You may remember a little while ago that I hosted a day of Kate Forsyth’s blog book tour for The Puzzle Ring. Well, Kate is far from the only talented writer in the family. Her sister, Belinda Murrell, is also a talented and prolific writer in her own right. Seriously, these two are enough to give any writer insignificance syndrome – Kate is working on her 25th book and Belinda on her 10th!

Both Kate and Belinda have a new book to promote – The Wildkin’s Curse by Kate and The Ruby Talisman by Belinda – and they’re touring the interwebz together. I was lucky enough to get them both to answer a few questions about their writing and their lives.

Which of you was published first? Was there competition there?

Kate – I would normally say that I was published first as I had my first novel Dragonclaw published in 1997 which is nine years before Belinda published her first novel, The Quest for the Sun Gem – by the time that came out I had already published 14 or 15 books. But Belinda reminded me today that she actually wrote a book that was published while I was still at university! It just wasn’t a novel. And she’s catching me up fast – I’m now working on my 25th book & Belinda is writing her 10th.

Belinda: There wasn’t so much competition as trepidation. While I had worked as a professional writer for 20 years, both my sister and brother were bestselling authors and so I wrote my first book in deepest secrecy! Kate found out I was writing it by accident and she was so excited. However I was terrified that Kate would hate the manuscript. Luckily she didn’t!!

The Ruby TalismanIs writing something that runs in the family, or is it just you two that are the literary over-achievers?

Belinda: Writing definitely runs in the family! Not only are my brother and sister authors, but there have been writers in our family for about 180 years. Our great-great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Waring wrote the first children’s book published in Australia. My grandmother was an English teacher and with our mother, always fostered our love of books, poetry and writing. She used to tell us the most wonderful, romantic stories about history, our family and Scottish folklore full of adventure and brave, feisty heroines. She would talk to us about Shakespeare and Tennyson, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

Kate: Charlotte Waring’s book was called A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales [Surely one of the best titles ever! – Alan] and it was published in 1841. It’s an amazing book – the first time Australian flora and fauna was described in a work of fiction, the first time Aborigines were described, the first recount of Eliza Fraser’s experiences after her shipwreck… it’s really appalling that she is not more celebrated. Then her daughter Louise Atkinson was the first Australian-born woman novelist and the first Australian female journalist… there’s a flower named after her!

What’s your ideal writing space/environment?

Kate: I love my study! It’s painted pale green and is lined along two walls with bookshelves laden with books on history and witchcraft and folklore and literature. The third wall is hung with framed covers of my books and a map of Middle-Earth and a map of Narnia. The fourth wall is a huge picture window that looks out across my garden, through the peach tree to the harbour and the ocean. It’s a lovely place to work. However, I am very used to working anywhere at any time – in bed at 4am, at the airport, on a plane, in the park while my children play, with my notebook on the bench while I cook dinner…

Belinda: I have a beautiful office now, full of books, with a fireplace and a view over the garden. But while I was away travelling with my family for two years, I wrote in many beautiful and wild places – in the Kimberley in far north Western Australia, in the Scottish highlands, on the verandah of a friend’s cattle farm, on outback stations, in Margaret River…

Where do you get your inspiration?

Belinda: Life! My children. Travel. Things that happen all around me, every day…
I was inspired to write The Ruby Talisman because my family and I spent two years travelling and having adventures together, including a wonderful sojourn in France. We explored the gorgeous French countryside on horseback, by foot and on board an old fishing boat. We even crawled down into the dank, dark tunnels under the streets of Paris where the aristocratic bones were tossed of those murdered during the revolution. The French Revolution seemed an ideal period in history for a book of deadly danger and exhilarating adventures!

Kate: I find that ideas come to me all the time – I can reading a magazine (or a jewellery catalogue like I was when I first got the idea for The Puzzle Ring) or staring out a car window or reading a book on Cornish folklore or walking past a creepy old house… and then I’ll begin to wonder… I think the main difference is I see these moments of wondering or imagining as the seed-bed for a story while most people would just be distracted for a moment and then keep on walking.

