WK Banham chatted to Australian author Kate Forsyth about writing, fairy tales and genre. Read the first part of her interview below.
How did you become a writer?
I have always wanted to be a writer. For as long as I can remember, I’ve written poems and stories and novels. By the time I left school, I had already written half-a-dozen books and had had my first poem published. I went to university and studied a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and began to get stories and poems published more widely. At night, I worked on a novel. At the age of 25, I quit my job as a journalist, freelanced, and undertook a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing. My first novel was published in my final year, and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since.
What does writing mean to you?
Everything. It’s my passion, my obsession, my true vocation. To me, it is as natural and as vital as breathing. People ask me what I would do if I did not write, and I cannot answer because the very thought is painful.
You write historical fiction and fantasy for both adults and children, poetry and contemporary fiction, and your recent books Bitter Greens (2012), The Wild Girl (2013) and The Beast’s Garden (2015) could be described as historical fiction based on a fairy tale theme. What motivates you to write across such a diverse range of literary genres and forms and for different audiences?
I always just write the story I want to write, and allow the story to tell me what it wants to be. I am always surprised by how much interest people take in that fact that I write across different age-groups and different genres. I read many different types of books, why should I not write many different types of books?
When my children were young, I wrote a lot of children’s books because they are smaller and simpler, and because I was writing books for my own children’s pleasure. The year my youngest child began school, I began work on a historical novel for adults, Bitter Greens, which I knew would be a very challenging and research-intensive novel. It is set in three different historical periods (early and late Renaissance in the Venetian Republic, and at the royal court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, in 17th century France). It also has a complicated narrative structure, intertwining the stories of three very different women. I had wanted to write this book for a long time, but I waited until I could write full-time before tackling it. It took me quite a few years to research it (including four years studying a doctorate in fairy tale studies), but I wrote other books in that time—picture books and children’s fantasy novels that did not need such depth or intensity of research.
Usually, whenever I finish a major project like Bitter Greens, I have a break in which I work on smaller projects—poetry, songs, short stories, essays, picture books, and the like. I wrote a five-book fantasy series for upper primary school readers in between The Wild Girl and The Beast’s Garden, plus a few picture books. It gives me time to replenish my well of inspiration, and stops me from becoming stale and predictable, which I think are the death knolls to creativity.
Is there a connection between the various strands of your writing?
In general, most of my books draw upon history, fairy tale, and folklore for inspiration. My fantasy novels always draw upon history in some way, while my historical novels often have a fantastical twist to them. I say that I weave together threads of history, mystery, romance and magic to make something new and unexpected.
Can you tell us something about your writing practice? How do you fit it into your everyday life?
My writing practice is my everyday life. I drop my daughter at school walk the dog, then settle down at my computer. I work through till lunch-time, read a book while I eat, then go back to work till the end of the day. Some days I need to stop and go and pick up one or the other of my children, but these are built into my writing routine and I generally go back to work until its time to cook dinner. If I’m getting towards the end of writing a novel, and am utterly obsessed with it, I’ll keep writing after dinner, but usually I stop and do a few chores, help my children with their homework, watch a little TV with my daughter. I usually read for an hour or two a night before bedtime. On the weekends, I will only work half days—a few hours on Saturday, the same on Sunday. I try and have one day a week where I don’t turn on my computer, but I’ll read research books, write in my diary, work in my notebooks, get some editing done. The only time that this is not my usual practice is when I am touring or doing a lot of public appearances, usually in August/September when Book Week lasts for nearly a whole term, when I have a new book out, or in June when I go to the UK to run a writing retreat in the Cotswolds. I usually add a research or promotional trip on to the end of that. In those very busy periods, I usually only write for a few hours in the evenings, or I catch up on reading and research. In general, though, I write every day, often for hours.
Read Part 2 of this interview here.
WK Banham grew up in Canada and now lives in Canberra. She writes fiction, primarily short speculative fiction but is expanding her repertoire into literary fiction. She graduated with a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Canberra in 2014. As a young child she was enchanted by fairy tales and myth and later became fascinated with science fiction and fantasy. She has always loved words and the magic of alternate realities that they conjure in the mind.