General chatter

Hardcover Christmas: Five Titles

I think it’s been fairly well established that books make great presents, wouldn’t you agree? It must then be said that a wonderful hardcover book is possibly one of the best gifts that one person can give another…

They’re readable, durable and substantial. They wrap so nicely, sit on the shelf so proudly, and can be enjoyed many times over.

Today I’ve got five hardcover titles that I’ve received throughout the year that I think would make really interesting gifts this Christmas.

text and drugs and rock n rollFirst up is Simon Warner’s Text and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll (Bloomsbury)… Exploring the connection between the the Beat Generation and rock (and jazz), this book has it all. This is the kind of book that I would have saved up for for ages as a teenager, and then taken a full year to read. It’s a collection of well-researched, well-written essays, stories and accounts capturing the ghosts of Ginsberg, Felinghetti, Kerouac and co. all wrapped up in the music of their time; Jazz, Dylan, and others.

My favourite essay so far is ‘Chains of Flashing Memories: Bob Dylan and the Beats, 1959 – 1975’, but I’ll be dipping back into this tome many times, as I’m sure any lucky recipient would.  You can find out more about this book here…

new york cult recipesNext is one for the foodies out there, a really unique recipe book, New York Cult Recipes by Mark Grossman (Murdoch Books). I love New York and so I wasn’t that fussed about whether this was an actual ‘usuable’ cookbook or not. I would have been satisfied with a few ‘spirit of New York’ dishes and some great photos of my second favourite city in the world.

As it happens, there are actually page after page of recipes I can’t wait to try. Smoothies, pancakes, bagels and burgers – my mouth was watering from start to finish. I can’t recommend this one enough, for any fan of NY or cooking, and especially a lover of both. You can find out more about the book here…

Oh dear, I just flicked through the book again, and now I’m really hungry…

bedside book of philosophySorry I digress. Next is something a little more pensive. It’s The Bedside Book of Philosophy, by Michael Picard (Allen and Unwin), a witty and intelligent guide to philosophy. It’s not entirely a ‘layman’s guide’ as it requires a bit of concentration, but it is a really approachable packaging-up of the fundamentals of philosophy. It uses illustrations, scenarios and puzzles to help you wrap your mind around some of the most interesting ideas in philosophy – logical paradoxes, moral dilemmas, utilitarianism – all the good ones! It’ll give you an intellectual workout that you’ll thoroughly enjoy.

I got particularly hooked on the discussion of ‘grammatical ambiguouity’…

The following sentences are [also] grammatically ambiguous. They are amphibolies, each having two meanings. Distinguish these meanings and identify the different grammatical roles played by individual words (as below):

Flying planes can be dangerous.

The lamb is too hot to eat.

The shooting of the hunters was terrible.

They are cooking apples.

Visiting relatives can be a nuisance.

These spun my head around, and as a lover of words, had me fascinated. The Bedside Book of Philosophy would make a great gift for that twisty-thinker in your life! Find out more about the book here…

1001 ideasAlong the same lines, book number four is all about ideas, but this time it’s about other people’s cleverness. 1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (Allen and Unwin) is a fantastic reference, tracking 1001 ideas across the ages from Pre 500 CE to today including soap (2800BCE), the Chicken and Egg Conundrum (350 BCE), traffic lights (1868) and Rap music (1979) plus 997 others.

For lovers of trivia, this will be a bible. Not only that, but I’m loving having it on hand to slide over to my kids when they’re researching a period or concept. 99.9% of their research for school is now done online, but I love being able to show them that sometimes academically useful information comes out of books too!

You can find out more about 1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think here…

the melbourne bookFinally, something a little bit lighter but equally as fascinating is the newest edition of The Melbourne Book, by Maree Coote (MelbourneStyle). Perfect for lovers of Melbourne, past and present, the fourth edition of this beautiful history includes new tales, added to stories of Melbourne – of the people, the places, the passions of residents and visitors alike.

As you might expect, it’s beautifully illustrated with photographs of landmarks and hidden corners. These photos are both new and old, the vintage shots capturing moments in time in Melbourne’s history. This is the first of Maree’s books that I’ve read, and I’m going to make sure I pass it around to all those who I know love Melbourne as much as I do. If you’d like to find out more about the book, and about Maree’s work, you can visit here…

Hopefully by now your shopping basket is pretty full, so I’ll leave it there (although I could go on). My point, in short, is that I think you should give books this Christmas – there’s just nothing better!


