All The Books I Can Read

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Guest Post – Australian Author Kate Forsyth

on April 9, 2012

It’s my great pleasure to welcome the wonderful Kate Forsyth to All The Books I Can Read. Kate is an award winning Australian author of over 20 books! Her latest novel, Bitter Greens, is an adult book focusing on the retelling of the story of Rapunzel, interwoven with the dramatic life of the women who first told it, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Kate has also written numerous novels for children – you can find out more about her by visiting her website here.

Kate contacted me some time ago to ask if I would be interested in reading Bitter Greens and I jumped at the chance. She also offered to do a guest post for me in support of the release.

Venetian Vampires!

One of my absolute favourite things about writing a novel is all the extraordinary things you discover while doing your research that are begging, no, pleading, no, SCREAMING OUT to be used.

My latest novel Bitter Greens is stuffed full of these forgotten, fascinating facts, but my absolute favourite is the burial rites of suspected vampires in Renaissance Venice.

Corpses suspected to be those of vampires had their jaws wrenched open, and a large brick or stone jammed into their mouths, before they were wrapped in a shroud and flung into a plague-pit.

The brick was to prevent them from chewing their way out of the grave.

My novel Bitter Greens is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale, interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. So you may be forgiven for wondering what on earth that has to do with Venetian vampires.

Well, Charlotte-Rose de la Force wrote her version of the old Maiden in the Tower tale while locked up in a falling-down old nunnery in rural France in the late 1690s.

However, an earlier version of the tale was written by a Neapolitan soldier, Giambattista Basile, in the early part of the 1600s, while he was serving the Venetian Republic.

I have always been fascinated by Venice, and so I at once saw how perfect it would be for a retelling of Rapunzel. All those secret, walled gardens, all those labyrinthine alleyways and canals, all those tall towers and secret passageways. I planned a parallel story, with one narrative thread being the story of Charlotte-Rose, writing in France in the 1690s, and the other set close on a hundred years earlier, in the gorgeous and dangerous world of Renaissance Venice.

I decided to have three Points of View – Charlotte-Rose herself, the Rapunzel character (who I called Margherita), and the witch. It was while writing the story of the witch – who I made a beautiful courtesan and Titian’s mysterious red-haired muse –  that I stumbled across the real-life 16th century woman who had been buried with a brick jammed in her jaws.

The body was discovered in early March, 2009, by archaeologists digging up a mass grave on the Lazzaretto Nuova, an island in the Venetian lagoon where plague victims were taken to die.

When the skeleton with the brick-jammed jaws was first discovered, project leader Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist at the University of Florence in Italy, said that this was a common practice among people who believed fervently in vampires.

He said that the belief in vampires in the Middle Ages may have begun because the process of decomposition was not well understood. For example, as the human stomach decays, it can release a dark, bloody fluid from a corpse’s nose and mouth. As mass burials were often opened up again to add new plague victims, Italian gravediggers would see some shrouds were stained or torn about the mouth, and so surmise that those corpses were those of vampires.

Inserting bricks and stones into the mouths of suspected vampires was thought to stop them chewing their way out, feasting on other corpses, and stalking the night looking for fresh blood.

Suspected witches (often thought to drink blood too) were also buried with bricks in their jaws. Further studies on the skeleton found on the Lazzaretto Nuova show that she was a lower-class woman of around 61 to 71 years of age, which is surprisingly old for a woman of that time.

Matteo Borrini says this may show that the old woman had been accused of being a witch. In medieval Europe, many people believed the devil gave witches the power to cheat death.

All this was, of course, a gift to a novelist writing partly from the point of view of a witch in 16th century Venice. To see how I used this particular gift, well, you’ll just have to read the book.

******

Thank you Kate! I can say that I have read Bitter Greens and it is absolutely fabulous – rich with history and description, beautiful people, dresses and the decadent Court of the Sun King in 17th Century France. I will be posting my review of Bitter Greens on the 24th of April so don’t forget to stop back and read it!

Bitter Greens, by Kate Forsyth is published by Random House AU and is out now!


6 responses to “Guest Post – Australian Author Kate Forsyth

  1. Marg says:

    There must be so many fascinating titbits from history just waiting to be discovered!

  2. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    How fascinating! Thank you for sharing this post
    I am part way through Bitter Greens and loving it

  3. […] Kate Forsyth did a guest post for me a couple of weeks ago about Venetian Vampires. You can check that out here! […]

  4. […] Kate wrote a guest post for Bree here: Bree 1girl2manybooks. […]

  5. […] in reading more about the creation of this book? All the Books I Can Read hosted a guest post from Kate about Vampire legends of Venice, and the author Elizabeth Storrs […]

  6. Leuchte says:

    It’s truly a great and useful piece of information. I am happy that you
    just shared this useful information with us. Please keep us
    informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

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