Once upon a time, a woman wrote a book that made a child cry. The woman was Elaine Forrestal and the child was my own, so when I met Elaine in person I told her off for making my child cry for two days! Seriously, I never thought I would actually know writers and be able to chat with them about all sorts of things, or that I would eventually write children’s books. And in that spirit, please find my latest author interview with Elaine Forrestal – the woman who made my kid cry!

NLK: Can you please tell us how you started writing? 

EF: When I was in Year 4 our teacher read out my story to the class! I was surprised and very chuffed because he had never read out any one’s story in our class before. I suddenly thought, ‘Maybe this is something I’m good at! At last – something I’m good at.’ Before that my reports always went home to my parents saying, ‘Very dreamy. Always looking out the window. Slow to finish her work …’ After that I started to write more stories, just to get the positive attention.  

NLK: Do you have any tips for emerging writers? 

EF: Yes. Write, write, write. Anything from emails – to poems – to a daily journal. And read, read, read. Everything you can lay your hands on.

NLK: How did you come across the story of Clara Saunders and what was it about her story that inspired you to write Goldfields Girl

EF: I came across the story of Clara Saunders when I was looking for a different approach to writing about the early days of the goldfields in WA. There were lots of Wild West type stories about men, written by men, but very little about women and even less about children. When I Googled  ‘children in the goldfields’ Clara’s name was the only one that came up. I think that is because the journal she began while she was travelling on a coastal steamer from Queensland, and continued writing for many years of adventures in WA, has been preserved in the Battye Library. 

NLK: Was the story immediately apparent as suitable for a YA audience? 

EF: When I set out to write any story I don’t know which age group it will be for. I have to feel my way into the lives of the characters to find out how to shape it. Once I decided to focus on Clara’s life between the ages of 14 and 16, that guided the way the story went. 

NLK: In your research for Goldfields Girl, did you come across anything that was particularly strange or interesting? Did it make it into the book? If not, why not? 

EF: Clara was always an unusual girl. And the times in which she lived were so different from our own that there were lots of strange and interesting things that happened to her. She lived to be 80yrs old so we decided to focus just on the two years from 1892 to 1894, while she lived in the embryonic outback settlement, three days journey from the nearest town that would become Coolgardie. If we had gone any further the book would have been too heavy to read in bed! 

NLK: What are the biggest challenges facing historical fiction writers? Have you any tips for anyone wanting to try writing historical fiction?

 EF: Any research is challenging. That’s why I love it. But you do have to be thorough, and patient. There will be lots of things you will find you discard along the way. But you have to know those things – even if they never appear in the book itself.

NLK: What do you hope readers take way from your book Goldfields Girl

EF: As with all of my books, I hope my readers can relate to the characters. I hope they find them memorable, funny and emotionally engaging.

NLK: How much does your background as a former teacher inform your writing and in what ways? 

EF: My background as a teacher informs the way I present my stories to my audiences, whether they are students in classrooms or adults in Book Clubs, Festivals or Conferences – rather than the writing itself. 

NLK: What book or writer has been particularly influential for your writing journey?

EF: I have always been an avid reader so many writers have influenced me along the way. Margaret Wild’s picture books, Emily Rodda’s children’s fiction and, at the moment, Tom Kennealy’s historical fiction for adults are some that spring to mind. 

About Elaine Forrestal:

Elaine Forrestal is a full-time writer whose novels, short stories and poems are published in Australia and overseas in books, eBooks, magazines and on TV. Her latest book, Goldfields Girl, was released in March 2020.

Most of Elaine’s books have won or been shortlisted for awards by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the WA and Victorian Young Readers’ Book Awards and the WA Premier’s Awards. Someone Like Me (1997) won the CBCA Book of the Year Award, the Hoffman Award (WA) and the NASEN Book and Software Award in the UK.   

Elaine grew up in small Wheatbelt towns, where weather and living conditions were not dissimilar to those in Coolgardie. Since then she has travelled extensively, speaking at conferences and working as a Writer-in-Residence throughout Australia, in Northern Ireland, Singapore and France. She now lives in the beachside suburb of Scarborough with her husband, Peter, where she enjoys swimming, walking, live theatre and concerts.

Connect with Elaine:

Visit Elaine’s website or email her at eforrie@iinet.net.au

More about Goldfields Girl

Watch Elaine’s No Launch Book Launch of Goldfields Girl