Out Now! TBYL News: All Things Bookish December 2013

This month’s edition of TBYL News: All Things Bookish… is now out, chock full of Christmas give-aways!

cardsThere’s eight great books from Allen and Unwin to win, plus two vouchers from the TBYL Store! 

You can find out more in this month’s newsletter,you’re welcome to enter one competition or enter them all, it’s up to you!

 I hope you’ll enjoy our December edition! Click here to read TBYL News: All Things Bookish… December 2013

If you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, you can click here.

And of course, we here at TBYL hope you have a very merry Christmas season!


Lots of fun coming up for TBYL!

November and December are turning out to be particularly busy and extra exciting for the TBYL crowd. I don’t want you to miss out on anything, so here’s a calendar of what’s coming up in the next couple of months!

marketTBYL at the Fair
Sunday, 17 November 2013

We’ll be setting up a TBYL stall at the Strathaird Primary School (Narre Warren South) and if you’re in the area, we’d love for you to pop by and say hi! We’ll have books, gifts, stories and free goodies on offer. Find out more about what’s going on at this great school event on their page…

Steve WorlandMeet Steve Worland

Monday, 25 November 2013 7:30pm (EST)

This month’s TBYL Event is an online conversation with the exciting Steve Worland, author of the newly released Combustion (Penguin). A great chance to find out more about Steve’s action-packed adventure series.

RSVP today to make sure you don’t miss out on this entertaining chat and be sure to tune into the TBYL Facebook page at 7:30pm (EST).

CombustionTBYL Book Club November

25 – 27 November 2013

Join us online to discuss Steve Worland’s Combustion for the TBYL Book Club. We’ll be chatting on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, on the TBYL Facebook page.

You can RSVP here for a reminder, and get hold of a copy of Steve’s book here.

You can read my review of Steve’s book here if you’d like to find out more about this fast-paced novel.

christmas giftsTBYL Christmas Clearance

Saturday, 30 November 2013

This is your chance to pick up some Christmas bargains from the TBYL Store! For one day I’ll have a great range of books for adults and kids, set up in my front room. Now, I know you probably can’t join me in real life, and so I thought I’d share the goodies with you on Facebook. Put it in your diary, and on Saturday 30 November make sure you visit our Facebook page to find amazing specials on books to clear. They’ll be discounted, some at cost. It’s a great opportunity to pick up a fantastic read at a low price, plus a chance to take a look at the stock that the TBYL Store has.

RSVP here to make sure you don’t miss out!


the goldfinchTBYL Book Club Special Event, with guest host Rachel Devine
Monday, 2 December 2013 7:30pm (EST)

I’ve been chatting with a new friend Rachel from Rachel Devine Photography / sesame ellis. As well as being a very talented photographer, she’s also a fellow book lover. She’s been enjoying Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and I couldn’t resist – I’m going to join her.

I’d like to invite you to do the same. We’ll have a chat about the book on the evening of Monday, 2 December TBYL Facebook. I hope you’ll tune in and join the conversation (you can RSVP here) and meet some wonderful new bookish friends.

You can find out more about the book at the Hachette Australia website.


bundle of booksTBYL News: Christmas Edition
Monday, 2 December 2013

This special Christmas edition of our newsletter will not only feature a wrap up of TBYL’s 2013, but will also give you lots of chances to win great books! Consider it my Chrissy present to you!

Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss out!


champagneTBYL at Contagious Enthusiasm’s Christmas Fair
Friday, 13 December 2013 5pm – 9pm

We’ll be attending the Contagious Enthusiasm’s Christmas Fair in Hampton just before Christmas, offering you a final pre-Chrissy chance to pick up TBYL goodies for your family and friends. Come along to 571 Hampton Street, Hampton and enjoy a little shopping, a massage and a drink and nibble. It’ll be a lovely night out! Find out more on Contagious Enthusiasm’s website or Like them for updates.


The end of 2013 is coming up fast, but as you can see, we’ve got a little something for everyone, to help you see the year out in bookish style! I hope you’ll join us!

