Elaine Forrestal


Elaine For­re­stal with copies of To See the World: a voy­age of dis­cov­ery aboard the sail­ing ship Uranie.

The CBC WA is a remark­able group of vol­un­teers who pro­mote children’s books and read­ing while also pro­vid­ing a range of oppor­tu­ni­ties for authors and illus­tra­tors to con­nect with their read­ers. Dur­ing the week I had the great plea­sure of shar­ing my research and talk­ing about my book, To See the World with the CBCWA Book Dis­cus­sion Group. While I always enjoy talk­ing about my books it is par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing when the audi­ence is as well informed, knowl­edgable and inter­ested as this one.

Of course we didn’t only talk about To See the World. My lat­est project, which is still in its infancy and has the work­ing title of Those Mag­nif­i­cent Men, also came in for some dis­cus­sion and com­ment. This will be, I hope, a bio­graph­i­cal fic­tion telling the story of Charles Ulm. He was a pio­neer avi­a­tor who flew with Charles Kings­ford Smith, as co-pilot, on all of his early recored-breaking flights. Together they were the first men to fly across the Pacific Ocean, the Tas­man Sea and the first to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the Aus­tralian con­ti­nent by air. Like the sto­ries of Black Jack Ander­son and Rose de Freycinet, this one is also full of adven­ture. Between 1926 and 1934 these men flew incred­i­ble dis­tances through every kind of storm — dust, rain, hail, even ice and snow (dur­ing the Tas­man cross­ing). They often flew through the night, with only the stars to guide them. Their plane, the redoubtable South­ern Cross, had an open cock­pit and only the most rudi­men­tary instru­ments. There were times when they had to land on incred­i­bly small patches of ground and take off from long beaches because run­ways, when they existed, were not long enough. Firmly believ­ing that avi­a­tion was the way of the future they per­formed hair-raising stunts, in those most basic of planes, to raise pub­lic aware­ness and estab­lish reg­u­lar air ser­vices for pas­sen­gers and freight. Then, dur­ing a flight from Amer­ica to Aus­tralia in 1934, Charles Ulm and his plane dis­ap­peared with­out trace. His son, John, was only 13 years old when he lost his father, who was not only his hero, but one of  Australia’s bravest pioneers.

So stay tuned. You will be hear­ing a lot more about those mag­nif­i­cent men, Charles Ulm and Charles Kings­ford Smith, in the near future.

Visiting Booragoon Rotary Club

Louis de Freycinet and Jacques Arago mak­ing first con­tact with the Mal­gana Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in the Shark Bay area in 1818.

It is not often that I am intro­duced as ‘a woman who lives with more bot­tles of wine than you or I would own in a life­time.’ But this was the case when I vis­ited Boor­a­goon Rotary Club to speak, in par­tic­u­lar, about Rose de Freycinet and Black Jack Anderson.

The reg­u­lar Rotar­i­ans were joined by some mem­bers of the local Book Club, which not only swelled the num­bers but added to the lively and inter­est­ing dis­cus­sions we had after din­ner. Most of the guest speak­ers at this, and every other Rotary Club I have spo­ken at, are rewarded at the end of the night with a bot­tle of wine. Nat­u­rally this didn’t hap­pen to me. I was given, in stead, a charm­ing pink, green and blue frog. This wooden frog, made by the occu­pants of a vil­lage in Thai­land and pur­chased by the Rotary Club to help the vil­lage econ­omy, is really a musi­cal instru­ment. It has a ridge of cor­ru­ga­tions along its back which,  when tapped, stroked or beaten with the spe­cially shaped stick it holds in its mouth, gives out dif­fer­ent sounds. Of course I had to try it out. The sound imme­di­ately reminded me of Jacques Arago’s cas­tanets. The ones he used to dis­tract both the angry Abo­rig­i­nals from Shark Bay and the even more dan­ger­ous and deter­mined can­ni­bals from the islands in the Straits of Malucca.

I don’t claim to be pro­fi­cient at ‘play­ing the frog’, but I think Arago, and Rose, would have approved of me hav­ing a go.

Telling Tales Festival going from strength to strength

How many dif­fer­ent book char­ac­ters can you spot in the main street of Balin­gup dur­ing the Telling Tales Fes­ti­val 2014

The aptly named Telling Tales Fes­ti­val in Balin­gup is going from strength to strength. We all know that sto­ries can be told in a vari­ety of ways and the Fes­ti­val offers plenty of dif­fer­ent oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple to develop skills in writ­ing, illus­trat­ing, book bind­ing, film mak­ing and oral story telling. This year we had more stu­dents than ever before sign­ing up to par­tic­i­pate in these activities.

