Elaine Forrestal

Writers of the Future

Elaine For­re­stal meet­ing young writ­ers of the future

It’s always a great plea­sure for me to meet young peo­ple who love writ­ing. Some­times I meet them in schools, or Libraries, or at fes­ti­vals. Writ­ing is often a soli­tary activ­ity. It is demand­ing, and involves expos­ing parts of your­self that you don’t nec­es­sar­ily want your friends to know about. It takes some courage just to get the real story down on paper, let alone to talk about it in pub­lic. But enter­ing a writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion is the per­fect place to start.

Writ­ing com­pe­ti­tions are fan­tas­tic. They cre­ate a safe forum for aspir­ing writ­ers. They bring together like-minded peo­ple and allow them to reveal as lit­tle or as much as they choose. Emerg­ing writ­ers can put their work out there with a degree of anonymity. It’s not really about win­ning — although that is always excit­ing if it hap­pens. It is much more about get­ting the story down on the page, writ­ing and re-writing it, get­ting it fin­ished, pre­sent­ing it neatly, and on time. These are all skills that a writer must develop and what bet­ter way to start than by enter­ing a com­pe­ti­tion? This is the time of year for it. While it’s wet and cold out­side you can con­cen­trate on your writ­ing, hope­fully with­out too many distractions.

The Tim Win­ton Awards, the Make Your Own Story Book Awards, the Armadale Young Writer’s Awards and other locally based writ­ing com­pe­ti­tions are open at the moment. Check out your school or Com­mu­nity Library for details.

Happy writ­ing.

What could be better?

Cover of Black Earth which shows the wild fire at the heart of the story

What could be bet­ter, as a story starter, than a fire alarm at ten deci­bels and an order to evac­u­ate the building?

I was about half way through my pre­sen­ta­tion to a group of eager stu­dents from Years 4&5 when the alarm went off just above our heads. It was so loud that there was no way my voice could be heard. I stood there, in mid-sentence, and looked at the Library staff mem­ber who was in the room. She indi­cated that this hap­pened fre­quently and that we would prob­a­bly not have to move. The noise stopped and I went on with my work­shop pre­sen­ta­tion. How­ever, it was only a few min­utes later that another Library staff mem­ber came along and said that there was a real fire in the adja­cent shop­ping cen­tre  and we must evac­u­ate imme­di­ately. With all my pre­cious first edi­tions, trans­la­tions and cov­ers from other coun­tries spread out on dis­play I was reluc­tant to leave. But I was told that I could only bring my hand­bag so I grabbed that and went out into the hall­way to join the throng of peo­ple already head­ing for the exit.

Out­side in the park we waited … and waited … and waited. The stu­dents were anx­ious to get back to writ­ing their own sto­ries, which they had only just started. Instead we talked about what an excit­ing story the evac­u­a­tion itself would make and who would solve the mys­tery of where, and how, this fire started. Was it the pop­corn machine in the nearby cin­ema? The oven in the Pizza Shop? Or the enor­mous fat-spitting chunk of meat which reg­u­larly sent out sparks as it turned on its spit in the Kebab Shop? We talked about how to make a recount into a nar­ra­tive and how to embell­ish the facts in order to engage an audi­ence. By the time the all-clear was given and we were allowed to go back to our meet­ing room there were sev­eral evac­u­a­tion sto­ries under­way and a lot of keen young writ­ers with first-hand expe­ri­ence to draw on.

Teachers are wonderful!

The Eden-Glassie Mys­tery series is actu­ally a cir­cu­lar quar­tet — the end of each title leads directly in to the begin­ning of next was you work your way around the circle.

Where would we be with­out our pri­mary school teach­ers? Teach­ing is a very demand­ing pro­fes­sion,  both phys­i­cally and intel­lec­tu­ally, and teach­ers deserve to be held in much higher esteem than they often are, espe­cially those who see fic­tion as a way in to most of the sub­ject areas, not just Read­ing and Writing.

One of these fab­u­lous teach­ers con­tacted me dur­ing the week because, in New South Wales, they now have a new syl­labus. Three of my titles, Deep Water, Black Earth, and Wild Wind fit neatly into the New Geog­ra­phy syl­labus, Stage 3: topic, Wild Weather. These titles are avail­able as eBooks but, in a class­room sit­u­a­tion, where stu­dents are study­ing a novel, this for­mat is not ideal. Thank good­ness for print-on-demand!

