Hey everyone! Julie Anne here, back with another interview! Today we have bestselling author, Betsy Cornwell, here to talk about her new book The Forest Queen. It’s a book that oozes with female power and freedom of thought. Every page is filled with action, the fear of the unknown, and even a bit of romance. You all are going to love this one. I sure did! Let’s start this interview! And be sure to stick around to the end for a chance to win a hardcover copy of The Forest Queen for yourself.
Wow, Betsy! I just finished The Forest Queen, and I'm so amazed by the world you've created. Could you give us a little summary of what your book's about?
Thank you so much! The Forest Queen is basically a girl-centric retelling of Robin Hood: the beloved outlaw is a teenager named Silvie, and most of her 'merry men' are girls and women. Silvie begins the story as a rich noblewoman, but when her brother, John, becomes Sheriff, she runs away to the forest and forms a secret community to protect her friends, and herself, from his cruelty. At first she's only looking for a safe haven, but soon Silvie realises that she and her new forest family must rise up against the Sheriff and fight the deep injustice in their country. There's a tall, strong girl named Little Jane, a nun-midwife called Mae Tuck, and many other characters who will be familiar to fans of the Robin Hood legends.
Silviana Loughsley goes from a sheltered noble to a free woman with her band of rogues. Where did you get the idea to create her character?
I think Silviana's story takes more from my own life than any of my other books have so far. I was very sheltered in many ways growing up, but I still had to deal with scary things that I didn't fully understand for a long time - just as Silvie does, and just as most people probably do in some way or another. Growing up for me meant leaving that shelter and going out into a world that was bigger and scarier and freer than I dreamed it could be. I also learned a lot about the world, and about empowering myself, from other wise and strong women I've known, and from helping them and letting them help me. Silvie becomes a hero for sure, but her power comes from the support of the people around her, of her 'band of rogues.'
The story of The Forest Queen makes a cameo in my novel Mechanica, a steampunk retelling of Cinderella, which came out in 2015. The girl Robin Hood is only mentioned briefly, but she inspires both my Cinderella character and her friends. I've known ever since that I wanted to give The Forest Queen her own book, and I'm so glad I get to do that now.
Why was it important for you to center strong women in your novel?
I try to center strong women in my life! I always loved the rebellious romance of the Robin Hood stories, and it's obvious to me that women have the same passion for justice and lust for adventure that Robin and his merry men share in the old tales. I went to a women's college, Smith, and I adored it - and in its way, as a progressive liberal arts school in foresty New England, it's not that different from the community of strong women (and men and other genders, but certainly centered on women) that Silvie creates in The Forest Queen.
Little Jane has to deal with some traumatic stuff, like rape. What would you tell teen readers who may have gone through a similar situation themselves?
I would tell anyone who has gone through a traumatic sexual experience that I believe them, and it's not their fault. I'm a survivor myself, as are so many of us, unfortunately. I am so glad that survivors' stories are being listened to and taken seriously a little more often these days, although there's still a long way to go. Two of the most healing things for me have been writing about my past - fiction, nonfiction, and just journaling that will never see the light of published day - and becoming a rape crisis counselor and advocate. Helping other survivors was so good for me. I hope that both my counselling and my personal experience helped me write Little Jane's story with nuance and empathy.
As I read this book, I got warm and fuzzy feelings seeing how the band of rogues became a sort of family that looked after each other. How would you define "family"?
Family is anyone who holds part of your heart, and knows they hold it, and treats it gently. Family is those who are consistently kind to you and whom you trust. For me, I'm quite introverted, so I might not talk to everyone I consider family very often - but my kindred spirits and I know we can rely on each other when hard times come. I am not close to my own parents any more, and that certainly influenced the way I wrote about the family Silvie was born into; so I really wanted to show her finding a warm and loving alternative family, just as I've done.
Although there are moments of peace, The Forest can be an incredibly hostile environment. Was The Forest in your book inspired by any actual forests?
Oh, yes! I grew up on an old farm in New Hampshire that had been mostly reclaimed by forest; in fact, it was called "Old Orchard Farm" because what had once been apple orchards were grown over with wild trees. I even got briefly lost there with a friend when I was about six, and even though we found our way home quickly, that experience was scary enough to be vivid in my memory twenty-two years later, when I started writing this book.
Now I live in west Ireland, in a small cottage on the side of a foresty mountain. Ireland is green and lush and cold and damp, and a lot of my 'research' for this book consisted of just going for walks around my house. My husband also built me a 'secret' reading chair in the trees at the edge of our field, and it's exactly like Bird's secret chair in The Forest Queen.
Silvie's family estate, Loughsley Abbey, is closely modelled on Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, a beautiful, grand house with incredible walled gardens.
John is a cold-hearted monster that takes his rage out on the townspeople. Where does his anger come from?
Oof, that's a good question. John takes his rage out on people who he knows he has power over, and who he thinks can't fight back - people he thinks aren't important. Too many angry men I've known are like that, and I think it's the essence of the coward bully. Part of his anger comes from his feelings toward Silvie, which engender a lot of self-loathing in him, and I think the more he acts out in cruelty, the more he despises himself - but that cruelty becomes the only thing he has left, and he clings to it because it feels like power.
I shipped Bird and Silvie from the very beginning. Who are some of your favorite OTPs?
I had a lot of fun writing Silvie and Bird's relationship, and I'm so glad the dynamic worked for you! I love a good swoon and I adore so many fictional couples. Anne and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables, Flip and Paul from And Both Were Young, Clare and Henry from The Time Traveller's Wife, and Sue and Maud from Fingersmith are all right up there for me. Cathy and Heathcliff also spring to mind - they're both pretty evil, and their relationship is not at all aspirational (lol), but - they're like evil soulmates. So good. Silvie and Bird probably have more in common with Anne and Gilbert, though!
Can you tell us about your next project? I know some of our readers want to be put on another roller coaster ride. I know I do!
I'm very excited to share that my next book is a YA retelling of Snow White and Rose Red called The Circus Rose. In the book, twin circus performers Ivory and Rosie discover that their beloved dancing bear is a cursed princess, and they must rescue her and the rest of their troupe from an evil priest. The Circus Rose is coming out in 2019. It's a standalone, but it's set in Esting, the same country as The Forest Queen.
My last two books, Mechanica and Venturess, also take place in Esting two hundred years after The Forest Queen. Silvie gets a mention in each of them - and the tree houses in her forest even make an appearance in Mechanica. I would be so thrilled if readers of The Forest Queen picked up those other Esting stories, too.
That’s it for today’s interview with Betsy. Be sure to enter our giveaway by clicking on the picture below. You can win a hardcover copy of The Forest Queen for yourself. And we’ll see you back here again next week, when Amira will be chatting with Amanda Foody about her fantastically fun novel Ace Of Shades.