Elaine Forrestal

A Balancing Act – Internal v External life of Clara Saunders

T’Othersiders was the term used by West Australians for people from the Eastern Colonies who flooded in to Coolgardie in the gold rush of 1892

My new novel, Life Blood, based on the life of Clara Saunders, is creeping closer to being finished. I have been working on a re-write. This has involved discarding most of the first five Chapters of the previous draft, strengthening the main character and adding some details about the history and politics of her time (the 1890s). It’s always a balancing act.

When portraying real people it is necessary to give the reader a strong sense of the times in which they lived. To set the scene. To bring the characters to life. To show their thoughts and feelings, emotional highs and lows, successes and failures and to balance the internal and external sides of their personality. Very often, especially in the Victorian era, feelings and desires were kept hidden. Women of this era were often wary of showing their feelings for fear of appearing wanton, indiscreet and therefore unreliable. In telling Clara’s story I have had to balance the attitudes prevalent in society against the extraordinarily adventurous lives people actually lived. Fortunately for me Clara left behind a frank and detailed account of her life as a pioneer of the Coolgardie goldfields. She was just fourteen years old when she arrived there, on her own, in 1892 with little more than the clothes she stood up in and her mother’s Encyclopaedia of Common Diseases and Remedies.

There are very few photographs of Clara. In the 1890s cameras were large and cumbersome, photographic film was fragile and the printing of photos required special skills and equipment. Luckily for me, because Coolgardie grew so fast and became so famous there is a wealth of information about the surroundings in which Clara lived and worked. I have been examining every possible piece of evidence, in words or pictures, and balancing what does and does not fit into this particular part of Clara’s story. Too much information and it will become bogged down. Too little and it will not be strong enough to carry the reader along.

But like Clara herself, I love a challenge.