Here is a treat for all at Tale Peddler this week. We have the beautiful and dynamic writing duo of Sydney sisters, Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell doing a guest post for us on their inspirations. Kate has long been an inspiration for me. Her books take up a sizable portion of my bookshelves. She has oodles of knowledge on the business and craft of writing. I've known her for many years and her passion for words and storytelling never fails to move and inspire.And it looks as if blonde Belinda has all the talent and loveliness of Kate as well.Both the sisters have creative talent in their blood. They are descended from Charlotte Barton who wrote the first book for children published in Australia and one of Australia's first female journalists, Louisa Atkinson.
And so gather around closely, feel the warmth of fellow travellers around you. Sip your ale and know magic is in the air. Warm your toes, expect a bird to carry a message, a crone to deliver a prophecy. Allow yourself to believe in the impossible, the fantastical, the power of fire and story-telling. A child with blazing eyes like the sun will bring down a kingdom, a gypsy boy might steal your heart whilst you listen. Be still and let the tale and the magic weave into your bones
I bring you Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell on their inspirations!
My first novel came to me as a dream. I remember it very vividly, even though I was only sixteen when I had the dream and twenty-nine when I began writing it. I saw a small, naked baby lying in a nest of bright golden and orange leaves, cradled by the thick, writhing roots of an immense and ancient tree. It was dawn. I saw a pale moon above a distant, sharp-pointed mountain peak like a bent fang. An old woman came out of a crack in the tree and stood looking down at the baby. She was dressed in a kind of cloak, and had a long plait of silver and black hair. She bent and picked up the baby and took her back inside the tree. I knew, somehow, that she was a wood witch and could speak to animals, and that in the land in which she lived, magic was outlawed and that was why she lived inside a tree.
I wrote a story based on this dream the next day, which may have helped stamp it so deeply into my memory. All I can remember are the lines: ‘the moss was her mattress and the sky was her ceiling.’ When I wanted to write a fantasy story thirteen years later, I remembered this long-ago dream and decided to try and write it again. I began by thinking: Who was the baby? Who left her there in the roots of that old tree? Who was the wood-witch? Why was magic outlawed? By answering those questions, I created the world and the key characters in what became the six-book series, ‘The Witches of Eileanan’.
My dreams are very filmic. They often have a narrative arc, vivid colour and sound, and I remember them when I wake. My journal is full of story sketches that have come from dreams. I try and use my dreams as a way to solve problems in my story, or to dip deeper into my subconscious and see what comes swimming up from the depths. Every night before I go to sleep, I think about my book and my characters, and I think over what I plan to do the next day. Then I do a kind of creative visualisation exercise. It’s different for every book and always works its way into the novel itself. When I was writing The Starthorn Tree, I always imagined a boat crossing a midnight lake. The rhythmic stroke of the oars would take me deeper and deeper into sleep, and I would wonder, ‘what’s on the far shore? What waits for them?’ When I was writing the ‘Rhiannon’s Ride’s’ series, I’d imagine walking down a long flight of dark steps and at the end would be a door. I would turn the handle and step through the door into ... what? A garden? A dungeon? A medieval hall? It was always different. This idea of the door leading into the dream-world was one I used in that series for one of my characters, Olwynne, who was a dream-walker.
Sometimes I am ‘stung by the splendour of a sudden thought’, in Robert Browning’s lovely words. These flashes of inspiration can come any place, at any time ... and so I try and make sure I always have pen & paper to hand. I keep all these scribbles – if they are on a paper napkin or a scrap torn from the edge of the newspaper, I paste them into my notebook so I can remember the moment when the idea came to me.
Each book has its own first bright spark of inspiration. ‘The Puzzle Ring’ was born while reading a jewellery catalogue while waiting in a doctor’s surgery. ‘The Gypsy Crown’ was born during a conversation about children’s books and about how they’re all about princesses or ponies or spies, and how I wished to write something different, something that had never been written before. At once I thought, ‘Gypsies!’ because as a child I had longed to be one, wandering the world barefoot and fancyfree, with a monkey on my shoulder and a violin under my arm. At once I saw the whole story unrolling before me like a film and knew exactly what I was going to do.
