An interview with Kate Forsyth about her new novel, The Crimson Thread.
Set during World War II, the novel follows two Australian soldiers and the young Greek woman, Alenka, who saves them. Caught between her brother’s unwavering Nazi sympathising and doing what she knows is right, Alenka is forced to make difficult decisions as she chooses who to trust, who to love, and who to save.
Though the novel is historical fiction, it's not just for history buffs. With romance, adventure, and classical tales woven throughout, there is something for every type of reader between the pages. To learn more about the book and how the author put together such a complex story, we spoke with Kate Forsyth to learn more.
When talking to Kate, her passion and dedication are immediately clear.
She has a regular writing routine and is careful to stay connected with her intuition about storytelling. According to the author, we all have an innate sense of what makes a good story. ‘The only difference is that I’m open to the universe at all times,’ she says. ‘I am trained to see stories, so my mind really easily makes connections because I’m always looking for a story.’
It’s a skill that seems to have come quite naturally to Kate, as her inspiration for The Crimson Thread can be traced back to one summer at her grandparents’ house when she was only thirteen. It was the first time Kate had stayed with them alone, and much to her dismay, she finished all of her books within the first few days of her visit. To keep the avid reader busy, her grandma hunted down a bunch of books, one of which struck a chord with the future author.
The story was about a group of schoolgirls in Austria who had to escape the Nazis through the Swiss Alps.As she told her grandparents about what she had read during dinner, tales of her own family's involvement in the war started to surface. ‘My grandfather told me this incredible story about my great-uncle,’ says Kate. ‘When he was only 22, he fought in Greece, and when the Nazis invaded, he retreated to Crete.’
After arriving in Crete, Kate learned, he had fought a brutal battle for eleven days on the island before escaping over The White Mountains. ‘They were chased by the Germans every step of the way, both on foot and by air,’ says Kate. While her great-uncle was lucky enough to get away, many Australian soldiers were stranded in prisoner of war camps on the isalnd.
Even as a child, Kate was enthralled by the story, finding the excitement and drama of it all so captivating. Wanting to know more, she immediately began reading everything she could find about Greece, including a book of Greek myths. ‘The story of my great uncle and the book of Greek myths kind of connected in my imagination and made Greece seem like a place of magic and mystery and danger,’ she shares. ‘I’ve been thinking about writing a book set in Greece for a very, very long time.’
The initial idea
While Kate always had an underlying interest in writing a story set in Crete, it took years of thinking before the idea for The Crimson Thread began to unveil itself. ‘I had written another book set in World War II, The Beast’s Garden . . . I was keen to write another book set in the same period,’ she says. And thanks to her organised note-taking process, it's easy for Kate to look back how the idea evolved from there.
In addition to her daily writing routine, Kate keeps a big notebook of ideas. Looking back on past notes, the author found the kernel that lead to what would eventually become The Crimson Thread.
‘It was Thursday the 12th of July 2018 at 5 pm,’ she reads, referring to her inch-thick book of ideas. Reading the hand-written notes, Kate shares the first hint of the the idea. ‘I’ve been thinking for a while about writing a book set in the Greek resistance in World War II . . . Today, looking for something else, I stumbled upon this amazing photograph of women resistance fighters in Crete. It could be mother and daughter, and now I’m all excited by the idea. The girl is so young and the mother is so sorrowful.’
The final ingredient that connected all the ideas for Kate was incorporating the minotaur myth into the story.
The story of the Minotaur
While Kate had read the minotaur myth as a child, she had never considered how it might play into the novel she was ideating. At a small second-hand bookshop, the author found a first-edition book by Nathaniel Hawthorne that contained his retelling of the Greek myth of the minotaur, and the idea soon became clear. ‘I re-read this story of the minotaur for the first time in decades, and it really struck me,’ she says. ‘At once, I saw it. I began working on the novel the moment I made the connection to how it would work in the story.’
While it seems like a crazy instance of serendipity that all these factors added up to inspire The Crimson Thread, Kate’s philosophy on the matter is quite simple. ‘That’s how it works,’ she says. ‘It feels so mysterious . . . People ask me all the time where I get my ideas from, but it’s so hard for me to explain because the idea doesn’t just come to me. . . I suppose I’ve been preparing the ground of my subconscious, so when something happens, I’m ready. It sparks the idea for me.
While you will have to read The Crimson Thread to get the full story, we couldn’t help but ask Kate for a key takeaway from the book.
‘I think what my novel is all about is the importance of understanding that some things are simply unforgivable. We must have the courage and the steadfastness of spirit to recognise that there is evil in the world and resist it,’ she says. ‘I was so inspired by the incredible bravery of the Greek people during World War II, but there’s still evil in this world. The minotaur stands for the worst of human nature. There are still minotaurs in this world, and we must stand up against them.’
Hint: this book is perfect for book clubs. Check out The Crimson Thread book club questions to spark a group discussion about the novel.
These six books will deepen your understanding of our country’s past by showing you a different side of Australian history.
A gripping historical fiction to read with your book club.
Travel to Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution with your book club.
If you're spending all your waking time thinking about the Roman Empire (as many of us are), why not read about it too?
A guide to Australian author Judy Nunn and a few of her most popular books.
A heart-stopping romantic adventure to read with your book club.
A sweeping historical novel to read with your book club.
We caught up earlier this year with Anna Funder to discuss her upcoming book Wifedom, and how it explores marriage and art as a piece of 'counter-fiction'.
We asked debut author Kate Dramis about the publication of her first novel, The Curse of Saints. Read about her ‘fairy-tale’ submission experience, how she came up with the idea for the book and more.
We chatted with social media star and home cook extraordinaire Nathan Anthony to learn about his favourite herbs, most-used ingredients and more.
We caught up with Bonnie Garmus after a whirlwind year of success with her debut novel, Lessons in Chemistry.
We caught up with Aaron Franklin, author of ‘Franklin Smoke’ and the man behind the restaurant, Franklin Barbecue in Texas. Learn about his ultimate comfort food cooking hacks and more.