Beauty in Thorns

In 1997, I made a pilgrimage to Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England, to pay my respects at the grave of Gabriel Rossetti, the English painter, poet and charismatic co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
IMG_6234
Gabriel was convalescing from an illness when he died in Birchington.
His family and his wife, Lizzie Siddal, are buried in Highgate Cemetery in London. It always seemed to me very sad that Gabriel wasn’t laid to rest near his family and Lizzie.
Was it due to his guilt over having dug up his dead wife’s coffin seven years after she died to retrieve a volume of poetry he buried with her? The exhumation and retrieval of the worm-eaten book of poems is one of many sensational stories swilling around the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their life models.
I also visited Lizzie Siddal’s grave at Highgate on a private tour. After years of being obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelites, it was an emotional experience to see the final resting places of these fascinating personalities who continue to inspire the work of artists across time.
OWWW1500
I was reminded of Gabriel and Lizzie reading Kate Forsyth’s current book, Beauty in Thorns, which I devoured in a few nights. Beauty in Thorns tells the story of the tangled lives and loves surrounding the famous painting, The Legend of Briar-Rose by Edward (Ned) Burne-Jones. Jones was obsessed with the Sleeping Beauty myth which Kate parallels with the lives of the PRB and their wives, muses, mistresses and daughters. His finished work was rapturously received in 1890 and earned the artist a staggering (for the time) 15,000 guineas. In 1893 he was knighted.
Margot as Sleeping Beauty
Beauty in Thorns is a very ambitious project but is perfectly suited to Kate with her love of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, poetry, mythology and fairy tales. The story is told via four different women (stunners, as they were known by the artists):
jane_morris_photo2
Jane Morris nee Burden, a child of the slums, adored by both Rossetti and William ‘Topsy’ Morris whom she married. Later, with the permission of the wonderfully understanding Topsy, she carried on an affair with Gabriel at Kelmscott Manor in the summer of 1871 while Topsy travelled to Iceland.
Rossetti drqwing of Lizzie Sidda;

Rossetti drawing of Lizzie Siddal

Lizzie Siddal who had art and poetry aspirations but whose art was never taken seriously, and who suffered an addiction to laudanum and what appears to be an eating disorder.
Georgiana  Burne-Jones nee MacDonald (Georgie in the book), the daughter of a Methodist minister, who married Edward Burne-Jones.
Georgie’s daughter, Margot.
Margot
I was very taken with Georgie’s character as I knew  little about her, being previously more interested in Lizzie and Fanny Cornforth. I was disappointed that Fanny was only touched upon in the story as I’ve always felt very drawn to her, but I read in a blog post of Kate’s that, with regret, she had to cut Fanny as she already had too many viewpoints and a very large manuscript.
Sleeping Beauty painting
Georgie was wonderfully portrayed. She had to endure a lot from her husband and his affair with the incredibly flamboyant Maria Zambaco, but she managed to keep her relationship strong with Ned. Georgie was interested in socialism and in trying to make the world a better place for women. Margot was her father’s muse  for her fairy-tale painting of Sleeping Beauty.
Jane Morris

Jane Morris

For people who may already be familiar with the stories and scandals surrounding the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,  Beauty in Thorns will still enthral with the skilful way Kate blends the strands of these very different women and their life experiences together. It is fascinating to see the Brotherhood through the eyes of the women in their sphere and how they influenced the artists.  Kate really brings out a more empathetic dimension to the women. As unorthodox as the Brotherhood, they modelled for the artists at a time when to do so was considered equal to being a prostitute, but they were happy to defy convention.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

If you come to the book with little or no knowledge of these talented, innovative young men and the women who inspired them, you will be enlightened as Kate really brings the world of the artists to life.
Outside 16 Cheyne Walk London where Rossetti lived from 1862

Outside 16 Cheyne Walk London where Rossetti lived from 1862

The research in Beauty in Thorns is incredibly detailed, although never at the expense of the story. Kate had a couple of research trips to the UK and she has read unpublished poetry of Gabriel Rossetti’s to Jane in the Specials Collections Reading Room at Bodleian Library at Oxford. This attention to primary research really shows through in Beauty in Thorns. I can’t imagine how beautifully moving it would have been to read Gabriel’s passionate poetry in his own hand.
Rossetti's dashing self portrait which hangs in my front room

