By Taryn Ozorio
Kate Forsyth is the author of almost twenty books for both adults and children, including her best-selling fantasy series Rhiannon’s Ride and The Witches of Eileanan. Her books have been published in Australia, the US and Canada, the UK, Germany and Russia. Kate has also published several other titles, including The Starthorn Tree, Full Fathom Five (under her maiden name Kate Humphrey), and Radiance, a collection of poetry.
Several of Kateâ€™s books have been short-listed for the Aurealis Award for Australian Fantasy, and The Starthorn Tree was shortlisted for the WA Children’s Choice Awards and the One Book One Brisbane campaign. In addition, The Witches of Eileanan was named as one of the Best First Novels of 1998 by Locus. Kate has also worked as a freelance journalist for Vogue, Black + White, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Mode, and Sunday Life. She has a BA in Literature from Macquarie University and an MA in Writing from UWS.
Q> How did you first get published?
I spent my 20s labouring over a serious, literary, magic realism novel which had been rejected numerous times – once it was long-listed for the Vogel Award but didn’t make the final cut – another time, it was accepted by a publisher, only to handed back some months later. Eventually I decided to do a MA in Writing at the University of Western Sydney, and used this novel as my thesis (it was published some years later as Full Fathom Five under the name Kate Humphrey).
For my MA, I had to study a lot of post-modernist, post-structuralist theory, which I found hideously boring and quite alienating. At the end of my second semester, instead of studying for my exams, as I should have, I read Tad Williamsâ€™s fantasy series and just loved it. One night I stayed up to 3am to finish it, the first time a book had kept me awake in years. My husband – a little annoyed that I hadn’t done anything but read this big, fat fantasy series for days – said ‘if you’re enjoying it so much, why don’t you write one?’ It was like a flash of lightning in my brain. I had always loved fantasy as a child, but had not read it in years and years, thanks to the serious stuff of studying and working. So I decided to use my long summer holiday to play around with an idea I’d had for years – based on a dream I had when I was sixteen. I sat down, began to write, the words and ideas tumbled out – soon I realised I had a novel, not a short story – then I thought it would be an excellent trilogy.
By the end of my summer holidays, I’d written about 50,000 words – I sent off a few sample chapters to Gaby Naher at Hickson Associates. She came back the next day, saying â€˜loved it, when can you get me a complete manuscript?â€™ I wrote madly for the next few months (ignoring my study and work commitments). I finished the first draft, she put it up for auction, and I signed with Random House by the end of the month. This made me particularly happy, since it was three days before my 30th birthday, thus fulfilling one of those arbitrary deadlines we set ourselves when we are young and naÃ¯ve!
Q> How did you find Rosemary Canter and why did you choose PFD Agency?
My Australian agent, Tara Wynne at Curtis Brown, knew Rosemary well from the time when Tara had worked in London. She knew my new children’s series, The Gypsy Crown, was going to be a big one so she wanted a really good London agent to sell it for me over there. She sent it to Rosemary first, and if Rosemary hadn’t wanted to represent me, Tara would have kept on trying other UK agents. But luckily Rosemary loved the book too and she very quickly sold it to Scholastic which was just fantastic.
Q> What’s it like working with an agent in the UK?
Rosemary has been wonderful. She knew straight away what the UK publishers would want, and asked me if I was willing to adjust my vision of the book to suit that market. Luckily, I had always thought it possible that The Gypsy Crown could be published as one large book (rather than six small ones, as it is being published in Australia). So I was able to adapt my project to suit the different market, and Rosemary sold it very quickly. If I had not had her to advise me, I probably would not have been able to sell the series in the UK – but her experience and insight into the needs and wants of the UK publishers made all the difference.
Q> How do you manage the agent-writer relationship? What are your tips for writers to get the best out of an agent-writer relationship?
I think an agent plays an incredibly important role in a writer’s career. They can reassure a writer when they are having doubts about their work, or their future; they can advise on strategic decisions, such as what project to write next; they can negotiate with publishers on your behalf, and make sure the publisher looks after you properly and commits time and money to publicity and marketing; and they know everyone in the publishing industry, so they can help new opportunities come your way.
As far as our relationship goes, I try and make sure that my agent always knows what’s going on between me and the publisher – and I ask their advice if I’m unhappy or worried about anything. I also always let the agent do their job too – I feel an agent acts as both a go-between and a buffer between writer and publisher, so that my relationship with my publisher can be a happy, harmonious one. I really respect their insight into the craft as well, and will always listen to any comments they make on my books, so I can try and make the books the best they possibly can be.
Q> What (if anything) do you do differently for the UK market?
The Gypsy Crown is a children’s adventure fantasy story set in the last days of Oliver Cromwell. In Australia, it is being published as six short books under the series title The Chain of Charms. The Gypsy Crown is Book 1 in that series. In the UK, all six books are being published as one large novel in six parts. I will need to cut back the length of each of the six books, but since I will not need any of the background exposition, this will not detract from the story at all.
Q> How do you connect with your UK audience?
One of the great things about writing fantasy is that it transcends all boundaries, whether age, gender, geography, and even religion. My books are read by both children and adults, by both men and women, and have been sold all over the world – I have received fan mail from Korea, Saudi Arabia, Norway, the US and the Netherlands – as well as from Australia.
I think this is because fantasy is often driven by a very strong narrative engine, fuelled by stories that connect to the collective unconscious. Basically, what I do is try and write a really good story, with lots of surprise and suspense, with interesting characters that seem like real people, and with lots of action and drama – and I try and write supple, vivid prose that creates another world for the reader and draws them in and won’t let them go. I also like stories that make you think as well as feel – and so I have ideas in my books – sometimes so well camouflaged that its only later that you find yourself thinking and wondering.
I guess the short answer is that I try and connect with all my readers, not just the ones in the UK, or anywhere else.
Q> The latest trend in publishing seems to be blogs, whether they’re by authors, publishing insiders or readers. What’s your take on the blogosphere?
To tell you the truth, I don’t really have a take on it. I don’t have time to blog, or to read other people’s blogs – I’d rather be writing! And when I’m not writing, I’m looking after my family. I do keep a diary, but I’d never put that up for public consumption – at least not until after I was dead. I think there’s a self-consciousness in that kind of writing that goes against what I try and achieve in my writing – best summed up by E.M.Forster – ” a writer should be like God – present everywhere, but invisible.’
Q> What are your top three tips for writers who want to get published?
1) Write the sort of book you yourself like to read
2) Write as often as you can, for as long as you can
3) Re-write and edit constantly – really work to make the book the best it possibly can be!
Q>What’s tickling your fancy at the moment?
I’m dreaming of the sort of book I most loved when I was a child – full of cursed castles, lost princes, magical rings, ghosts, and gardens full of roses …
Kate’s agent, Rosemary Canter, will be appearing on The Australian Writerâ€™s Marketplace forum at 8pm AEST (9pm Syd/Mel).