Guest Author: Kate Forsyth on Using Idea Notebooks

Guest Author: Kate Forsyth on Using Idea Notebooks

Note from Devin Berglund – I would like to give my Australian Author friend Kate Forsyth a warm and exciting welcome to the Blue Monkey Writing Blog. Thank you for joining us! :)

There are as many different ways for a writer to work as there are styles and genres and voices.

I’m a scrapbooker.

I began with an ‘ideas notebook’. Whenever I get an idea, I’ll scribble it down in this notebook, giving each idea a fresh page. I’ll often get a sequence of ideas, all of which get written down. When I have several pages full, it usually means that this idea is going to be turned into a novel, because I’ve been thinking about it, and playing with the ideas, and imagining it into life.

I will then go and buy a new notebook. I LOVE buying new notebooks. I’m filled with excitement and anticipation, wondering at what story will be discovered inside its blank, white pages. I’ll take it home, and I’ll write down – in longhand – a rough outline of the novel as I then imagine it. I stick in visual images that inspire me – photos of Venice, for example, or paintings that seem to speak to me in some way. I write lists of things to think about, or that I need to know. What were the toilet arrangements in a 16th century Venetian orphanage? Did they have underwear? I began to play with different possibilities and ask myself questions.

Whenever I get an idea, I scribble it in, usually with the date at the top of each page, and perhaps the place and time too, so that I can remember when and where I was when that idea came to me.

My notebook is not pretty to look at. Many pages are scribbled all over with notes. I often write late at night, in the darkness, or on planes, or in the park. The pages are stained with red wine, or splashes from the meal I am cooking. Odd bits of scrap paper are stuck in, or maps, or even leaves and dried flowers.

When I have used an idea, I cross it out. When I want to remember something, I circle it and draw a hasty asterix next to it.
My latest book is a historical novel for adults, which entwines a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale with the true life story of the woman who first wrote the tale. The Rapunzel narrative is set in Renaissance Venice, and the story of the writer – a 17th century French noblewoman called Charlotte-Rose de la Force – is set in Paris and Versailles at the time of the Sun King. So I had two notebooks for this book, one for the Venetian part of the story, and one for the French.

I thought I would show you a few key pages from my French scrapbook:

Front Cover of My Book Journal

Front Cover of My Book Journal

1) The front cover I made for my notebook. It is a painting of an unknown young woman in the 17th century, who I thought might look a little like my heroine Charlotte-Rose de la Force. She is holding a quill, which becomes a recurring motif for my heroine throughout the novel.

2 - initial notes

First Rough Outline of Ideas!

2) The first rough outline of ideas for the book

Note about bees... they become very important in the book.

Note about bees… they become very important in the book.

3) Note(s) about bees from early on in the notebook – bees become a key symbol in the novel

Early Notes

Key Motivation for Charlotte-Rose

4) Idea(s) from early on in the notebook – a key motivation for Charlotte-Rose for retelling the story of the girl in the tower

Stick it note

Stick it note

5) I was out to dinner with some friends when I was asked about the novel I was then writing. I told them I was writing a Rapunzel retelling, set in Renaissance Venice, and that I was looking for a place to set the scenes in the tower. One of the guests, a man I didn’t know, was German. He wrote down a few suggestions on this pink Post-it note. When I got home, I stuck it in my scrapbook. The first suggestion was Sirmione, on Lake Garda, in northern Italy. A year later, my three children and I spent a week staying in Sirmione, the most beautiful medieval village with a tower that looked exactly like the one I imagined Rapunzel living in. Eventually I chose another tower on the shores of Lake Garda, but I love this note in my scrapbook because it reminds me of how writing a novel is really just a series of serendipitous discoveries.

Opening lines of the book

Opening lines of the book

6) The opening lines of the book, written in longhand. I don’t always write scenes in longhand first. Usually I write straight on to the computer. However, I write longhand when I wake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because of the words clamouring to be given voice, and I write longhand when I am away from my computer, or turned it off for the evening.

