Friday, September 11, 2015

Interview with Kate Forsyth - The Wild Girl

I'm so pleased to welcome back fantastic fairytale reteller, children's and adult novelist Kate Forsyth whose graciously agreed to come back and talk about her latest novel, The Wild Girl. No it's not about Girls Gone Wild, but about the real wife of Wilhelm Grimm Dortchen Wild.

ISBN-13: 9781250047540
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: 07/07/2015
Length: 496pp
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndieBound/Audible


One of six sisters, Dortchen Wild lives in the small German kingdom of Hesse-Cassel in the early 19th century. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the handsome but very poor fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm. It is a time of tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hesse-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, Wilhelm and his brothers quietly rebel by preserving old half-forgotten tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small over the land.

Read an excerpt:

Into the Dark Forest

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, 1805–1806
So they walked for a long time and finally came to the middle of the great forest. There the father made a big fire and the mother says: 'Sleep for a while, children, we want to go into the forest and look for wood, wait till we come back.' The children sat down next to the fire, and each one ate its little piece of bread. They wait a long time until night falls, but the parents don't come back.
From 'Hänsel and Gretel', a tale thought to have been told by Dortchen Wild to Wilhelm Grimm before 1810

October 1805
Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him.
She was only twelve years old, but love has never been something that can be constrained by age. It happened in the way of old tales, in an instant, changing everything forever. It was a fork in the path, the turn of a key, the kindling of a lantern.
That afternoon, Dortchen had gone with her friend Lotte to visit Lotte's aunt, Henriette Zimmer, who was a lady-in-waiting to the Princess Wilhelmine. They had been accompanied by Lotte's mother, Frau Grimm, and three of her brothers, Karl, Ferdinand and Ludwig. It was a long walk back to the Marktgasse from the vast green park of the palace, but no one suggested hiring a carriage. The Grimms were poor, and Dortchen certainly had no money in her purse. It was both scary and wonderful to walk through the forest at twilight, imagining wolves and witches and bears and other wild beasts lurking in the shadows.
'Look at Herkules,' Lotte said. 'He's all lit up by the sun.'
Dortchen turned and walked backward, staring back up at the palace, square and grand on its low hill, with six heavy columns holding up a great stone pediment. On the crest of the mountain behind was an octagonal building of turreted stone, surmounted by a pyramid on which stood the immense statue of Herkules, symbol of the Kurfürst's power. As the sun slid down behind the western horizon, Herkules sank back into shadow. Light drained away from the sky.
'Hurry up, girls!' Frau Grimm called. 'It'll be dark soon.'
Supper, Dortchen thought. She turned forward again and quickened her steps. 'I mustn't be late or Father will be angry.'
'He won't mind once he knows you've been with us, surely,' Lotte said.
Dortchen did not like to say that her father did not approve of the Grimm family. There were far too many boys for his comfort, and, besides, they were as poor as church mice. Herr Wild had six girls to settle comfortably.
The shadowy forest gave way to parkland, then the long, straight road ran between wide plots of gardens, each confined behind stone walls, the gateposts carved with the initials of the owners' long-dead ancestors. They approached Dortchen's family's garden plot, where she had been meant to spend all afternoon, weeding and hoeing. She ran in and caught up her basket and gardening gloves, then hurried to catch up with Lotte, who turned to wait for her, one hand clamped to her bonnet.
The road led inside the medieval walls, the cobbles bruising Dortchen's feet. The jutting eaves and chimneys and turrets of the buildings were dark against a luminous sky. The first star shone out, and Dortchen thought, I wish ...
She hardly knew how to frame the words. She longed to have someone of her own to love – a friend, a twin, a soulmate. She glanced at Lotte, at her thin face and the curly dark hair so unlike Dortchen's, which was thick and fair and straight. Lotte was only thirteen days older than Dortchen. Almost close enough to be twins. They had both been born in May 1793, the year that the King and Queen of France had their heads chopped off and the people of Paris had danced in streets puddled with blood.
Dortchen had always been fascinated by the story of Maria Antonia of Austria, who had become Marie Antoinette of France. She sometimes imagined herself as a beautiful young queen, dressed in white, dragged to the guillotine through a jeering crowd. In her daydream, Dortchen was rescued at the last moment by a daring band of masked heroes, led by a handsome stranger with a flashing sword. He threw her over the saddle of his horse and galloped away through the crowd, and the guillotine was left thirsty.
She wondered if Lotte ever imagined herself a condemned queen, a girl in a story.
Warm light spilt from the upper windows. The smell of cooking made Dortchen's stomach growl and her pulse quicken in anxiety. 'Let's hurry – I'm hungry.'
'I'm always hungry,' Lotte said. 'And all we have to eat is sausages. Sausages, sausages, every day.'
'It's better than stone soup, which is what I'll get if I'm home late.'
The small party reached the Königsplatz, its six avenues radiating out like the spokes of a wheel. In the centre of the square was a marble statue of the Kurfürst's father, the Landgrave Frederick, famous for having sent hundreds of Hessian soldiers to die fighting for Great Britain in the American Revolution.
