Elaine Forrestal

Show, don’t tell …

Elaine For­re­stal and Win­nie Court. Winnie’s favourite pic­ture book is ‘Miss Llewellyn-Jones goes to town’, illus­trated by Moira Court.

Pro­fes­sor Louis Labrat has now gone off to the sub­mis­sions depart­ment at Ran­dom House, hav­ing gone through a major rethink as a result of the work I did with Libby Glee­son on Rot­tnest. Dur­ing the rewrit­ing process my Pro­fes­sor, who had been a soli­tary, work-obsessed char­ac­ter, has devel­oped into a more socia­ble being and the puppy who had adopted him becomes more actively  involved in the story. A new neigh­bour, and her baby, have been intro­duced and the cat, who cov­ets the Professor’s white mice, has been foiled in her attempt to eat them. Strangely enough, most of these new devel­op­ments hap­pen in the pic­tures. Apart from one new ‘verse’, the words remain the same.

Dur­ing the recent judg­ing of the Make Your Own Story Book com­pe­ti­tion I have been reminded of just how dif­fi­cult it is, par­tic­u­larly for young writ­ers, to allow the illus­tra­tions to tell enough of the story. The annual com­pe­ti­tion has a pic­ture book sec­tion and, on aver­age, half of the over­all entries are pic­ture books. Across the four age groups, Pre Pri­mary to Year 8, there are thou­sands of entries, but only a hand­ful of these young writ­ers actu­ally trust the pic­tures to tell part of the story. Hav­ing just grap­pled with my own pic­ture book text, I am not sur­prised by this. In a suc­cess­ful pic­ture book there is a pre­car­i­ous bal­anc­ing act to be per­formed. While every sin­gle word must be essen­tial to the devel­op­ment of the story, the pic­tures can have much more free­dom to add, embell­ish and extend the text. Being able to see where pic­tures and words can com­ple­ment each other is not an easy task, but it is cer­tainly worth being aware of the power of a pic­ture to add to the action and to tell the story in a more detailed and enjoy­able way. There is almost noth­ing worse than a pic­ture book that is ‘too wordy’. In this year’s MYOSB com­pe­ti­tion the true pic­ture books were cer­tainly rewarded, so keep try­ing. It’s only by try­ing again that you will develop the skills and expe­ri­ence to make those words and pic­tures work together.

Happy writ­ing — and illustrating.

While I wait

Jan Nicholls and Elaine For­re­stal at the launch of Stone Cir­cle, an Eden Glassie Mystery

Some­how, in the two days after I returned from  Rot­tnest, I man­aged to lick my new man­u­script into shape to catch a Children’s Books Advi­sory Panel meet­ing. In line with most of the major pub­lish­ers, National Library Pub­lish­ing now has this advi­sory panel to read and assess man­u­scripts sub­mit­ted for pub­li­ca­tion. I was aware of this, but didn’t realise the meet­ing was so close. How­ever, On Wings of Steel has now gone off and the wait­ing has begun. I always find this time between send­ing off the ‘baby’, for the first time, and receiv­ing the ‘ver­dict’ one of the most anx­ious of the whole pub­li­ca­tion process. My strat­egy is to find other things to focus on and in this case I have two projects that will keep me fully occu­pied. One is the con­ver­sion of Stone Cir­cle, an Eden-Glassie Mys­tery, to eBook for­mat. This is the last of the Eden Glassie quar­tet to be con­verted and will com­plete the cir­cle once again. (Check out the quartet’s cir­cu­lar for­mat in the Books sec­tion of this site if you don’t know what I’m talk­ing about).

The other project has just been gen­er­ated by my time on Rot­tnest and involves turn­ing the plot of my pic­ture book text, ‘Pro­fes­sor Louis Labrat’ on its head. Dur­ing Libby Gleeson’s excel­lent talk on ‘Killing Your Dar­lings’ we did an exer­cise in re-working an exist­ing piece of writ­ing. As a result my soli­tary Pro­fes­sor is in for some big surprises.

Stay tuned for the progress report next week.

Singapore and Rottnest Island are neighbours

David Lieu and Elaine For­re­stal with the sketch that he made of her dur­ing her pre­sen­ta­tion at the Asian Fes­ti­val of Children’s Con­tent 2015

They are five hours apart by plane and share a time zone and an offi­cial lan­guage. Per­haps it is not sur­pris­ing that both Sin­ga­pore and Rot­tnest Island have recently hosted sig­nif­i­cant book pub­lish­ing events. What is sur­pris­ing is that the Asian Fes­ti­val of Children’s Con­tent and the Inter­na­tional Soci­ety of Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors’ Rot­tnest Retreat took place just three days apart, and that Cather­ine Carvell and I attended both. Cather­ine lives in Sin­ga­pore and is the Regional Advi­sor to SCBWI. I live in Perth, West­ern Aus­tralia, but was a speaker at the AFCC. How neigh­bourly is that?