Floor Plan

Floor Plan

Picture of the Abbey

Picture of the Abbey

7) The book begins with Charlotte-Rose being banished to a convent in the country by her second cousin, Louis XIV, the Sun King. I had to do a lot of research into life in a 17th century French convent. To help me imagine what it must look like, I stuck in photos of convents, floor plans, lists of their daily devotions and chores, plus much more.

Character list

Character list

8) A list of characters in the opening scenes at the convent

9 -character list at court

Another Character List

9) Another character list for Charlotte-Rose’s years at the French royal court

Chapter 10 outline

Chapter 10 outline

10) Here is a chapter outline. You can see it has been dated at the top, plus there’s a word count for how much I have already written. I usually do chapter outlines as I reach them in the narrative, rather than before I start writing

A Time Line

A Time Line

11) A time line for Charlotte-Rose’s life – as I discover new things I scribble it on the page, then type it up and print it out again. By the end of my notebook, the time line takes up two pages

A Map

A Map

12) A map of Gascony, where the scenes of her early life are set, along with a list of things to do



13) A list of chapters written, where and when they are set, word counts, and dates completed. I find it really makes me feel I’m accomplishing something if I keep a record, and it helps me control the structure and pace of the novel.

One of the things I love most about the way I work is that it shows the evolution of an idea, or a sequence of ideas, into a full-blown novel. It reminds me that I start with a blank page, and then follow all sorts of trails and false starts and sidetracks until I discover the story. This reassures me next time I start a novel, and am overwhelmed by the audacity of what I am setting out to do.

Do you also have a book journal or something of the sort? If so do you do anything different? If so what do you do?

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth, Australian Author is well known for her Fantasy writing. You can follow her blog here!

Book Coming Soon!!

Cover for "Final Goodbye"

Cover for The Final Goodbye

Today was a full on day of editing and design work. The cover design for one of my stories was finished today!

I am so excited with how it turned out.

I feel that it shows my story so well.

I will post more information about The Final Goodbye soon! I will be setting a release date soon… so please come back soon to find out when that is.

I edited 5 chapters today from The Mason of Hearts and I plan on finishing the read through tomorrow. I am amazed how much time it actually takes to go through a manuscript while forcing myself to not slap my finger (or cross something out) if I don’t like it.

New website page will be set up tomorrow for my design business along with prices on my cover design and layout design.

What do you think of my finished cover? 


Editing Away With The Wind



A few things I have learned at 51 Minus 11 

Today was a full day of reading. YES… I managed to read 11 chapters of my manuscript! It was intense… and I plan on reading more tomorrow.

I just thought I would leave you all with a short list of what I have learned today. (posts have been a bit shorter lately because of my crazy writing and editing schedule… but I will be having some guest posts shortly from great writers and artists.)

  1. Read Through… make sure you read your manuscript to make sure you are finding where your plot holes are. If you find a plot hole don’t start writing it as soon as you find it (in your first read through). Make sure to jot a note down on a notepad next to you.
  2. After each chapter… think of a 1-2 sentence summary of that chapter and write it down on index cards. So that once you are done you can look back and see if you are missing something or if certain spots need more or less.
  3. If you use an iPad… let me introduce you to an amazing app that is just like printing out your manuscript without needing to print it out! It is called NotesPlus. (I LOVE IT!!!) It allows you to edit your manuscript on your ipad screen with a stylus. You can highlight a sentence, cross something out, or rewrite something above that you want changed just like you could if you printed it out! It also has a recording button where if you have an idea you can press record and talk about your story ideas… then you can listen to them later. PREFECT WRITING APP!!!
  4. Start writing something new… I decided that I need to start writing a new story. This story has new characters and a different world. I am excited to finish it as well. Besides this I am also working on a few short stories and some book covers. (I’ve decided i need to stay busy with my writing and do more than one thing at a time. I need to get all these stories out there. How else can I do it than write it down.)