Five fun things for this week…

I’m a bit scattered today, I’m booked in for a health-related-thingy (I’ll spare you the details) and it’s got my head a little all over the place. In an effort to get my thoughts in order a little, I thought I’d do one of my ‘five things’ posts today  – there’s lots of great things coming up.

jewelleryFirst up, if you’re looking for some goodies for the present cupboard, or indeed, a treat for yourself, the TBYL Store has a big jewellery sale going on at the moment. It’s here on Facebook and you can pick up an amazing range of great value pieces, many with free delivery. It’s on until next Tuesday!

Secondly, don’t forget that you’re invited to join us in chatting about this month’s TBYL Book Club book, The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane starting next Monday, 30 September and running through to Wednesday. If you’d like to join us, visit our Facebook page.

the night guestIf you’ve not read Fiona’s book yet, never fear, it’s available as a Penguin ebook here…

I’ll be posting my review and an interview with Fiona in the next day or so (all going well).

Next up, is our next TBYL Event, an online conversation with author Christie Thompson. Christie will be chatting about her new book Snake Bite (Allen and Unwin) on the evening of the 30 September 2013.

christie thompson college

I can’t wait, I loved her novel (you can read my review here) and am looking forward to hearing about where she got her inspiration for this sharp, witty coming-of-age novel.

You can RSVP here for the event!

The fourth thing to mention is that I’m going to spend some time on Pinterest. And Goodreads. And Instagram. If you don’t follow TBYL already, don’t forget to give us a click. Lots of pretty pictures and linky-links going on all the time.

currently reading

Finally, I’m going to be reading and reading and reading. I’ve lots of books on the go, here’s just a few…

It’s going to be a great couple of weeks, I hope you’ll join us!! Feel


MWF 2013 Take 2

I’ve finally caught up on everything that I’d put to one side while I was at the MWF, which means I’ve got time now to give you a run down on my second weekend at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

With Oscar now at school, I was able to swing into the city for a few Friday sessions, a first for me.

20130909-133130.jpgWith barely a minute to spare, I found a seat just in time to listen to Eric Beecher, Pamela Willams and Mark Forbes in the session; ‘The News About News’ (as part of the New News Conference). This incredible panel, filthy rich with journalism experience, provided a level of insight into the workings of media that I’d never thought I’d get. It was a rare opportunity and one I relished.

Eric provided a vital, impartial and slightly rebellious perspective to the conversation, whilst Pam and Mark spoke passionately about the future of Fairfax, the nurturing of quality journalism and the economic challenges facing traditional media, particularly as it struggles to find a new, workable business model. It was even suggested at one point that newspapers may in fact need to be run as not-for-profits or charities in order to ensure their survival. They are that important.

The panel was trying to communicate hope, whilst at question time, the audience brought to bear a far greater degree of scepticism. It was difficult to know whether Pam and Mark spoke positively from a position of employee-loyalty, professional passion or blind optimism. It was, nonetheless reassuring to hear that individuals working at top levels of the media game are still talking the talk, and hopefully also walking the walk.

I finished up at this session and headed to ‘The Politics of Sex’ featuring Shereen El Feki, author of Sex and the Citadel and Anna Krien, author of Night Games. It was chaired by Sophie Cunningham who added her own experience and intelligence to the topic.


Shereen spoke of her experience of sexuality in the Arab world and Anna concentrated mainly on her investigations into sexuality as found in amongst the sporting clubs of Australia. Their contexts were different, as were their experiences, but the central issues were similar – the balance of power between genders, the perception of women – positive, negative and indifferent, and the overall conversations occurring within these environments (or in fact, the lack thereof).

I found this session frightening, and at times confronting. Still, it was quite constructive, with both writers suggesting ways that they believed change might come about and communications that might aid in addressing the current disconnect between the genders and help us all to behave a bit better towards each other.

I travelled home pondering on some pretty big topics.

Saturday morning was an absolute highlight for me, as I attended a seminar called ‘The Art of Literary Criticism’ with Jeremy Harding, contributing editor and Mary-Kay Wilmer, editor of the London Review of Books.


As you know, I love to review books – to read them, to reflect on their content, their context, and their purpose. I enjoy putting them into place within my own experiences and to consider who might love them and why.

