Elaine Forrestal

Inspiration and Perspiration

Elaine Forrestal at the weekend

There is an old saying that being a successful creator (writer, film maker, visual artist) takes 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I agree totally, but I would like to add that having a network of like-minded people around you, or at least accessible to you, probably makes up about half of the 10%.

I have always been a bit of a loner and it’s only since I joined our local branch of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators that I have fully appreciated this. Even when things are going along relatively smoothly for me I enjoy their company and try to help out when I’m needed. But I find my SCBWI friends absolutely vital when I have a knotty problem with a manuscript or a dilemma about which way to push a new story. Those are the times when sharing my work-in-progress with people I trust can make all the difference. Sometimes it just takes a throw-away line, an off the cuff remark, even their musing on an idea, to turn the story around and set it going on a different tack – as happened at the weekend with my new work Parallel, which you will be hearing more about, soon.

I am mystified by how the whole chemistry of the group thing works, but it does and I am constantly grateful. Thanks guys!

The Ever-present Black Jack Anderson

Covers created by students after Black Jack Anderson treasure hunt workshop.

It’s almost as if he wants to tell us something.

Ever since 1835 Black Jack Anderson seems to have been hovering somewhere around the south coast of Western Australia, biding his time, waiting until the coast is clear, then popping up and demanding to tell his story. First in a newspaper article as early as 1846. Then in a series of articles in a magazine, the first in 1957. Later in my book, Black Jack Anderson, first published in 2008 by Penguin Books Australia. As part of the launch of the book by the then Premier of WA, Alan Carpenter, there was a display of artefacts collected from Middle Island during an archaeological dig carried out by the WA Maritime Museum.  The next year there was an extensive display in the Library at Great Southern Grammar. There have also been two documentaries made for TV, and a radio program aired on the ABC, Esperance.

Meanwhile Black Jack has been haunting Dolly Pettit’s house, which was Kooka’s Restaurant for many years and is now part of the Albany Historical Precinct. And this week our only pirate has raised his head again. Obviously there is more information about him on the internet these days, but this week I am delighted to hear from Robert Vanover, Supervising Producer of Discovery Channel’s Expedition Unknown. 

Welcome aboard, Robert! If nothing else we are in for an interesting voyage to the Southern Ocean.


Orphans in time

For Elaine Forrestal (Ancaius 25) Jason and his Argonauts were early examples of courage, determination and individual spirit

I love writing historical fiction. It is, at the moment, my favourite genre. I am fascinated by characters from the past, particularly our West Australian characters, many of whom made significant contributions to our present lifestyle and yet, just a few years ago, very few people had heard of them.

Black Jack Anderson, Rose de Freycinet and Clara Saunders lived in different eras, but were all prepared to push out beyond the reach of their own civilisation and expand our knowledge of what was out there. In writing their stories I want to celebrate their courage, their perseverance, their indomitable spirit and in Clara’s case, her sense of humour. To do this I must immerse myself in the everyday life and culture of their time. I am conscious that I need to inhabit the distant past in a way that brings it to life for a modern audience, without losing touch with what is unique and authentic. I must be careful not to compromise their personalities for the sake of political correctness or turn them into orphans in time, isolated from their own reality. Even worse, turn them into puppets with voices that simply become a mouthpiece for contemporary issues. Each character must be allowed to  live their own life on the page as a real, flesh and blood person.

It’s not easy. But I believe it can be done.

Seeing the World differently

Elaine Forrestal reading original documents in the Archive de Laage, Quimper, France, 2012

Any author loves to know that people are reading their books! So naturally I was delighted to hear, this week, that a girl who lives in England has just finished reading To See the World – and loved it! Her grandfather, who had contacted me to buy a copy for her, says she ‘devoured’ it. She now wants to know what happened to Jose after the wreck of the Uranie and the perilous journey back to France on the much smaller Physicienne. I had to confess to her that I don’t know what happened to Jose. In fact I don’t think anyone does, yet. There is a ‘first translation’ of certain parts of the journals of Dr Gaimard being done at the moment. Dr Gaimard was the doctor who sailed aboard the Uranie, and saved Rose’s life when she unknowingly ate an olive of a type that is poisonous when it is not properly ripe. Who knows, perhaps more information will come to light in the future?

The original Gaimard journals, ten of which survived the wreck of the Uranie, are held in the Freycinet Collection at the State Library of Western Australia. Because there are so many of them, all hand written in French, it has been too daunting, and too expensive, to tackle the task and they have never been translated. Even now only some sections are being done.

The fascinating thing for me, reading these sections now, is the way in which certain events, witnessed by both Dr Gaimard and Rose de Freycinet, are described in quite different ways. For instance, during a visit to the house of M. Viale, the French Consul on Gibralta, Dr Gaimard describes the formal arrangements and the fact that Rose is dressed in men’s attire. Rose, on the other hand, is much more interested in the friendly way M. Viale and his family welcomed them to their house, and how charming and accomplished his 15 year old daughter was. She also comments that some of the sailors in their party were ‘quite smitten by her charms’. This more feminine point of view is one of the reasons Rose’s journal is such an important document, and why it is fascinating to now hear another side of the story from Dr Gaimard.

I am very much looking forward to reading more translations of Dr Gaimard’s journals as they are completed.

The Quick and the Dead

Clara Saunders, a pioneer of Coolgardie at 14 years of age

As a child I puzzled over this expression, ‘the quick and the dead’. Growing up in the country I understood the dead part only too well, but the ‘quick’. Who were they? ‘Be quick!’ my mother would shout and I would think it was some sort of Simon Says game. While I was looking for someone to follow she would say ‘Get moving!’

These days I am only too aware that if I don’t keep moving, changing, developing, I will be regarded as dead. My four most recent novels, Black Jack Anderson, To See the World, On Wings of Steel and Life Blood have been historical fiction. I fell in love with the research these stories demanded and have been relishing the past. But the past is another country. One we can only visit. While it is tempting to think of the past as holding the answers to present day problems, like overcrowding, the pace of change, the pressure of work and study, the demands of social media, we must not dwell in it for too long. To continue to live in the past, no matter which century we choose, would be to sign our own death warrants. While I have been writing Life Blood, the story of Clara Saunders, I have been visiting that other country of the gold rush in 1892 when the first flush of excitement sent thousands of men, and Clara, into the dry and deadly inland of Western Australia, further east than any Europeans had lived before. Clara and her friends have surrounded me, kept me entertained, made me laugh and cry and marvel at their courage and inventiveness.

Now it’s time for me to let them go, temporarily of course. I know they will come back and that I am entrusting them to the safe hands of Fremantle Press. I’m going to miss them while they are away, but I will keep moving on, and so will Clara.