    Writing something new also helps you freshen up and rejuvenate from long sessions of editing and rewriting.

How about you then? Have you done any of these, before? Have any things that I should try out?? 




Snowed in...

Snowed in…


So… I am snowed in…




The Gazebo through the glass patio door.

The Gazebo through the glass patio door.

Our hot tub is almost covered.

Our hot tub is almost covered.

Another angle of the hot tub! :P

Another angle of the hot tub! :P

Through the window...

Through the window…

The driveway and trees

The driveway and trees

Was outside a little today, but I think I prefer it in front of the fireplace much more.

Was outside a little today, but I think I prefer it in front of the fireplace much more.

Have any of you ever experienced a Blizzard or been Snowed In? If so what kind of things did you do to enjoy your day off?

Remembering (History) and the voices you’ll never hear again.

St. Augustine the fort.

St. Augustine the fort.

Remembering (History) and the voices you’ll never hear again.

The wind rushes into the port and over the sharp stone walls of the fort. It almost steals his hat as he peeks over the wall. A dark phantom of an object sits out in the bay surrounded by the hazy sea mist. I wonder who they are…, he thought while ducking below the wall again. Slowly whistling to motion the others he turned to take one more peek and this time the flag flying in the wind showed the colour of onyx. Crossbones. Skulls. This can only mean one thing… Pirates.


Me. It was a bit chilly that day!

I love history.

Take me anywhere and start telling me about the things that happened in the past and I would listen to your stories and probably take a little of them away with me. I remember a time when I was in Western North Dakota near where my grandma grew up in a homestead in the early 1900’s. After hearing all the stories there was something quite magical about that place. It seemed the swaying waves of prairie grass were enchanted with tales. Strong tales of love, heartache, pain, true joy, the true meaning of family, and survival.

It seems as long as I can remember that whenever I’ve visited a place that had witnessed history…. I start hearing stories. They whisper to me across the waves of the ocean or the golden prairie grass blowing about in the wind. I start thinking about the people who lived there, died there, and survived there.

This week my family and I went to St. Augustine, and it was amazing. It is the oldest American city. The Castillo de SanMarcos is the fort that was put together by the Spanish when they came to America (before it was America… By the way!)


This fort had come in contact with generations of people. The Spanish, The British, The French, The new Americans, The Confederate soldiers during the Civil War…. And now many tourists and visitors get to see the fort too. (Imagine all the stories!)

IMG_0359There were a few things that really hit me as I walked into the museum area. There was a glass box on the wall. I walked up and peered in to see a small golden locket. This locket was beautiful, but it looked like something had landed really hard on top of it. Leaving it with a mark.

It was retrieved from a ship wreck.

Just makes me wonder. It could have been anyone.

I remember being given a locket when I was a little girl. I always thought it was cool, but deep inside it didn’t mean much to me then because I thought boys had koodies still. But I understand why now… inside that glass protective case the locket spoke to me.

Who was she? Where was she coming from? Was she with her family? Or a new husband? Or did she have to leave her man back wherever she left? Who was her lover?

Or was the more to the story? What was her story?

After thinking about this girl and her mysterious lover I felt connected. I cared for them. I know having looked at that locket, it was definitely a girls necklace and that is all that is left of her. Her legacy and only story. I left there thinking about how sad that is… I mean all that is known of her is… her battered necklace.

What about you? Do you connect with the stories of the past? If so, share something with me?

Writing Opening Lines That **Sparkle** & **Shine**

I absolutely love going into bookstores and smelling new books. When you crack open a book, what do you smell? Does it fill your senses, like it does mine? I love that new book smell, but other than that what draws you into a book other than the cover art and back copy? What is the first thing that really determines if a reader will continue reading your book?