This session provided some incredible advice regarding evaluating a text, describing it to a reader, essentially telling the story of the book. Mary-Kay and Jeremy offered advice as to how best approach reviewing a book, should you not like it, treating it in such a way that a constructive and readable account can still be created.

The London Review of Books are publishers of the fine art of long-form journalism, and as such, I was thrilled to hear more of what it takes to put three, four, or five thousand words together on a bookish topic, how it is then edited and finally the joy that comes of having it read and appreciated by many.


After this session, I put aside my pride and had Jeremy and Mary-Kay sign my copy of London Review of Books and had a little chat with Jeremy about That Book You Like. I hope I came across okay…

Finally, before heading home I had the privilege of having tea with the very talented Claire Scobie, author of The Pagoda Tree (Penguin). We had a great chat about her book, which I’m reading at the moment, and tee’d up the next TBYL Event. Claire will be joining us online in October as part of the TBYL Book Club (The Pagoda Tree will be our book for October!)… keep an eye out for full details later in the week.

All up, the Melbourne Writers Festival 2013 has been fantastic. I’ve learnt so much and meet some really wonderful people. I’m already counting down the days until next year’s program…


Announcing three winners

As you know, I love giving books away and today I’m thrilled to be able to announce three lucky winners of some new books for their bookshelves…

tornFirst up, in August I was able to offer a copy of Karen Turner’s Torn (Palmer Higgs Books) to one lucky reader.

‘Torn’ is set in London’s high society, an opulent setting where each family estate is more impressive than the last. The story’s main character, Alexandra, is a tomboy, but no less a part of her fine surroundings. She may resist, but as she grows, she finds herself drawn into the dance the same as everyone else… You can read the full review here.

Congratulations Jeannine Barrett, a copy of Torn is all yours! I’ll email you tonight to make arrangements.

Secondly, this week I was feeling a little guilty, a bit neglectful of my bookish friends as I was absent from Facebook for a few days. As such, I thought I’d make up for it by giving away a couple of Popular Penguins from the TBYL Store.

pop penguin college

The two winners of our Popular Penguin give-away are Elizabeth Phan and Jacqueline Troung. Congrates guys – could you please email me at with your postal address? I’ll send you a list of books to choose from!

Thanks to everyone for getting involved and keep reading for more chances to win.


MWF 2013 Take 1

After having such an incredible time last weekend at the Melbourne Writers Festival, I’m not quite sure where to start…

I’m getting set to go to more sessions tomorrow, but before that I thought it might be good to share with you guys a few choice statement, take-home messages, and curiosities from the sessions that I attended last Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

An extremely busy Friday saw me running around after kids, backwards and forwards for the better part of the day. By the time I hopped on a train heading to Fed Square, I was well and truly ready for a little sit down and some me time. And what better way to wind-down than with a lecture from Peter Singer on how to best demonstrate effective altruism?


Okay, so maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me and I took home a lot after this session.

Singer weaved a well-considered logic, making it pretty clear that all of us can and should strive to find a way to contribute to the improvement of the lot of the world’s children, those who are unwell or vulnerable and creatures with no voice to speak up for themselves. He stopped short at saying that we have a moral obligation to do so, but essentially…

What was refreshing and inspiring was Singers’s focus on the variety of ways in which we might contribute. Suggestions were not prescriptive, rather, they were respectful of individual income, skill sets and personal motivations. Singer acknowledged and encouraged us to ask questions around the integrity of aid organisations and charities, encouraging a healthy level of scepticism and emphasising the term ‘effective’ in his Effective Altruism movement. The basic idea is to find the best way we can to do the most possible good.

Peter can sometimes be a little extreme in his beliefs, but tonight he avoided the ‘shock and awe’ and as I result, on leaving the auditorium, I felt convinced and compelled

Next up were a couple of sessions on Saturday afternoon, the first being ‘Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard’ with Catherine Deveny, Max Barry and Sean Condon. Essentially this session tried to get to the bottom of what it takes to write funny, and although wonderfully entertaining, I think the audience might of left none-the-wiser as to the answer to this question…

In short, being funny, for these three at least, isn’t as much a craft as it is a language. It’s the way they communicate and how they observe the world. As it is, that just happens to be humorous to others. And you know what? I think that’s fair enough.

