Elaine Forrestal


The SCBWI cow on the farm before mov­ing to the mez­za­nine floor of the State Library

Speak­ing at the Books in Your Back­yard event gave me a great oppor­tu­nity to con­nect with some of my read­ers. It also gave me the chance to intro­duce the SCBWI Cow to some young friends of mine who had never seen it.

Placidly chew­ing her cud on the mez­za­nine floor of the State Library (just out­side the entrance to The Place) the SCBWI cow is an arrest­ing sight. Her pale blue body dis­tin­guishes her from oth­ers of her kind. Then, as you move closer, you see that her skin con­tains fas­ci­nat­ing images. Book cov­ers, scenes from fairy and folk tales, flights of fancy and unique ideas to stim­u­late the imag­i­na­tion of any one who takes the time to inves­ti­gate her finer details. The Place itself is full of magic and the life-sized cow, stand­ing in her patch of grass, is the per­fect lure for peo­ple of all ages. Cer­tainly my young peo­ple were captivated.

On Wings of Steel is inch­ing its way towards the end of draft no 3. This week has been par­tic­u­larly ago­nis­ing because I have had to leave my intre­pid pilot call­ing for help as his plane runs out of fuel and he ditches it into the Pacific. Now we will both have to wait until Mon­day, when I will be back at my desk, to see what hap­pens next.


On Wings of Steel

CTP (Charles) Ulm and Charles Kings­ford Smith (Smithy) by William Dargie

Ever since the idea of writ­ing about the adven­tures of CTP (Charles) Ulm and Charles Kings­ford Smith (Smithy) pre­sented itself to me I have been ago­nis­ing over what to call the man­u­script. I had labelled the doc­u­ment on my com­puter ‘Those Mag­nif­i­cent Men’ know­ing that I couldn’t, and in fact didn’t want to, actu­ally use it as the title for the book. It was just a way of locat­ing the doc­u­ment on my screen. After nine months and at least as many failed attempts, I have at last come up with some­thing I am pre­pared to call the manuscript.

On Wings of Steel may turn out to be a work­ing title only, but I like it because it brings together, in just a few words, the con­trast­ing notions of fragility and tough­ness. It sug­gests mankind’s primeval long­ing to fly and his many attempts, through­out his­tory, to con­struct wings for him­self. It also hints at the lines of steel that both Smithy and Ulm had run­ning through their veins. It took enor­mous courage, deter­mi­na­tion, skills painfully acquired and incred­i­ble amounts of patience to fly where no man had ever flown before. These remark­able men, whose given names were the same, had dif­fer­ent strengths and weak­nesses but they com­pli­mented each other. Smithy was gre­gar­i­ous, charis­matic, a dare­devil per­former. Ulm was metic­u­lous, seri­ous and a canny busi­ness man. But they were great mates.

Stay tuned to find out more about their dreams of fly­ing and the pro­found effect their tough­ness and per­se­ver­ance has had on the way we live today.

Books for Christmas

Could I have some books to read please Santa? A SCBWI Christmas

Well, Christ­mas has come and gone and I hope that Santa left you at least one good book in your Christ­mas Stocking.

Now it’s time to get back to work and to revisit my lat­est set of char­ac­ters. I’m curi­ous to see what they have been up to while I have been enjoy­ing Christ­mas Car­ols, Cham­pagne and lots of laughs with friends and fam­ily. The book where these char­ac­ters are com­ing to life is still so embry­onic that it doesn’t have a title yet. It is about the amaz­ing adven­tures of Charles Ulm and Charles Kings­ford Smith as they forged path­ways across the sky, grap­pling with storms in planes made of can­vas with wooden or steel struts and cab­ins that were open to all weather. When it rained the air­men got soaked. Fly­ing through the trop­ics they got sun­burned and some­times suf­fered from sun­stroke from being con­fined in such tiny spaces, unable to move out of the sun for fear of going off-course and get­ting lost. Of course there was no GPS. Radio com­mu­ni­ca­tions were just being invented and, although Smithy and Ulm did use them, they were prim­i­tive and unre­li­able. But still they flew. Offi­cially the max­i­mum height their most famous plane, the South­ern Cross, could reach was 6000 feet but Ulm claims, in his log book, that Smithy took the Dear Old Bus much higher. He esti­mates they flew at almost 9000 feet dur­ing the worst of one very intense storm. When the only way to sur­vive was to get above it, Smithy man­aged to keep their plane in the air with a com­bi­na­tion of sheer skill and the force of his indomitable will.

