Elaine Forrestal

What to Write when you Don’t Know What to Write

A single toadstool can spark so many ideas

I was staring blankly out of my office window, thinking about everything and nothing, and feeling like a kid in school again. Remembering that feeling of despair when the teacher has set your class the task of writing a story by the end of the period. ‘But Miss, I don’t know what to write about,’ I complain. ‘Of course you do,’ she tells me. ‘Everyone has a story to tell.’

I’m still gazing out of the window and suddenly there it is – a tiny toadstool. I’m sure it wasn’t there an hour ago. Or perhaps it was. Has it just pushed itself up, pristine white and shiny, out of the soil of my chaotic forest of a back garden?  Or has that heavy shower of rain we’ve had washed it so clean that it’s just caught my eye? That single toadstool standing perfectly straight, all alone amongst the leaf litter and wood violets, sends me off on a fairytale journey. There are so many questions in my head now. Like who lives in this single toadstool in the middle of a wilderness? Is it a tiny elf or wizard? Is it a crusader beetle setting off to do battle with a whole army of snails who are invading his territory? Perhaps one of those snails is on an impossible quest to find the perfect green leaf. Will it shelter for the night under the pure white roof of the toadstool. Or is that roof gleaming so brightly really a trap for weary travellers, luring all unsuspecting creatures into the poisonous interior of the toadstool?

So many ideas come from simple moments of surprise, if you let your imagination roam for a while and you are willing to try out the possibilities. The Tim Winton Awards for young writers are a great place to experiment with ideas. The annual competition is open for entries from Monday 20th July to Friday 14th August, 2020, at 5.30pm. For more information go to: www.subiaco.wa.gov.au

Love to Read Local Week – er, Month

In these strange and unpredictable times a week can easily turn into a month and a celebration can look very different from the one the organisers had imagined. Love to Read Local Week was originally planned to celebrate the work of authors on WritingWA’s Literati List. The team at WritingWA had lots of hands on and face to face activities in mind to highlight the depth of talent we have in our writing community. But, ‘The best laid plans of mice and men …’ as Rabbie Burns would have said if he had been here, ‘ … must surely gang a’wry.’ In marched covid-19 and took over  the known world. However, always innovative, WritingWA pressed on with their week of  celebration and it  blossomed – even expanded – into a whole month.

So check out the fantastic books of all the WA authors on the Literati List at WritingWA.org. including my new historical fiction, Goldfields Girl. In it you will find, among other things, the true and verifiable story of how 14 year old Clara Saunders gave up her own room, at a time when the Exchange Hotel in Coolgardie was already full, to an ailing Paddy Hannan. She could see that he needed somewhere to rest while he battled the deadly typhoid disease that had already killed so many of the prospectors in the town, which was itself barely clinging to life on the edge of the

Elaine Forrestal with Paddy Hannan and Love to Read Local logo

desert. This was in April 1893, before Paddy Hannan had made the most significant discovery of his life. The whole story is too long to tell here, but imagine how different the history of Western Australia would have been without the discovery of the Golden Mile.

Explore the Literati List, including Goldfields Girl, (Fremantle Press, 2020) and all the other fantastic stories by WA authors at: ltrl.writingwa.org

MYOB? What is it?

In a battle of the acronyms, MYOSB and TWA have defied covid-19 and are both hale and hearty, up and running and ready to support our young writers and illustrators. Their 2020 programs are delayed, but not defeated, and talented West Australians of school age have the chance to get their creative juices flowing again and enter both the Make Your Own Story Book competition and the Tim Winton Awards for young writers.