20130829-144402.jpgMax read from his latest novel Lexicon, and although he offered the explanation that this was his least funny book, it still had that tell-tale smart-arsery that comedians can’t seem to altogether avoid. Catherine read from her novel The Happiness Show, in which her character’s internal dialogue suggesting shades of Catherine’s own busy, rapid external dialogue. I got the impression that her ‘accident novel’ would be pretty sharp and a bit of a trouble-maker. After sitting impatiently, shuffling and rolling his eyes while he waited for his turn, Sean Condon read next, but not from his newest book Splitsville but rather, two short pieces from an earlier work. They were funny pieces, but what was more entertaining was seeing just how funny Sean seemed to find himself.

At the end of the session, each writer did offer a pearl of wisdom regarding being funny… From Max, it was make sure you always pick something that amuses yourself. For Catherine, her philosophy is to ‘shit where you eat’ – I can only imagine this is so as to stir up as much trouble as possible, and Sean suggests starting with a great first sentence, and for that sentence to never start with a B. Righteo…

20130829-144338.jpgAfter this, I gathered my giggles and headed to ‘Tartan Noir’ where I heard from Doug Johnstone and Liam McIlvanney. Both readers of Scottish fiction and writers of crime fiction, Doug and Liam were wonderfully knowledgeable, offering a fascinating insight into Scottish culture and literature.

I now understand more of why literature is so important to Scotland, how authors like Ian Rankin, Irving Welsh and Doug Johnstone help to give Scotland a new, independent voice of its own.

Suffice to say I now have about a dozen new titles and authors to add to the reading list, Liam and Doug, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay, as well as a hunt to track down a copy of the classic Laidlaw by William McIlvanney (on good authority, worth pursuit).

Sunday morning was an early start, and with tea in hand I bunkered down for a full day of MWF. It began with ‘No Safe Place’ featuring Deborah Ellis and Morris Gleitzman. This session was incredibly moving, and I think, very important. Deborah and Morris shared a little of their stories, of their conversations with children living in terrible circumstances and of the importance which they place on teaching children to consider their own ability to making the world that they want to live in.

The thing that stuck me the most about these two authors was the great admiration and respect that they had for their readers, in particular children between the ages of about 9 – 12 years-old. Morris reflected on the fact that “our awareness at 9 to 12 is starting to develop as we form our own individual moral landscape.” It is no doubt for this reason that he and Deborah feel to strongly about communicating with this audience – to teach them a little of what is going on the world, in the hope that they might grow up wiser, strong and more inclined to make a difference for the better.

I’ve always been a little worried about having Evan read these more seriously-themed books. I think now I’m convinced of the importance of doing so.

Next was an in conversation session with Michelle de Kretser, Miles Franklin Award winning author. Her newest novel Questions of Travel has been incredibly well received (she’s just won the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction) and her career has clearly gleaned her a huge following of loyal fans – the auditorium was full to the brim.


I’ve not read her book yet, but nonetheless, it was very interesting to find out more about just why someone would take it upon themselves to write about what it is to travel – what does it mean to move around the world; for fun, for work or for protection?

Questions of Travel, with its starkly contrasting characters of Laura (young, wealthy, professional) and Ravi (seeking asylum from Sri Lankan unrest) is topical, highly relevant in our currently political environment.

Another book for the reading pile…

20130829-144442.jpgMy final session for Sunday (after a long lunch and a look around the Ian Potter Museum of Art) was ‘Destroying the Joint?’ with Stella Young, Jane Caro and Aidan Ricketts. They pondered on the question… “how many likes does it take to change the world?

You could sense the electricity in the air, a gathering of people searching for a way to influence their community for the better. Many were asking the question – can a Facebook page (i.e. Destroy the Joint) really have any kind of impact when trying to redress the gender imbalances that are becoming more and more obvious as a result of conversation, political events and social media?

After listening to Jane, Stella and Aidan (an expert in activism) I was in no doubt that it can certainly contribute, as every action to call out crappy behaviour is a good one, one worth making.