Rossetti’s dashing self portrait which hangs in my front room

I had no idea, about Mummy Brown paint, a mindboggling detail that really shocked me. And William Morris wallpaper sales being badly affected by the arsenic scandal.  I loved Kate’s hypothesis that Jane’s ill-health in London may well have been due to arsenic-treated William Morris wallpapers. Jane Morris’s symptoms are the same as arsenic poisoning. From Kate’s fascinating blog on this topic HERE
My favourite Fanny Cornforth

My favourite Fanny Cornforth

Lizzie’s childhood was filled with cruelty with her mother’s taunts about how plain she was. It must have been overwhelming to have been accepted as a Stunner by Gabriel and his fellow artists, but it came at a price. Her descent into laudanum is poignantly captured in the book. When Kate first came to writing Beauty in Thorns, she believed that Lizzie had committed suicide but as she continued to work on the book, she changed her mind. Her blog post on this can be found HERE.
Lizzie Siddal

Lizzie Siddal

Kate also became convinced through her research and reading diaries and letters of the period that Lizzie did suffer from an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa was not recognised in the mid-19th Century and was thought to be consumption.
11-rossetti_jane-morris
Previously, I’d never felt particularly drawn to Jane Morris, but Beauty in Thorns helped me view her in a different light. Like Lizzie, she had a harsh childhood. She was forced to be sexually active from the age of nine, and had to wring the necks of pigeons for the dinner pot. Jane had to work on her lower-class accent and rough ways to be accepted into Topsy’s world.
Jane Morris posed by Rossetti
Eating an orange for the first time becomes an overwhelming sensory experience for Jane: ‘Jane ate it greedily, then another, trying to think what it tasted like. Sitting with the sun on your back on a hot summer’s day. Orange hawkweed growing out of a crack in a churchyard wall. The sound of singing in a hayfield as women raked the mown grass into piles. The glint of a new sovereign.’
I also had no idea that her later years with her children were as traumatic with her daughter’s tragic onslaught of epilepsy.
Kate’s skill with recreating the world she is writing about is paramount to this book. Deft touches really make you appreciate what it was like to be a woman at this particular time.
I loved Beauty in Thorns and I think it is one of my favourite of Kate’s books.
I’ve been reading and enjoying her work since The Witches of Eileanan was published with the first book Dragonclaw in 1997.
photo of Kate Forsyth by Adam Yip

photo of Kate Forsyth by Adam Yip

I feel very grateful to have seen both Gabriel’s and Lizzie’s graves. I carried flowers to Rossetti and I admit to weeping a few tears over his and Lizzie’s graves. May their vibrant, passion and energy continue to dazzle and inspire artists and writers around the world with their wild, idealistic visions of a more colourful, beautiful word.
May they both rest in peace.
If you have enjoyed this post, please comment below or share with kindred spirits. 

Kate Forsyth and the Eye of the Rhino

Hello, IMG_1670 I’m delighted to present my next author for my Ride the Rhino Inspiration posts – the beautiful Kate Forsyth. 2 (2)   I feel as if I’ve known Kate forever. We we were both briefly involved with The Drinklings many years ago, when we enjoyed wine and book chats in Sydney with a group of writers and we’ve spoken on a couple of panels together. group   She always inspires me with her intelligence, talent and her generous nature towards other authors. When I began this series of inspirational interviews I knew I had to have Kate aboard. When we last spoke at the Newtown Writers Tent for Better Read than Dead bookshop, we ended up in rain-soaked Newtown talking for hours in a cafe about writing, publishing, our children and the juggling act we have to go through. It’s a true testimony to how highly I regard her that when I suffered a major heartbreak with my publishing career, it was Kate I trusted, sending off a frantic email asking for her advice. In the very competitive world of publishing, Kate has always sought to encourage other authors to fulfil their dreams and destiny. Bitter Greens high resolution   Kate is an international bestselling author of 36 novels spanning a range of genres. She writes for both children and adults and has won many awards, including Five Aurealis Awards in a single year and a CYBIL award in the United States. Her bestselling novel Bitter Greens won the American Library Association Award for Best Historical Novel of 2015 and the library journal US Best Historical Novel. Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies from the University of Technology in Sydney and a BA in literature and a MA in creative writing. Writing talent is obviously in her blood: she is a descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children published in Australia, “A Mother’s Offering to her Children” (1841).
mother's%20offering
Her Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather James Atkinson (Charlotte’s husband) wrote a book about Australia in 1826. Their daughter Louisa was also the first Australian-born journalist and novelist.
Louisa Atkinson

Louisa Atkinson

Kate’s sister Belinda Murrell is also a talented bestselling, internationally published writer as is their brother, Nick Humphrey.

