Elaine Forrestal


Men­tor­ing is about encour­age­ment and shar­ing experience.

Writ­ers learn to write by writ­ing. Read­ing a lot helps. But there is no way to teach writ­ing to some­one who is not pre­pared to put in the hours, the care­ful thought, the intense con­cen­tra­tion and sheer hard work that writ­ing demands. Begin­ning writ­ers are often hor­ri­fied to hear that more than twenty drafts and redrafts may be nec­es­sary, at least in some parts of a man­u­script, before it is ready for pub­li­ca­tion. Unless there is com­mit­ment and ded­i­ca­tion on the part of the begin­ning writer then both teacher and pupil are wast­ing their time. There is no sub­sti­tute for prac­tise, expe­ri­ence, and then more practise.

What a good men­tor can do, how­ever, is give the emerg­ing writer the con­fi­dence to keep going. There are times when every writer feels like aban­don­ing the effort. A men­tor can read, com­ment, make sug­ges­tions and give encour­age­ment. Only the writer can decide whether all the effort will even­tu­ally be worth­while. Writ­ing, by its nature, is an expres­sion of the writer’s inner self. Each one must find, and use, their own unique voice. No one else has that voice. It is exclu­sively per­sonal and it takes courage to let it come out onto the page where it will be exposed to the wider world. A men­tor can empower and sup­port a writer through the process of find­ing and using their voice. But no one can teach you how to do it. It comes, as it must, from inside you.

Bon courage

Withdrawal Symptoms

This is the news­pa­per story that grabbed my atten­tion back in 1995.

When a man­u­script that has been dom­i­nat­ing my wak­ing life, and some­times my dreams, for at least six months goes off to a pub­lisher for the first time I do suf­fer with­drawal symp­toms. I miss the char­ac­ters I have vis­ited every day and have come to know bet­ter, in some cases, than they ever knew them­selves. I have laughed with them, cried with them and walked around inside their heads. Then the time comes to let them go. I am in a sort of daze for about a week after­wards, mulling over whether I have done jus­tice to their story. Should I have included this, left out that? And cru­cially, will my audi­ence love them as much as I do?

To dis­tract myself I start clean­ing out my office. I tidy up my files, which by then have loose sheets of paper shoved in to them in ran­dom fash­ion and odd things falling out — usu­ally things that should never have been there in the first place. Then, out of the blue, some­thing turns up. It might be some­thing I started and couldn’t get to work at that time. Or some­thing I read in the news­pa­per, or see on the street. Some­times a throw-away line that I over­hear will be enough to open a win­dow in to the next story. Then I will find myself rac­ing off, hel­ter skel­ter, to inhabit the world where the next set of char­ac­ters will intro­duce them­selves and even­tu­ally take over my life.

In my office last week I came across a Nullar­bor story that I had aban­doned years ago. It’s too soon to tell yet, but I’m dig­ging in to the pos­si­bil­i­ties. Who knows? Maybe the time is right for this one to come out, blink­ing and squint­ing, into the light of day now?

Stay tuned.

Eloquent pictures

Pic­tures tell stories.

Like so many Aus­tralians I never met Bill Leake and yet he has been an inte­gral part of my daily life for at least ten years.

One of the first things I do when I get up each morn­ing is go out and bring The Aus­tralian news­pa­per in off our lawn. I take off its clear plas­tic wrap­per, smooth out the tubu­lar shape it has taken on and place the folded paper in front of my chair at the din­ing room table.

Then, as I go for my morn­ing walk, flush out the cof­fee machine, clear the dish­washer, make my toast, I won­der what has been hap­pen­ing out in the wider world. Mur­der and may­hem, fash­ion shows and farm­ing, power bills and pol­i­tics are wait­ing there within the unrolled pages of the daily paper. As I wade through the gory details I find myself antic­i­pat­ing my favourite page and won­der­ing what Bill Leake’s take on today’s news will be? Pro­found, funny — often both at once — I look for­ward to being amused, enlight­ened, enter­tained and filled with admi­ra­tion for the remark­able skill and insight­ful per­cep­tion that Bill man­aged to con­tain in that rec­tan­gu­lar space at the top right hand cor­ner of the ‘let­ters’ page.

