The coffee chats have been very successful but the time has come to put the Closed sign up for the coffee chats and the Open sign up for new ideas. I hope to run the campaign again later this year. which means this is the final coffee chat for a little while, and joining me in my virtual cafe is Australian author Kathryn Gossow.
Kathryn is interested in myths and fairy tales, and how and why we retell them over and over. She has been patiently awaiting the release of her book young adult novel "Cassandra". Cassandra can tell the future – just like Cassandra of Troy – except she lives in 1980’s Queensland where she takes too many drugs and falls in love with the wrong boy.
DL: Firstly, since this is a coffee chat, how do you take your coffee, and what is your favourite time of the day to partake?
KATHRYN: The first thing I do when I get up in the morning in make a coffee. It is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. I have a white pod coffee, no sugar. At 10 o’clock (give or take 15 minutes) I leave my work desk to get a cappuccino from my barista Gareth. Gareth was featured as Mr May in the Beards of Ipswich Calendar 2016.
DL: You are fascinated with fairy tales and myths. Do you think books these days are missing the "moral of the story" the way we used to learn them in fairy tales? Or is the moral of the story now more understated?
KATHRYN: I don’t think I am attracted to fairy tales because they are moral tales. I am fascinated by how the ancient is made new again. Today we would find the early medieval version of Sleeping Beauty, The History of Troylus and Zellandine, creepy and wrong. Three goddesses come to see the birth of Zellandine. A table is set with food and drink but Themis, the goddesses of destinies is upset because she does not have a knife – it has fallen under the table. So when the time comes to offer gifts, Themis says the when she grows up the girl’s finger will be pricked and she would not wake until the splinter is sucked out. We recognise this part of the story – it is the good and bad fairies. It is hundreds and hundreds of years old. That is survives excites me! Why does it survive. How did it survive? Meanwhile, in this early version, the goddess Venus vows she will arrange for the splinter to be sucked out.
So when Troylus learns his lady has been struck down by illness and sleeps in a tower he is led to the tower and lifted inside. His, “Desire began to direct him” but he restrains himself so Venus takes her ‘firebrand and sets Troylus ablaze and it was as if the heat made him lose his mind.” Zellandine is still asleep but now she is also pregnant! All that heat. When she gives birth, the hungry baby sucks the splinter from her finger and it seems Venus did have a plan all along. Troylus and Zellandine later find each other and marry.
Charles Perrault’s version of the Sleeping Beauty includes a cannibalistic ogress for a mother-in-law which, along with what amounts to rape, does not make it into the Disney version were a chaste kiss is all the prince needs to wake the Sleeping Beauty. When I was a child I accepted that kiss but ‘in this day and age’ a stranger kissing a non-consenting sleeping woman is also unacceptable. Right? The next Disney incarnation of Sleeping Beauty is Maleficent where love's first kiss takes on a whole new meaning.
I don’t think stories need morals. I think they are a reflection of the time when they are written or told and I can have a window into that time when I read an old version of a tale. What I do think is, people need stories. I think we need stories as much as we need food. Fairy tales are the comfort food that we keep going back to and reinventing to reflect the world around us. Like how salted caramel suddenly became a thing. Humans can’t stop reinventing.
DL: Like you, I have never had my fortune told because I don't want to be told that what I want so badly is not mine to be had. Did your disbelief in 'predicting the future' make it difficult to write a novel about a character who predicts the future?
KATHRYN: Yes, you are right. It is not just about hearing something bad will happen but also that my dreams won’t come true. How disheartening. So, I convince myself it can’t be done. But I didn’t used to be a cynic about these things. Just like Cassandra in my book I was, as a teenager, a little obsessed with palm reading and astrology. The thing is, to believe the future can be predicted is to believe in fate – that events in our lives are predestined and the idea of fate is fascinating. Fate is a recurring theme in Greek myths. Greek mythology includes the Sisters of Fate – Clotho who spun the thread of life, Lachesis who used her measuring rod to measure how much life you would get and Atropos who cuts your thread when your life is over. Even the gods had trouble escaping the Fates. Your fate was unavoidable. Like the King of Thebes who was told his new son, Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. The king thought he could escape fate by abandoning the baby but he was found and adopted. When the boy grew up he asked about his future and was told he would marry his mother and kill his father. (This is why I don’t want to ask.) He didn’t know he was adopted so he fled. Of course, he then meets his real father and kills him and goes on to marry his real mother. There is something satisfying in the completeness of the this story. It is self-fulfilling. This is the idea I enjoyed playing with in the book. Cassandra learns early that she can predict the future – but what can she do with that? Can she change the future? If she changes the future how can she prove she changed it? Why would anyone believe her? Imagine seeing something awful will happen to someone you love and being powerless. It is enough to drive anyone crazy.
DL: Some fairy tales have their original from actual events. For example The Pied Piper. I saw a documentary about historians who were using records to determine if this event actually occurred. Are there are other fairy tales or myths you're aware of that are based on historical events? And does the fact they might be based on true stories make these fairy tales even scarier than they were intended to be.
KATHRYN: It makes sense that some traditionally oral tales could have some truth to them. The Hamelin town records in 1384 states “It is 100 years since our children left.” Wow, how evocative is that sentence? We might never know what really happened to give us the story of the Pied Piper but that one sentence is inspirational.
Telling stories is how we make sense of our lives, in particular the difficult events. The 2011 floods were devastating where I live (just by Wivenhoe Dam where the Lockyer Creek meets Brisbane River). In the 12 months after the floods I learned everyone had their story and they needed to tell it. It was cathartic. These days we collect people’s stories and put them in a book, put up plaques. In the 1200s the people of Hamelin made a stained glass window in their church to communicate the pain and loss of losing their children. They also told the story and I suppose because the story touched other people they told it too and it kept getting told until Grimm Brothers wrote it down.
I don’t think it makes the tales more frightening. I think it is testament to the human spirit that we put our pain and fears into stories and keep on going with our lives.
DL: And lastly, are you a biscuit or cake kind of person? And what is your favourite biscuit/cake?
KATHRYN: I am a cake and biscuit person. Both at the same time is fine with me. I have a jam drop recipe that I used to make with my grandmother. My copy of the recipe is written out in my mother’s handwriting. It is one of my most precious possessions. There is a lot of baking in my book. In fact, when Cassandra goes to visit Athena for the first time she takes jam drops. They are most certainly the same as the jam drops I used to make with my grandmother.
Thanks so much Kathryn for stopping by. Good luck with the book!
About the author
Kathryn Gossow is a writer and sometimes gardener living in a two acre garden in a pocket of the Brisbane River. When she is writing, her garden is a mess. When she is gardening, she forgets to write. It seems she cannot have both. She writes for that elusive feeling when she gets into the zone and there is nothing else in the world but her and the words that tumble onto the page. Kathryn has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, won a commendation in the Australian Horror Writers’ Association Flash Fiction Competition and has a number of published stories out in the world.
About the book
On a remote farm in Queensland Cassie Shultz feels useless. Her perfect brother Alex has an uncanny ability to predict the weather, and the fortunes of the entire family hinge upon his forecasts. However, her own gift for prophecy remains frustratingly obscure. Attempts to help her family usually result in failure.
After meeting with her new, genius neighbor Athena, Cassie thinks she has unlocked the secret of her powers. But as her visions grow more vivid, she learns that the cost of honing her gift may be her sanity.
With her family breaking apart, the future hurtles towards Cassie faster than she can comprehend it.
Connect with Kathryn
Thanks everyone for joining me in my virtual café for these coffee chats. Stay connected because I have many more posts to come.
D L Richardson