Elaine Forrestal

Connecting with Clara

The cen­tre­piece of this brooch is a gold nugget given to Clara Saun­ders by Paddy Han­nan in 1893

David Mal­ouf is quoted in the Week­end Aus­tralian Mag­a­zine today as say­ing, ‘Any event engages you, or it doesn’t. If it engages you it puz­zles you. That puts a demand on you to work out … what the con­nec­tion is between this thing and you.’

My con­nec­tion with Clara Saun­ders is gold. My grand­par­ents became infected with gold fever and came to West­ern Aus­tralia, from Vic­to­ria, dur­ing the gold rush in the late 1890’s. They lived in a tent in Kal­go­or­lie for more than a year before my grand­mother fell preg­nant. I grew up in sim­i­larly iso­lated places. There was no run­ning water and rain was scarce. One of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries is of my mother stand­ing out­side on the tank stand dur­ing a thun­der storm to hold the bro­ken gut­ter­ing in place. She was mak­ing sure that every pre­cious drop of water that fell from the sky would run into our rain­wa­ter tank and not be wasted on the thirsty ground below. There was no gold­field there, but the dry flat coun­try­side that stretched to the hori­zon was very sim­i­lar to the land­scape of the Cool­gar­die area. And Clara is such a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter that, as soon as I dis­cov­ered her, I knew I had to write her story.

There is still a long way to go. It seems that the more I write, the more I need to write. But I am thor­oughly enjoy­ing get­ting to know Clara and find­ing out more about the amaz­ing pio­neer women who lived in impos­si­bly harsh con­di­tions, but were part of the enor­mous excite­ment gen­er­ated by the dis­cov­ery of gold — pure gold, in seem­ingly end­less quantities.

The Central Role of Story

Every­one needs sto­ries in their lives. A Glass­ful of Gig­gles, Some­one Like Me, Miss Lewellyn-Jones goes to Town, fill the need for these friends of Elaine Forrestal

Recently there have been two good exam­ples of the cen­tral role that story plays in the every­day lives of peo­ple today.

The first exam­ple is the lat­est tri­umph of the Spare Parts Pup­pet The­atre team in turn­ing Tohby Riddle’s pic­ture book, Nobody Owns the Moon, into a stun­ning the­atri­cal expe­ri­ence. Com­bin­ing dance, music, live actors and pup­petry this adap­ta­tion of the book expands and enhances Tohby riddle’s text and makes it acces­si­ble to a much wider audi­ence. Sadly the pub­lisher, who knew exactly when the Spare Parts play would open well in advance, has let the book go out of print. What a missed oppor­tu­nity! With one hun­dred seats avail­able for each of the twenty three per­for­mances in the Fre­man­tle the­atre, and Tohby Rid­dle him­self in West­ern Aus­tralia sign­ing books at var­i­ous venues dur­ing the play’s sea­son, most of a print run of 2,300 copies would have been sold in two weeks. And what­ever hap­pened to the much pub­li­cised print-on-demand facil­ity? Honestly …

The other exam­ple of the impor­tance of story is that Hazel Edwards’s clas­sic pic­ture book, There’s a Hip­popota­mus on Our Roof Eat­ing Cake has been turned into Hippo,Hippo: The Musi­cal. This book has never been out of print in its thirty six year life-span. And Hazel Edwards, who has lived in the same house for thirty eight years, still occa­sion­ally has chil­dren knock­ing on her door ask­ing ‘Is this the house with a hip­popota­mus on the roof?’

Quite apart from the con­stant demand for sto­ries by the mak­ers of TV shows, com­puter games, videos and YouTube, new sto­ries are always needed for the pro­duc­ers of vibrant live the­atre. And good story writ­ers are needed to write them.

First Drafts


First of the first. Elaine For­re­stal with Junior Pri­mary stu­dents who are writ­ing their first drafts.

I am cur­rently work­ing on the first draft of my next his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. It does’t have a title yet, but I thought this would be a good time to talk about first drafts in general.

The fun thing about first drafts is that you can do, and say, what­ever you like. The words you put down on your page don’t have to be spelled cor­rectly. They don’t have to be neatly writ­ten, or even make a lot of sense to any one else but you. A first draft can have cross­ing out, arrows to the back, or other parts, of the page. It can have draw­ings, dot points, dia­grams, key words. In fact, any­thing goes. The only per­son who needs to be able to read your first draft is you!