'Did you know that there's an echo here?' Dortchen told Lotte. 'If you shout, you'll hear your voice bounce back six times.' She stood in the centre and demonstrated, much to the amazement of Lotte's three brothers, who at once came to stand beside her to test the echo too.
'Ja!' they shouted.
Back came the faint echo: Ja, ja, ja, ja, ja, ja.
'Ja! Ja!'
Ja, ja, ja, ja, ja, ja ...
The church bells rang out and Dortchen remembered the time. 'Come on, I'm late. Father will skin me alive!' Catching Lotte's hand, she ran down the cobblestoned avenue that led through the crooked houses towards the Marktgasse. The gables shut out the last of the light, so they ran through shadows, with only the occasional gleam of candlelight through a shutter showing the way.
They burst out into the Marktgasse, the three Grimm boys racing past them, Lotte's stout mother panting behind. Dortchen saw at once that the windows of her father's shop were dark, and he had hung the quail's cage out the upstairs window. Her spirits sank.
A lantern bobbed across the square towards them. Behind it were two young men, dark shapes in long coats and tall hats. They strode up to Frau Grimm, arms spread in greeting. 'Mother, where have you been?' the younger one asked in mock reproof. 'We got home to a dark, cold house and an empty larder.'
'Jakob, Wilhelm, you're here at last.' Frau Grimm embraced them warmly.
'It's my other brothers.' Lotte ran forward to greet them, and Dortchen followed shyly. In the glow of the lamp, she saw two young men, both thin and dark and shabbily dressed. The elder of the two had a serious face, with straight hair hanging past his ears. The younger was the more handsome, with pale skin, hollow cheeks and wavy dark curls. He laughed at Lotte and swung her around by the hands.
Dortchen forgot about her father, forgot about being late, forgot to breathe. The world tilted, then righted itself.
'Lotte, not so wild! You're not a little girl any more,' the elder brother reproved her. Dortchen knew that he was named Jakob and that he was twenty years old, for Lotte had spoken often about her clever brothers.
'Don't scold, Jakob,' Lotte protested. 'I haven't seen you in such an age.'
Frau Grimm patted his shoulder. 'Look at you, so tall and manly. We've been so worried. What took you so long?'
'Professor von Savigny and I had to come the long way, through Metz,' Jakob replied. 'Strasbourg is full of French soldiers.'
'The Grand Army is on the move again? I thought Napoléon was all set to invade England,' Ferdinand said. He was the fourth of the five Grimm sons, seventeen years old, with the family's dark hair and thin, sensitive face.
'I guess he's changed his mind,' Jakob replied drily.
'Do they march against Austria?' eighteen-year-old Karl demanded.
'I suppose it was to be expected,' nineteen-year-old Wilhelm said. 'Austria did invade Bavaria, after all.'
'The French move so swiftly,' Jakob said. 'Napoléon left Paris after us, yet overtook us on the road. They say he drove for fifty-eight hours, only stopping to change his horses. The ostlers had to throw water over the carriage wheels to stop them from melting.'
'You saw the Emperor? What is he like? Is it true he's a dwarf?' Ludwig asked. At fifteen, he was the youngest Grimm brother and three years older than Lotte.
'He's not tall by any means, but one hardly notices. There's such a presence about him. His eyes, they're full of fire ...' Jakob's voice trailed off.
'What about the Empress? Was she very beautiful? Are her dresses as shocking as they say?' Lotte wanted to know.
'Indeed, I'd be sorry to see you emulating her clothes, as half of Europe seems to do. If you can call a few wisps of muslin "clothes". As for beautiful – she wears so much rouge you cannot see her skin at all!'
'I wish I could have gone with you to Paris,' Wilhelm interjected. 'It was lonely at university without you.'
'I'm glad to be back with you all again,' Jakob said. 'Stimulating as Paris was.'
'We're glad to have you back too,' Ludwig said. 'Although you'll miss the house at Steinau. We're all very cramped here in Cassel.'
'We were cramped in Marburg too, I assure you,' Wilhelm said. 'At least it's not so hilly here. At Marburg, we had to climb hundreds of steps every day just to get around. And sometimes you'd walk in through the front door of a house and find yourself on the top floor!'
Dortchen waited for a chance to say her farewells. She was eager to get to the safety of the kitchen before her father noticed her absence, yet she found their talk of the outside world fascinating.
Wilhelm sensed Dortchen's eyes on him and glanced her way. 'But who is this? A friend of yours, Lottechen?'
'Oh, that's one of the Wild girls,' Karl said. 'There's a whole horde of them across the way.'
'It's Dortchen,' Lotte said. 'Dortchen Wild. She lives above the apothecary's there.' She waved her hand at the dark shop, with its mortar and pestle sign hanging outside.
'It's a pleasure to meet you, Dortchen. Is that a love name for Dorothea?' When Dortchen nodded shyly, Wilhelm went on. 'One of my favourite names. My mother's name, you know.'
'It's really Henriette Dorothea,' Dortchen said. 'But no one calls me that.'
'It's a very pretty name, both the long and the short versions,' he answered, smiling.
'What about Charlotte?' his sister demanded. 'Isn't that your favourite?'
'I like them both. Two very pretty names.'
Dortchen felt heat rising in her cheeks. 'I have to go. Thank you for taking me to afternoon tea, Frau Grimm. Bye, Lotte.' She hurried down the alley that divided her father's shop from the building in which the Grimms rented an apartment. Within seconds she was hidden in darkness, but she could hear the conversation of the Grimm family behind her.
'She seems very nice,' Wilhelm said. 'How lovely to have some girls living right next door, Lotte.'
'I hope they are sensible, hard-working girls, not like those silly friends of yours in Steinau,' Jakob added.
'Their father is very strict and keeps them close,' Frau Grimm said.
'She's very pretty,' Wilhelm said.
Dortchen smiled and clasped his words to her like something small and precious.

