In celebration of her new historical fiction release The Beast's Garden, Matthew from Smash Dragons and I, delved into the most fantabulous mind of..
Kate Forsyth, welcome to Smash Dragons and Book Frivolity!
First up, tell us about yourself. Why did you start writing? Was it something you always envisaged doing professionally even when you were young?
I have always wanted to be a writer. There was never a moment of epiphany in which I thought: that’s it! That’s what I have to do! I just always knew. I began writing stories and poems as soon as I could hold a pencil, and I wrote my first novel when I was seven. I have never stopped since. As soon as I finish one novel, I begin thinking about the next.
Your latest book, The Beast’s Garden, is a fascinating retelling of Beauty and the Beast that is set in Nazi Germany. I’m curious, what inspired this particular story and its setting?
The idea first came to me as a kind of dream. I was drifting between sleep and awakening, in that hypnopompic state I call the shadowlands. A lot of my best ideas come to me in that state – not quite a dream, not quite a daydream. I call it ‘liminal dreaming’.
I saw a young woman dressed in a long golden dress, leaning on a black piano and singing in a very sensual way to a nightclub full of SS officers in their sinister black uniforms. Somehow I knew that the woman was German, and she was some kind of resistance fighter seeking to cajole secrets from the Nazi officers. More images came – I imagined her hiding in the rubble of a bombed out city, and scrabbling for something to eat in a wintry forest. I knew that she had an old battered copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that was like a talisman for her.
At the time, I was struggling with my novel The Wild Girl, which tells the story of the forbidden romance between Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. One of the stories she told him was ‘The Singing. Springing Lark’, an utterly beautiful version of ‘Beauty & the Beast’ which I loved because of the courage and steadfastness of the heroine, who must follow her beloved beast-husband for seven years and battle with the enchantress who first cursed him. I was trying to find ways to weave Dortchen’s tales through my novel, and had not yet seen my way clear.
I was, at the same time, also working on the chapter on the Grimm brothers in my doctoral exegesis. I had discovered that Adolf Hitler had been a great fan of the Grimms, and that the Allies had banned their books and stories after the end of the Second World War. This really troubled me, as I had loved the Grimms’ fairy tales since I was a child, but had hated all that Nazism stood for since I had read Anne Frank’s Diary when I was twelve.
These worries and anxieties had kept me from sleeping, and so I had read an old World War II thriller into the dark hours of the night. My subconscious mind connected all these different things, and somehow put them together into my vision of the girl in a golden dress (which is a key motif of ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’.)
I knew at once I was going to write a story about the German resistance – even though I did not yet know there had been one!
When re-imagining such a well-known tale, are there confines that you find you need to write within, so it doesn’t stray from the initial essence of the story?
For me, yes. It is always very important that I am true as possible to what I see as being the spirit of the original story. This is because I love the stories so much, and believe passionately in their hidden meanings. However, I would never set those constraints upon other creative artists. I think fairy tales and myths and legends are extraordinarily versatile, and open to interpretation, and that there are many ways to turn them inside out and upside out, and shake new stories out of them.