I’m so glad that I went to this session as next time I despair at the discrimination and difficulty that I see as pretty rampant in our current landscape, I’ll reassure myself a little with these three reminders:

1. Three people talking about equality can fill an auditorium.

2. Expressing outrage achieves nothing. You can use it to drive you, but take it out of your argument (Stella Young)

3. There is no magic key that will unlock good will. Rather, we must learn to appreciate the wins as they come and continue to move forward (Jane Caro).

And with that, Sunday was done and on that note, buoyed and encouraged I headed home.

I’ve more sessions coming up (you can see what I’m going to here) so stay tuned for Take 2 next week!

Do you go along to the Writers Festival in your area? What kinds of sessions do you like the most?



It’s on: MWF 2013

The Melbourne Writers Festival kicks off for me tonight and I feel a little bit like it’s Christmas!

I’m starting off my festival experience with some philosophy, hearing Peter Singer speak on ‘Effective Altruism’ as part of the Big Ideas series.

Effective altruism is an emerging movement of people who have  accepted that we ought to live more altruistically, and make our altruism as powerful as possible.  Philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer will discuss the ethical issues that effective altruism raises, and introduce this developing concept by presenting the effective altruists themselves: who they are, how they live, and why they have chosen to live that way. 

As controversial as he might be, Peter Singer I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts.


I often ask myself about the complexities of altruism, especially in terms of what’s reasonable to expect of each ourselves and others, and I expect this session will be extremely enlightening.

Are you going to anything at the festival this year? If you’d like to join me at the MWF this year, don’t forget to tune in to FacebookTwitter and Instagram for updates.

If you’d like to know more about what I’m going to check out at the Melbourne Writers Festival, read more here…

A Match Made in Heaven: Red-Hot Reads

It’s midweek, it’s windy and cold, and all I can think of is how much I need a little reading break.

You too? Then here’s a great new initiative that’ll be sure to float the boat of you raunchy romance readers out there…

Screen shot 2013-08-14 at 1.41.59 PM

Cosmopolitan Magazine & Harlequin Australia join forces to bring you the publication of number one bestselling author Sylvia Day’s newest work, launching Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin eBooks.

Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin is a new eBook program published by Harlequin in association with Cosmopolitan, the world’s largest women’s magazine.

“Cosmopolitan and Harlequin is a match made in dating heaven. Cosmo readers love a sexy read and they don’t come better than those penned by #1 bestselling author Sylvia Day. We’re excited to introduce this sexy collaboration to the Australian market and we know our readers will devour this fun, fearless fiction,” said Bronwyn McCahon, Editor of Cosmopolitan.

afterburnSylvia Day, a multi-award winning novelist whose titles have been bestsellers in Australia and  New Zealand as well as around the globe, will launch the first Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin eBook, Afterburn, tomorrow, 15 August 2013. The follow-up title, Aftershock, will be released on 12 November 2013.

You can find out more about getting your hands on this book, here…

Both titles will feature characters newly created for the Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin program. Afterburn and Aftershock will also be released as a two-in-one paperback in November 2013, the first Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin title to be published in print format.

“I’m thrilled to be launching theCosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin series of fresh and sexy contemporary romances,” said Day. “My stories are known for featuring fun, fearless and Cosmopolitan-type heroines as well as delicious, dangerous heroes synonymous with Harlequin. Afterburn and Aftershock will be no exception. I’m excited to share these sizzling new romances with readers and to do so hand in hand with Harlequin andCosmopolitan, beloved brands known for giving women exactly what they want.”

So if you’re looking for something fun and sexy to read, a perfect way to wind down at the end of the day or help you take a moment out of your busy week, just for you, why not check out this great new partnership?!

Find out more on the Harlequin website.


Meeting Kate Forsyth

On Monday night, we held our second online TBYL Event at which we meet the lovely Kate Forsyth. Kate joined us on Facebook, where we were able to enjoy her insightful answers to our fast-firing questions.