October 1805
Dortchen hurried through the gate in the wall and into the garden. A cobbled path led between wide beds overflowing with herbs. An old holly tree filled one corner, its branches weighed down with berries. Their servant, Old Marie, always picked holly at Christmas-time and put it on the mantelpiece in the kitchen, though if Herr Wild had known he would have ordered her to throw it on the fire. Dortchen's father thought such things pagan nonsense. The only reason holly grew in his garden was because it was a useful herb in winter, when most others were dead. Holly leaves relieved fever and rheumatism, and the powdered berries would purge a blocked bowel.
At the back of the garden were the stables and sheds. Apple trees were espaliered against the south-facing wall. As Dortchen hurried up the path, her boots bruised the thyme and hyssop and sage that spilt over the cobbles, releasing their scents into the night air.
Light illuminated a narrow window on one side of the kitchen door. Dortchen peeked through. Inside, Old Marie was busy at the fireplace. She was called that by everyone, to differentiate her from Dortchen's youngest sister, who was called Little Marie, or Mia. Old Marie was a stout woman in her late fifties, with round cheeks rosy and wrinkled as a winter apple. She wore a coarse calico apron over her brown stuff dress, and a white cap that covered most of her grey-streaked hair. Dortchen opened the door and slipped into the kitchen, a blast of hot air hitting her chilled cheeks. Mozart the starling swooped down to land on her shoulder, trilling a welcome. His dark wings were all starred with white, like snowflakes.
'Good boy,' Dortchen said and stroked his head with her knuckle.
'Good boy,' Mozart repeated. He was named after the composer, who had had a pet starling who'd learnt to whistle the last movement of his Piano Concerto in G. Although Old Marie's starling had never mastered a concerto, he had many words and sounds and songs, and chattered away all day long in a most endearing way.
'Dortchen, sweetling, where've you been?' Old Marie cried.
'Pretty sweetling, pretty sweetling,' the starling chirped.
'I've been that worried,' Old Marie went on. 'It's past the hour already. You know how your father hates to be kept waiting. Röse has come down once already to see where supper is. Quickly, take off your shawl and wash your hands, then you can ring the bell for me.'
'Does Father know I've been out?' Dortchen asked, putting down her basket and lifting Mozart down so he could hop onto his perch.
'I don't think so – he only went up from the shop ten minutes ago. He and your brother have been going at it hammer and tongs ever since. The whole house was shaking.'
As Dortchen took off her shawl and bonnet and hung them up, she said, 'Sometimes I think Father doesn't like us very much.'
'Bite your tongue,' Old Marie responded at once. 'How can you say such a thing, when you live in this fine big house, with all this good food to eat? Yes, he's a little gruff, your father, but he works hard and looks after you, which is more than can be said for many fathers.'
'He never buys us any treats or lets us do anything fun,' Dortchen pointed out.
'Better than taking you out into the forest and abandoning you, like the father of the little boy and girl in that story,' Old Marie said.
'I suppose so,' Dortchen replied. 'Though at least they got to have an adventure. We never go anywhere or do anything.'
'You call almost being eaten by a witch an adventure? Be glad for small mercies, Dortchen, my love, and pass me the salt.'
Dortchen did as she was asked, her mind wandering away into a deep, dark, thorn-tangled forest. She imagined leaving a trail of white stones to help find her way home. She imagined tricking the witch.
Still daydreaming, she began to get down plates for their dinner from the oak dresser. The kitchen was a long, low room, lit by smoky tallow candles and the orange roar of the fire. Heavy beams supported the brown-stained ceiling, with washing lines strung between them flapping with the week's laundry. Iron ladles and pots hung from hooks from a long oak shelf above the fireplace. The shelf itself held pewter bowls and tankards, and heavy ceramic jars of salt and sugar and oil.
A roasting jack, made of cast iron, stood before the fireplace. A complex set of wheels and pulleys kept the roast turning evenly, its juices dripping down into a pan. Old Marie heaved the roast beef off the jack and onto a platter, her round face red and damp with perspiration, then swung the boiling pot of potato dumplings off the fire. Dortchen hurried to help her, ladling boiled red cabbage into a tureen.
The kitchen door swung open and Mia rushed in. 'Old Marie, Mother's having a spasm. Where's supper? It's nearly quarter past.'
'I had trouble with the fire,' Old Marie said. 'The wind's in the wrong quarter.'