My latest book, ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’ was born when I was writing my first children’s book, ‘The Starthorn Tree’. It was late at night, and I was weary, having been writing all day and into the midnight hours. My four heroes were at a point in the story just before the major crisis, when they were facing the very real possibility of defeat and even death. One of my characters, a boy who could tell the future, began to speak a prophecy. It just came out of nowhere, and I wrote it down virtually word for word as it appears in the book today. In that prophecy, he says that there will be two more generations of heroes to come before the land can at last be at peace. At once I knew I had to write two sequels to ‘The Starthorn Tree’ – one about the children of my heroes and one about their grandchildren. I saw, as if in a waking dream, a landscape of forests and mountains and seas rushing past me, towards an impossibly tall crystal tower. I knew that a wildkin princess was imprisoned in that tower and that the quest would be to rescue her.
Other ideas are just a gift of the universe. When it finally came time to write ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’, I could not think how to solve the problem of rescuing Princess Rozalina. I thought and thought and thought, but nothing seemed right. I always like to have a deeper thematic structure to my books, so that each obstacle has a symbolic meaning as well as being a step forward in the plot.
I was walking in the dawn one morning, thinking to myself, ‘how can they rescue Rozalina?’ when suddenly a raven burst into flight right in front of me, dropping a single black feather at my feet. I bent and picked up the feather. At once my brain was on fire with ideas. A feather ... a cloak of feathers ... a broken cloak of feathers that is missing seven feathers, each one from a different bird ... a raven is a symbol of death and wisdom so perhaps that feather could be found at the end of a tragic battle scene ... a feather from an eagle ... perhaps they would have to climb up to its eyrie high in the clouds ... a feather from an owl, a scene in a forest at night, the gaining of some kind of knowledge or insight ... a nightingale, bird of love, perhaps a first kiss? I walked faster and faster and faster, my mind leaping from one idea to another, and by the time I got home I had my entire novel fully plotted out. It was one of those amazing serendipitous moments that make writing a novel such a joy. Kate Forsyth
Magic gems, childhood games, family stories, my travels, adventures, my sister, my children, books I’ve loved….there are so many sources of inspiration in my life. So let’s pick two. The first is my children. I have loved writing since I could almost hold a pen, and I have earned a living as a writer of one kind or another since I left university. In the back of my mind I always had the dream of writing books, definitely kept alive as I saw my sister Kate grow from strength to strength as an author. Yet I was always so busy – working, paying mortgages, travelling, having babies. It wasn’t until I had my own children and read so many books with them, that I rediscovered my love of children’s literature, and dreamed of writing books for them.
I am blessed because all three of my children are fantastic readers. They read books the way I did as a child – avidly, voraciously and illicitly – under the bed covers when they should be asleep! My first books, the Sun Sword Trilogy were written for all three of my children –two boys and a girl. My children loved exciting adventure stories and fantastic quests where the children were brave and strong and clever. Books where children were empowered and able to take on the adult world and win!
But my most recent two books The Locket of Dreams and The Ruby Talisman were very definitely written for my daughter Emily, who is 12 and always, always has her head stuck firmly in a book!
Both these books are time slip adventures, about modern day girls who magically travel back in time. The Locket of Dreams was set in 1850s Scotland, while my new book, The Ruby Talisman Is set during the French Revolution. Tilly and Amelie are two girls, born more than 200 years and a whole world apart, yet magically linked by the Ruby Talisman which brings them together to fight side by side, to escape the horrors of the revolution.
I was inspired to write The Ruby Talisman because my family and I were lucky enough to have two years travelling and having adventures together. During this time we lived in Europe for five months, particularly France. I love France – the landscape, the food, the history, the culture and the language, so was very keen to set a book there and the French Revolution seemed an ideal period in history for a book of deadly danger and exhilarating adventures.
To research the book we wandered the opulent salons of Versailles, and walked in the footsteps of Queen Marie-Antoinette. We explored the gorgeous French countryside on horseback, by foot and on board an old fishing boat. We even crawled down into the dank, dark tunnels under the streets of Paris where the aristocratic bones were tossed of many of those murdered during the revolution. How could you not be inspired in a setting like this? Fantastique!!
Thanks Kate and Belinda for taking the time on a busy promotional tour to drop into Tale Peddler. If you would like to read more about them and their work, their websites are http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/ and http://www.belindamurrell.com.au/
Enjoy your week and Believe! xx
all photos courtesy of Kate Forsyth