SPOTLIGHT: Interview with Kate Forsyth about writing THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN

Twenty years ago, my first book DRAGONCLAW (called THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN in the US) was published!
To celebrate, I'm running a couple of vintage posts about the writing of The Witches of Eileanan series.
Today I thought I'd run an interview I gave to SFFWorld in 2000 (yes, all the years ago).

Q: Your books seem extremely well researched. Not only in the history of the culture, but in the magical elements and practices as well. Could you explain to us the importance of this research, or how you went about it?

I do a great deal of research into every aspect of the books. I like to make sure everything is right and besides, I find the research itself often sparks off ideas which I would not have had otherwise. It helps make the world seem real and alive, and gives an extra punch to the writing. Generally, I borrow piles of books from the library and read through them, making notes on all that interest me. I often find the junior section of the library the most helpful because the books there have illustrations and diagrams, and describe things simply and concisely. For example, if I'm writing a battle scene I want to know everything about armour, weapons, siege machines, tactics, logistics - a book on mediaeval warfare from the adult section would be too long and heavy, but a selection of books from the junior library give me just about everything I need to know. As well as that, I browse a lot through second-hand bookshops and so have picked up heaps of books on all sorts of different subjects, all of which give me ideas and allow me to check facts when I need to. I have everything from a 16th century herbal to a dictionary of angels, all of which I've referred to at some point in time.

Q: Have you noticed, or have readers commented, that your story, while not a sad story and definitely containing the "good" vs. "bad" elements in it, leaves one feeling unsure whether to laugh or to cry?

I really like this question and am glad to know this is how the books make you feel. I certainly wanted to make my readers laugh and cry and gasp and sigh at different points in the story, and I also wanted to express something about the complexity of good and evil and how sometimes there is a very high price to pay. None of my characters or creatures are entirely good or entirely evil - sometimes evil is done by those who are really struggling to do what is right. I get a lot of e-mail from readers and this is one of the things people comment on the most - a particular scene makes them want to get up and shout a warning, or makes them cry, or makes them very frustrated with the characters in question - all of which makes me a very happy writer!

Q: Do you have a favorite character in the books?

Many. I love them all. Isabeau is of course my protagonist and I love her dearly, though sometimes I wish she would think before she acted, particularly in the early books. I find Iseult rather a puzzle sometimes, and am rather glad Lachlan is beginning to grow into his manhood, for he exasperated me greatly at times with his bad moods and his self-focus. I love Meghan, of course, and have very tender regard for Lilanthe and Dide and Finn. In fact, I don't think there is really a character I don't have a soft spot for, unless it's Margrit who gives me the shivers and Renshaw, of course, who was very nasty.

Q: How long do you see this story continuing? Is it only to be a three part series, or will you go on with it?

Oh dear. It was MEANT to be a trilogy but the epic scale of my imagination surprised even me! I have great pleasure in informing you that 'The Witches of Eileanan' is now a sextet, with six big fat books all brimming over with action, romance, intrigue, magic and mayhem! I am very lucky that my publishers like me because otherwise I could've been in trouble.
Do the religious and political ideas embedded within your story have any specific relevance to your views, or to current events in our world today? If so, could you explain those elements as you see them?

This is a difficult question to answer in many ways. Yes, of course they have relevance to our world and express many of my deeply felt beliefs and philosophies. I have a great deal of sympathy for the pagan pantheistic religion of my witches. I am troubled by the effect of strict fundamentalist religions, in whatever form they take, and I am troubled by the effects of colonism and the long-reaching shadows it has cast. I think religion and patriotism have caused a great deal of evil in this world, even though I understand the deep, instinctive desires that such beliefs satisfy. I also understand there are no easy answers and that history has a way of repeating itself. I hope all these ideas are implicit in the books but I do not want to pontificate too much upon them, for the books should stand alone, speaking for themselves. They are not allegories or even vehicles for my concerns, and should not be read as such.

Q: Can you give us a mouthwatering hint for the Americans as yet unable to read the fourth book?
Gladly! Of all the books so far, 'The Forbidden Land' is the simplest and most complete in itself. It moves very quickly and has less introspection than the others. The primary focus in this book has moved to Finn the Cat, the cat-thief who discovered she was a banprionnsa and heir to the throne of Rurach. She feels stifled and unhappy at Castle Rurach and when Lachlan the Winged, Righ of Eileanan, calls upon her own peculiar talents, she gladly sets off on an adventure that takes her beyond the Great Divide and into the heart of the Forbidden Land itself ...

Q: What has the Internet meant for you as an author?

Lots and lots and lots of e-mails from all over the world. I am constantly being amazed at how far my books have travelled. I have had reader responses from South Korea, Chile, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, as well as from all the more usual places. I reply to every e-mail personally - even though, since I had my little boy two years ago (he is now 17 and in his final year of school!), my writing time is more precious than ever. I'm really glad to have this contact with my readers. Being a writer is a solitary sort of life and once the book is published, it disappears into a black hole so that you have no idea whether anyone has understood what you are trying to do or been moved by it. I always want to know if anyone has picked up on any of the little details or jokes or poignant moments, or been made to feel or think the way I want them too. My e-mails let me know they have!
The cover of the first Australian edition:
Kate Forsyth
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