Those early days of avi­a­tion were excit­ing times and brought fame, if not nec­es­sar­ily for­tune, to a lot of dare­dev­ils. Unfor­tu­nately there were many more spills that thrills and a lot of the early pilots lost their lives. It took ded­i­ca­tion, and hard metic­u­lous  work, to suc­ceed. Both Smithy and Ulm were both stick­lers for mak­ing sure that every last detail was attended to. They checked and rechecked their instru­ments, their engines, their fuel lines and every inch of their plane before and after each flight. And they sur­vived longer than most air­men of their day. Sadly nei­ther of them lived to the ‘ripe old age’ that they aspired to, but their pio­neer­ing work has made pos­si­ble the safe and reli­able air travel that we take for granted today.

More about this later …

In praise of the National Library

John Ulm in Can­berra, 5th Decem­ber 2014

What a fan­tas­tic place! Along with the Bat­tye Library in Perth, the National Library in Can­berra is one of my favourite places to work. I never cease to be amazed at the doc­u­ments, man­u­scripts, pho­tos and other records the staff will find and pull out for me from amongst the vast trea­sure trove of mate­r­ial, held in var­i­ous for­mats, within the walls of the National Library.

This week I have been read­ing the hand-written log books of Charles Ulm, writ­ten whilst fly­ing, with Charles Kings­ford Smith, where no man had ever flown before. His accounts of the first ever trans-Pacific flight, in 1928, and what became known as the Cof­fee Royal inci­dent in the Pil­bra in 1929, are going through the National Library’s preser­va­tion process at the moment. I was, how­ever, priv­i­leged to be able to read, from the scanned pages, all of the ups and downs, the bumps and jerks, the anx­i­ety and ela­tion of those incred­i­ble moments in his­tory, recounted by Charles Ulm from the cock­pit of the South­ern Cross, as they were tak­ing place.

It was also thanks to Susan Hall, pub­lisher at the National Library, that I was able to inter­view Charles Ulm’s son, John. A remark­able man who, at 93 years of age, knows and remem­bers every­thing about those early days of avi­a­tion and so gen­er­ously shared his mem­o­ries with me.

Now it’s back to my own desk and the task of doing jus­tice to all of the fas­ci­nat­ing mate­r­ial I have gathered.

New version of The Whaler’s Tunnel

Entrance to the Whaler’s Tun­nel before the present restoration.

I had hoped to work on the new ver­sion of The Whaler’s Tun­nel man­u­script while I was in Paris, but there was an essay for my UWA course that was due three days after I got back. The prob­lem was that, two days after I got back, I was run­ning work­shops at West Bus­sel­ton Pri­mary School. Since I have never been some­one who could leave that sort of thing to the last day, then stay up all night and sub­mit it in the morn­ing, I had to do it while I was away. And it was for a unit that required hard copy deliv­ered to the Method­olo­gies Office on cam­pus. Although the actual writ­ing was done and ready to go, I had to print out the essay when I got home. The Paris apart­ment has excel­lent inter­net access and is very well equipped in other areas, but there is no printer. Get­ting the assign­ment in to UWA on my first day back was a bit of a rush but, once that was done, I could con­cen­trate on other things.

This week I sub­mit­ted a new ver­sion of my local history/fiction story, The Whaler’s Tun­nel, to Fre­man­tle Press. We will have to wait and see where it goes from there.