Elaine Forrestal

Skype in the classroom

Teacher’s Notes for Some­one Like Me can be found on this website.

This week I am very excited about the pos­si­bil­i­ties pre­sented by the dig­i­tal age we live in.

I have just been doing a Book-Week-type ses­sion with a Yr 5 class at Esper­ance Pri­mary, via Skype. Their teacher was read­ing Some­one Like Me to them and they were lov­ing it. They were so engaged  with the story that she wanted them to be able to inter­view me, face to face, to ask me the ques­tions that par­tic­u­lar story inevitably throws up. Because of the twist in the end­ing, Some­one Like Me is a dif­fi­cult book to talk about unless every­one in the audi­ence has read it. Because their teacher had read it to the whole class over a period of weeks it was a per­fect oppor­tu­nity to dis­cuss the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, plot, and of course, the effects of the dra­matic twist. After some nego­ti­a­tions about time, tech­ni­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties and so on, the teacher linked her lap­top to the class Smart Board. Then it was just a ques­tion of phon­ing me up at the appointed time and there I was, large as life, in their class­room. I was able to  talk to the stu­dents, answer their ques­tions, even show them the trans­lated ver­sions of Some­one Like Me and any of my other titles they asked about. I could see the whole class and they could see me. At one point I tossed a ques­tion to them as a group and three stu­dents put up their hands and gave their answers — just as if I was there in per­son. Mostly, though, the stu­dents put up their hands and the teacher called them to sit in the chair near­est the Smart Board to ask me ques­tions they had pre­pared before the ses­sion. The sound was bet­ter when they were up close, but the pic­ture was excel­lent wher­ever they were.

I can see this tech­nol­ogy rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing author vis­its to remote places like Esper­ance, Port Hed­land and other dis­tant coun­try towns. It is cer­tainly a cheaper option for the school. Ses­sions can still be billed at the ASA rates, but the school doesn’t have to find money for air fares and accommodation.

I know that there is noth­ing quite like a face to face visit from an author, but the dig­i­tal option has to be bet­ter than noth­ing. So often schools, par­tic­u­larly small ones, miss out because the cost of an author visit is so pro­hib­i­tive. I hope that the improve­ments in this tech­nol­ogy will make us, and our books, more acces­si­ble to everyone.

Student life

Elaine For­re­stal pre­sent­ing at the Perth Con­ven­tion Centre

This week I have had to put all my other projects on hold and do a mas­sive catch-up with my stud­ies at UWA.

Through a major mis­un­der­stand­ing I sud­denly found myself hav­ing to pedal really hard to catch up on the read­ing for the Unit I am enrolled in this Semes­ter. For­tu­nately for me the ‘pow­ers that be’ at UWA could see how the mis­take had hap­pened and I am now almost back on track with a pre­sen­ta­tion to do on Mon­day and two assign­ments by the end of Octo­ber. There may be a cou­ple of gaps in my reg­u­lar blog posts, but I will make con­tact when­ever I can.

Wish me luck!

Prizes for Young Writers

Elaine For­re­stal con­duct­ing a writ­ing work­shop at St Mary’s Angli­can Girl’s School

On Sat­ur­day the annual Award Cer­e­mony for the Young Writer’s Con­test took place at St Mary’s Angli­can Girls’ School. It is always fas­ci­nat­ing for me to go along and see those excited young writ­ers, whose ages range from Kinder­garten to Year 12, walk­ing up onto the stage to receive their prize in front of the whole audi­ence in the The­atre at the Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre. Hav­ing read and ago­nised over their anony­mous work dur­ing the judg­ing process, I love to finally be able to match the real per­son to their story or poem. This year one of the prize win­ners in the youngest age group, K-Yr2, is a girl from a Kinder­garten class. She looked so tiny and frag­ile, walk­ing up onto that enor­mous stage, but what a strong young writer! She is def­i­nitely some­one to watch out for and hope­fully has a long writ­ing career ahead of her.

