Elaine Forrestal

What to leave out?

Early gold­fields house made from wood, iron and hessian

At this point in my new man­u­script the prob­lem is not what to add, but what to leave out?

The story of Clara Saun­ders now has a shape that I can work within. But there are so many ways to tell the story of 14 year-old Clara and her adven­tures as a pio­neer woman in the gold­fields, and later the wheat belt, of West­ern Aus­tralia that I have strug­gled to nar­row it down. There is prob­a­bly more than one book here. I don’t want to be dis­tracted from writ­ing the one I have in mind. But it prob­a­bly helps to think of the pos­si­bil­ity of using other, com­pletely dif­fer­ent,  approaches to this story. Hope­fully, that way I will avoid the temp­ta­tion to cram in too much mate­r­ial. I need to main­tain a pace that suits Clara’s lively, ener­getic and deter­mined approach to life, in spite of every­thing she encoun­ters in the fron­tier town of Cool­gar­die in 1893.

Get­ting close to a read­able draft now. Fin­gers crossed.

The Language of Ballet

Bal­le­rina Sarah Hep­burn in The Clear­est Light.

Most peo­ple would agree that bal­let tells a story. How acces­si­ble that story is to dif­fer­ent audi­ences depends a great deal on the chore­og­ra­phy of the work. Prose, like bal­let, is as much about rhythm and body lan­guage as it is about the actual words. We have all read sen­tences that have danced across the page. Skil­ful writ­ers can cre­ate mov­ing pic­tures of incred­i­ble grace and beauty in our minds, just as skil­ful chore­o­g­ra­phers do on stage. But how do chore­o­g­ra­phers com­mu­ni­cate the story they have in their minds to dancers who will recre­ate it on stage? It is some­thing I have often won­dered about, but never really under­stood until last night, when I saw Bal­let 101 per­formed at the Quarry Amphithe­atre. Now I know that a numer­i­cal code exists for clas­si­cal bal­let, just as it does for computing. Every clas­si­cal dancer learns the 100 clas­si­cal dance posi­tions by heart in order to read the story the chore­o­g­ra­pher is telling.

What about the one hun­dred and first posi­tion, though? In the solo dance, Bal­let 101, each of the 100 clas­si­cal dance posi­tions is per­formed in sequence with a voiceover call­ing out the num­bers and the dancer respond­ing by adopt­ing the posi­tions. But where is the story? Then it was revealed that that was just the Pro­logue. The dance con­tin­ued with the voiceover/narrator call­ing out the num­bers in ran­dom order — so he said — but what he was actu­ally doing was devel­op­ing his plot. He directed the dancer to per­form more and more com­pli­cated sequences at a faster and faster pace, prepar­ing his audi­ence for the sur­prise end­ing that was to come. Finally the dancer lay exhausted on the stage. The nar­ra­tor paused, as every good sto­ry­teller does, and con­grat­u­lated the dancer on his per­for­mance. The audi­ence applauded. The dancer stood up. But he did not take a bow. Instead the nar­ra­tor asked the ques­tion that was on everyone’s mind. ‘What about posi­tion 101?’ The stage lights went down for three sec­onds, then came up again. There was an almost audi­ble gasp from the audi­ence. Our dancer was lying on the stage in bits and piece — totally destroyed. A leg here, an arm and shoul­der there, a torso with head attached. It all looked so real­is­tic that it took me a few sec­onds to actu­ally see that, of course, these were parts of a dummy dis­guised as our dancer.

Every­one laughed. The story was com­plete. Clev­erly con­ceived and won­der­fully deliv­ered with all the ele­ments of char­ac­ter, set­ting and plot present in the nar­ra­tive. As an audi­ence we had com­pletely sus­pended our dis­be­lief and become absorbed in the story being told in dance.

Bravo WA Bal­let for bring­ing such a chal­leng­ing per­for­mance to us.

Two strong women from the Gold Rush days

Clara Saun­ders and Alice Corn­well look remark­ably alike in their portraits

Today I dis­cov­ered another strong woman from the gold rush days of the 19th cen­tury  in Aus­tralia. Older than Clara by a quar­ter of a cen­tury, Alice Corn­well became famous in her thir­ties when she took on the task of res­cu­ing her father from finan­cial ruin after her mother’s untimely death. Alice turned her father’s dis­as­trous Sulky Gully mine in Bal­larat into the highly suc­cess­ful Midas Mine. Then, hav­ing made a huge for­tune by float­ing the busi­ness on the Lon­don Stock Exchange, went on to become ‘the Gina Rine­hart of her day’ (Claire Wright, Week­end Aus­tralian Review, 28/29 Jan­u­ary 2017). 

