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By Lauren Gui

Lauren Gui and Kate Forsyth.jpg

We are inextricably caught up in the paradox of endless numbered days from the day we are born, but fairytales have endured the test of time. I caught up with Kate Forsyth, a celebrated voice in fairytale retelling and acclaimed novelist of the international bestseller Bitter Greens, to talk about how fairytales resonate with both the young and old with their power to instill courage, and the complexity of good and evil choices.

You wrote your first novel at the precocious age of seven. What was it about?

It was called Runaway, and it was a story of a brother and sister who ran away from home. They were living with their mean uncle, and ran into all sorts of adventures on their quest to find their nice auntie.

You said a few months ago that fairy tales are “for all humans, having the power to help us change not only ourselves, but also the world.”

Yes, I believe that. We cannot effect change in the world until we imagine what kind of world it is that we want to live in. One of the reasons why I love writing for both adults and children is the idea that a book gives the most space in which they are a hero for a while. You can have all these adventures and do all these extraordinarily brave things in the world of the book, and it makes you feel brave. And so anything that we experience in the world of the book can change us in the same way as if it had really happened to us.

It’s striking how much you’ve written about the complexity of good and evil, or the way it’s categorised and distributed. Why is that such a recurring theme in your books?

I don’t actually know. I’ve never been asked that question before. Questions about the ideas of good and evil, and of fate and self-will have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Are we born evil or do we become evil? Do we consciously choose to be evil? Do people who are evil know that they are evil? How do we judge what is evil? Do we judge by intention, or do we judge by effect? There is a battle constantly going on, and maybe that’s what fascinated me as a child. There are two evils which you need to judge: which is the lesser of the two evils?

When you were older, your fascination with fairy tales grew stronger. Who were the authors who were influencing you at the time?

Growing up, Nicholas Stuart Gray, Eleanor Farjeon and C. S. Lewis were amongst my favourite authors. When I was at university, I was reading authors like Robin McKinley and Jane Yolen.

Why do you write fiction? To convey a sense of rationality, or is it a kind of a search for a humanity that links everyone together?

Definitely the latter. I think this is a beautiful question, because you’ve put exactly into words what I am trying to do. One of my favourite writers is E. M. Forster and he has an epigraph in one of his books: “Only connect.” This is my personal mantra on how to live my life. With all of my work and all of my novels, I’m seeking to connect with other human beings. You can never have too much of it.

Fiction gives us the chance to slip into someone’s skin and live their life for a while, to understand their most secret and innermost thoughts. When we return to our own skin and own lives, we still carry that new clarity, understanding and empathy that book has given us.

Which of your books are you most proud of?

Every book that I have ever written has each shaped and changed me in some way, and have all been written at a cost to me. If I had to choose one, it would have to be Bitter Greens, because it was such an extraordinary experience for me as a creative artist in terms of what I suffered in writing it, but also what I won in writing that book.

You’ve just finished your latest novel, The Beast’s Garden. Are you working on anything new at the moment?

Yes, I am. I’m working on a new fairytale-infused historical novel for adults. It’s got a working title of Beauty in Thorns, and it’s a re-imagining of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, set amongst the circle of pre-Raphaelite artists, in late Victorian England. It is told from the point of view of eight or nine women based on historical figures such as Christina Rossetti, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Elizabeth Siddal, and Mary de Morgan, who all lived, loved, suffered and died. And so I’m telling their stories in this book. Just the sort of thing I love. I’m hoping that it’s going to come together the way I want it to. You never know. It’s always a gamble, when you’re creating.

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