Sadly, just over a year ago, Eric Car­lin died. Eric was essen­tially the father of the Young Writer’s Con­test, hav­ing gone to The West Aus­tralian and Chan­nel 7 with the idea back in 1976, then pas­sion­ately sup­ported and guided the com­pe­ti­tion through a suc­ces­sion of changes. While oth­ers fell by the way­side, The West Aus­tralian has always remained a loyal spon­sor and, these days, promotes the con­test through its News­pa­pers in Edu­ca­tion ED! Mag­a­zine. Sev­eral years ago, when Hawai­ian and Fre­man­tle Press joined the list of spon­sors, Eric was delighted. He had always main­tained that  the win­ners should receive money prizes because he felt it added legit­i­macy to the com­pe­ti­tion. I’m glad that he lived to see the day when Hawai­ian not only agreed to con­tinue that tra­di­tion, but dou­bled the prize money!

The Young Writ­ers Con­test is the longest run­ning com­pe­ti­tion of its type in Aus­tralia and for many years now one of the high­lights of the Award Cer­e­mony has been Eric’s read­ing of the Michael Rosen poem, ‘The Choco­late Cake’. With his wicked chuckle and lots of expres­sive lip-licking and cake-eating sounds, Eric has enter­tained us with this poem, which is so evoca­tive of child­hood mem­o­ries, while pre­sent­ing the Eric Car­lin Award to the Sec­ondary School that is judged to have made the biggest con­tri­bu­tion to the com­pe­ti­tion in terms of qual­ity writ­ing from its stu­dents. As this years cer­e­mony approached our usual antic­i­pa­tion was tinged with sad­ness, not only because of the loss of Eric, but because we thought that we would never again hear the ‘The Choco­late Cake’ read out dur­ing the presentations.

Then along came a knight in shin­ing armour. Paul Dono­van, son of Syd Dono­van who, as a jour­nal­ist with The West Aus­tralian, cham­pi­oned the com­pe­ti­tion idea from the begin­ning, vol­un­teered to read the ‘The Choco­late Cake’ at this year’s cer­e­mony, as a trib­ute to Eric. it was a brave offer. Eric’s shoes were big and dif­fi­cult to fill. But to his enor­mous credit Paul, who is not unlike Eric in some ways, chan­neled his pre­de­ces­sor per­fectly. The lovely tra­di­tion which has devel­oped around the pre­sen­ta­tion of the Eric Car­lin Award can now continue.

Thank you, Paul. I’m sure that Eric is hav­ing a good chuckle, with the rest of us, whilst admir­ing your skill and courage.

Children’s Book Week, 2014

Dolly Petit’s House in the His­tor­i­cal Precinct, Albany

Offi­cially, Children’s Book Week begins tomor­row but, hap­pily as usual, I have already done some Coun­try Book Week ses­sions in Albany where I was invited to talk specif­i­cally about Black Jack Ander­son, because of his strong links with the town.

Of course an enor­mous amount has changed since Ander­son deserted the whal­ing ship he arrived on, early in 1827. But to their credit the peo­ple of Albany have man­aged to pre­serve three sig­nif­i­cant sites that are closely con­nected to the story of West­ern Australia’s only pirate.  And since I would be talk­ing to groups who may well recog­nise my pho­tos of those sites, taken while I was doing my research in the town, I decided to develop a new work­shop espe­cially for the visit.

The site of the trial of Black Jack Ander­son in 1835, in a room at the Mil­i­tary Bar­racks because there was no Court House, is now Law­ley Park. But the orig­i­nal town plan is very reveal­ing and shows where the Bar­racks were sit­u­ated, over­look­ing the harbour.

The house of Patrick Tay­lor JP, how­ever, has been pre­served and lov­ingly restored by the Albany His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety. It was there that the tor­mented Nim­ble Gim­ble knocked ner­vously on the door in 1837, two years after the death of Ander­son, and made a statu­tory dec­la­ra­tion to the JP. The events lead­ing up to the mur­der of Ander­son had been play­ing on his mind so much that Gim­ble felt the only way to be free of the dreams that haunted him was to tell what he knew. Because Gim­ble described to Patrick Tay­lor, in detail, what life was like on Mid­dle Island with Ander­son and the band of pirates we have, to this day, a reli­able eye-witness account of those peo­ple and events.

