Elaine Forrestal

The Premier’s Non-Awards

West Aus­tralian authors Mark Green­wood, Elaine For­re­stal and Dianne Wolfer

The Perth Writer’s Fes­ti­val is always a good place to con­nect and net­work with other authors and illus­tra­tors. The hot topic at the Fes­ti­val this year is the WA Government’s deci­sion to cut back the Premier’s Book Awards from an annual to a bi-annual event. Shock, hor­ror and stunned dis­be­lief are the emo­tions that have ripped through the book creator’s com­mu­nity since the news of this short-sighted ret­ro­grade step was announced. fol­low­ing so closely on the heels of the deci­sion to open up the com­pe­ti­tion to all com­ers, this is a kick in the teeth for hard work­ing writ­ers and illus­tra­tors who are already strug­gling to have their work noticed. Com­pared to the huge amounts of money spent on sport­ing facil­i­ties and events, the sav­ing to be had by halv­ing the num­ber of Premier’s Awards is an absolute pittance.

West Aus­tralian authors and illus­tra­tors are world class. Given our small pop­u­la­tion we have always punched above our weight and have devel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for pro­duc­ing top qual­ity books which have been trans­lated into all the major lan­guages in the world. But it has always been a strug­gle. The Premier’s Book Awards are one small way in which the Gov­ern­ment can, and in all con­science should, help.

Lovestruck Rose

Rose and Jose in the door­way of Rose’s tent at Shark Bay in 1818

Nearly two hun­dred years after she cre­ated a scan­dal and made head­lines in all the French news­pa­pers, Rose de Freycinet is mak­ing head­lines again. The State Library of New South Wales has decided to fea­ture her jour­nal and let­ters to mark Valentine’s Day. This time she is mak­ing the news because of her hus­band, Liouis’s, attempt to keep her name out of the offi­cial reports of the voy­age of the Uranie.

Juilie Power’s arti­cle in The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald this week­end fea­tures the two dif­fer­ent ver­sions, by the offi­cial artist, Alphonse Pel­lion, of the same scene at Shark Bay. The first shows Rose and her pupil, Jose, in the open door­way of Rose’s dis­tinc­tive tent in the camp site and obser­va­tory set up by the crew of the Uranie. In the sec­ond pic­ture the door­way is empty. The images of both Rose and Jose have been removed. In other paint­ings made dur­ing the voy­age Pel­lion shows that he has heeded to instruc­tions of his Com­man­der, Louis de Freycinet, never to men­tion the fact that Rose is on board the Uranie. Since she was ille­gally on board, her hus­band was try­ing to pro­tect her, and his own career, from the con­se­quences of deci­sion to travel with him even though French Naval reg­u­la­tions strictly for­bade it. But in the first of these pic­tures Pel­lion has obvi­ously ignored his Com­man­der or decided that, more than a year into the voy­age, every­one knows that Rose is on board any­way. In the sec­ond he has thought bet­ter of it, since Louis’s instruc­tions still stand. It is, there­fore, mostly from Rose’s own jour­nal that we get the incred­i­bly detailed and uniquely fem­i­nine view of life in the remote com­mu­ni­ties and regions that she visited.

Like Rose, her jour­nal sur­vived the rigours of the three year voy­age. On her arrival back in France, she pre­sented it to her friend Caor­line de Nan­teuil, for whom it was writ­ten. After Caroline’s death it was kept in the Nan­teuil fam­ily for two gen­er­a­tions before being handed over to the then Baron de Freycinet. In 1926 the Marine Arche­ol­o­gist, Charles Duplomb, who was research­ing the wreck of the Uranie, approached the Baron about pub­lish­ing Rose’s Jour­nal. The Baron refused, say­ing that it was a per­sonal doc­u­ment and never intended for pub­li­ca­tion. How­ever, in 1927, 550 copies were pub­lished, 50 of these were deluxe edi­tions, sev­eral of which have sur­vived. Another sev­enty years would go by before Marc Serge Riv­iere trans­lated the jour­nal into English.

Today there are trans­la­tions in Eng­lish, Ital­ian, Por­tuguese, Ger­man and Span­ish. And in 2017 there will be cel­e­bra­tions in France and Aus­tralia, at least, of the impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion that Rose de Freycinet has made to the his­tory of the world.