The Blin­gup Town Hall was, as usual, trans­formed into a book­shop, a food out­let and an art and craft gallery. Then, at lunch time on Sat­ur­day, the main street of the town turned into one enor­mous liv­ing sto­ry­book. There was a real live Gepetto with his mar­i­onette, Pino­chio, the Queen of Hearts dis­trib­ut­ing freshly baked tarts, The Mad Hat­ter accom­pa­nied by the rest of the card pack and the pesky lit­tle mouse who insisted on steal­ing our food, if we weren’t look­ing. That is until the farmer’s wife appeared with her giant carv­ing knife and tried to cut off it’s tail! Earlier that day I had had my cof­fee served by a Cow­ardly Lion and my cake deliv­ered by the Straw Man. What a won­der­ful expe­ri­ence for chil­dren and adults and hats-off to all those com­mit­ted towns people.

Of course this has not hap­pened by magic. Over the years there have been hard work­ing local peo­ple with imag­i­na­tion and drive who are will­ing to take on organ­is­ing roles and get the whole com­mu­nity involved in this extra­or­di­nary event. As a result Balin­gup has become one of those small coun­try towns which has refused to die. Not only has it sur­vived the nat­ural dis­as­ters and eco­nomic down­turns it has suf­fered over the years, it has picked itself up and rein­vented itself, mov­ing with the times, but still keep­ing its own unique rural charm. Balin­gup now has not one, but three annual Fes­ti­vals which add to the town’s pros­per­ity. There is the Small Farm Field Day, the Medieval Fes­ti­val and, for the last five years, the Telling Tales Fes­ti­val. Each year there are more and more stu­dents sign­ing up to par­tic­i­pate and more busi­ness peo­ple in the town becom­ing involved.

Con­grat­u­la­tions to the hard work­ing peo­ple of Balin­gup. Long may their remark­able com­mu­nity survive.

Writing competitions

Judg­ing is now in full swing for both the Young Writer’s Com­pe­ti­tion and the Tim Win­ton Awards.

Elaine For­re­stal at the launch of To See the World

I hope you got your entries in because hav­ing a go at these awards is a great way to hone your writ­ing skills — and you never know, you might win a prize.

Being able to express your­self well, in writ­ing, is a very impor­tant life-skill, but it does take prac­tise. The say­ing ‘The Pen is might­ier than the sword’, coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, could be trans­lated for the mod­ern world as ‘The words of pas­sion­ate and com­mit­ted peo­ple are more likely to bring about pos­i­tive change than the suicide-vest.’ But the wis­dom behind the orig­i­nal say­ing is just as true today as it was in 1839.

As an indi­vid­ual going about your daily life you make con­tact with fam­ily, friends, work and school mates — prob­a­bly a max­i­mum of twenty five peo­ple. How­ever, we all know how a tweet can go viral and be read, and acted on, by mil­lions of peo­ple all around the world. Closer to home, devel­op­ing good writ­ing skills will be vital for pass­ing exams, apply­ing for jobs, pass­ing your dri­ving test and a host of other things you will need to do in your life. Writ­ing is a pow­er­ful tool and worth pol­ish­ing to  a sharp point

I’ll try and remind you ear­lier next year. And if you did enter then well done! You are already a winner.

How much is real?

The waist-high brick fence where the graf­fiti appeared.

Dur­ing the week I spoke to some stu­dents who had been study­ing Graf­fiti on the Fence this Term. It is a rel­a­tively rare thing for me to speak to a group in which every­one has read and become famil­iar with one of my books. The oppor­tu­nity to dis­cuss char­ac­ters, set­tings, ideas and back­ground mate­r­ial relat­ing specif­i­cally to that story is fun for me, as well as enlight­en­ing for the students.

Dur­ing the one hour ses­sion the stu­dents asked me not only where the ideas came from, but how much of the story was real and how much imag­ined? Other ques­tions included ‘Which char­ac­ters are based on real peo­ple and why did you choose them’? ‘Why did you choose a real estate agent to be one of the bad guys?’ was another ques­tion. It is inter­est­ing for me to analyse these things for myself, whilst tak­ing note of what the stu­dents want to know about.

We also talked about how the poem, Hor­a­tio, by Lord Macaulay (1800–1859) worked. Why did I choose those par­tic­u­lar lines for Lal­lie to quote and how did the poem, writ­ten so long ago work for Year 5s today? These are things that are either not men­tioned, or touched on very briefly dur­ing my gen­eral author-talks, but I think they pro­vide very valu­able insights for stu­dents. For me it is fas­ci­nat­ing to hear what the stu­dents are think­ing, and to see the beau­ti­ful art­work and writ­ing that they pro­duced in response to my book.

I look for­ward to doing more of these sessions.