Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Elaine Forrestal


Elaine Forrestal is a Western Australian author who grew up in Australian country towns and now travels all over the world. Her award-winning books have been published internationally and translated into other languages.

Elaine Forrestal
Elaine Forrestal, author of Goldfields Girl

Elaine’s latest book is Goldfields Girl, set during the Gold Rush in Coolgardie, Western Australia.

From the publisher:

Goldfields Girl by Elaine Forrestal (book cover)It’s 1892. Amid a fevered gold rush, 14-year-old Clara Saunders is in search of adventure in the new outback town of Coolgardie.

A friendship with cheeky young water carter Jack is a promising start, but the goldfields are a harsh place, where water is scarce, disease is common and where many men will never find the fortune they’ve come to seek.

With unforeseen tragedies on the horizon, Clara’s time in the dusty town will truly test the limits of her fierceness and determination.

How did you first hear of Clara Saunders and decide to write a story based on her life? Was Clara a relative?
We were almost at the end of the editing stage of the book before I knew that my sister-in-law’s husband is Clara Saunder’s grandson! So that’s obviously not why I chose to write about her. I was researching ‘children on the goldfields’ because I wanted to write a goldfields story, but felt that so many stories had already been written about it that I needed a new angle. Clara was the only child I found. Because of the harsh conditions —like lack of water and food, only tents to live in, heat, dust and flies — the women and children mostly stayed at home.

How did you go about your research for Goldfields Girl?
I tried Google first. Then I went to the Battye Library (on the 3rd floor of the State Library of WA). I felt like a detective because she wasn’t easy to find. And when I found the transcript of her ‘Memories’ I was so excited I virtually danced around the Library Reading Room. The librarian was a bit shocked.

How long did it take you to write the book?
It took about two years to write the book, then another two years to find the right publisher and go through all the usual editing and rewriting stages.

Did you have to leave anything out of the book?
I have only told the story of Clara’s life from 1892 to 1894, so I have left a lot out. but I didn’t change any of the facts — just added some dialogue to make the story more interesting to read.

How do you come up with the titles for your books?
I am hopeless with titles. I’ve lost count of how many Goldfields Girl had. I usually change them myself a couple of times, then the marketing team doesn’t like the one I have come up with so we work on it together. They know a whole lot more about what works for readers and bookshops, so I’m usually happy to go with what they suggest in the end.

Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to write stories based on real-life events?
You do need to do a lot of careful research when you base your story on real events. But I love doing the research. It’s fascinating to read about how people lived back then. I usually find out a lot more than I need to know, but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll get to use some of it in another book down the track.


Click here to read a sample chapter Goldfields Girl by Elaine Forrestal (book cover)(thanks to Fremantle Press)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes

Click here for a Goldfield’s Girl crossword activity

Click here to see two 1894 photos of Clara Saunders (in a blog post by Elaine Forrestal)

Visit Elaine Forrestal’s website to find out more about her and her books:

Goldfields Girl is out now in bookstores and libraries!

Posted in authors, interviews

Catch a Falling Star: An interview with Meg McKinlay


Meg McKinlay is an award-winning children’s writer and poet. She has published seventeen books for children, ranging from picture books through to young adult novels, and a collection of poetry for adults.

Meg lives with her family near the ocean in Fremantle and spends most of her time cooking up books. Her latest titles are Let Me Sleep, Sheep! (illustrated by Leila Rudge) and Catch a Falling Star, both published in 2019.

A bit about Catch a Falling Star:

It’s 1979 and the sky is falling. Skylab, that is. Somewhere high above Frankie Avery, one of the world’s first space stations is tumbling to Earth. And rushing back with it are old memories. Things twelve-year-old Frankie thought she’d forgotten. Things her mum won’t talk about, and which her little brother Newt never knew. Only … did he? Does he? Because as Skylab circles closer, Newt starts acting strangely. And while the world watches the sky, Frankie keeps her own eyes on Newt. Because if anyone’s going to keep him safe, it’s her. It always has been. But maybe this is something bigger than splinters and spiders and sleepwalking. Maybe a space station isn’t the only thing heading straight for calamity.

We’re very pleased to welcome Meg McKinlay to Alphabet Soup today.

Image: Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlayWriting a book: Pen and paper? Or straight into the computer?
Pen and paper for fragments and scribblings, the little snatches of stuff that might eventually turn into something. These are all entered into the computer for ease of access and potential future fiddling. When I’m actively working on a story, computer always; I do far too much chopping and changing, back-stitching and cross-stitching and general gnashing of teeth, to work any other way. When it’s time for major editing and re-drafting, I’ll often print out sections and scribble across them. I find this very freeing, and having things on paper helps me sort things in my head; looking at the hard copy gives me a different sort of sense of chapters and pacing and balance.

