KATE FORSYTH is one of Australia’s most beloved authors who weaves her tales around her passion for stories and history. We asked Kate for a peek inside her writing place to discover what ignites her writing. What we found is a treasure trove of history and inspiration.
I’ve kept a diary since I was 11 years old, and it’s a rare day when I don’t write in it. I also keep a notebook for every project, plus one for ideas and another for my poetry. My notebooks are an essential part of my creative process. I scribble in them long hand, stick in visual elements such as maps, images, and diagrams, and play with ideas and inspirations. I have more than 60 of them. The ones on my desk include the workings out of a poem and the first notebook entry for ‘Alchemy’, the book I co-created with Wendy Sharpe.
I also have tea in a beautiful teacup I inherited from my grandmother – I make a cup of tea every morning before I sit down to write, and it always has to be in pretty fine bone china – I won’t drink out of anything else. I inherited a lot of my china from my grandmother, but sadly a whole lot of it got broken when my young son decided to make me a cuppa one day and brought the whole hutch crashing down on top of himself. Luckily he was not hurt, but most of the heirloom china was smashed. This is the only remaining matching set.
The glass fragment on my desk comes from a broken chandelier. I found it one day, in the darkest and unhappiest time of my life, during a spectacular storm in which I was utterly drenched and shivering with cold and misery. A rift opened in the clouds, a ray of light shone through, and the broken glass was illuminated with gold. It looks like an angel’s wing. I have kept it on my desk ever since, through countless moves. It reminds me that there is always light in the darkness, hope in despair.
My interest began when I was seven and my mother gave me the red-bound edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales when I was sick in hospital. I read that book until its pages fell out like white feathers, and then searched for decades to find the exact same edition. I now collect vintage fairytale books, and many people give me their own childhood beloveds, unable to bear seeing them thrown out. I’m particularly interested in fairytale collections with beautiful art, like those by Arthur Rackham or Edmund Dulac. I have many of these framed on my gallery wall.
- My desk is where I spend most of my days. I painted it grintuition, growth, and creativity, and so my writing room has always been painted in this colour.
- A print of ‘Proserpina’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I bought this print when I was a starving university student. I was living in a rundown boarding house, and I stuck it to the wall at the end of my bed. It was the first thing I saw every morning and the last thing I saw every night. It filled my drab room with beauty and myth and art. ‘Persephone’ had always been one of my favourite myths, and this painting began my obsession with the Pre-Raphaelites which culminated many years later in my novel Beauty in Thorns. The model in this painting is Jane Morris, who was married to one of Rossetti’s best friends. She had a long and passionate love affair with Rossetti, however, that led ultimately to madness and despair.
- I have quite a few of my grandmother’s paintings hanging on my wall, including the beautiful one of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, which she painted for my sister and me when we were little. It’s one of the great treasures of my life.
- I bought a big iron key when I was travelling in France, researching my novel The Blue Rose which is set during the French revolution. I was rummaging in an old antique store in Normandy and found the key. The owner told me that it had belonged to a chateau and that the owners had flung the key into a well to stop the chateau from being burned and pillaged during the revolution. The key was not found for more than 200 years. I bought the key at once, as much for the story as for its age and beauty. It became a talisman for me and ended up working its way into the story. I like to buy some kind of physical object for every book I write and keep it on my desk and hold it in my hands, as if it could speak to me and tell me its true history.
- My dog Lola is my writing companion. She spends all day sleeping in that green chair, curling up her long legs, keeping me company. I’ve had Rhodesian ridgebacks ever since I was about eight years old and think they are the most beautiful dogs – gentle, loving, intuitive, and filled with boundless joy.