The AFCC was huge. It brought together an amaz­ing mix of peo­ple from all over Asia, includ­ing China, Japan, India, the Philip­pines and Malaysia. It was such a great oppor­tu­nity for me to talk to a wide range of peo­ple, all involved in some way with books and young peo­ple. I was fas­ci­nated to hear about the thriv­ing pub­lish­ing indus­tries in so many of the Asian regions, and to share a love of books and read­ing with this lovely diverse group of people.

The SCBWI Rot­tnest Retreat was tiny by com­par­i­son, but there was just as much pas­sion for books and read­ing and a tremen­dous amount of sup­port, within the group, for each other’s work. Coin­ci­den­tally it was not just the pres­ence of both Cather­ine and myself that linked these two events. One of the speeches I deliv­ered in Sin­ga­pore was about mys­ter­ies and metaphors in Young Adult fic­tion and had Rot­tnest Island as it’s set­ting. Straggler’s Reef, the book I used to demon­strate sig­nif­i­cant points in the pre­sen­ta­tion, is about a ship­wreck that actu­ally hap­pened in 1839 on Straggler’s Reef between Rot­tnest and the coast of West­ern Australia.

Dou­ble deja vous!

The Rattling of Pirate Bones

The scull and cross­bones, some­times known as The Jolly Roger, has become syn­ony­mous with pirates worldwide.

The Asian Fes­ti­val of Children’s Con­tent is just over a week away now. I can hear the rat­tling of pirate bones and feel the mys­te­ri­ous pres­ence of Car­o­line as she searches for the lost trea­sure on Straggler’s Reef.

Lumped together in the same para­graph like this you could be for­given for think­ing that Black Jack Ander­son, the pirate, and Car­o­line McLean, daugh­ter of Rot­tnest Island’s first light­house keeper are char­ac­ters in the same book. How­ever, if you are in Sin­ga­pore between the 2nd and 5th of June you will dis­cover that, although they are both long dead, the pres­ence of these two his­tor­i­cal fig­ures will be felt as their excit­ing sto­ries are told and some of the tech­niques of writ­ing for young peo­ple are explored.

Of course there will be lots of other sto­ries told and inter­est­ing peo­ple to meet at this cel­e­bra­tion of children’s books, CDs, DVDs and games. With a stel­lar inter­na­tional cast of pre­sen­ters this is bound to be a fab­u­lously stim­u­lat­ing and enter­tain­ing event.

Come along and join us at the National Library of Sin­ga­pore — as long as you are not afraid of pirates, or ghosts.

On Wings of Steel: the story of CTP Ulm

John Ulm, son of the pio­neer Aus­tralian avi­a­tor CTP (Charles) Ulm

It is exactly a year since I first dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of writ­ing a bio­graph­i­cal fic­tion based on the life of the pio­neer Aus­tralian air­man, Charles Ulm. This week I sent off the man­u­script to be read for the first time by eyes other than my own. There is still work to do, of course, but the story now has a shape that I can work within. Instead of being a col­lec­tion of jig­saw pieces scat­tered across the floor, a pic­ture has emerged. It may still need some adjust­ments. Some pieces of the puz­zle may need to be reshaped to make a clearer pic­ture. Other pieces may not even belong in this story, but at least there is now a cohe­sive feel to it. As usual, I have become too close, too involved with the fas­ci­nat­ing lives of these char­ac­ters. My objec­tiv­ity has become skewed by the fact that I now care so deeply about them, so it’s time to let go. This let­ting go is always a wrench for me, but I know it has to be done and will make for a much bet­ter book in the end. It is time send the man­u­script off on its inau­gural flight and to take the advice of peo­ple I trust, peo­ple who can look at it with fresh eyes.

Writ­ing this story has been a unique expe­ri­ence for me, mainly because CTP Ulm’s son, John, is still alive. I have had the priv­i­lege of inter­view­ing him in per­son, then keep­ing in touch with him by phone through­out the devel­op­ment phase of the man­u­script. As a boy John Ulm flew with his father. He sat in the back cabin while pay­ing pas­sen­gers were taken on joy-rides and, after his father’s death, was invited by Charles Kings­ford Smith to sit in his father’s seat in the cock­pit of the South­ern Cross dur­ing her final flight. John has had an illus­tri­ous career of his own, both as a mil­i­tary  and a com­mer­cial pilot, then as Chief of PR for Qan­tas. This in itself gives him some very per­sonal insights into his father’s thoughts and feel­ings. How­ever, through­out his long life John has added another dimen­sion to this knowl­edge of his father. He has metic­u­lously kept and col­lated every­thing to do with CTP Ulm’s per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life. In this price­less col­lec­tion, now held in the National Library of Aus­tralia, are the papers, log books, news­pa­per cut­tings, pho­tographs and mem­o­ra­bilia relat­ing to every aspect of the remark­able achieve­ments of Charles Ulm.

Apart from being a liv­ing trea­sure him­self, John Ulm has col­lected a trea­sure trove of mate­r­ial for future gen­er­a­tions, doc­u­ment­ing the for­ma­tive years of the Aus­tralian avi­a­tion indus­try of which his father was a vital part.

This one is for you, John.