I have a soft spot for Kate Forsyth. She was the first author I interviewed when I became a Boomerang Books blogger (click here). And now, it’s a new year, this is a new blog, and Kate has a new book, so it’s only fair I invite her around for a new feature (although, it looks like George may have gotten the scoop first – click here for her guest-blog over at Literary Clutter). Her buzzed-about new release, The Wildkin’s Curse is out now. Check back at the end of the week for coverage of the book launch, and details on how you can win yourself a copy.
Seven Inspirations behind The Wildkin’s Curse
Like all writers, I’m asked all the time: ‘Where did you get your ideas from?’ This is always a really hard question to answer, because all books have lots and lots of different ideas in them, all woven together. However, here are just seven of the primary ideas and inspirations behind The Wildkin’s Curse.
1) The Princess Bride by William Goldman and other favourite books of mine from childhood, like the Narnia books, The Wizard of Earthsea and The Book of Three. I was given a copy of The Princess Bride for my 13th birthday, and it immediately became one of my favourite books. I have always loved books filled with adventure, magic, romance, humour and pathos, stories set long, long ago and far, far away. When I set out to write the ‘Chronicles of Estelliana’, I wanted to recapture the feel of the books I had loved so much as a child.
2) I have always had a deep love of fairytales and fairytale retellings. As well as the power to enchant and entertain, I believe that the old wonder tales can help us work through the deep internal conflicts that beset us all as we grow to adulthood. The books in the Chronicles of Estelliana consciously draw upon, and invert, fairytale motifs. In The Starthorn Tree, the Count of Estelliana lies in a deep, enchanted sleep as the result of tasting a poisoned apple and it is his sister who sets out to wake him. In The Wildkin’s Curse, there is a princess imprisoned in a tower but Rozalina does not wait passively to be rescued, like Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel. She wishes and prays and tells stories, and in the end, curses her captors.
3) This book grew out of my own deeply-held belief that words and stories have power. One of my favourite quotes is from Joseph Conrad who said: ‘My task which I am trying to achieve is by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see. That – and no more, and it is everything.’
4) The idea of a princess imprisoned in a crystal tower was the very first spark for this book. When I was two years old, I was savaged by a dog and ended up with terrible head injuries that resulted in meningitis. As a result of this, I was in and out of hospital for the next six years. Many long days were spent lying in my hospital bed, staring out the window and imagining myself galloping away over the hill, on my way to marvellous adventures. As a result, people held captive in towers is a motif that appears again and again in my work.
5) Early on in the writing of the book, I had assembled my three adventurers and given them their quest but I had no idea how they were to rescue my imprisoned princess. I didn’t want to have Zed, Merry and Liliana just wandering through the land having vague, fantasy-style adventures (i.e. attack by monster in lake, misadventure while eating stew in roadside inn). I believe a story is like a sword – it must have a point. So my books always have a deeper thematic structure to them. Each obstacle my characters overcome has some kind of symbolic significance, as well as a practical function. So I had been puzzling over this particular problem for some time, but had not yet worked out a solution. I went for my morning walk and strode along, thinking, ‘how can they rescue Rozalina? How?’ Suddenly a raven took to the air, right in front of me, and dropped a single black feather at my feet. I bent and picked up the feather, my mind racing with ideas. A feather … a cloak of feathers … a damaged cloak of feathers that is missing seven feathers, each one from a different bird … a raven, symbol of death and wisdom … a tragic battle scene … an eagle, symbol of power and royalty … a dangerous climb to the top of a cliff … a nightingale, symbol of true love … a tender romantic scene late in the book … 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.
6) World building is an important part of a fantasy writer’s job, and this means thinking very deeply about the effects of certain social, political or geographical factors upon your world. In the world of Estelliana, the ruling starkin families have married among themselves for many generations. I had read long been interested in haemophilia, sometimes called ‘the Royal Disease’ because of its ravaging effects among the descendants of Queen Victoria. Her eighth son died of the disease, despite every effort to keep him from injury, and at least nine of her grandsons and great-grandsons were also haemophiliac. It was whispered that the queen’s family had long ago been cursed by an unhappy monk, and certainly the disease works in such a strange way that it must have seemed like malignant magic. Only boys are affected, and there was little hope, in the olden days, of growing to be an adult. It would make my world much more interesting, I thought, to have Rozalina being blamed for cursing her father so that none of his sons would live beyond babyhood, making her … a scorned girl-child and a despised half-breed … the heir to the throne.
7) At the heart of The Wildkin’s Curse is a prophecy, uttered by Merry’s father in The Starthorn Tree. It says: ‘Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker, though broken himself he shall be.’ I knew that I wanted this prophecy to have several layers of meaning. I’ve been interested in paganism since I was a child, and knew that Easter had its roots in the celebration of the spring equinox, which signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring. For thousands and thousands of years, long beyond Christianity, the death of winter and birth of spring was celebrated in stories and rituals of a god or a man who died and was then reborn. This god has been given many names – Attis, Osiris, Orpheus, Dionysus, and Tammuz, to name a few. So I planned my novel to end on the night of the spring equinox, when one of my heroes must die …
– Kate Forsyth