Kate with her sister Belinda Murrell

Kate with her sister Belinda Murrell

Kate updates her very inspiring website regularly with loads of generous writing tips and fascinating interviews, and also runs writing retreats in the Cotswolds through the Australian Writers’ Centre. I hope you find as much inspiration as I did from Kate’s Ride on the Rhino.

J – Kate, you studied at Macquarie University where you did your Bachelor of Arts in Literature and after graduating, you worked as a journalist across a wide range of publications before you quit to work freelance. Throughout your years of study, you wrote the first book in your much lauded fantasy series, The Witches of Eileanan, but you’ve also written poetry under your maiden name Kate Humphrey. You wrote Full Fathom Five republished as Dancing on Knives as part of your Master ‘s thesis and you’re now finished your doctorate in fairy-tale retelling at the University of Technology. Academia is obviously hugely important to you. Do you feel continuing your education is necessary for writers in this competitive climate? On Twitter recently I retweeted Ann Patchett’s quote, ‘No-one should go into debt to study creative writing. It’s simply not worth it. This is not medical school.’ What advice do you have for those of us who would have to go into debt to study writing?
K – I  do not think you need to undertake a degree to be an author. I think you need to read a lot, and read widely, and a degree in Literature like my first degree can obviously help you do that. I think you need to learn your craft, and learn discipline, and a degree in Creative Writing like my second degree can help you in that task. And I think an intense period of research and reflection into an area of personal interest to you – like my doctorate in fairy tales – can only help you acquire the kind of depth of knowledge that can be of use to you as an author. But I certainly don’t think a set course of academic study is the only way to go! I think I learned more by my own reading and my own dedication to learning the craft by studying the work of other writers, and reading books on writing, than by going to university. I did all of my degrees for my own pleasure, and to learn as much as I could, and to become aware of other ways of thinking and doing … but anyone can challenge themselves and learn and grow, simply by living and reading and wondering and learning at their own pace and rhythm.
J  – Will we see more poetry from you? Do you still write poetry?
K- I was actually only thinking about writing a new poem yesterday … I never know when an idea for a poem will strike me. Usually I write poems in the small spaces between novels … or essays or picture books or short tales … and then I get all consumed with the next novel and have no room left over for short-form writing. The last poem I wrote was after I had finished BITTER GREENS – its a Rapunzel poem, showing the story still had not been fully exorcised. Here it is:
Kate Forsyth at seven

Kate Forsyth at seven

J – At two years of age you were badly savaged by a dog and your injuries were so severe that a man fainted when he first saw them and your mother was warned to expect you would die. You spent your formative years up to the age of eleven in and out of hospitals enduring many painful operations – during this time you lost yourself in the world of fiction and creating stories. Rapunzel was one of your favourite stories which formed the basis for your book Bitter Greens. Where did your strength come from to survive and transcend this extremely traumatic time?
K –  I don’t remember the accident. So I think it was my poor mother who suffered the most trauma at that time. Most of my memories of hospital come from around the ages of seven to eleven … and also I remember always having to be careful, especially if it was windy, about playing outside or playing with animals in case I got sick again. I still don’t like hospitals – the smell of them and the sound of them can make me feel anxious and even panicky – and so I do my best to avoid them. And I’m always interested in hearing about other authors who had childhood illnesses – I think we all coped in similar ways, by turning to books and stories, by reading voraciously, by imagining ourselves into other places, by having a rich interior life. I was lucky – an operation I had when I was 11 meant that I could have a relatively normal life from that time on, though I still do need to go back and have another procedure every few years (which I hate!)
Kate and her sister Belinda

