It’s not often two sisters have books released on the same day! Sisters Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell dropped by to talk about what that’s like and some of the influences that led them both to grow up to be fantasy authors.

What was your childhood like?

    Kate: We both loved reading! We were the sort of kids to read under the bedclothes at night with torches, or bumped our heads on telegraph poles because we walked home from school reading. And when we weren’t reading we were playing games inspired by our favourite books or scribbling stories down in notebooks.
    Belinda: We used to fight about who would be the most exciting character – we both wanted to be the brave tomboy George not the sweet, caring Anne! From the time we were seven or eight, we would write constantly – stories, poems, plays and novels ‘published’ in exercise books with hand drawn illustrations. I am the eldest, so I used to get out my big red pen and correct all Kate’s spelling and grammar.
    Kate: I remember once running crying to our grandmother Nonnie because Belinda had told me that the ending of my story wasn’t very good and she rewrote it. Nonnie told me that Belinda was only trying to help because she loved me, but she must have had a quiet word to Bin because she never rewrote any of my stories again.
    Belinda: 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: I think we had an unusual childhood, in that we grew up in suburban Sydney and went to school and did our homework just like most kids, but our school holidays were often spent off having wild adventures with our Dad who did things like sail right around Australia without stopping once, or sail to Vanuatu
    Belinda: Dad was a vet so he’d often take us out to big properties where he’d be working and we’d go mustering, riding horses, working in the yards and sleeping under the stars. Our life at home in Sydney was also filled with animals – dozens at a time. We had four dogs, litters of puppies, cats, calves, piglets, lambs, snakes, tortoises, horses, mice, rats, possums – even a baby wallaby that lived in a sack on the back of our kitchen door.
    Why do you think both of you ended up writing fantasy?

Belinda: Like so many kids who love reading, my children love fantasy, just like I did as a child. It is a true escape from the humdrum reality of school, homework and chores. I loved fleeing into a world where children could be empowered to change their worlds, to fight for good, to overcome evil, to be strong and brave and clever.

    Kate: I absolutely agree. I know that I loved reading fantasy as a child – books like C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books and The Hobbit. And I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of magic and the sense that there is more to the universe that we yet understand.
    Belinda: I also love the mystery of the unknown – of ghosts, magical gems, mythical creatures, portals and the possibility of other fantastic worlds.
    Kate: I think that fantasy books really open up the imagination – they push out the boundaries of what we know and understand. And they are so much fun to write!

What do you think are the ingredients for a good fantasy novel?

    Kate: I think it’s the same for any novel, regardless of genre – characters you can empathise with; an interesting plot filled with surprise; a sense of atmosphere or a vivid and intriguing setting; language that is limpid and clear and sparkling. Plus, of course, a sense of wonder and mystery and magic!
    Belinda: Absolutely. I also feel the best fantasy novels are very firmly rooted in realism, which helps create a strong suspension of disbelief. The characters come alive and you really care what happens to them. You can taste the feasts and smell the mist. The action is exciting and adventurous. And I must say I love a feisty heroine.

I believe that you two sisters often have weird coincidences happening with your books?

    Kate:  Yes, it is uncanny. Sometimes we can be on the opposite sides of the world and yet still find we’ve done something the same. For instance, we both decided, quite independently of each other, to write a time travel adventure for readers aged 10+, set in Scotland and drawing upon our grandmother’s stories of our Scottish ancestry.  We both decided to call our heroines’ mother Roz (Belinda changed her character’s name when we found out) and then we both called our castles very similar names (I changed the name of mine).  What is interesting is that out books are completely different, despite these uncanny parallels and coincidences.
    Belinda: Sometimes I think we are a little like twins, with a strong connection between our thoughts and inspiration – almost like ESP. I guess we grew up together reading the same books, playing the same games and being inspired by many of the same things. In our latest books – The Ruby Talisman and The Wildkin’s Curse, we discovered we had both called our heroines Tilly! Of course one of us had to change – so this time I won!

Kate and Belinda, you’ve been on tour with each other for the last few weeks, culminating with the Sydney Writers Festival School Days program where the two of you are talking to 5,000 children over the course of the week. What has it been like, sharing the spotlight with your sister?

    Belinda: It has been lovely. Usually we would be performing alone so sharing the stage took a little getting used to – in terms of passing the stories back and forth, making joint decisions on how to organise speeches, and doing media interviews without talking over the top of each other. Someone laughed at us and said we kept finishing each other’s sentences! What is really interesting is how different some of our memories are of things that happened in our childhood.
    Kate: In general, I trust Belinda’s memories of our childhood stories because she’s two years older and her memory is better than mine anyway (probably because my nose was always stuck in a book). However, on some things we just had to agree to disagree and whoever was telling that particular story got to tell it her way.
    Belinda: We’ve also had some stressful moments where things have changed at the last moment or not gone to plan, so we’ve had to quickly change tack and get on with it. Both of us have been working huge days, then coming home to deal with the usual chaos of family life – housework, homework, cooking dinner, washing, shopping and organising kids’ birthdays!! All the while trying to look glamorous and competent!!
    Kate:  But it’s been an amazing experience and one that I’m so glad I’ve got to share with Binny.  And it’s wonderful having someone who is so close to you sharing the ups and downs, the perils and pitfalls, of being a writer. We talk like mad about so many things – agents, publishers, plot holes, dramatic arcs, useful cures for overwhelming lack of sleep! And really, how often do sisters launch a YA fantasy novel ON THE VERY SAME DAY! It’s incredibly special.

Find out more about Kate’s new book, The Wildkin’s Curse, at her website www.kateforsyth.com.au and Belinda’s, The Ruby Talisman, at her www.belindamurrell.com.au. And look out for reviews for both of these books coming to ASif! soon.

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