Here is a link to the full text of Julie Power’s arti­cle which includes both pic­tures: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/lovestruck-stowaway-rose-de-freycinet-erased-from-history-20150212-13b1h8.html

In Praise of Anthologies

Cover of Near and Dear: Sto­ries for Chil­dren from Aus­tralia and Singapore

Antholo­gies, whether of short sto­ries or poetry, are often regarded as the poor rela­tions of the com­mer­cial pub­lish­ing world. If one adds up the num­ber of titles pro­duced each year, either by a sin­gle main-stream pub­lisher or the indus­try as a whole, antholo­gies will usu­ally make up less than one per­cent of the total.

In spite of this, antholo­gies can be very suc­cess­ful. This week it has been my short story, The Cross-eyed Mir­ror, that has been cre­at­ing the most atten­tion. The full title of the anthol­ogy in which it appears is; Near and Dear: Sto­ries for Chil­dren from Aus­tralia and Sin­ga­pore. It is pub­lished by Writ­ingWA in Aus­tralia in part­ner­ship with the National Book Devel­op­ment Coun­cil in Sin­ga­pore and was released last year. I was over­seas on the 13th Octo­ber 2014 when the book was launched in Perth so I missed out on meet­ing the authors from Sin­ga­pore who came over for the event. They have obvi­ously for­given me because I have been invited to go to Sin­ga­pore to speak at their annual Asian Fes­ti­val of Children’s Con­tent in late May/early June. And just this week, I was invited to go back to Sin­ga­pore in Sep­tem­ber to run some cre­ative writ­ing work­shops for 7 — 12 year olds at a spe­cial writ­ing Camp.

In spite of spend­ing count­less hours, over a period of thirty years, in Changi Air­port, I hardly know Sin­ga­pore at all. I am look­ing for­ward to rec­ti­fy­ing that this year.  Well done Writ­ingWA and the NBDC for per­se­ver­ing with this anthol­ogy and pro­mot­ing closer ties between our two countries.

Balsa wood!

The South­ern Cross, air­borne, with shiny sil­ver wings gleaming.

Hav­ing decided, after many dis­carded attempts, on the title, On Wings of Steel, for my story of Australia’s pio­neer avi­a­tors, I suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing blow this week when I was cross-checking my facts using a dif­fer­ent publication.

Because, in the main ref­er­ence I had used so far, the Sout­h­ern Cross was described as ‘blue and sil­ver’ and the wings were said to be ‘glint­ing in the sun­light’ I had thought that the wings were made of metal. I know that two of the metal engines were mounted on the wings and that  Ulm and Smithy’s plane was one of the first to have a steel frame, even though the body was made of can­vas. So I assumed that the wings were made of steel. Not so! Accord­ing to this source the wings were made of balsa wood and painted sil­ver. I always knew that those early planes were very flimsy. I’ve often described them as ‘held together with bits of wire’. That, at least, turns out to be true. Inside the can­vas fuse­lage wire stays criss-crossed the whole of the back cabin and the tail sec­tion to hold the steel frame in shape. Although I am dis­ap­pointed to have to change my title, I now have even more admi­ra­tion for the men who flew in these frag­ile air­craft. How they man­aged, in their open-sided for­ward cabin, to keep the South­ern Cross in the air for 32 hours, some­times fly­ing at 9,000 feet above the earth, cross­ing vast oceans and land­ing on islands that were mere specs on the map, I can barely imag­ine. They were obvi­ously men of steel, even if their plane had balsa wood wings.

Ah well, back to the draw­ing board to check my facts yet again and to search for another title.


The SCBWI cow on the farm before mov­ing to the mez­za­nine floor of the State Library

Speak­ing at the Books in Your Back­yard event gave me a great oppor­tu­nity to con­nect with some of my read­ers. It also gave me the chance to intro­duce the SCBWI Cow to some young friends of mine who had never seen it.

Placidly chew­ing her cud on the mez­za­nine floor of the State Library (just out­side the entrance to The Place) the SCBWI cow is an arrest­ing sight. Her pale blue body dis­tin­guishes her from oth­ers of her kind. Then, as you move closer, you see that her skin con­tains fas­ci­nat­ing images. Book cov­ers, scenes from fairy and folk tales, flights of fancy and unique ideas to stim­u­late the imag­i­na­tion of any one who takes the time to inves­ti­gate her finer details. The Place itself is full of magic and the life-sized cow, stand­ing in her patch of grass, is the per­fect lure for peo­ple of all ages. Cer­tainly my young peo­ple were captivated.

On Wings of Steel is inch­ing its way towards the end of draft no 3. This week has been par­tic­u­larly ago­nis­ing because I have had to leave my intre­pid pilot call­ing for help as his plane runs out of fuel and he ditches it into the Pacific. Now we will both have to wait until Mon­day, when I will be back at my desk, to see what hap­pens next.