The Wildkins CurseI think that’s something true of all writers – we see the potential for a story in everything.

Do you help each other out with writer’s block or sticky plot twists?

Kate: We talk about what we’re doing a lot, and often find just by talking it out we come to the solution… or one of us will say something really quite obvious that sparks an idea. I remember with The Wildkin’s Curse I was bothered about my final scene and Belinda said, ‘Well, what can your hero do that no-one else can?’ and at once my brain was off and running, and my sticky problem was fixed!

Belinda: Kate and I tend not to read each other’s manuscripts until they are finished – we find it’s better that way. We do help each other in so many other ways, whether talking through a difficult plot problem that is bothering us, helping to look after each other’s children or giving each other a stern talking-to, when we are doing too much, or getting stressed from juggling the many demands of motherhood, career, family and writing.

Is there still competition between you both?

Belinda: In a sense, we can be quite a competitive family. But we usually celebrate each other’s successes and are very supportive of one another. The keenest competition can be when we discover (yet again) that there is some quirky similarity between the two books we are writing at the same time. For example, with our latest books we discovered we had both called our heroines Tilly, so we had to negotiate a compromise – I won!

Kate: Sometimes we ring each other and say, ‘How many words did you get done today? Ha-ha, I did more!’ But it’s only ever as a joke. And we’d only do it if we knew the other one was writing happily away and not stuck or busy on other things. This week we were teasing each other because our books were the No 1 & No 2 bestsellers at a bookshop – and the bookseller was too scared to tell us which was which in case whoever was No 2 would be upset. But of course were both thrilled – both for ourselves and for each other.

Belinda: Yes – it turned out Kate was the number one bestseller, but I was nipping at her heels! I was only one book sale behind!

Does it help that you’re both writers? Can your success help to influence the other’s success?

Kate: A writer can really only forge their own success. It didn’t matter how many books I’d written or how many millions I’d sold, no publisher would have taken on Belinda just because she was my sister. They took her on because her books were so good! And people buy them because they’ve read her earlier books and loved them. Customer satisfaction and word of mouth is what sells books, not who you’re related to!

Belinda: It can actually be a hindrance – Kate’s agent refused to take me on because she thought it was too incestuous! Actually, in many ways it does help. Kate has definitely been a wonderful mentor to me, and has taught me so much about how the industry works. In other ways it made it harder, because Kate was so successful that I was very naive about how difficult it actually is to get published. I thought all authors sold hundreds of thousands of copies of their books!! But that too was an inspiration because I thought if Kate can do it, so can I!

Kate & BelindaTell us a bit about your current release.

Belinda: The Ruby Talisman is an exciting time slip adventure where my modern day heroine, Tilly, falls asleep wearing an old ruby pendant and is magically transported back in time to the glittering and opulent court of Queen Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI. Tilly wakes up in Versailles on July 14th, 1789, the day the peasants storm the Bastille, sparking violent uprisings against the aristocrats all over the country. Tilly sets off on a series of terrifying adventures throughout France to help her aristocratic ancestor Amelie-Mathilde escape the dangers and chaos of the French Revolution.

Kate: The Wildkin’s Curse is a tale of true love & high adventure, set in a world of magic & monsters, valiant heroes and wicked villains. It tells the story of two boys and a girl who undertake the impossible task of rescuing a wildkin princess from a crystal tower.

Princess Rozalina has the power to enchant with words – she can conjure up a plague of rats or wish the dead out of their graves, she can woo a cruel king with her stories and, when she casts a curse, it has such power it will change her world forever.

The Wildkin’s Curse is a book about the power of stories to set us free.

Thanks so much to you both for sharing this stuff with us. If any of you out there are interested in learning more about Kate and Belinda you can check out their websites. Belinda’s site is here and Kate’s site is here. You can also watch the book trailer for The Wildkin’s Curse here – one of the best book trailers I’ve seen.