‘Write what you know.’ It’s the often repeated mantra of creative writing teachers the world over, but according to best-selling author Kate Forsyth, it does have its merits: “As writers, we can’t help but express our own philosophies of life.”
This is certainly true of Kate’s work. Although many of her novels are set in fantasy worlds of her own creation, they have in common a strong egalitarian streak.
“My books all have strong sub-themes about human rights because this is something that I personally feel passionately about,” Kate Forsyth told Australian Women Online.
Though she acknowledges the romance and escapism involved in depicting lost heirs, imprisoned princess and battles for thrones, she is mindful of the problems inherent in these societies and aims to strike a balance between creating a thrilling reading experience and highlighting the drawbacks and challenges associated with these settings.
“One of the problems with writing historical fiction or fantasy that draws upon a historical past is that the evils of feudal societies are sometimes glossed over,” she said.
As primarily a fantasy writer, Kate finds that there are also issues to be considered when writing about a culture or history that is unfamiliar.
“In general, I tend to draw upon my own family history and culture for inspiration, partly because I was brought up on the stories and history of that culture, and also partly out of respect for other people’s cultures.”
Part of this respect involves striving for subtlety and nuance, something that can be a challenge when portraying antagonists and villains.
“One of my primary concerns is that evil is not always easy to either recognise or understand,” she said, noting that most of her books contain morally complex heroes and villains.
Of course, out-and-out villains of nefarious intent are not necessarily verboten—just so long as they suit the shape and purpose of the story. Kate is a firm believer that juxtaposition and contrast are key to heightening the thrill for the reader: despair should be tempered by joy, and sorrow by laughter.
“I think the dark moments make the bright ones that much more powerful, and vice versa.”
There can, however, be such a thing as too dark, and Kate is very aware of the sensitivities of her readers, especially the younger ones. Certain themes, such as sex and violence, require careful consideration.
“I have had editors query a scene or a description with me regarding its suitability for the target market.”
Kate praises her editors for their strong knowledge of the market, but is keenly aware of her personal goals as a writer: “my books help the reader lose themselves in another world,” she said. And with more than twenty-five novels and a slew of awards to her name, she clearly knows how to achieve this. “I love every aspect of writing. Daydreaming about my story, my characters, my world, and doing my best to bring the visions of my imagination to life.”
And Kate’s imagination seems inexhaustible. Her work spans myriad genres, from picture books to high fantasy to historical fiction, and all with settings that entice and evoke, from Renaissance Venice to 16th century Scotland to modern-day Australia.
The diversity of her oeuvre means that Kate is always challenged as a writer. “If I was simply writing one fantasy novel after another, all set in the same world, with the same set of characters, I think I would struggle with my books beginning to feel stale and predictable,” she said.
“I try to avoid this by constantly trying to challenge myself with new worlds and new genres and new ways of telling a story. However, I hope that all my books share complex and compelling plots filled with history, suspense, romance and magic.”
Kate Forsyth lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and three children. Kate’s latest book is a fantasy adventure for children, ‘The Starkin Crown‘ published by Pan Macmillan Australia in May 2011.
For more information about Kate Forsyth and her novels, visit the author’s website at: www.kateforsyth.com.au