'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 2 December 2020

Guest Post: Kate Forsyth & Belinda Murrell - Part Two

We continue our mesmerising interview with Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrel, on their collaboration for Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australian's First Children's Author

How long did the book take to write and were there any obstacles encountered that you can share?
B: The book took over two years to write, including many months of intense research. While we were working on this project, we also had to deal with deeply stressful family dramas, other work commitments and our busy everyday lives. For me the greatest obstacle was probably self-doubt. Could we do Charlotte’s story justice? Would the final book reflect the vision we had imagined? How should we weave in our own personal experiences and thoughts into the narrative?

K: For me, the biggest difficulty was finding the time we needed to do such intensive research and writing, when I had such a heavy publishing and touring schedule. The book took far longer than we had expected, and so I was working on the road while on a publicity tour for my most recent book while I also had to ask for an extension on my latest novel-in-progress, something I hate to do. It was exhausting and stressful and – like Belinda says – we were also dealing with a lot in our private lives.

What was the most rewarding aspect of this travel and research?
K: For me, it was definitely writing this book with my sister. It was definitely a challenging experience, but also exciting and joyous and beautiful. I particularly loved out trip overseas with our daughters – that was one of the most special experiences of my life!

B: It was such a joy to collaborate with my sister on this book – we spent endless hours discussing how we should write it, what to include and what to leave out, and sharing the thrill of making new discoveries. Travelling to the UK with our daughters was an absolute highlight and walking in Charlotte’s footsteps brought her to life. We even had the chance to study at London University together! Our family has always been tight-knit but sharing this project has brought Kate and I even closer together.

This journey of discovery was not only about Charlotte. You discovered you had another sister. Can you share this with us?

B: While we were writing this book, our father confessed that he had been keeping a secret for 37 years – that we had a half-sister called Emma Jane (coincidentally her name is made up of Kate’s and my middle names). After our parents’ divorce, Dad met a Scottish nurse, and Emma was born, although Dad had only met her a handful of times. The news was a huge shock at first. I contacted Emma and asked her if she would like to meet us. Since then we have developed a lovely relationship with Emma and her family. It has been a warm and wonderful experience for us all.

K: When Belinda rang me to tell me about Emma, I had just finished writing a chapter about our father and his work as a scientist, so it was quite eerie. We have now built a close relationship with our half-sister, and have been very glad to welcome her into our family.

Readers recognise the great connection to the landscape and place that you both have. Was this originally there or was this magnified by what you experienced and learnt?

B: The importance of place and landscape has always been an integral part of my writing and my values, perhaps inspired by the beautiful stories we were told as children about where our family came from. Yet, this connection was magnified when we were exploring the places where our ancestors were born, where they lived and worked for generations, where they loved and died and grieved. These places sang to us.

K: My answer is the same as Belinda’s!

You learnt a lot about Charlotte but also about yourselves. Can you expand on this for us?
B: Writing this book was a huge challenge in many ways. It was incredibly time consuming and much of it was written when we were facing very stressful family and personal challenges. For me, Charlotte’s determination and courage were a huge inspiration, helping to make us stronger and more resilient.

K: When we began this journey of discovery, some of our fear was that there was nothing left to find about Charlotte, and that our lives were not interesting enough to turn into a memoir. I remember saying to Belinda, ‘all we ever do is read and write and look after our families. We’re so ordinary!’ But what we discovered is that even ordinary lives have meaning. Charlotte’s life (and our own) strike such a chord with so many women, partly because she (and we) are just women fighting to look after our families and create a space for ourselves where our voices can be heard. Her struggle is the struggle of so many women.

You have a strong family line connected to literature and artistic endeavour. Do you feel your talents were inherited, or do you see them as the result of a nurturing environment combined with the oral history passed down to you?
B: Nature vs Nurture! I do feel that our raw talents were inherited from our forebears. Yet I also believe that talent cannot shine unless it is encouraged, practiced, trained, and valued. Kate and I were incredibly lucky to grow up in a family which encouraged us to aim for the stars, to follow our passions and which made great sacrifices to give us the best education they could.

K: I’ve always said that I was born wanting to be a writer – I knew from a very young age that it was my dream. So, I feel that it must have been inborn in me. Yet both of us received so much support and encouragement along the way, and both of us have worked so hard to make our dreams come true. Both of those things – our support networks and our years of toil and effort – are just as important a part of our story as our family inheritance.