Elaine Forrestal

Making Reality Sound Like Fiction

Elaine Forrestal in Paris, without her luggage. Don’t ask what is under the overcoat.

The Runaway Suitcase is pure fiction. Or is it?

While the extraordinary Clara, my goldfields girl from Coolgardie in the 1890s, is looking for a home, I am writing a Chapter book for early to middle graders. Mostly told from the point of view of Elodie’s new suitcase, this is a tale of lost luggage that most people, including todays jet setting children, can relate to. Either they have had the experience themselves, or someone they know has told them their horror story of standing in a deserted airport staring, in disbelief, at the almost empty carousel, watching the few remaining pieces of luggage going past time and again and refusing to believe that yours will not magically appear on the next round. The sinking feeling in your chest grows heavier with each turn of the carousel until finally it shudders to a halt and you lose all hope. Your suitcase has not arrived and now what do you do?  Even when the official behind the lost luggage counter assures you that, these days, they can find and deliver your luggage to your non-home address within 24 hours.  But how will you survive without it? Even 24 hours sounds like an interminably long time when you had been looking forward to having a proper shower, with your own toiletries, and changing into fresh clothes after a long-haul flight. Suddenly you are alone with only the clothes you stand up in. And how is their courier going to find you in a farmhouse in the French countryside that doesn’t have a street address? It’s only identifying characteristics are a house name and the largest pine tree in the area standing at the place where you turn-off the road. Mobile phones can help – if you speak French. And what about the baggage handlers strike? That’s a different story. Or is it?

Sometimes the only thing to do is write about these traumatic experience. This one has all the elements of mystery, suspense, heightened emotion, that make a good story. But how do you make these facts sound like fiction? How do you give this experience a story shape?

Naturally there is no one answer to these questions. It is a case of playing around with ideas, combining several different experiences, doing the necessary research into airport procedures, finding believable characters. It helps if at lease one of those characters can  provide a quirky point of view. After that come the usual tasks of reading and re-reading your story, getting to know your characters, editing and perhaps changing the order of events to heighten the suspense. For me the re-shaping of those real events into an interesting, engaging and entertaining story is the fun part. Who knows if this one will ever be published? But I am enjoying the challenge and the change of pace from my recent historical fictions.

I hope your Christmas shopping includes lots of books for friends and family.