Elaine Forrestal

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.

Voyages with Rose de Freycinet

This is one of the deluxe edi­tions of Rose de Freycinet’s Jour­nal, edited by Charles Duplomb and pub­lished in France in 1927

My voy­ages with Rose have increased by one in the last few weeks. I am now speak­ing at Con­fer­ences and run­ning writ­ing work­shops in Sin­ga­pore (AFCC and Cre­ative Writ­ing Boot Camp) and Cocus Islands (work­shops in schools).

This week there has also been an arti­cle on Radio National’s Earshot Pro­gram about the fact that the State Library of New South Wales has just acquired the orig­i­nal ‘diary’ of Rose de Freycinet. This turns out to be the orig­i­nal pub­lished ver­sion which was edited by Charles Duplom and first released in Paris in 1927, just over one hun­dred years after Rose returned to France and gave the hand­writ­ten orig­i­nal to her friend Car­o­line de Nan­teuil, for whom it was writ­ten. The jour­nal remained in the Nan­teuil fam­ily until 1926 when Charles Duplomb, after much dis­cus­sion, finally man­aged to per­suade the Baron de Nan­teuil to release it for pub­li­ca­tion. Another sev­enty years would pass before Rose’s story was trans­lated into Eng­lish. Since Marc Serge Riviere’s Eng­lish trans­la­tion was pub­lished in 1996 by the National Library of Aus­tralia there have been trans­la­tions into Ger­man, Ital­ian, Span­ish and Por­tuguese. After my visit to the Inter­na­tional Book Fair in Bologna this year I am very much hop­ing that To See the World, which tells Rose’s story to a slightly younger audi­ence, will be trans­lated from Eng­lish into French. I’m sure Rose would approve of this as it would, in a sense, bring her home again and add another ele­ment to her voy­age around the world.


The jigsaw puzzle of early drafts

Elaine For­re­stal finds walk­ing on the beach a good way to free up her thoughts and solve prob­lems with her manuscripts

The jig­saw puz­zle is almost com­plete. How­ever, the same can not be said for the actual man­u­script which has a way to go yet. I was work­ing on it this week, think­ing that all the pieces were in posi­tion at last, only to find that there was still one out of place. That’s the way it is when you are draft­ing and redraft­ing the story, as I do. There comes a point at which, hav­ing made a mil­lion changes, you then come across some­thing that looked right before, but sud­denly is glar­ingly out of kil­ter. The changes around it have thrown it into sharper focus and it must now be moved, or dis­carded altogether.

There is a point in this man­u­script where the young John Ulm asks his father, CTP, whether he feels afraid when he is up in the plane. CTP tells him, yes, some­times he is afraid, but that’s what makes him fly. When I’m writ­ing a new story there are times when I won­der if it will ever come out  right, but that’s what makes me keep doing it. The chal­lenge for me is to solve that dif­fi­cult prob­lem, find that elu­sive word or phrase that will make the story leap off the page. The process can be time-consuming, frus­trat­ing, even depress­ing at times. But that’s what makes writ­ing so com­pelling for me. Of course there are the good times as well. The times when words just flow down on the page in an enjoy­able and refresh­ing stream. That doesn’t hap­pen very often, and while I some­times wish it would, deep down I know that I get much more sat­is­fac­tion from jug­gling, exper­i­ment­ing and cajol­ing my char­ac­ters into reveal­ing their true selves, both to me and my readers.

The adven­tures of Charles Thomas Phillippe Ulm cer­tainly make great read­ing. I just have to keep work­ing at find­ing the very best way to present them.

IBBY Quiz Night

Meg McKin­ley, Jen Ban­yard, Frane Lessac and Elaine For­re­stal at the IBBY Quiz Night, 2015. (photo by Gay Tierney)

For any­one even remotely inter­ested in children’s lit­er­a­ture, the annual IBBY Quiz Night is a treat not to be missed. It is held to cel­e­brate Hans Chris­t­ian Anderson’s birth­day, and run by the West Aus­tralian branch of the Inter­na­tional Board on Books for Young peo­ple. Since we are all young — and even if we claim to be not young any­more, we were once — the quiz night is a rare oppor­tu­nity to revisit those much loved books and char­ac­ters from our youth. It’s a fun night to share with old  friends. Or you can join a reg­u­lar table and meet new ones. No mat­ter which cat­e­gory you fit into there is always some­thing for you. There are eight rounds of ques­tions, which no one takes too seri­ously — even if they pre­tend to. Two rounds of gen­eral knowl­edge for ded­i­cated quiz-goers, and six rounds in which the ques­tions range from time-worn clas­sics through to the most recent, but well known, children’s books.

Visit the IBBY web­site (www.ibbyaustralia.wordpress.com) reg­u­larly to keep up with the won­der­ful work done by this group to raise the pro­file of Aus­tralian authors and illus­tra­tors. And that’s where you’ll find the date and venue for next year’s quiz.

Don’t miss it!