Archive for the ‘Dust’ Category

First day back at my desk means dealing with the big things first, and looming largest is the need to honour a fallen hero of mine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABille Brown has died and I find myself grieving for the most famous man I never knew, growing up in Biloela.

‘I am not a star,’ he wrote in one of his vivid memoir pieces for Griffith Review, ‘but I am famous in Biloela, where I grew up, and all fame is local and subject to the indifferent stoke of time’s air brush.’

When I was growing up, he was already a legend-in-the-making, a decade older, long-gone from Biloela, and making his name at the Royal Shakespeare Company by the time I finished high school.

I didn’t know him back then, but I knew his mum, the ever-gracious and beautifully spoken Mrs Maureen Brown, who worked in Creevey’s music store in Biloela.  Mum and I would buy our Abba and Neil Diamond records and Mrs Brown would keep us up-to-date on Bille’s latest and most thrilling achievements on the stage in Brisbane, and then good heavens, in London, while keeping an eagle eye on the shenanagans of the store’s teenaged browsers.

I remember her once pointedly asking my good mate Kevin if she could help him after he’d spent an inordinate amount of time looking but not buying.

‘Um,’ he hesitated, searching the shelves behind her for inspiration. ‘Could I have a can of Coke, please?’

‘This is a music store,’ she intoned in her mellifluous voice. ‘We don’t sell cans of Coca Cola.’

‘Oh,’ said Kevin dead-pan, ‘could I have a can of Fanta then please?’

Bille Brown MemorialBille roared when I told him that story decades later. As he did when my friend Sue recounted her favourite Mrs Brown story in which that most proper of matriarchs kept a secret stash of contraband tapes of banned musicals like HAIR under the counter for special customers like Sue’s Mum.

His was a generous spirit that always found time for anyone with a Biloela connection. He proved it by launching a small novel called Dust by an unknown writer for no reason other than it was set in Biloela, the landscape of their youth.

In his short memoir piece Playing with fire published by Griffith Review, he finished a poignant tale from his childhood with the telling rider: ‘What happened, happened, but not quite as well as a short story can lead you to believe. All memory is fiction and has different rules from life.’

Like great fiction, Bille Brown will live on in many memories, not just as a  boisterous giant of the theatre, an actor, a playwright, and an evocative writer, but as a big-hearted man who not only inspired generation of kids to dream big dreams, but who helped in his own inimitable style to make them come true.

My deepest sympathies to his sister Rita, friends and family for their loss. Bille was a great presence and leaves both a huge gap and a lasting legacy.

A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at the Playhouse QPAC on 4 February at 4pm. I hope to see you there.

Sending air kisses into the ether – mmwa – to everyone who voted for Dust and Henry Hoey Hobson in THE BIG READ celebrating stories set in Queensland.

Thanks to you, they’ve both come in winners – Dust for Older Readers, and Henry Hoey Hobson in the Younger Readers category.

Saturday’s announcement at the State Library of Queensland by Book Links Qld as part of the National Year of Reading was a great way to end Book Week …and an every better kickstart to Literacy Week (oh yes, the big weeks just keep on rolling for we wranglers of words).

Tomorrow I’m off to Calvary Christian College, and then on to All Hallows and Mt Alvernia later in the week to talk books and writing to secondary students.

And for Brisbane lovers of picture books, please feel free to drop by Riverbend Books at 5pm on Tuesday 28 August for the launch of Gus Gordon’s gorgeous Herman and Rosie. We’d love to see you there. :)

Is Christine Bongers dead?

Lordy me, I hope not. As my dear cousin pointed out, you wouldn’t want to find out you’d carked it from the internet.

I can always tell when some teacher, somewhere, forces her kids to do an assignment on one of my books.

My blog stats start showing an upsurge of interest in the darnedest of things.

Like my age…my date of birth…what hospital I was born in…(I know, I know, why would anyone want to know that??)

But just for the record, it was Biloela Hospital, OK?

I clocked in at seven-and-a-half pounds with a lovely thatch of dark hair on a hot night in late February, and spent the 1960s proving that Biloela was no backwater when it came to fashion.

And for all those students incessantly googling my date of birth, allow me to put you out of your misery.

I am exactly the same age as my protagonist Cecilia Maria in Dust.

If you read the book, you should be able to figure it out. ;)

You know that old cliche “Never in my wildest dreams”?

Well, I never say that.

Because as we all know, good writers avoid cliches like the plague…and in my wildest dreams, I’m usually fighting a one-woman guerrilla war against Columbian drug lords, or facing down a serial killer threatening a library full of school children or -

OK, so I  like my dreams to have exciting plot lines. But I like to keep them real too….