In case you weren’t able to tune in on the night, here’s a transcript of our chat with Kate, about her, about her writing, and about her latest novel The Wild Girl

TBYL: Welcome everyone! I wanted to start with something that’s perhaps a little obvious, but interesting… what drew you to fairy tales in such a way Kate?

kate forsythKate: I’ve been fascinated by fairy tales ever since I was a little girl in hospital and my mother brought me a copy of ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. I was a very sick little munchkin and there was not much escape for me except through the pages of books. I particularly loved tales of adventure and magic and transformation – stories that took me away from my hospital bed and let me do all the things I could not do – run and fly and gallop on horseback and travel to strange and wonderful lands and have strange and wonderful adventures. I particularly loved the fairy tales, I think, because they are stories of triumph, transformation and true love, and so speak to our secret longings and desires. I wanted to be free, I wanted to be well, I wanted to be safe home and in the arms of those who loved me, and that’s what fairy tales promise us.

TBYL: That’s so true Kate, I can completely relate. My love of books started when I was laid up as a kid with pretty nasty asthma. Did you have a particular favourite, either then or now?

Kate: I have quite a few. ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Six Swans’, ‘Beauty & the Beast’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’, ‘The Snow Queen’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, plus many lesser known ones. I love Romany tales, and wove quite a few into my children’s historical adventure THE GYPSY CROWN. I love Scottish fairy tales as well, and drew upon Scottish folklore in my children’s time travel adventure THE PUZZLE RING. Many of my other books draw upon fairy tale and folklore as well – its what I love to do.

TBYL: I’ve seen quite a few films lately that try and do the same thing. Do you enjoy that type of adaption too, or do you prefer it on the page?

Kate: I always prefer it on the page! I so love films too, but a novel is my favourite thing in the world.

TBYL: Kate, could you please tell us a little bit about your research process? It’s clearly very thorough…

Kate: I love to research. I do it with total commitment, even obsessiveness. I want to know EVERYTHING! I’ll read anything and everything I can find on the subject, and search out lost letters and diaries and books, hoping for that elusive lost secret, that hidden fact that will make my novel come to life. It often takes me a very long time, but I’m happy and content as long as I know it will help the novel. To write The Wild Girl, I read up on the lives and works of the Grimm brothers, I studied the Napoleonic Code, I found out how laudanum was made (I could make you some right now if I had a lump of raw opium and some brandy), I found out how 19th century women made soap out of their own urine and ashes from the kitchen fire, and I cooked bread soup from my family, using an old German recipe (its surprisingly tasty).

TBYL: Would you tell us how to make bread soup? I was wondering the whole way through the book!

Kate: I’ll post the recipe on my blog for you – its very simple!

TBYL: Did you have to travel at all for your research or was it mostly done from home?

Kate: Oh no, I always travel. I feel it’s so important! I went to Cassel (now spelt with a K) and to the Grimm museum and the palace – amazing! I like to breathe the air, touch the earth, feel the cold, imagine myself into the place…

TBYL Reader (Jason): Did you have any additional scenes/chapters that were cut for the final edit… say subplots or something that did not make it in the end?

Kate: Oh yes… I thought Jakob might have been gay and I had a few scenes that intimated so… but the novel got too long and I thought I should focus on Wilhelm and Dortchen. I also cut out about 25,000 more words about Dortchen’s childhood.

TBYL Reader (Jason): Do you find making these cuts difficult or is it simply a case of stick to the main story and they either add or distract from the overall clarity of the storytelling?

the wild girlKate: It always hurts but then I know the book is better for the cuts, and sometimes you need to write and write and write to find your story – but end the all that writing is now not necessary.

TBYL: I was fascinated by Dortchen and found myself feeling so sorry for her, whilst at the same time being impressed by her competence and bravery. Did you mean for her to be a heroine in the way that she is?

Kate: Of course! I felt a very strong connection to Dortchen from the moment I read about her. Her birthday is only a week before mine – we’re both Geminis. I thought all the time what it would be like – to be a young woman and not permitted to work, to travel, to love as you please – to live under your father’s domination all the time.

Her life was full of everything I love in a story – romance, tragedy, passion, struggle, and, finally, triumph. Plus, of course, the fairy tales. I never knew that so many of my favourite fairy tales had been told to the Grimm brothers by this one young woman. I was fascinated by her and her tales, and I wanted to rescue her from oblivion. I think we’d have been kindred spirits if we’d grown up next door to each other.

TBYL: How did you first hear of Dortchen?