Like Clara, Alice Corn­well was not pre­pared to sit back and con­form to society’s expec­ta­tions of females. She became fab­u­lously wealthy, famous in both Eng­land and Aus­tralia for her entre­pre­neur­ial busi­ness suc­cesses, own­ing not only gold mines but hotels, real estate and fine art. In a slightly spooky twist, these two excep­tional women even look alike. In their por­traits they are both tall attrac­tive women with dark hair, shapely fig­ures and clear skin. And they both regard the cam­era with a direct uncom­pro­mis­ing gaze. Nei­ther smil­ing nor frown­ing they  look out at the world with con­fi­dence and self-possession. Both women died in their eight­ies and, dur­ing their life­times, were known by sev­eral dif­fer­ent names. Although they never met, I’m sure they would have got on well and had a lot to talk about.

In his novel, Madame Midas, first pub­lished in 1888, Fer­gus Hume based his main char­ac­ter, Mrs Vil­liers, on Alice Corn­well. Text Pub­lish­ing has just re-released it as part of their Text Clas­sics series. Although I am writ­ing Clara’s story for a younger audi­ence, I am hop­ing that it will be equally successful.

Your Backyard transformed

The SCBWI cow must be in someone’s back­yard. Is it in yours?

Energy and excite­ment was lit­er­ally fly­ing around at the Books from Your Back­yard event yesterday.

The mez­za­nine floor of the State Library of WA became a dif­fer­ent world. One where a cactus-furred wom­bat, a wicked princess with a bad hair­cut, a real pirate — right out of The Smuggler’s Curse — and two mad sci­en­tists invent­ing a near-lethal time machine all became real. We laughed and cringed and clutched out mobile phones all after­noon, in case we needed to dial 000. For­tu­nately no lives were lost and only pho­tographs were taken, although the pirate did try to steal a hand­bag. It was all so enter­tain­ing that we have already marked it on our cal­en­dars one year from now.

Thank you SLWA and SCBWI! C.U.+ 1

Dryblower Murphy

Dry­blow­ers came in dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes, but were essen­tially mesh con­trap­tions. Mined rock was spread on the mesh and the whole thing shaken to sep­a­rate the gold from the dross.

Dry­blower Mur­phy was born in Vic­to­ria but fol­lowed the gold to Cool­gar­die, West­ern Aus­tralia. He had been an opera singer, with a good tenor voice, and was an excel­lent racon­teur. His lively per­son­al­ity and story telling skills made him a pop­u­lar fig­ure at the dances and sing-a-longs that were such an impor­tant part of life in the large, but iso­lated com­mu­nity that Clara Saun­ders belonged to.

Early in 1894, lit­tle over a year after Cool­gar­die had been declared a town, Billy Clare launched the first local news­pa­per, Cool­gar­die Miner, and ‘Dry­blower’ became a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor. The poems he wrote, and often per­formed, told sto­ries of the hard­ships, the dis­ap­point­ments, the tragedies and tri­umphs on the fledgeling fields. But it was Dryblower’s sense of humour that most endeared him to the locals as he cap­tured their daily lives on the page. One of his poems, ‘Mrs Finnigan’s Frock’, tells the story of the Cool­gar­die Miner run­ning out of paper with a full two weeks to go before the next camel-train was expected. With typ­i­cal out­back resource­ful­ness, Billy Clare offered to buy linen, prefer­ably in light colours, from the towns peo­ple. He then printed the news, the stock mar­ket prices, the births, deaths and mar­riages and the Test Cricket scores on these sheets of linen and nailed them to the trunks of trees around the town. All the locals came crowd­ing around to read their ‘news­pa­per’. Dry­blower Mur­phy tells the story, in verse, of Mrs Finni­gan, who was a large woman, sell­ing a cal­ico frock with a full skirt. The news was duly printed and the frock nailed to a tree. But Sal, who was acknowl­edged as queen of the gins, took a fancy to the frock, janked it off the tree and ran, pulling the gar­ment on over he head. How­ever, Sal was not used to wear­ing any sort of clothes and the skirt tripped her up. The locals then crowded around the pros­trate Sal to read their news.

And so with the War­den as ring-referee/ With eyes all alert and excitable breaths/ They read from her ner­vous neck to her knee/ Mar­riages, births, divorces and deaths/ And out where the dol­lies the spec­i­mens crush/ The tin dishes rat­tle, the dry­blow­ers rock/ Cool­gar­die men tell of the rav­en­ous rush/ For the pio­neer print — Mrs Flannigan’s Frock.

(from Mrs Flannigan’s Frock by Dry­blower Murphy)