So never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would ever write the following words….

I just made a list with David Malouf!


No, honestly, I did. Truly. I’m not even lying.

You can click here if you don’t believe me. And here.

And here.

See, I told you!

Thanks to the good folks from Book Links (QLD) and their brilliant Big Read idea, everyone will get a chance over the next few months to vote on their favourite Queensland book for young people.

I’m still giddy with excitement. Who would have thunk Henry Hoey Hobson and Dust would both get a guernsey?

The only problem with making a list with David Malouf, Nick Earls, Michael Gerard Bauer, and all those other incredibly talented writers, is that you can bet your bottom dollar that just about everyone will be voting for one of them.

So Mum, if you’re reading this, there’s one little thing I need you to do for me….

Just click on this link here … and let your conscience be your guide.

No pressure.

lots of love from your only daughter ever

Chrissy xx

Funny, what inspires us as writers.

I’ve never been much of a swimmer myself. I can manage a stately breast stroke in a flowered bathing cap, but it just isn’t my thing, if you know what I mean.

I grew up on a farm, in the middle of a drought, and was ten years old before our gully filled for the first time.

I nearly drowned in the Biloela pool in primary school, trying to swim its breadth with my eyes squeezed shut against the unfamiliar chemicals. I listed to the right  and ended up swimming an elongated dog’s leg before finally touching, exhausted, at the deep end.

Infrequent trips to the placid waters of Yeppoon and Tannum Sands didn’t teach me that much. Though I remember the excitement of my brother nearly drowning and afterwards discovering a tiny fish, still alive, in his Speedos.

It surprises me still that I grew up to marry a man with salt water in his veins, a man who is grounded in water. It surprises me even more that our children can swim and that I loved them enough to spend a large chunk of the past 18 years poolside.

But what surprises me the most is how much I’ve grown to love the friendships and sense of community surrounding our little neighbourhood swim club.

For the past nine years, every Spring and Summer, we’ve put out the lane ropes on a Saturday afternoon, gossiped with our friends and cheered our littlies on as they strove for personal best times in their races against the stop watch.

Dozens of trophies crowd our kids’ shelves including one for “Most Attentive and Best Behaved” and another for “The Esther Williams Award for Best Technique”.

My own trophy shelf is bare, but for one – awarded for debating, in 1977 – until now.

Because now I too have a swimming trophy. Awarded last Saturday at my last Swim Club meeting after nine fun-filled years. My youngest is moving on, so we will too, leaving the Club to the up-and-coming young families.

They’ll miss me on the megaphone, they say. I know I’ll miss them. But I’ll have something special to remember them by ….

My first ever swimming trophy and farewell gift with an inscription that reads “love KGASC”…

And I do.

Because without all those Saturdays poolside with the Kelvin Grove Amateur Swim Club, I would never have written my children’s novel Henry Hoey Hobson about a boy who nearly drowns in the turbulent waters of Year Seven.

So thanks KGASC for the inspiration. It’s funny where we writers find it, isn’t it?

A little surprise in my letterbox today.

A crisp, cream-coloured envelope from the Office of the Hon. Simon Crean MP.

Inside, the letterhead thoughtfully centres the words Minister for the Arts under his other accomplishments.

Aaah, the penny plinks. I know what this is  – my publisher entered Dust into the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – it’s an acknowledgement letting me know that my book didn’t win (which of course, I already knew).

That honour went to fellow Woolshed author Bill Condon in the YA category for his fine novel CONFESSIONS OF A LIAR, THIEF AND FAILED SEX GOD, and to Lorraine Marwood’s Star Jumps in the children’s section.

Then my eyes lock onto the following paragraph:

‘Although only nine works were selected for the children’s fiction short-list, the judging panel felt it appropriate to recommend your book to the Prime Minister and me as a highly commended work. You should be very proud of this recognition for Dust.

Wow. I am. Really.

I had no idea that Dust had made a long list and been Highly Commended in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Thanks for letting me know, Mr Crean, that is awesome news.

Mind you, I also had no idea that it had been entered in the Children’s category, which requires the work to be suitable for children aged 0 to 12 years.

Most of the schools that I know are studying Dust have set it for Years 8 and 9 and older. The CBCA listed it as Notable Book for Older Readers (ie 12 years and over). The NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge 2011 lists it for Years 7-9, but adds the rider “Contains adult themes. Usually read by students in Years 9, 10 and above.’

So, not sure how it scraped into the 0-12 years category, but will take any kudos, any way they come.

Thank you, Mr Crean, I really do appreciate you letting me know. :)

People love to know where we writers get our ideas.

