Elaine Forrestal

It’s Festival time

‘Granny Grommit’ book launch at the 2013 Perth Writer’s Festival

The Perth Writer’s Festival is always a stimulating experience and this year was no exception.

On Saturday I was fascinated to hear Amanda Curtin, Catherine Jinx and Jo Baker talking about the different ways in which each of them deals with bringing a story from the past to life for contemporary readers. Since my own work has taken a decidedly historical turn over the last five years, it was very affirming to find that all three speakers tackled their different problems in a similar way. It’s called research.

As I have found myself, there is no substitute for thorough, painstaking, exhaustive research. It is time consuming, all three writers agree, but absolutely essential. The quality of the research affects the writer’s ability to tell the story and the reader’s response, even though a lot of that fascinating material the research turns up must remain hidden. As Catherine Jinx says: ‘I don’t want to hit the reader over the head with how much I know.’ Amanda and Jo agreed. Knowing that only a small proportion of those time-consuming investigations will ever appear on the page, it is sometimes tempting to cut corners. Believe me, that is not a good idea. You will almost certainly have to go back, at some point, to check out that vital piece of information that you find is missing. Then you will wish you had been more thorough in the first place. Of course the more I write the more research I have to do. It is only as you work through the story that you realise just how much you don’t know. I always try to keep an open mind, throughout the writing process, so that I’m not tempted to think I know all there is to know. There is always more to learn.

Luckily for me, and my readers, I actually love doing the research. Sometimes even after a book is published a new piece of information turns up. I still take the time to check it out and file it away – just in case …