Kate Forsyth’s new young adult fantasy novel, The Puzzle Ring, is a story rich in faerie lore, set in the wilds of Scotland. You can read my review of the book here. As part of her blog tour, I talked to Kate about the book, the process of writing it and her hopes for it.
AB – Hi Kate. Thanks for dropping by to talk about The Puzzle Ring.
KF – Hi, Alan. Thank you so much for having me!
AB – Firstly, the descriptions of Scotland are very vivid. I’ve spent a lot of time there myself and was utterly convinced by your storytelling. What sort of connection to Scotland do you have, if any?
KF – My grandmother’s grandmother Ellen Mackenzie emigrated to Australia when she was only a young girl. It’s a really sad story. She and her sister lived in a grand house on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands with their parents, but her father was drowned in a dreadful storm and her mother died a few days later (we think whilst in child birth, her baby dying with her). Ellen and her sister Jane were sent to Australia by their uncle, who inherited the estate (we always thought he’d done it illegally, but sadly I think girls were not permitted to inherit under the law of the day). Ellen Mackenzie was a grand storyteller who used to tell her children lots of stories about Scotland, which in time came to be told to my sister and me. We knew more about Scotland than we did about Australia! It began a lifelong fascination with all things Scottish, which I was able to draw upon in writing this story. I went to Scotland with my husband and my three children and stayed there for a month, visiting all the places described in the book.
AB – You clearly did a lot of research into faerie mythology for this story. Was that difficult or a labour of love?
KF – Oh, absolutely a labour of love. I really do enjoy researching, I think it helps you make all sorts of serendipitous discoveries (like Mary, Queen of Scots giving her husband Lord Darnley a ring just hours before he was murdered).
AB – Is faerie mythology something you’ve been interested in since you were a girl? Was it exciting or disappointing to learn that faeries are not the nice little sparkly things at the bottom of the garden after all?
KF – I’ve always been interested in fairy lore, and of course it is woven into many of my books in one shape or another. I used to search for fairies in the bottom of my garden when I was a little girl – in fact I wrote them lots of letters begging them to show themselves to me. However, I also used to look for a doorway into Narnia in the back of wardrobes. What was disappointing was never finding that doorway, and never seeing a fairy for myself. I’m still looking.
AB – Yeah, me too! Don’t give up. You also use the actual history of Mary, Queen Of Scots, to great effect. Which came first, the desire to write a story around Mary, or the story of Hannah herself?
KF – The puzzle ring came first. I read about the history of puzzle rings in a jewellery catalogue and thought at once what a wonderful idea it would make for a quest story. I had it in the back of my mind for a long time, wondering to myself ‘but WHO would search for a puzzle ring and WHY?’ Then I discovered ‘The Book of Curses’ (that is its actual title!) in a second-hand book shop. I say down on a stool and opened it, and the pages fell open on a chapter on a famous Scottish curse, called the Seaforth Doom. I read that chapter, sitting there in the gloomy, cobwebby old shop, and at once thought, ‘Yes! A curse … I could write a book about a girl who must search for the lost puzzle ring because it’s the only way to break a curse!’ I at once began to develop the story in my mind. In the story of the Seaforth Doom, a warlock called Kenneth casts the curse on the Mackenzies of Seaforth (my own clan!) which takes another few hundred years to come to pass. He had a magical hag-stone which enables him to see things no-one else can see. That first made me think about setting the story in Scotland, though I did play with other ideas for a while. There are lots of ancient curses in Scotland, though, and the richest fairy lore in the world, and so I ended up deciding to set the story there. It took me a while longer to settle on Mary, Queen of Scots – I played around with the idea of having each loop of the puzzle ring in a different period of Scottish history for a while, but I prefer to write in long sustained narrative, rather than lots of short stories. Gradually I circled in on Queen Mary, and then on a period of six months in her tumultuous life. Once I had my story planned, the writing came very easily to me, it’s almost as if it wrote itself.
AB – This certainly seems like a book targeted at a young adult audience, particularly girls. Was that the intention? What are your thoughts generally on fiction for young folk?
KF – I always know exactly who I’m writing for when I’m writing a book. I tried to write the sort of book I would have loved to have read when I was 11 or 12. That is one of my favourite age groups to write for, because they are old enough to have a sophisticated story told in sophisticated language, but young enough still to willingly suspend disbelief. I remember vividly the books I read at this age, and I believe they helped shape me into the person I am now. I want to write the sort of books that children will carry with them forever after.
AB – I think you’ve certainly achieved that with The Puzzle Ring. Are we likely to see any other stories about Hannah and her friends?
KF – I have an idea for a sequel that I’d like to write one day. I’m working on another story now, though, so it might be awhile.
AB – So what’s next on the agenda from you?
KF – I’m just proofreading a YA fantasy that is due to be published in May. Called ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’ it is the sequel to my earlier YA fantasy, ‘The Starthorn Tree’. And I’m about one-third of the way through writing the third in the series, to be called ‘The Starkin Crown’.
AB – Great, I’m sure there’s a lot of folks out there looking forward to those. Thanks, Kate!
If you’d like to win a copy of The Puzzle Ring, leave a comment on this post with your thoughts about the book, the review, the interview or anything else. We’ll pick a random winner from all the people that comment.