They seem to think that ideas are elusive, and that we find them in secret places where others never think to look.

The truth is that ideas spring at us from all directions.

Like hungry cats, they clamour for our attention, rubbing up against our legs, jumping onto our laps, and whingeing till they get what they want.

Some inevitably drift off, bored with our lack of response.

Others are more persistent, digging in their claws and refusing to let go till we give in to their demands.

Henry Hoey Hobson was a clawer. He arrived unannounced, when I was busy working on a crime novel, and waiting for my novel Dust to come out.

A likeable kid that nobody liked. How was that even possible?

I felt for him, even pulled out a pen and jotted down his details, then shooed him away so that I could concentrate on my work-in-progress.

But he was a persistent little begger, sneaking into my thoughts, and into my dreams, until finally I got out of bed and started writing his story.

Now there’s another one clawing at me.

I’ve been pushing Intruder away with my foot, while I got through the month of Book Week, the school visits, the festivals and conferences.

It’s shredded my pants up to the knee, and if I don’t get to it soon, there will be blood.

This morning I shoved it, hissing and spitting, into a hold-all, to take it up the coast for two weeks.

There’s no internet. No telephone. No mail deliveries. And they’re predicting rain.

Wish me luck. It’s time to feed the beast.

It was a heart-stopping moment, reading my name in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s list of Notable Books for 2010.

I checked three times and it was still there.  Alongside many new and old writing friends including Michael Gerard Bauer, John Danalis, Gus Gordon, Kate Constable, Sam Bowring and Penny Tangey.

But wonderful books like Belinda Jeffrey’s Brown Skin Blue and Kirsty Eagar’s Raw Blue were missing.

I’m new to this game.  Dust is the first manuscript I ever wrote, the first book I ever had published.

I feel privileged to be on the Notable list, and am proud that something I created is making its own way in the world and finding new friends.

I’d like to congratulate all the Notables for 2010, and especially those short-listed for the Book of the Year Awards.

I don’t envy the CBCA judges the daunting task of whittling down hundreds of books to a Notables list and then to a ShortList.  I don’t envy them at all. But I do wish that this year, the lists had been a little longer.


If you haven’t yet read Dust, do not click on this link. It will take you with the speed of light to the newly posted teachers notes (which might spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet read the book).

If you don’t care about spoilers, click here with impunity; Judith Ridge’s incisive discussion of the text was illuminating, even for me (and I wrote the damn thing).

[Judith Ridge is a longtime advocate of children’s and young adult literature. She is a Churchill Fellow, has an MA in children's literature, and has written teachers’ notes for books by Melina Marchetta, MT Anderson and Morris Gleitzman. You can check out her Misrule website here and her blog here.]

P1010110I believe the landscape of our youth calls to us as writers and I now have the faux Hereford-skin Ugg boots to prove it.

I squealed like a girlie when I spotted them in the Biloela shoe shop last week. Rocked by memories of Goggles and Hercules, our pet Hereford bulls, sauntering endlessly around our paddocks, oblivious to the three kids on each of their backs… I just had to have those boots.

My daughter is eleven and hates everything I try to buy her. “Put that down, Mum,” she orders when I pick up anything that in my wilder dreams she might like. “Just put it down, and walk away.”

But she was 600 km away in Brisbane and they were the last pair in the shop. And they were her size. Or close enough. A perfect souvenir of a fantastic homecoming.

I’d visited my old alma maters Jambin State School and Biloela State High, as well as Redeemer Lutheran School (the Principal used to sit behind me on the high school bus, so she had reason enough to be nervous about my visit). I made a point of sitting up tall as houses, being on my very best behaviour, and managed to avoid being sent to the office.

Besties from high school!!The previous night I had launched my novel Dust to a  hometown crowd. Family, friends and well-wishers including my two besties from high school and Mrs Peters, a teacher from my primary school, all came to celebrate.

Local cattle baron, Geoff Maynard, the first boy I ever kissed, launched the book. “Is it like launching a ship?” he asked. “Should I bring champagne and a rope?” He stole the show with a version of long ago that will pass into local legend for those lucky enough to be present on the night. For the record, here’s my version…

We were seven or eight years old, playing the leads in the Jambin State School’s prehistoric play at the local hall. He was distracted by whether his too-short cave-man skirt was covering his undescended testicles and mis-timed the air-kiss that was supposed to accompany the line “Hi Honey, I’m home!” Our lips collided, I forgot my lines, and the next thing I knew we’d aged forty years, my first novel had been published and a tattooed barman was pouring me a Moet at the Settlers Inn in Biloela.P1010125

Now, how’s that for a good ending to a story?