Monday, May 23, 2011

The Starkin Crown by Kate Forsyth

My blog is becoming famous. For the first time ever an author has approached me to read her latest book and then do an interview and she even sent me a copy of her book!! (Well actually this is the second time - Belinda Murrell who is Kate's sister actually asked me first you can see my Q&A for The Ivory Rose).

I absolutely loved The Starkin Crown and if you are an avid fantasy reader you will love it too. Boys this is a book for you too - I did not like the cover - but don't let that stop you grabbing hold of this powerful story of ... as it says on the cover it is a book of ambush, betrayal and murder!

Here is my interview with Kate Forsyth :

1. Do you like the cover? I am guessing that you do but I think it is so limiting. For me the audience for this book is upper Primary boys. This cover probably will not appeal to them. Was it hard to decide to put such a gender specific cover or do you think boys will pick your book up just as readily as girls?

I do indeed love the cover! However, I agree that girls may be more likely to pick it up than boys. It's difficult to design a cover that appeals to both genders, and we wanted something very eye-catching and dramatic. I certainly think the cover is both. And I have already had some fan mail from boy readers which seems to indicate they're reading the book and loving it. I have always had both male and female readers, and I think that readers of fantasy are more open to reading across gender barriers.

2. I confess I have not read the earlier two books. This made no difference to my enjoyment. Was this a deliberate plan? I must say the market does seem to be flooded with trilogies and quartets at the moment so it was refreshing to read a book with the complete story.

Thank you! Yes, this was absolutely a deliberate decision. I wanted each book to be able to be read and enjoyed on its own merits; to have a complete narrative arc. I have written books in series before, but I confess I love to read a book that you finish with a deep sigh of satisfaction, a sense of fulfilment. My aim in 'The Starkin Crown' was to write the sort of book that I had loved so much when I was a child myself, a story filled with adventure, suspense, and magic, that lingered in your mind for a long time afterwards. To achieve that, I really needed a story that could stand alone.

3. Do you see your scenes in your head as you write? I loved the feast for midwinter I could smell and see and taste it.

Yes, indeed. I have a strong visual imagination. I cannot write a scene till I can 'see' it in my mind's eye. Sometimes it's as if I have a movie running in my brain, with surround sound and Panavision, and I'm simply doing my best to capture what I see and hear with words.

4. Was it hard to write about Grizelda just giving us little hints about her evil intentions? I love the idea of the reader knowing or guessing more than the characters themselves. When her dog urinated on the wall as Peregrine and Jack and all their escort left via the secret exit I just knew something was wrong. This meant I paid special attention to everything Grizelda said - every nuance of her voice and each of her reactions to danger. The things she packed in her luggage were also a powerful hint.

I have to admit this was the most difficult part of the whole novel. How many clues should I drop? Was I being too subtle, or too obvious? I wanted the reader to suspect her, but not to be sure. The response I've had from my child readers has been fantastic - some were absolutely sure she was 'the baddy', others said they didn't guess to the end.

5. There is an endorsement on the back cover. Do you think endorsements play an important part in book selection for children or for Teachers or for Teacher Librarians? Who is Juliet Marillier?

I certainly think endorsements can help anyone choosing which book to buy out of all the thousands of books on offer. I know I read them! And often I will buy a book on the strength of that endorsement. It's like receiving a book recommendation from a friend that you know likes the same sort of bookst hat you do. I'm very proud of my endorsements from Garth Nix and Juliet Marillier - they are both internationally bestselling fantasy authors whose books I love and so I am so glad that they like my books too. If you haven't yet read Juliet Marillier, you absolutely must! She's one of my all-time favourite writers.

6. Your evil queen Vernisha reminded me of the Queen of Narnia and The Snow Queen do you see any similarities?

No! Really? That's fascinating. I love both those evil queens, but I did not have them in my mind at all when I was creating Vernisha. In fact, I can't think of any other villain that she resembles. My evil fairy queen in 'The Puzzle Ring' has more in common with the White Witch of Narnia, I think.

7. There are so many truly gruesome descriptions of death and torture in this book. Do they shock you? The part where the rats eat a person was almost too awful to read. Also all those arrows through the heart and throat and eyes!

No-one actually gets tortured in the book! It's only talked about. I hope that makes it easier. And it seemed important both to establish the importance of overthrowing such a vile queen, and also the fact that Grizelda was quite unmoved by describing such terrible punishments. I don't think I could have actually written a scene where that happened to anyone. Similarly, the battle scene is crucial in the story. Peregrine and his friends must be in mortal danger for the reader to feel that suspenseful thrill. It's only one swift scene, and it removes Peregrine from the normal world of safety and sets him off on his perilous adventure.

8. Did it give you great joy to write the healing scene for Molly? I loved this part so much I read it and then immediately re-read it. In fact I could hardly wait for Jack and Peregrine to drink the healing liquid so Molly could be healed.

It did indeed give me great joy. My daughter was diagnosed with hip dysplasia when she was six months old. It was one of the most wonderful moments of my life when the orthopaedic surgeon finally told me that all our hard work had paid off, and that she would be able to run and skip and dance just like any other child. Recalling that moment brings the sting of tears to my eyes. In fact, I think I may have had a mist before my eyes when I wrote that scene.

9. Do you see links to your earlier series Chain of Charms - once again we have an evil society where singing and fun are banned.

I had not actually consciously realised that there were thematic links between the books, but now that you point it out I can see that this is indeed true. I suppose this is because I feel so strongly myself that we should live joyously and so my own life philosophy makes its way into my work. There are differences between them as well. The Starkin lords live in great luxury and bedeck themselves in silks and jewels and have incredibly elaborate feasts, while the Puritans of Cromwell's time believed in living simply and plainly, and disapproved of any kind of frivolity or luxury.

10. Is it difficult to write your prophesy rhymes? Do you plan these first or do they just evolve as you are writing?

Sometimes the prophecies can be difficult to write, and sometimes they come to me virtually fully formed, with a clear vision of the story embedded within them. The first book in the Estelliana Chronicles was 'The Starthorn Tree' and I wrote it when my youngest son was only a newborn baby. I had intended the Starthorn Tree to be a stand-alone book, complete in itself, but one night I was working on the novel in the still, quiet darkness of the early hours of the morning and one of my characters opened his mouth and began to utter a prophecy - the one that appears in the front of 'The Starkin Crown'. I saw very clearly that there would be another two books to follow on from 'The Starthorn Tree' - the two story lines came to me like a dream or a vision, unrolling in my mind' eye. One image was an impossibly tall crystal tower, and I knew a princess was imprisoned in that tower and the quest would be to free her. That became the central image of 'TheWildkin's Curse'. The key image for the second story was a vision of Peregrine, blind and in despair, struggling through the marsh looking for... something. I did not know what. But the lines:

'Though he must be lost before he can find,

Though, before he sees, he must be blind,

if he can find and if he can see,

the true king of all he shall be'

wrote themselves on the page. From those lines, and from that vivid image, the whole story evolved.

11. Is the lightning storm experience by Robin a form of epilepsy?

Yes, it is. In medieval times, epilepsy was known as 'falling sickness' or as 'lightning in the brain'.

12. Do you have a favourite scene in the book? For me it is when Robin summons all the animals and they give him food on page 106. I also love the fact that Molly is not a beauty in contrast with the icy beauty of Grizelda.

I have a number of favourite scenes. Lame Molly leading blind Peregrine through the marshes and the discovery of the spear is a key scene for me,the first one I got for this book and the one I held in my mind's eye the longest. The raising of Lord Grim and the healing of Molly are also favourites, plus the feast scene at the end when Peregrine and Molly dance and kiss.

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