It’s the sec­ond, and sub­se­quent, drafts that are harder — but still lots of fun. These are the ones where you play around with the words you have cho­sen. You get to know your char­ac­ters. How do they speak? How do they feel? What sort of accent, or body lan­guage, do they use? What sort of adven­tures, acci­dents, excite­ments will they expe­ri­ence? This is where the plot comes in. It’s good to have some ideas, but I find that the char­ac­ters often take over the story at this point. And if they want to change what hap­pens, I let them. In fact I encour­age them, because the plot has to be rel­e­vant to the char­ac­ters — not the other way around.

At the moment my char­ac­ters are devel­op­ing so fast that I some­times have trou­ble keep­ing up with them. And as they develop I can see more and more pos­si­bil­i­ties that could be included in the story. I know that I will do at least seven drafts, before I get it into a shape that I am happy to show to an edi­tor. But each new draft will improve the descrip­tions, the dia­logue and the rhythm of the story.

The edit­ing process is a whole dif­fer­ent ball game. That involves col­lab­o­ra­tion, trust and con­fi­dence. But for now I have my story all to myself and I am really enjoy­ing play­ing around with it.

Letters from Readers

Some of Elaine Forrestal’s read­ers, across all of the age-groups, dress­ing up as her book characters.

Few things are more reward­ing for a children’s author than direct feed­back from their read­ers. Young read­ers are so unin­hib­ited that their feed­back is par­tic­u­larly vital. They are not afraid to tell me if my books, or short sto­ries, have not met their expec­ta­tions. They can always pin­point exactly the parts they like best — and they ask very per­ti­nent ques­tions about why I have made a char­ac­ter speak or act in the way I have. So when they do say good things about my books I feel really chuffed.

In these days of shrink­ing funds for schools, libraries and the arts in gen­eral, it is becom­ing more dif­fi­cult for some schools to invite a real author or illus­tra­tor to visit — or to trans­port the class to a local Library where the author is speak­ing. Writ­ing a let­ter to an author, whose books they have read, is an alter­na­tive way to high­light Children’s Book Week.

I was thrilled, just after Book Week, to receive twenty five of these let­ters from stu­dents who have been read­ing Graf­fiti on the Fence, Deep Water, and Some­one Like Me. It was refresh­ing to read their com­ments, all indi­vid­ual, and their ques­tions which were thought­ful and chal­leng­ing. I also received invi­ta­tions to visit their class and have cups of tea. As I read these beau­ti­fully writ­ten let­ters I began to won­der about the cups of tea and to spec­u­late, since they didn’t yet know me per­son­ally, about why I wasn’t being offered cof­fee as an alter­na­tive. How­ever, in one let­ter close to the bot­tom of the bun­dle, all was revealed. One of these very per­cep­tive stu­dents said, ‘… and the part I liked best was when Lal­lie and the kids were mak­ing plans to set up an ambush to dis­cover who was respon­si­ble for trash­ing Lallie’s gar­den. Lal­lie says, ‘What we need is a bat­tle plan — and a cup of tea.’

I wrote back imme­di­ately and accepted the offer. Of course I am Lal­lie. I gave her my voice in the story.

Miss Llewellyn-Jones receives a visit from a fan

Elaine For­re­stal as the butcher from Miss Llewellyn-Jones Goes to Town, and Ella as Teddy

Miss Llewellyn-Jones was delighted when a very young fan came to visit her this week. Ella was accom­pa­nied by her grand­mother whose bas­ket con­tained fresh scones, still warm, with jam and cream.

While Miss Llewellyn-Jones is Ella’s favourite pic­ture book, she was happy to dis­cover that Miss Llewellyn-Jones also has a pale green motor scooter and puts on her going-out clothes, her bright red crash hel­met and her motor-bike gog­gles when she goes to town. Ella decided to be Teddy and go with her. It was a cold day so Ella had worn her knit­ted beanie with the two pom­poms, which looked remark­ably like ted­dy­bear ears. With all the charm and energy of a three-year-old, Ella gave a won­der­ful per­for­mance of our intre­pid Teddy. After the excit­ing trip to town, up hill and down, and vis­its to the butcher, the baker and the cup­cake maker, the long wait for cumquat juice got the bet­ter of Ella. Like Teddy she ‘set off to have a look around’. How­ever, the ensu­ing drama of being lost, and the inge­nu­ity required to be reunited with the fran­tic Miss Llewellyn-Jones, became too much for Ella. We all adjourned to the gar­den to con­sole our­selves with scones, and made plans for Miss Llewellyn-Jones Goes to Town to be pur­chased and added to Ella’s bookshelf.

Thanks to Fre­man­tle Press, the book is still in print and copies are available.