Kate hi! Welcome back to The Reading Frenzy.
You were here last year chatting about your novel Bitter Greens, which was sort of a Rapunzel retelling. And now keeping with the Brothers Grimm your current release, The Wild Girl is about Wilhelm Grimm’s wife Dortchen Wild.
Give us the Cliff-Notes version of the novel please.
THE WILD GIRL tells the story of the forbidden romance between Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young women who told him many of the world’s favourite fairy tales. She grew up next door to the Grimm family and was best friends with Lotte Grimm, the only girl in a family of five brothers. When she was in her teens and Wilhelm a young man, their home of Hesse-Cassel was invaded by Napoleon’s Grand Army. The world was turned upside down. Unable to find work, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm began to collect old stories and songs and rhymes as an act of defiance against the cultural dominance of their French rulers. Many of their sources were the young women of their acquaintance, including Dortchen, who was then eighteen years old.  She told Wilhelm such wonderful stories as Hansel and Gretel, The Singing Bone, Six Swans, Rumpeltstiltskin, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Frog King, The Singing, Springing Lark, and All-Kinds-of-Fur. They fell in love, but Dortchen was forbidden to see the handsome but impoverished fairy tale scholar. So she defied her father, and met Wilhelm clandestinely in the forest and the parks and the gardens. Parental disapproval, poverty and living under occupation were not the only obstacles to stand in their way. Wilhelm was sick, and the remedies prescribed by the doctors (like breathing in arsenic fumes) only made him sicker. Dortchen has a long struggle ahead of her before she can find her own ‘happy ever after’.

How much is fact and how much is fiction?
The lives of the Grimm brothers is well-documented and so anything referring to them – including many of their words – are true. Dortchen was an enigma, however. Scholars did not even know her birthdate. So I had to do a great deal of research, and a great deal of imagining, to bring her inner world to life.
I never change the known facts. However, I use them as the fixed points about which I weave my fancy. And the less that is known, the more fancy that is needed.