I don’t know what you do when you are looking at a book, but I flip to the first page. I find this is the test on whether I will like a book or not, as I have a short attention span when it comes to what I read. I’ve struggled getting into books when reading some first lines which resulted in my setting the book down on the shelf again. But then there have been other books where I have found myself reaching for the next page inquisitively.

That is true of every piece of work out there! If the first sentence or first paragraph doesn’t make me want to keep reading, then I close the book and set it back on the shelf. I like it when an author pulls me into a story filled with intriguing characters, unique plot, and beautiful prose from the get go.

Do you want your readers to continue reading after the first line and first paragraph? Do you want your readers to be spellbound with your words from the first line of your book?

If you answered yes, then I believe I know a way to help you make your opening lines sparkle & shine.

I have heard many people say that there is no rule to writing an opening line for your book, but writers can learn by looking at their favorite books opening lines to see how their favorite authors did it. So, first off – I want you to do something – go get your favorite books out of your bookshelf and look at the opening lines. What makes you want to read on?

Recently, I read a book “The Forgotten Garden” by an Australian Author named Kate Morton. I opened her book in the bookstore and was spell-bound from the words in the first sentence.

“It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.”

Right away this sentence had me asking questions, like “what had she been told? Where was she? And why was she crouching someplace? Was she hiding? And if so who was she hiding from?” When I read the second sentence I was caught up in the tale even more. Before I even knew it, I had finished the first page and found myself turning to the second. At that moment I knew I had a great book in my hand.

After you have figured out what made you want to keep reading, make a list.

My list for Kate Morton’s opening lines:

  • After reading it I have somewhat a sense of place
  • The first line had me asking questions
  • I have a main character who I am interested in knowing more about
  • I like the style of writing.

Another example:

It is a little-known fact that, over the course of a single year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead – Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat from book lollipop shoes)

  • First question that comes to my mind is “why are letters being delivered to the dead?”
  • Just the voice and style make me inquisitive.
  • It was somewhat shocking and dark (I like to have dark elements in my stories as well, so I can bring light out of the darkness at the end.)
  • The detailed prose in how she wrote it

After knowing what you like in an opening line, you can use that information while writing yours. For instance, I really like how Joanne Harris wrote her opening line with such beautiful prose and tone. And with Kate Morton’s opening line, I really love how I have that sense of place, a person, and her thoughts. I like that both of these examples filled my mind with questions right away. I wanted answers and in order to find out the answers, I had to read on. (You get the idea, soon you are hooked!)

Writing Process

First off, write your book so you know where your story begins (Click to Tweet), where your characters are, and so you know your world and setting. Then you know everything about your story. While writing, just make sure you get the story out on paper before worrying about the opening line. Because while writing I have spent a majority of time trying to make my first chapter perfect and then you don’t move on.

Your Edits

When writers edit their WIPs, they work and rework their opening lines. Take into consideration the list you made of what you liked about your favorite authors first lines. Make your opening line, make your reader want read on.
Some Things to remember while editing:

  1. Capture your “Who” – And I am not talking about your own little fluff with a little world on it called Who-Vill. Even thought Horton had his Who’s. haha! (Not all first lines have a distinct “Who” in it. Joanne Harris’ example had no “Who”, but Kate Morton’s does.
  2. Use your voice – It is important you write true to yourself. Let your muse speak – don’t use someone else’s voice.
  3. Give a sense of conflict – This is shown in Kate Morton’s first lines “as she crouched”. It gives the sense that she is hiding. She may not be in trouble, but it has the reader wondering.
  4. Set the tone – 
Joanne Harris wrote with a mystical and eerie tone in the example up above with the letters to the dead. Which I really like, because it has you asking, “Why are letters going to the dead?” and it made me read on.
  5. Make the readers ask a bunch of questions after reading your first line.

What’s the first line of your current WIP? What are some of your favorite first lines from books? And what are some ways that you make your first line sparkle & shine?