Kate and her sister Belinda

J – When you first began writing for publication, I read in online interviews that early books you were trying to write to ‘fit into the market’ were knocked back. It was only when you began writing for yourself that The Witches of Eileanan was picked up in an international bidding war. What inspired you at this time to keep going? How important do you feel it is to write the book you love as opposed to writing for the commercial market?
K – In my 20s, when I was first trying to get published, I heard all the time that the only books publishers wanted were dark and gritty post-modernist contemporary novels – my least favourite type of book! I loved historical fiction and fantasy and old murder mysteries and romances, and books that had a story to tell. I was working on a novel at the time – it was set in contemporary times but it was certainly not gritty realism – but I was not able to find a publisher for it then (the book was eventually published as Full Fathom Five, and was recently re-released under the title Dancing on Knives). I was not trying to fit into a market by writing that book, the story was one that I had laboured over for many years and which was very close to my heart. I think it was just that I was still only a young author (I started it when I was 16) and it simply was not yet good enough to be published. It is true that while I was doing my Masters of Arts in Creative Writing, and used that novel as my major piece of work, I received a lot of encouragement to make it darker, grittier, more violent and less magical. But I did not know how to write it that way (many tears were shed as a consequence). It is also true that once I began to write Dragonclaw, my first published novel, I felt as if I had shed the shackles of expectation and I just ran wild, putting in everything I love about books and nothing I didn’t. I was lucky to write Dragonclaw at a time when publishers realised that there was a huge market for that type of books – a book filled with magic and mystery and romance .. and my life was transformed as a result.
The Puzzle Ring
J  – You’ve achieved so much already – but I know that even the most successful people have their setbacks and disappointments. What do you do when you do hit those moments? Is there any advice or words of wisdom you can share with us that may help creatives reading to deal with the discouraging times?
K – Of course! Being a writer is a constant rollercoaster of emotion – flying high one day and crashing down the next. It’s because we invest so much emotion in what we do. I have a couple of things that help me when I’ve been hurt or disappointed by something that happens. I print out any lovely fan mail I get, or any exciting emails from my publishers and agents, or amazing reviews, and then I stick them in my journal. So on a bad day I can go back and read them and remind myself that there are people who love what I do. I also write it out. My daily journal writing is a great source of comfort to me – I pour out all my feelings, all my unspoken hopes and fears, and then work through what is upsetting or bothering me. I’m also very lucky to have a very loving and supportive family and circle of friends, and so I talk to them about it, and they tell me not to worry about it – and that really helps!
Dortchen%20pic
J  –You have a very active online presence; with blogging where you provide massive inspiration through your writing tips and interviews with other authors. You’re on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads. What is your take on social media for artists? Why is it important for you to publicise yourself in this way? And how do you balance your time so that you’re not constantly distracting yourself from the work you’re doing with beating your own drum on social media? Which one is your personal favourite social-media platform?
K -I really enjoy blogging and all the rest, and so I do it for my own pleasure and to connect with kindred spirits. It helps me to easily stay in contact with writer friends all over the world, which I really love, and it means people can know what I’m up to at well. Although its a great quick way to let people know what I’m doing, I don’t like to think of it purely as a promotional tool. I think that kind of thinking leads to the kind of relentless self-publicizing that can be so off-putting. I tweet or post about what I’m reading and what I’m writing, and share links to articles I think are interesting or informative, I share poems that I love or pictures that I find inspiring, and support all my friends and colleagues as well. If I’m teaching a course or have some other event coming up, I’ll let people know – and if I’m doing some kind of giveaway or competition – and of course if I have a new book out, I’ll blog and post about that. In general, though, my social media is simply about connecting with other people who love what I love – and isn’t that we all write in the first place?
DANCING ON KNIVES
J –  You’ve written across genres and for all ages, Historical Fiction, Children’s Books, literary mystery, poetry. In this publishing climate do you feel that it’s important for writers to be this diverse? You’ve never had to use a pseudonym for your books as many other writers have had to do. Was this something your publishing houses and agents decided or did you want all your work under your name?
K – I’m not at all sure that its a good idea to be as diverse as I am. The accepted wisdom is find your niche and stick to it.
I’m not very good at doing that, though. I love to read so many different genres of writing and I don’t see why I can’t write in all different genres too. I hate to be confined in any way. I also love new adventures. I like to stretch myself, and challenge myself. And mastering a new genre is one way to do that. Also, I need to say that I don’t choose what I’m going to write next with an eye on what the market is doing, or what publishers want. I get a new idea for a story that utterly electrifies me, and then the story tells me what it wants to be. The story determines its own shape.
In fact, I have risked a lot to write the stories I wanted to write.
For example, I had a big early success with writing epic fantasy novels for adults and it was a big risk for me (and my agents & publishers) for me to then choose to write for children and then to move to historical fiction. In fact, my US publishers told me that they would gladly continue to publish me if I kept on writing fantasy fiction for adults, but they would not publish me if I changed. So when I wrote the books I wanted to write, it was with the full knowledge that I was losing my US publishers and may not be able to find another (happily, I did!) It was not a marketing decision at all! I always have to write the book that is burning a hole in my imagination. I don’t choose the story, the story chooses me – and then I just try to do the very best I can. I’ve just been very lucky that the big gambles I’ve made have paid off.
FULL FATHOM FIVE KATE HUMPHREY
And in regards to pseudonyms, my novel Full Fathom Five, the contemporary family drama/murder mystery that I wrote in my 20s, was originally published under my maiden name Kate Humphrey, at the suggestion of my publisher who was worried that my fantasy fans would find it too different. However, it has since been re-published under my married name Kate Forsyth (and a new title Dancing on Knives) because what we have discovered is that readers will follow an author they really love and trust. However, if I was to do something really different, I may well decide to use a pseudonym in the future, if I thought it would give me greater creative freedom.
US cover of The Wild Girl

