Elaine Forrestal

The Quick and the Dead

Clara Saunders, a pioneer of Coolgardie at 14 years of age

As a child I puzzled over this expression, ‘the quick and the dead’. Growing up in the country I understood the dead part only too well, but the ‘quick’. Who were they? ‘Be quick!’ my mother would shout and I would think it was some sort of Simon Says game. While I was looking for someone to follow she would say ‘Get moving!’

These days I am only too aware that if I don’t keep moving, changing, developing, I will be regarded as dead. My four most recent novels, Black Jack Anderson, To See the World, On Wings of Steel and Life Blood have been historical fiction. I fell in love with the research these stories demanded and have been relishing the past. But the past is another country. One we can only visit. While it is tempting to think of the past as holding the answers to present day problems, like overcrowding, the pace of change, the pressure of work and study, the demands of social media, we must not dwell in it for too long. To continue to live in the past, no matter which century we choose, would be to sign our own death warrants. While I have been writing Life Blood, the story of Clara Saunders, I have been visiting that other country of the gold rush in 1892 when the first flush of excitement sent thousands of men, and Clara, into the dry and deadly inland of Western Australia, further east than any Europeans had lived before. Clara and her friends have surrounded me, kept me entertained, made me laugh and cry and marvel at their courage and inventiveness.

Now it’s time for me to let them go, temporarily of course. I know they will come back and that I am entrusting them to the safe hands of Fremantle Press. I’m going to miss them while they are away, but I will keep moving on, and so will Clara.