa started the conversation talking about Anita and her work with themes like social justice, the human condition, women, friendship and relationships in her books, as well as a few interesting opening scenes and passages from both their books. This of course resulted in the question being raised of the amount of research that is done. This was something I have always thought about, you can look at books like Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens which obviously has been researched over many years, but then there are others that you just can’t tell whether anything was researched or not. What is classed as research anyway? Studying facts and history to make things correct, or just visiting a certain location to get an insight into where you characters are walking and living. Everything and anything can be research if you want it to be.

Anita raised the question of how important research was in writing. She explained how she does a lot of research, often writing snippets and scenes along the way meaning that when a scene of location is needed later on she has one ready to go. The other thing she does is visit locations where she sets her stories and tries to work out what her characters would do/say if they were there. I found this approach interesting, I’ve always thought about and written scenes based on what I have seen/experienced/imagined, but never really thought about how my characters would interact in said location. I’ve just put the character in the location without really putting them in the location (does that make as much sense as I think it does?).

This of course led to the plotter vs pantser discussion. With Lisa a pantser and Anita a plotter it was a great insight to see how both sides work. For those who don’t know, a plotter is someone who basically writes out an outline and knows exactly what they’re writing about before it is written, a pantser on the other hand is someone who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’, so no plan, no outline, just writing and seeing what happens. These are basic explanations and there would be varying degrees I would assume, I myself am mainly a plotter but have been known to merge into a pantser in some moments.

Anita Heiss

As a self confessed panster, Lisa starts her story with no prior research, just a character and an idea and starts writing from there. She did admit though once a first draft is done, she will return and add in research to make sure her facts are correct and flesh out any sagging scenes. An advantage she mentioned was that it enabled you to add scenes as you wish, only needing to add hints and foreshadowing in earlier scenes if need be. The process of not knowing was one that works well for Lisa, the spontaneity is something that can help develop idea, though it can lead to long drafts and many tangents that may need to be reigned in. Anita on the other side said she does not start unless everything is planned out, and breaks down her story like one would an essay plan. Breaking it down into chapters and looking at what’s the weather? Who are the characters? Where are they going? Then major plot points and dramas can be woven through. The “map it out – research it – write it” approach.

A very interesting turn was when the discussion turned to reviews and whether they get noticed. A wonderful quote from Anita was that she “writes for readers not newspapers”, getting multiple reviews on GoodReads for example was more important than having one being published in a big newspaper.  The question of “who do you write for?” pops up a lot in author talks and I never tire of the answers. Anita said that she writes for herself, kind of, but she also writes for people like her. Having been unable to read stories about herself or anything Aboriginal in a contemporary setting, she set out to write one instead. I’m not sure if this was the quote you were thinking of Anita, and may have credited to Maya Angelo, but Toni Morrison said “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Either that or option 2 is Carol Shields who said, “Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find.”

I liked Lisa’s answer, Lisa writes for herself. After realising you cannot write a book for other people to suit what needs you think they want, she asked herself “what do I like to read?” and started from there. Women overcoming adversity, women like her, women with problems, teenagers, aging parents, infidelity, real life and a hopeful ending. The worst thing, Lisa says, is trying to write “the next big thing” because no one knows what that is going to be so you may as well enjoy writing what you like and not worry.

The other discussion point was about honesty and sparked the discussion not just about honesty in books but honesty as a person. The older we get it seems the more honest we become, especially with friendships. Blow ups are just a “small drop in the bucket of friendship”, this is something I think more people need to remember. The relationships in your 20s, 30s, and 40s are all different and lasting friendships are about more than one fight. As Anita noted, when you are older, your core group of friends are people who don’t judge, and are people you can be honest with and feel safe, where you can disagree but keep the friendship.

There was a whole lot more discussed that was not only excellent advice but allowed a small peek inside the mind of a writer and where inspiration and problems can lie, not just in narrative but ethical and legal matters as well. I won’t go on forever because as much as I’d like to discuss the entire session I won’t, but I will say that there were some wonderful lessons and messages to take from the hour long talk. A few great ones were:

Books are a very gentle way to learn…a safe way [for people] to learn or engage, by themselves.”

We’ve more in common as women than differences. All feel the same thing – it’s not about socio economics it’s about being human beings, about being women. Instead of sitting on the bus looking at someone thinking about differences, think about the sames.”

And one of my favourites, “Write for people to think about how their behaviour impacts other people.”

Even among all the technical writing talk, the entire talk demonstrated just how valuable friendships can be, in fiction and otherwise. There is a lot of power in good friendships and banding women together as one.

I look forward to reading more from these great authors and women and know I have come away with a few more writing lessons and life lessons as a result of my afternoon.

All Your Bits and Pieces Needs
Lisa Heidke website
Lisa Heidke – Upcoming Events
Lisa on Goodreads

Anita Heiss website
Anita Heiss – Upcoming appearances
Anita on Goodreads

Newcastle Writer’s Festival 2014

The Newcastle Writer’s Festival released their 2014 program this weekend and I know a fair few people who were there waiting and already have read through the various sessions and work out which ones they can attend and where the overlapping conflicts and tough decisions lie. I know with my own choices I had to choose between a few things, had to decide what was more valuable and what sparked my interest. As a first round I have a list of seven across two days including some excellent sessions with Kate Forsyth, Ryan O’Neill, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, and a range of others.

For those interested in going, the Newcastle Writers Festival is in its second year and is held in April with this year’s dates the 4th, 5th, and 6th. Started by Rosemarie Milsom with the support and backing of many great people the festival could be put on. Last year there were more than 70 writers participating with 38 sessions running. This year is just as big if not bigger and if last year is anything to go by it will be a resounding success and fun weekend in Newcastle. All the details can be found on their website, along with the program of sessions and information, times and locations. Just check though because while most are free, there are a few that require you to purchase a ticket, but it isn’t all that expensive.

I went to the inaugural Writers Festival last year with Jess over at The Never Ending Bookshelf, and for a first year event is was pretty spectacular. Certainly cannot believe it has been a whole year already. This year the events are mainly situated in the City Hall as far as I can see which is a lot different than last year. One of my favourite sessions last year was actually hosted in one of the pubs I used to go to after Uni with a few friends so that was rather interesting. Of course it was in the back room away from the general public, but it was still very cool. Now we’re in the City Hall so getting to see all their various rooms should be interesting.

The festival is across three days, and the sessions cover everything; there are sessions about crime writing, poetry, writing for children, writing fairy tales, romance, and just plain old writing. There are also sessions and talks by specific authors for you to attend. To learn more about the festival you can read their About page, or just have a look through their website, check out the programs that will be running, see the authors that are visiting and have a general squiz at how amazing it is going to be. You can also follow the latest news and information on Facebook and Twitter. It is only the end of February but I can already see that April is definitely going to be getting off to a very good start.

 

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