Anthology of the prize winning short stories from the 2019 Tim Winton Awards

And bring out the cheer squad for all those dedicated professionals who will once again, in spite of exceptionally difficult circumstances, run these two important competitions. Make Your Own Story Book entries involve both writers and illustrators. Illustrations for your book can be made by painting, drawing, collage and even photographs, as long as they are taken by the author or illustrator of course. Books must be complete with sturdy cover, blurb and author biog. Over the years that this competition has been running the judges have been amazed by the skills, the  innovation and diversity these young people have shown in producing unique handmade books – works of art in their own right. The Tim Winton Awards are perhaps better known, but in that case only the quality of the writing is judged. Of course the presentation of the short story entries also has to be of good quality. Surface features such as spelling, punctuation, grammar and neatness need to be of a standard that makes them easy to read and does not distract too much from the impact of the ideas.

So get out those pens, pencils, paint brushes and computers kids. There are prizes to be won and perhaps careers to be had. Shaun Tan famously won the MYOSB Award when he was 11 years old. And if you are a prize winner you will get to meet another world famous WA author; Tim Winton who is the patron of the Awards that bear his name. He presents the prizes to all of the successful entrants each year.

And, hot off the press, congratulations to Shaun Tan! He has just won the Kate Greenaway Medal for his picture book, Tales from the Inner City. This is one of the most prestigious children’s book awards in the world! You do us proud, Shaun!

Building Towards a New World

We have at least one thing to thank covid-19 for. It has revitalised our neighbourhood. We live a stone’s throw from the Dog Beach in Scarborough, and because we are situated right on a T-junction we have always had an interesting collection of people and their dogs walking past. But it is only since lockdown, with people working from home and kids doing their school work online, that we have actually got to know our more recently arrived neighbours. During the most severe period of lockdown a section our front fence fell down in a storm. Our very generous neighbour from two doors up was the first to offer help. ‘Give me your tip pass and I will take the bricks away

A baby kookaburra facing the new world

on the back of my truck,’ he said. When I protested that I couldn’t possibly take up so much of his time, he said, ‘No problem. I can’t go to work, anyway.’ And his wasn’t the only offer of help. People we have known for years, and others who have just moved in to our neighbourhood, are looking out for each other. They distribute their home baking, chat in driveways and walk their dogs together. It is obvious that months of isolating restrictions have not left them looking for more of the same. Now they are looking for reasons to make contact with each other, even if it involves some heavy lifting.

Mark O’Connell, in his new book, Notes from Apocalypse: Journey to the end of the Earth and Back, points out ‘The importance of accepting that the world is always ending … and realising that  doing (whatever it is we do) is the first step towards building a new one.’

Whether our personal  Apocalypse is caronavirus or climate change or something we haven’t even encountered yet, I for one don’t want to lock myself away in a concrete bunker with a stockpile of food and  military weapons. I would much rather take my chances out there, still in contact with people, and beginning to  build a new world one tiny step at a time.

I’ll see you out there.

September too far away

Elaine Forrestal’s parents lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression

At last the shackles are coming off and we can start living again! David Wickham, arguably Australia’s best accompanist and keeper of our classical music, has raised the flag and put his head above the covid-19 parapet. He has just announced dates, times and venue for four live concerts to be held in September, and I for one am cheering him on. Every year David puts together a series of concerts called Swan Songs. These involve professional singers, many of them local, all of them top class, some with overseas reputations. The concerts are intimate. This series will be held in the atmospheric Christ Church, Claremont with David accompanying on the magnificent Church piano. His playing has a special magic of its  own that brings out the best in each soloist. I can’t wait to take off my work clothes and put on something more festive on those four Sunday afternoons. But what will the brave new world be like? Have we been spooked by our encounter with the vast unknown? Have we grown timid after months in lockdown? Having been forced to distance ourselves, will we have forgotten how to look each other in the eye and share genuine emotions, without the protection of the ubiquitous online screen? Will we retreat and choose isolation? Or will we go forward, nothing daunted, and embrace all the new and exciting challenges out there?

At the moment September seems too long to wait, but I can faintly hear my mother saying, ‘Possess your soul in patience’. Or my father, much more tongue-in-cheek, ‘Patience and per-siv-erence made a Bishop of His Riv-erence.’ I never really got the hang of either of those while I was a child, but I agree they are more thought provoking, and probably more effective than ‘Just wait will ya!’