Kate: I first read about Wilhelm and Dortchen’s romance in Clever Maids: A Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Dr Valerie Paradiz, which examines the oral sources of the famous tales. Dortchen’s considerable contribution was analysed, along with many others, and then – in the final chapter – it was mentioned that eventually Wilhelm and Dortchen married. As soon as I read about Dortchen and Wilhelm, I knew I had to write a novel about them. I was utterly electrified by the heartbreaking beauty and romance of their love affair and by the stories she told.

TBYL: One more about character from me and then I’ll hand it over to others… As much as I was fascinated by Dortchen, I was equally horrified by her father. I was also very confused by him. How do you go about painting such a terrible, conflicted character?

Kate: Well, it’s never easy. I struggled with what Dortchen’s tales were telling me. I didn’t want the story to go into quite such a dark place. I had to be true to the inner life of the stories, though. Nothing else made sense. Once I decided to build the story in that way, I tried to write those scenes as quickly as possible, so I could exorcise them from my imagination. I had terrible nightmares. I’d wake in the dead of night, unable to breathe, unable to make a sound, feeling the weight of it crushing me to death. It was never easy. I felt I had to write it away, write myself free, and that is what Dortchen does… though her stories are told, not written. She told stories to save herself, and that utterly pierced my heart.

TBYL: Were Dortchen’s nightmares your nightmares?

Kate: Yes. They were. Strange, I know.

TBYL: Shows an incredible investment into the story. The descriptions of Herr Wild, his clothes, his scent were horribly vivid…

Kate: Horrible is the right word. I felt it, smelt it, suffered it… I don’t know how else you can bring it to life.

TBYL: I think I was lucky that he didn’t not remind me of anyone I knew, otherwise I think I would have found it near on impossible to read a few of the more barbaric scenes!

Kate: I know a few people who found those scenes very difficult (as did I!), but then also found Dortchen’s healing and recovery so beautiful and powerful.

TBYL: Absolutely! I loved the rituals that she used to heal herself. Were these based on your research?

singing larkKate: Oh yes. It took me a long time to work out these scenes. I knew I needed her to go to Old Marie, I knew it had to be to do with the earth, and with old German superstitions. I knew it had to do with cleansing and exorcism because of my own dreams.

TBYL: It was such a relief as a reader when she finally confided in Old Marie…

Kate: In fairy tales, there is often a magical helper who the hero fails to listen to and only when the hero learns to listen does the hero learn wisdom and so triumphs – Old Marie was my magical helper.

TBYL Reader (Kateness): Hello Kate, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions on your work. I am wondering if there are any other tangents of Dorchen’s story that you feel like you might like to go back and explore some more? Are you ever tempted to go back and write the story of another character you’ve met along the way?

Kate: Kateness, I always come up with other ideas of novels when I’m writing – for example, I loved Bettina von Arnim and thought what a fascinating character she’d make… but I feel I’ve done that now, I’ve done that era and that circle of friends and I want to move on now.

TBYL Reader (Barbara): Picking up, in some way Jason’s questions, have you “finished” with Dortchen and the Grimm’s now or do you imagine writing more that picks up their story? Also have you started on a new project?

Kate: Barbara, I’m always working on a new project! So many ideas, so little time!

TBYL: Can you tell us a little about your other work Kate? I’m pretty new to your collection, and I’d like to know where you think I should go next?

Kate: I’d try BITTER GREENS next. It’s a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’, interwoven with the dramatic, true life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century noblewoman Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It’s full of romance, passion, obsession, betrayal, and ultimate triumph – I think you’d enjoy it.

TBYL: I’ll ask my final question for the evening. It might be a bit predictable, but Kate, do you think that you’ll keep writing your fairy tale revisits? What do you have planned next?

Kate: At the moment I’m writing a five-book fantasy adventure series for kids (I tend to alternate between adult and children’s books). Then I plan to rewrite one of Dortchen’s tales, ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ (a Beauty and the Beast-variant), setting the novel in Nazi Germany. That will be another intense, dark, soul-shaking book, but extraordinary to research and write.

At this stage we called it a night, having typed our fingers to the bone. I hope you’ll agree, this Q&A session was a fantastic way to get to know Kate a little bit better, and I can’t wait to read more of her books.

If you’d like to find out more about Kate’s novel, you can visit her website here…

A big thank-you to Kate and to all the TBYL readers who got involved in this event.