Catch a Falling Star is historical fiction and you’ve talked about growing up in the time it was set. Does that mean you didn’t need to do any research for this book?
Hahahahaha. No. I rather foolishly thought the only research I’d need to do would be about Skylab – checking old newspaper accounts, getting the timeline right, that sort of thing. But I quickly realised that even though I have very vivid memories of this period, those memories are specific and personal and don’t necessarily generalise in the way I needed – for example, I grew up in country Victoria but Catch A Falling Star is set in country Western Australia. And it also became clear that there really is nothing reliable about memory; I had mis-remembered all kinds of things, and failed to notice gradual changes in things, such as language, which is hugely important if you want to capture a particular time period with any authenticity.

I ended up doing heaps of research and having so much interesting material I wanted to stuff into the book, which is also something you have to be careful about. I reflected on the research and remembering process in more detail here:

When you were writing Catch a Falling Star, did you do anything special to put yourself in the era before you sat down to a writing session? (e.g. listen to music, use a corkboard)
No, I know some writers gather all kinds of reference and ‘mood board’-type materials but I never do anything like this. I really just relied on tapping into my own childhood feelings from that time; this is something I find very natural and tends to bring sensory memories along with it. It’s not something I consciously do before a writing session in any case. I just sit down and drop into the voice of the character and the rest comes along with that.

Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to try writing a piece of historical fiction?
This is a little tricky for me as I don’t really think like this myself. I’m not a writer who would ever say, ‘I’d like to try writing historical fiction.’ I’m always led by the characters and story and if that takes me into the historical space then so be it. So that’s my first thought. Don’t approach things in that way; don’t sit down to write historical fiction for the sake of it.

With that said, if you find yourself writing historical fiction, I would say read read read as much incidental stuff as you can about the era you’re working in. You may have already zoomed in on your character and aspects of your story but it’s really important to zoom out and read widely about the time period, with no particular goal in mind. if your research consists only of looking for facts, you’ll have a very narrow view of things, and will miss out on discovering lots of little nuggets of information and anecdotes that will send your story in unexpected and interesting directions. On the flipside of that, you must resist the temptation to use every interesting nugget you find. It’s so important always to have a clear sense of what your story is about and keep the focus on that without getting too distracted by shiny things that have nothing to do with it.

Bella and the wandering house by Meg McKinlayCan you tell us something about what you’re working on next?
Yes! I find myself unexpectedly in sequel land. I’ve just finished a sequel to my chapter book Bella and the Wandering House. This has taken me much longer than it should have and there’s a good chance my publisher has forgotten about my existence, but if it ever gets published it will be a ton of fun. A Single Stone by Meg McKinlayNext up is a sequel to my middle grade/young adult novel A Single Stone, which will no doubt also take me much longer than it should. And I have about half a dozen picture books in my mental queue which I hope to work on in the cracks of that longer project. And maybe some poems and and and … I think you can see why everything takes me longer than it should! 🙂

Awesome extras:

Image: Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlayRead a review of the book by St Thomas Primary students

Click here for Teachers’ Notes (PDF by Robyn Sheahan-Bright)

Click here for a 2016 interview with Meg McKinlay

Click here to visit the author’s website

Catch a Falling Star is out now! Look for it at your nearest bookstore or library.

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Matilda

Book review: In the Lamplight

In the Lamplight by Dianne Wolfer and illustrated by Brian SimmondsREVIEWED BY MATILDA, 12, WA

In the Lamplight by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781925591224 

Matilda borrowed this book from the library. 

This is a diary-style illustrated book about World War I. It’s by the same illustrator and author of Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy.

In the Lamplight is about a girl called Rose growing up in England. She joined the hospital to help out, hoping to become a nurse one day. In her diary you see her hopes and ambitions, postcards, photographs, and letters. There are also letters from soldiers to their loved ones, and sometimes from her brother to her. The book switches between a diary and a novel format.

I liked how it shows a woman’s perspective of the war and how young some of the helpers were.

Readers who enjoyed Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy will want to read this book. I’d recommend it for 9 to 13 year olds.

Read a sample chapter at the publisher’s website.  

Matilda is one of our regular book reviewers. You can read Matilda’s other reviews here. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Matilda

Book review: Meet Alice


Meet Alice cover

Matilda reviewed her own copy of this book.

