Elaine Forrestal

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.


Rottnest Retreat 2014

A pic­ture of con­cen­tra­tion as these writ­ers par­tic­i­pate in a Write-a-rama on Rottnest

This year the annual Rot­tnest Retreat, organ­ised by the Inter­na­tional Soci­ety of Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors (SCBWI West), gave me the oppor­tu­nity to pitch a new idea to Jane God­win, pub­lisher of children’s books for Pen­guin Australia.

Before my lat­est book, To See the World, turned into such a wil­ful and errant child, I was reg­u­larly pub­lished by Pen­guin, but never on their pic­ture book list. So when it was adver­tised that Jane God­win would be one of the vis­it­ing pub­lish­ers at the Rot­tnest Retreat this year, I jumped at the chance to show her my lat­est pic­ture book man­u­script in a one-on-one cri­tique ses­sion. These ses­sions are an impor­tant fea­ture of the SCBWI Retreat each year. Where else would you get such a fan­tas­tic oppor­tu­nity to have the undi­vided atten­tion of a rep­utable pub­lisher? Jane read my work and gave me  good advice on how to improve the over­all story. Although I didn’t fol­low that advice to the let­ter (Jane would not have expected me to) her sug­ges­tions allowed me to re-think the visual and emo­tional impact of the story on my read­ers. As so often hap­pens dur­ing the devel­op­ment of a story, fresh eyes are needed. As a writer I become too close to my own work. It’s only after some­one else reads and com­ments on it that I can see other pos­si­bil­i­ties. Invari­ably the story is strength­ened by the fresh approach that sud­denly becomes possible.

No mat­ter what even­tu­ally hap­pens to my Pro­fes­sor Louis Labrat story I want to thank SCBWI West for mak­ing ses­sions like this avail­able to West Aus­tralian writ­ers and illus­tra­tors. Fin­gers crossed that you will hear more about the whacky Pro­fes­sor in due course.