The other build­ing that has sur­vived in Albany, pre­served by the Her­itage Trust but sadly not open to the pub­lic, is the one where Dorothy Newell, Anderson’s mis­tress, lived and died. This is not her orig­i­nal fam­ily home, which was a very rough tumble-down cot­tage and was barely still stand­ing in 1835, when she returned from Mid­dle Island to try and sal­vage what was left of her fam­ily. Some years after Anderson’s death, Dorothy (who was also known as Dolly) mar­ried George Petit and moved in to what is now known as Dolly Petit’s house. Dolly sur­vived her hus­band by more than twenty years, liv­ing alone in the house and, at one time, mak­ing and sell­ing sweets from the premises. It is here that her ghost has been seen, hud­dled in a chair in front of the fire­place, on stormy win­ter nights. And some­times, also on stormy win­ter nights, a large male fig­ure is seen to come up from the sea and enter the house, which is very close to the har­bour. This fig­ure is said to go around the house, as if check­ing that all is well, before return­ing to the sea.

I don’t know about you, but I think there can be no doubt that this is the ghost of Black Jack Anderson.

Revisiting Beverley

The con­verted Road Board Office where Elaine For­re­stal lived with her fam­ily as a child.

Some ideas just grow and grow on the spot, and oth­ers take you off to the most unex­pected places.

My new inter­est in the life story of Charles Ulm and the other Aus­tralian pio­neer avi­a­tors is tak­ing me to Bev­er­ley. This small town, 143 kms from Perth on the edge of the wheat belt, is where I lived for four years dur­ing my child­hood. In the fam­ily col­lec­tion we have mul­ti­ple pho­tographs of me and my two broth­ers out­side our house, which was orig­i­nally the Road Board Office. The seat of local gov­ern­ment had already been moved to larger, more mod­ern premises and even the  name Road Board has now been replaced by Shire Coun­cil. But the actual build­ing is made of stur­dier stuff and has been con­verted to a rather unusual fam­ily dwelling. One that pre­sented some sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges to my end­lessly inno­v­a­tive and thrifty mother. The large and rather grand Board Room, which was more like a ball room in size, became our lounge room. The three front win­dows, which looked out onto the street, were fif­teen feet high. My mother, a child of the depres­sion, always used the same cur­tains in every house we moved to. Bev­er­ley was the fifth, but she never regarded any of them as per­ma­nent. ‘We will just have to make do,’ was her catch cry as she let down hems, added pel­mets and solved what­ever prob­lems pre­sented them­selves in her own way.

To reach the Board Room from the street it was nec­es­sary to enter the build­ing through a tiny square porch. This porch, which was smaller than most walk-in wardrobes, had three doors. It set the tone for the rest of the house which, as I recall, was full of doors. The kitchen was so long and nar­row that it was almost pos­si­ble for my father, who was over six feet tall, to stand in the mid­dle and touch the walls on either side. The main bed­room was iden­ti­cal to this in size and shape. Nei­ther of these rooms had win­dows, just a door at either end, although I seem to remem­ber a small win­dow, which was obvi­ously a late addi­tion to the main bed­room. It looked out onto the enclosed veranda, which wrapped its pro­tec­tive arms around the core of the house on three sides. This enclosed veranda con­tained the bath­room at one end, an open laun­dry (cop­per and troughs only) on the south east cor­ner, and two bed­rooms, on long and rec­tan­gu­lar, the other short and square. Although the pro­por­tions of the house were bizarre, liv­ing in it did pro­vide my mother with a degree of lux­ury she had not had since she mar­ried my father and left the city, where they both grew up. Always a keen gar­dener, my mother inher­ited the Road Board Rose Gar­den. This col­lec­tion of mag­nif­i­cent rose bushes flour­ished in soil con­ve­niently enriched by the Avon River, which reg­u­larly broke its banks and invaded our yard. And to Mum’s even greater delight the town of Bev­er­ley was sup­plied with per­ma­nent water from the Kal­go­or­lie pipeline. She no longer had to live in con­stant fear of our rain­wa­ter tanks run­ning dry. Those years she spent in the drier, north­ern wheat belt towns did, how­ever, develop in her a habit she could never quite shake off. The fam­ily returned to live in Perth, but for the rest of her long life she could not bring her­self to waste a sin­gle drop of water.

When I go to Bev­er­ley next week to visit the Aero­nau­ti­cal Museum, I will be research­ing those mag­nif­i­cent men, our Aussie heroes who went where no man had ever gone before. But for me it will be a nos­tal­gia trip as well.

I’ll let you know how it goes.