US cover of The Wild Girl

J – How tightly do you plot your books? Are you somebody who likes to free-fall into the story and allow it to come through you; or do you prefer a more tightly-plotted book?
I like to have a vivid sense of the shape of my story and of my characters and setting before I start writing a single word. I like to see it, hear, it, smell it. I take a long time to daydream about my story, and research it, and plot it, and then I write quite swiftly and strongly. I always leave space for new ideas and new flashes of inspiration, while still being in control of how the story develops. This is one reason why I can be so productive. I never get myself in a tangle (or rarely anyway!)
The beast's Garden High res
J – Do you prefer to draft on paper or computer? Do you like to read on kindles or paper books?
K – I write all my ideas and questions and flashes of inspiration and research notes and early plans in my notebook … and continue to use my notebook as the story grows and changes. However, I generally write straight into the computer. (There are a couple of exceptions to this. I write poetry longhand and any sentence which is giving me trouble, I’ll write and rewrite longhand until I get it right).
I prefer to read paper books for a multitude of reasons, but I travel so much that I do a lot of reading on my ipad. Before I go away, I load up a dozen books so I have a choice of what to read. If I really love a book I’ve read in e-book format, I often buy it in p-book format when I get home.
One of Kate's notebooks from The Wild Girl

One of Kate’s notebooks from The Wild Girl

J – There’s so many things I admire about you Kate, and one in particular is how hard you work at publicising yourself. You seem to be at every Writers’ Festival, every library event, book club meeting and anything literary related. Is it
important for writers to be entrepreneurs, market themself and what tips and advice can you share in this area? You’re a Gemini who loves communication and so what advice do you have for more introverted types?
K – I do think its very important for writers to be the engine of their own success. I often hear writers moaning about their editors or their publicists or whatever, and it makes me a little uncomfortable. You need to be very aware of how the industry works, and how you can best work with it to maximise your success. You need to think: what do I know, what can I do, to help give my book wings?
It is true that I am a Gemini and I love to connect and communicate … but one half of me is very much an introvert, and I often find it hard to leave my peaceful green study and go out and face the world. So I try and think, what can I give today? Who can I help today? What amazing connection might I make today? What I have discovered is that every small effort I make often creates ripples beyond what I could ever have imagined. And so I’m encouraged to keep on working, keep on trying, keep on reaching out … and then wait to see the astonishing rewards I reap.
Wild Girl notebook