Meet Alice by Davina Bell, ill. Lucia Masciullo, Puffin Books, ISBN 9780143306290

This is the first book of four in a series about a girl who likes ballet and dreams to be a professional dancer. When war hits, that dream is proving to be hard, especially when her ballet teacher is taken away because she is part German. Alice has to face the truth that everything is not okay.

I really liked this book because I love ballet too. This is one of the Our Australian Girl series and I’ve been reading books from this series for a long time. This is one of the best series I have read from their range.

I recommend this book for children aged 8+. It’s very educational.

Matilda is one of our regular book reviewers. Her most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of  The Flyaway Girls. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Kailani, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Audrey of the Outback

Audrey of the Outback by Christine Harris, ill. Ann James, Little Hare, ISBN 9781742977959

audrey of the outback



Kailani borrowed this book from the local library.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in the outback?

Audrey lives with her dad, her mum, her little brother Douglas, her older brother Price and her special friend in the south Australian desert. Audrey’s dad spends most of his life away from home on the back of a camel. Audrey’s mum stays at home looking after the kids and doing cooking. Audrey is 8 years old and is always asking questions and has lots of clever ideas. Douglas is 3 and likes pretending to be a bird. Price is 12 and takes on the “Dad’s role” when Dad is away. And Audrey’s special friend? You will need to read the book to find out about him.

Lots of swaggies set up camp near Audrey’s house and will often ask for supplies in trade for doing some jobs. One day an unusual swaggie comes to their door and the next morning Audrey sets out to find out about him. After a talk with the swaggie Audrey comes up with the first of many ideas …

I really liked this book, Audrey is very clever and light-hearted. My favourite part of the book was when Audrey and Price blow up the dunny!!! Audrey of the Outback is suitable for any ages especially kids 5 to 11 years.

If you have ever wondered what it is like to live in the desert, meet a swaggie and blow up a dunny, you will really like this book.

Kailani lives on K’gari (Fraser Island) in QLD. She really likes reading books, especially about horses, girls’ adventures, nature, the environment and some historical fiction. In 2014 her family travelled around Australia and now Kailani is writing her own blog called Kailani’s Island Life.

Kailani’s most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of The Quicksand Pony. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Celine, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Pharaoh, the boy who conquered the Nile

Pharaoh, the Boy Who Conquered the Nile by Jackie French, HarperCollins, ISBN 9780207200823

Pharaoh cover


Celine reviewed her own copy of this book.

Narmer is 12 years old, and is often referred to as ‘The Golden One’, by the people of his town because they believe that he has potential to be a ruler, to follow the footsteps of his father, the king. Although he is the second-born child, he is preferred by his father and was therefore chosen to be the heir to the throne. His older brother Hawk, is a pleasant and kind brother, and always treats Narmer with care. But as the days pass by, and Narmer becomes more worthy of the throne, Hawk may not want to be the gentle, caring brother anymore.

After an awful incident with a crocodile, Narmer finds that he has been left with scars and wounds that may disable him forever. He may not have the strength to lead his people anymore. When a foreign trader arrives from another town to offer goods for gold, Narmer discovers his gift for trading. He decides to become one of the trader’s apprentices, and learns from the trader’s ways, as the trader and his travelling group continue to journey across the Nile. Will Narmer be able to survive this journey? What will become of his future?

I admire Narmer because when times were tough, Narmer was resilient. He was daring, even as a little boy. This book is suitable for children aged 11 to 14 who enjoy historical fiction. If I were part of the Children’s Reading Council, I would award this book with the highest commendations. It is a must read for everyone!

Celine is one of our regular book reviewers. Her most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of  My Life as an Alphabet. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Pippa

Book review: Verity Sparks, Lost and Found

Verity Sparks, Lost and Found by Susan Green, ISBN 9781921977886, Walker Books Australia

Verity Sparks, Lost and Found


Pippa borrowed a copy of this book from the library.

Melbourne, 1879

Verity Sparks-Savinov has moved to a new country, with a new father and a brand-new mystery to solve. She has taken a new name, and made new friends. But she has lost her gift, her ability to find lost objects.

Her father is eager for her to start at a select school for young ladies, but Verity isn’t so keen. She is more interested in the Ecclethorpe mystery, which seems to be leading them to dead ends. She meets a new friend, Poppy, and tries to find out who Lavinia O’Day is and why she is so sickly and frail.

When her father is missing off a sunken ship in Queensland, will she find her gift before it is too late?

I think this book is as good as the first book (The Truth about Verity Sparks), but you need to read that first. I rate it 9/10.

Pippa is one of our regular book reviewers. Her most recent review (if you don’t count this one!) was The Truth about Verity Sparks.  If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!