Vale Bill Leake. You will be sadly missed every morning.


These two images were sub­mit­ted, three months apart, for what would become the novel The Watch­ing Lake. In it’s twenty years of life there have been two more covers.

Lis­ten­ing to Nor­man Jor­gensen talk about the title of his lat­est book, Smuggler’s Curse, at the annual A Night With Our Stars event on Thurs­day reminded me of my own che­quered his­tory with titles.

Like Norman’s lat­est, some sto­ries seem to have a nat­ural title right from the start. The Eden Glassie Mys­tery quar­tet came into this cat­e­gory, with its over­all theme of the cir­cling sea­sons and four indi­vid­ual books using the ele­ments water, earth, fire and wind as motifs. Each has a two-word title that attached itself to its own story and stuck fast through­out the exhaus­tive edit­ing and pub­li­ca­tion process. No one chal­lenged them — although there was a robust exchange of words between me and the designer, John Canty, when the art­work for the cover of Stone Cir­cle came through with an image of Stone­henge on it. John had obvi­ously not read the story in which the four  cousins fin­ish off the job of uncov­er­ing a cir­cle of smooth, white skull-shaped stones. A job which was begun by recent heavy rains on the Eden Glassie prop­erty. How­ever, this was a minor hic­cup com­pared to the pro­tracted dra­mas of some of my other books. Not only did the title of The Watch­ing Lake change twice dur­ing the pub­li­ca­tion process, the first and sec­ond cover images were so dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent, both from each other and from the orig­i­nal roughs, that the whole lot was even­tu­ally aban­doned and the brief given to a new illustrator.

After an expe­ri­ence like that with my first novel I learned never to think of a book as fin­ished until I am actu­ally hold­ing it in my hands — cover and all.

Mandi Graham’s cover art for the first edi­tion. Pho­tographs over­laid to make up the com­pos­ite cover of the sec­ond edi­tion, ten years later.

A Significant Step for Clara

Miner’s Rights which allowed the holder to ‘peg’ an area of land, but not to own the land itself.

Last Fri­day Clara took a sig­nif­i­cant step towards pub­li­ca­tion. She went to Mel­bourne where her story will be read by the team at Allen and Unwin. Mean­while, I am deal­ing with the vexed ques­tion of indige­nous protocols.

Clara had very lit­tle con­tact with the orig­i­nal Won­gai inhab­i­tants of the Cool­gar­die area. But they were there. To leave them out of her story would not only be ridicu­lous, but would make a mock­ery of the tol­er­ance and respect that both Abo­rig­i­nal and Euro­pean groups ini­tially showed towards each other. As in other parts of the coun­try, this tol­er­ance dete­ri­o­rated as time went on. The huge influx of Euro­peans put pres­sure on pre­cious water and food resources and cul­tural dif­fer­ences not only became obvi­ous, but often destruc­tive. But no mat­ter how much we would like to, we can not change history.

My grand­par­ents arrived from Vic­to­ria as part of the enor­mous influx of peo­ple from all over the world that occurred with the dis­cov­ery of gold. With­out the Cool­gar­die gold rush of 1893, I would not have been born here and would not have become the writer of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that I am today. I grew up in coun­try West­ern Aus­tralia. There were always Abo­rig­i­nal stu­dents in the schools I attended and we played together after school. In the small towns where we lived every­one was accepted. Immi­grants, or Dis­placed Per­sons as they were called after World War ll, were less com­mon that Abo­rig­i­nals, but were quickly absorbed into the life of the town.  In many ways Clara’s story is also my story. If the gate­keep­ers of Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture and her­itage do not encour­age peo­ple like me to pub­li­cise the pos­i­tive con­tacts that did, and still do, occur between Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple and ‘white’ set­tlers, they do them­selves and their descen­dants a disservice.