Wild Girl notebook

J – I know how uplifting your public-speaking is and I’m longing for the day you start your marketing courses for writers. Your public speaking never fails to elevate and inspire me no matter how many times I hear you speak. Your public speaking skills are even more impressive as you’ve been afflicted with stuttering since you were very young. How did you find the confidence and strength to keep going to become the acclaimed public speaker you are?
K -That is such a lovely thing for you to say! Thank you.
It is true I was afflicted with a stutter for most of my childhood – and it still can trip me over today. It was a very hard battle that I fought. My mother was incredible. She invested a lot of money into speech therapy for me when she was a struggling single mother … and she invested a lot of time into encouraging me to read aloud – poetry and Shakespeare, mainly, because I seemed to stutter less when I read them. Mainly I overcome my stutter by avoidance – I won’t utter a sound that I know is likely to trip me – I find other words, other ways to say what I mean. I also learnt to control my breathing better, and slow down, which I think has really helped me in my public speaking. Sometimes I get a faint sing-song quality to my voice, particularly when I’m telling a story, which comes from the speech therapy. We were taught to sing what we could not say.
The other thing I have come to realise is that most people are very forgiving of my stutters and stumbles – they lean forward, urging me to recover, wanting me to go on. My vulnerability makes me easier to connect with. At least, that is the feeling I get.
early%20outline%20WG
J –  How do you feed your Muse? And what does your Muse look like?
I daydream a lot. I love the shadowy space between sleep and wakening, as I get so many ideas then. I love to walk and think in silence, taking in the beauty of the world. I read poetry, and listen to music, and watch ballet and theatre and films. I love to travel, to imagine lives unlike my own. I love to listen to people tell their life stories – and people do! Often complete strangers will confide the strangest things to me. I write in my journal most days, as you know, and that is a wellspring of constant inspiration and refreshment to me. I read a lot, across all genres, including non-fiction. I never know when an idea will be sparked for me.
What does my muse look like? Like me, I suppose, only a shadowy green-dark version like an image in a deep well or an old silver mirror …
Where the magic happens.

Where the magic happens.

J – If you need to have the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a rose to succeed in the arts: how do you see your rhino hide as being? What are the qualities that have kept you going and where do you think you have gained those qualities from? And also – how would you see yourself as the soul of a rose? What are your more sensitive qualities?
K – I don’t think I have the hide of a rhino. In fact, I think its very important that creative artists remain sensitive and open to the world and alive to possibility. To encase ourselves in a hard carapace is to lose what makes us so gifted as creative artists – the ability to feel intensely.
What I do have is utter determination. No matter how many times I’m knocked over, I pick myself up and keep on going. To allow myself to be broken would be to deny my true destiny (I know, I know, but that’s how I feel, truly). All I want to do is write. And so I have to somehow find the strength of will to never give up, and to never admit defeat.
 
Thank you, Kate. xx

Josephine Pennicott and Kate Forsyth

Josephine Pennicott and Kate Forsyth

You can find Kate at her glorious website HERE
If you have enjoyed this post, please share with kindred spirits. Love and Light Josephine xx

Dancing on Knives

I originally read Dancing On Knives in its earlier incarnation as Full Fathom Five, published by Harper Collins Australia under Kate’s maiden name Kate Humphrey in 2003.