Would you call it a dark read?
Like all fairy tales, there is darkness and there is brightness, there is despair and there is hope, there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles and there is triumph at the end.

The Grimms have a recurring place in your novels.
When did your fascination with them start and why?
When I was a toddler, I was savaged by a dog and ended up spending a lot of time in hospital as a result. When I was about seven, my mother gave me a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to read. I read the book so often the spine broke and all the pages fell out like white feathers. It began a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and fairy tale retellings that culminated in my doctorate in fairy tale studies.

The novel is described as an untold love story.
How deep did you have to dig to find facts on Dortchen?
It was very difficult to find out much information on Dortchen. When I began, all scholars really knew was that she was one of six sisters and a brother, that her father was an apothecary, and that the Wild family lived next door to the Grimm family in the old medieval quarter of Cassel. They knew the date of her wedding to Wilhelm, and the date of her death, but not the date of her birth. I had to hire a research to dig through old parish records to find that out! I had to build much of her life out of studies into the lives of young women of the time, or the few clues that remained in letters and memoirs. That helped me build a timeline of her life, but gave me no clue to her inner world. For that, I turned to the stories she told Wilhelm. After months of painstaking work, I was able to establish a timeline for when (and, sometimes, where) she told him her stories. Then I used those fairy tales to build my narrative, thinking of ways to use them as indicators of what was happening in her life.

The Wild Girl has been out in the world for sometime even though it just made it to the US audience. It was in fact named the Most Memorable Love Story in 2013 by Australian Readers, and has received great reviews here in the States courtesy LibraryJournal and Kirkus. Congratulations!!
If you could only have one kind of reviewer would you pick editorial or reader?
Oh, I’d pick readers every time! That’s who I’m writing for.

Kate your list of favorite authors are as long as my arm.
How many books are you able to read in say a month’s time?
I usually manage between 3-5 books a week, so let’s say a dozen or so.

Your write for both adult and children audiences.
Do you have a favorite genre to write in?
I love writing my fairytale infused historical fiction. They are, without a doubt, my favourite thing to write. However, they are research-intensive and can be emotionally harrowing, so I really enjoy writing children’s fantasy as a refresher for my soul. It’s like splashing around in lemonade after diving to the fathomless deeps. 

Kate you’re also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers. Wow I never knew anything like that existed.
Think back to when you sent out your first manuscript at 16. Did you ever imagine you’d accomplish all you have?
I hoped … I dreamed … I longed for it with all my heart …

Where in the world will you be taking readers next?
I am now working on a reimagining of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, set amongst the passions and scandals and tragedies of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists in mid-Victorian England. It’s fascinating research!

Kate thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.
Good luck with the new novel and I hope to reconnect with the next one.

Links to video interviews

Connect with Kate - Website - Facebook 

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the award-winning & internationally bestselling author of more than 35 books for both adults and children. 
Her books for adults include 'The Wild Girl', the love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world's most famous fairy tales; 'Bitter Greens', a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale; and the bestselling fantasy series 'Witches of Eileanan' Her books for children include 'The Impossible Quest', 'The Gypsy Crown', 'The Puzzle Ring', and 'The Starkin Crown' 
Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies, a Masters of Creative Writing, a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and is an accredited master storyteller. 


  1. I love this is blended fact and fiction. Some of the best reads are that way and I love love that this is about the Brothers Grimm!

    1. Thanks Ali, I can't wait to read it, alas it'll have to be at least next month bc I've got to start on my contract readings LOL

  2. You feature the most fascinating reads here. Adding this to The List

  3. Debbie a fascinating interview - great questions. How does she manage to fit in reading so many books! I haven't read The Wild Girl yet, only came to her writing through Bitter Greens and The Beast's Garden. So I have this one in store while waiting for her 'Sleeping Beauty' story.

    1. Kathryn, thanks and I thought the very same thing about how on earth can she fit that many books into her reading schedule

  4. Oh my gosh. That's so intriguing. That cover is so pretty too.

    1. It's a great cover, now I just need to find the time to read it LOL

  5. Love the cover, and for me books that weave fiction and fact are some of the best stories.