We are still nego­ti­at­ing the finer details, but I am hop­ing that, with Teacher’s Notes already avail­able, free via this web­site, paper­back copies of the books will soon be in the hands of teach­ers and stu­dents who need them — espe­cially in New South Wales.

WA sliced off the map

The Ninety Mile straight stretch of the Eyre High­way now has an all-weather surface.

Revis­it­ing a story that I first tried to write twenty years ago is a strange expe­ri­ence. At that time the events on which it is based were rel­a­tively recent. There were news­pa­per reports of the actual event, back­ground mate­r­ial on the set­ting and some his­tor­i­cal, archae­o­log­i­cal and geo­graph­i­cal mate­r­ial held in the Bat­tye Library. There was also my father’s account of a trip that he and my mother made across the Nullar­bor in 1951. At that time the Eyre High­way was an unsealed road all the way to Ceduna. There was a Road­house at Balle­do­nia, mostly ser­vic­ing trucks trav­el­ling over­land with goods like heavy machin­ery, live ani­mals, fresh pro­duce and some med­i­cines which needed con­stant and reli­able refrig­er­a­tion. Apart from that there were only the occa­sional water tanks, under a cor­ru­gated iron roof, where trav­ellers could re-fill their waterbags and radi­a­tors. The maps, detailed descrip­tions and black and white pho­tographs from that epic jour­ney have become part of our fam­ily archives and prob­a­bly deserve a story of their own, but I am not the per­son to tell it. When I look at those tiny black and white pho­tographs my imag­i­na­tion goes wild. I find myself search­ing out mys­ter­ies, adven­tures and strange pos­si­bil­i­ties to add to the already fas­ci­nat­ing facts.

The inter­net has made a huge dif­fer­ence to the way in which I go about this. Now I can go down below the sur­face of the Nullar­bor and explore six kilo­me­tres of tun­nels, caves and blow­holes that began to form there 15million years ago. Via YouTube clips and sci­en­tific video footage I can watch the sci­en­tists and palaeon­tol­o­gists squeez­ing through impos­si­bly nar­row crevices and dis­cov­er­ing the skele­tons of now extinct crea­tures. I can track the cyclone that cut both the Eyre High­way and the trans-Australian rail­way line back in 1995, effec­tively slic­ing West­ern Aus­tralia off the map. I can delve into the sto­ries of truck­ies, over­land cyclists and ordi­nary fam­i­lies who were caught up in the extended after­math of Cyclone Bobby.

I don’t know how this story will pan out, yet. But I do know that it will be a much richer and more com­plex novel than the one I tried to write in 1996.


Meg McKin­lay, Jen Ban­yard, Frane Lessac, Elaine For­re­stal at the IBBY Quiz Night, 2015

The SCBWI pres­ence at the annual IBBY Quiz Night is grow­ing each year. From one table of eight SCBWI mem­bers in 2014 to three tables this year! And no won­der. The book quiz, with Glen Swift as MC, is always lively and enter­tain­ing. It is a chance to catch up with friends, net­work with col­leagues and even learn a few things we didn’t know about books, movies, writ­ers, illus­tra­tors and how to call an answer across a large table with­out giv­ing it away to the table next door. In the heat of the moment this is a very dif­fi­cult thing to achieve.  Inci­den­tally the quiz night is a fund raiser for the Inter­na­tional Board on Books for Young peo­ple. The acronym is almost as obscure and dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend as SCBWI itself, although it does roll off the tongue a lot more easily.

IBBY plays an impor­tant part in pro­mot­ing Aus­tralian children’s books over­seas. Espe­cially at the Inter­na­tional Book Fair in Bologna, Italy, each year. If you’ve never been to the Bologna Book Fair, think about fac­tor­ing it in to your next over­seas trip. Even if you can’t stay for all four days of the Fair, just vis­it­ing is a unique expe­ri­ence. Thou­sand of book lovers, pro­mot­ers, sell­ers and cre­ators from all over the world gath­ered in one place is mind-boggling.  But then so is the IBBY Quiz Night.

I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next year now. But I’ll try to remind you ahead of time.