KATE HUMPHREY USE

I loved it and so was curious to read the revamped Dancing on Knives, published 11 years later by Random House. DANCING ON KNIVES   Sara, the lead character, suffers from panic attacks and hasn’t left her family home in five years. From the opening paragraph we learn Sara is afraid of many things. She reads the Tarot and has psychic gifts inherited from her Spanish Grandmother Consuelo – who bequeathed Sara her cards with the message that the Tarot will help her to see more clearly. Sara’s father, the tempestuous and self-centered  Augusto Sanchez, a well-known artist, is discovered hanging upside down from a cliff in suspicious circumstances. On the night his body (half-alive, half-dead) is discovered, Sara draws three Tarot cards: the Emperor, the Tower and the Hanged Man. A clear signifier of Change, conflict and catastrophe. This is the set-up for a contemporary mystery set on the South Coast of New South Wales. THE HANGED MAN TAROTTOWER CARDTHE EMPEROR TAROT   I loved the evocative descriptions of Sara’s readings:   Gently she opened the box. A faint, evocative smell of cinnamon, saffron and bay leaves rose from within, a smell that conjured powerfully the ghost of Consuelo Sanchez. Sara inhaled, holding the sweet, dusty spiciness deep in her lungs as  if it was incense, her fingers resting on the silk-wrapped cards within. After a long moment she let her breath escape in a sigh, took the pack of cards out and unwrapped it from its shroud of silk. She turned the first card over.    Dancing On Knives is rich in poetic imagery. I enjoyed passages describing Sydney, and the Manly Aquarium, the giant sharks and stingrays which added a delicious otherworldly texture.  And this passage below where studying one of her father’s paintings, Sara mourns her mother’s death:   Memories crowded in on her. Flashes of her mother’s voice, a strand of red hair, smothering velvet, smoke against a blue sky. It seemed to Sara that memories sank to the depths of the sea and hardened there to strange shapes. What was once a coin became a worthless disc of rusted green. What was once an anchor became a corroded crucifix. Nothing stayed the same. aquarium vintage MANLY   Kate has previously written a book of poetry and one reason I enjoyed Dancing On Knives was the poetic feel to the story. It does have a sense of gripping tides and dark shadows in the writing. I also delighted in magical elements such as the description of Consuelo’s recipe book, which brims with remedies, love spells, shampoo, beauty aids and herbal lore. THYME   Consuelo still visits Sara after her death as a ghost, with tips such as advising her to make Thyme tea with honey for courage, or wear a sprig of Thyme in her hair. SPANISH WOMAN   I loved the character of Consuelo and the rich relationship between her and Sara. I could envisage a whole book on Consuelo’s back story alone. RECIPE BOOK   Augusto, with the face of a Spanish aristocrat, thin arrogant nose and cruel, sensuous mouth is an unlikeable character with his selfish treatment of his family. But you feel more sympathetic towards him when he has to mix with his conservative country in-laws, the Hallorans. Augusto loves to discuss God, Art and Death whereas the Halloans’s interests lie more in football and fishing. Augusto is intolerant of anybody who bores him and the Hallorans bore him intensely. Bridget, Sara’s mother, forces Augusto to move from Sydney to Narooma on the South Coast, where his in-laws live, to take up residence in the farmhouse left to Bridget by her father. The move proves disastrous. Augusto is a man who likes to not only paint women, but also to have sex with them first, believing the only way to know a woman is to bed her. When Augusto’s in a good mood he is passionate and King of Hearts, but he can swiftly transform when painting into the Demon-God. He mocks Sara’s attempts at art. His sons (the elder, Joe, and twins Dylan and Dominic) and Sara’s half-sister Teresa fear and despise him. NAROOMA   Sara’s panic attacks are also described when she is bullied at school. Throughout the novel we come to understand the source of Sara’s original trauma.  A character deftly drawn, Sara craves order and predictability.  She’s an avid bookworm – mainly romance novels that Augusto sneers at. She can read up to six in a day, ‘lighting one on the butt of the last until she feels sick and nauseated.’ She reminded me of other children with creative bohemian parents such as Arkie Whiteley. Her romantic reading serves as a kind of mind-opiate but then she discovers the world of literature via a found copy of DH Lawrence’s Women In Love.  This book is a revelation to Sara of the power of words and storytelling to resonate in the human soul: WOMEN IN LOVE At once she had felt an oddness in the writing. It was quite unlike anything she had ever read before. It was not just that the two sisters in the book did not talk like anyone Sara knew, nor look like anyone with their white dresses and their brightly-hued stockings, grass-green, rose-red, cornflower-blue. It was not just that the words on the page waltzed round and round, pirouetting on points, turning and returning ever again to the same grace notes, building to a mordent melody that thrummed chords in Sara’s own shadow-bound soul, strumming music from keys that had long lain silent and still, coated in dust. In their hearts they were frightened.   Enamoured of Women In Love, Sara comes to realise that she is not alone in her terror of the world – all the characters in Lawrence’s world are afraid. She wonders if Lawrence knew the pain she experiences of ‘the horror of other people, the world being too bright and sharp, as if every step brings pain. Like the character of the little mermaid who had her tongue cut out and had to dance on knives.’ vintage mermaid

By the book’s climax we come to discover the truth behind Augusto’s fall over the cliff.

 SOUTH COAST

The Tarot card drawn at the novel’s end is The World.

THE WORLD TAROT Dancing On Knives is a sad book in many ways, but also a hauntingly sensitive story of dysfunctional families, creativity, the shadow side of art and the longing we endure for self-actualisation and our soul’s true yearning. It is a book that will resonate with all who have experienced the pain of feeling frozen, and not being able to speak your own truth and feeling the outsider in a world that is too sharp and bright. A multi-layered, lyrical, gripping literary mystery from Kate Forsyth. I highly recommend it.

Kate Forsyth’s website can be found HERE

For an interesting interview Kate gave about Dancing on Knives see HERE

KATE FORSYTHAustralian Women Writers Challenge

This review was part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014

Thank you for visiting me.

Love and Light,

Josephine

WHEN BONES CRY

Poet’s Cottage has been attracting some lovely reviews this week. Thank you very much to Auckland Library for their review HERE. It was most interesting to see how the reader picked up the Enid Blyton influence in the book.

I should say, however, that Pearl Tatlow in Poet’s Cottage is NOT Enid Blyton in any way shape or form. I was always fascinated by how Enid Blyton’s two daughters, Gillian and Imogen, had totally opposing views of their mother. I knew one day I would write about this theme and it simmered away for years.

It interested me greatly because I knew of other families besides Enid’s – including my own – where children with identical upbringings have totally different accounts of events. It really made me contemplate truth, memory and history. How do we know what the bones are really singing?

Whether Enid Blyton was a good mother or not never affected how I feel about Blyton. I know she made my childhood magical and I still love curling up with a Famous Five or one of her boarding school stories. But I was fascinated by the family set-up where you have to try to uncover whether the bones are lying or being truthful – or both at the same time.

My writing friend, Jen Storer posted a lovely blog on Enid Blyton and Johnny Cash HERE.

And my other writing friend Kate Forsyth was in the Spectrum this weekend with a beautiful photo of her reading to her daughter HERE. I was thrilled to see Kate also loves to collect the vintage editions of Enid Blyton rather than the sanitised versions. I agree that writers should be read as products of their time and not have their words reshaped to fit the mindset of later generations.

The images of Enid Blyton in this post I found HERE. They are from an interview that Enid gave shortly before her death and I find them moving and poignant. They capture the fragility of the woman behind the words.

I’m so grateful for all the lovely reviews of Poet’s Cottage and that so many people have taken the time to discuss their thoughts on the characters and the set-up. It has been fascinating to see how the book has really delighted people from a range of backgrounds and ages.

Fellow Sydney writer Elisabeth Storrs posted a lovely and thoughtful piece on Poet’s Cottage HERE. I love the final paragraph because Pearl’s gramophone also haunted me for quite a long time.

Poet’s Cottage is an accomplished, engrossing novel with fine language and powerful descriptions of the small town inhabitants of Pencubbit in both past and modern times. Most of all, in creating the damaged and damaging Pearl, the author has created a character so compelling and complex that the image of her lingers just as surely as the strains of music from her gramophone drifted through Poet’s Cottage both before and after her death.

I shall post links to some other reviews as soon as I get a chance.

Life has been hectic here in the Little Brick with my daughter home on holidays. She is writing more than I am able to at the moment. I do love seeing her happy and creative and able to stay in her pyjamas all day if she wishes.

We went to see the movie Brave, which was a wonderful film showing the power plays between mother and daughters. I shamed myself by weeping over the final scenes and my daughter had nightmares that night over the bear but still, a glorious couple of hours in the cinema. The writer based the character Merida on her own feisty-daughter and it’s easy to see why so many mother/daughters are enjoying this holiday movie. An added bonus for me was the whimsical and beautiful trailer before Brave, La Luna.

I really enjoyed this charming short film.

Sydney Cast onstage for The Mousetrap

David and I saw The Mousetrap, which is now touring as part of its 60th Diamond Anniversary year. I had been looking forward to seeing for ages. It’s my third viewing of this iconic play (I originally saw it in The West End). Although nothing can compare to the romance of seeing Agatha Christie’s play in London, the Sydney cast did a really terrific job. I was pleased they kept it in a very traditional style and didn’t camp it up too much. Although a couple of times the accents were a bit forced, I still felt as if I was really at Monkswell Manor.

cast rehearsal image via Mousetrap Sydney website.

From the eerie opening of the play where the child’s rhyme, ‘Three Blind Mice’ is sung to the shock denouement at the end where a lot of the audience gasped at the twist – to the actor requesting we keep the secret (and of course we all will) – I thought the spirit of Agatha Christie’s play (which she did not expect to run for a few months) was honoured.

the original 1952 production

It’s proof of how people love a good cosy mystery and Agatha is top of her game in this sly and haunting play. You can read about the horrible true story HERE that inspired Agatha Christie to write her dark and elegant play. Terence O’Neill and his brother, Dennis in 1945 were fostered out to a pair on a farm in Shropshire, England. The brothers were beaten and abused by the foster parents and sadly, Dennis died. Agatha followed the case which made headlines in the UK and helped to change laws to protect children and used the case for a short radio play, Three Blind Mice (which later became The Mousetrap). Terence O’Neill has since written his own book of the events, Someone To Love Us.

the devious mind behind The Mousetrap. Hats off to Agatha.

Enjoy your week and stay creative. xx