Christine Bongers

As a kid, I loved reading Zane Grey westerns and Jack London adventures

I’d ride horses bareback and fight boys with sticks, then retire to my room with my uber-Barbie (the one with the swivel waist and the bendable knees).

I devoured Jane Eyre, Ann of Green Gables and Little Women with the same avid obsession as Reach for the Sky, the true story of Douglas Bader, the legless World War II fighter pilot.

In my dreams I was Black Canary from the Justice League of America comics, but it was Green Lantern’s motto that I would chant when alone:

In brightest day and blackest night

No evil Shall escape my sight

For those who worship evil’s might

Beware the power of Green Lantern’s light!

My childhood idols included Catwoman, the Lone Ranger, Emma Peel (for her lethal elegance) and Jane Russell (for her smart mouth).

I grew up to…

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Riverbend Books

Big shout out to bookstores everywhere, especially the independent stores that do so much to promote and support local authors, literacy and life as we know it.

Yes, I am talking to you Riverbend Books and Avid Reader.

Thank you for your tireless championing of all things literary, stocking ALL the best books, ALL the time, and ALWAYS giving the best advice on what to buy.

Exactly 2For instance, I would NEVER have thought of buying a book called Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World … but yes, hubba hubby loooooved it.

Who would have thunk?

So, if you haven’t already done so, get yourselves down to a bookstore now, buy Dad that Father’s Day present (and a little cheeky something for yourself).

And have yourselves a happy Love Your Bookstore Day!

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Here’s wishing a happy, heavenly birthday to a fallen hero of mine, the actor, producer and playwright, Bille Brown.

A decade older and long gone from Biloela State High by the time I got there, Bille was already treading the boards at the Royal Shakespeare Company by the time I finished high school.

But for kids like me from the bush, he was an inspiration. He opened up an endless world of possibility beyond the farm, the town, the obscure little corner of Queensland into which we had been born.

P1010198He allowed us all to dream big dreams and dare to believe that if we worked hard enough, we could make them come true.

He made one of mine come true when he launched my first novel Dust – a kindness I will never forget.

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The Big Director’s Chair – a memorial to actor/producer/playwright – Bille Brown AM.

I think of him, still, six years after his death. When I go home to Biloela, the town where we both grew up. And when I’m in Brisbane, my home for many decades now.

 

In Bilo, I often drive past the giant director’s chair dedicated to him in Lion’s Park.

If you bother to stop, you’ll find these words, so typical of the man, on the plaque:

“It should not just be a monument to me but an encouragement to others to pursue what they are good at and love doing.”

 

Bless. It is and does.

In Brisbane, I often drive past Queensland’s beautiful new Bille Brown Theatre. Next time you’re there, look for Row F Seat 34.

It’s a much smaller chair, but one also dedicated to Bille Brown’s memory.

From me to you, Bille. Happy Birthday.

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20181214_095715.jpgAfter nine years as a novelist, bad reviews still hit me in the gut, but the good ones, man, they really really touch my heart.

This week, I was privileged to receive twenty-six letters from the Soldiers Point Public School on the NSW Central coast that were the best early Christmas present a writer could ask for.

The first, from Assistant Principal Rachel Wagland, was full of heart, reminding me, once again, why I love writing for young people.

“This is now the fourth time I have used your novel Henry Hoey Hobson as part of my English unit and I cannot express enough the pure enjoyment that both myself and the students get from reading it.”

“If only I had a camera on the children at times when reading parts of the book. They were often on their knees in anticipation or constantly begging for more to be read at the end of each chapter. It is simply my favourite book and that is saying something considering my obsession with Harry Potter.”

Thanks Rachel, that made me laugh! But by the end of the letter, I found myself in tears:

There are a few children that have difficult home lives in my class and the connections they made with Henry were heart-warming. I think also they really loved the ‘happy ending’ so to speak. There is enough sadness in the world and your story was incredibly uplifting … I have yet to find such a quality book that matches Henry Hoey Hobson to read to my Stage Three children and apart from ‘The Secret Garden’ it has been the only book that on finishing the reading, the children stood up and applauded.

20181214_095749 (2)It is incredibly humbling to hear such feedback from the very people for whom I wrote this book: kids who’ve made it through tough times; teachers who care and want to build literacy, resilience and life skills in their classrooms.

I have written back, of course, and the children were ‘stoked’ to hear that their letters would feature on my website.

[Spoiler Alert: Many of these letters reveal the twist ending so read the book first BEFORE clicking on this link – Soldiers Point Public School – Henry Hoey Hobson Letters ]

Seriously though I hope you enjoy my early Christmas present as much as I did.

I do a lot of school visits and would love to visit Soldier’s Point to thank them in person for being part of Team Triple H. The nine-hour drive from Brisbane makes it a bit tricky, but thanks anyway Year 4/5 for the generous offers of a spare bunk if I’m ever down your way! (Until then we’ll just have to settle for facetiming.)

Merry Christmas everyone and may the unexpected gifts of the season bring delight and wonder to you all.

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Inaugural St Finbarr’s LitFest with Authors Michael Gerard Bauer, Josie Montano, Sheryl Gwyther, Librarian Dominique Gardiner, Children’s Laureate Morris Gleitzman and me!

Call me biased, but little schools are a constant source of inspiration in my book.

My old alma mater, tiny Jambin State School, located in the parched heart of 1970s Queensland, was the setting for my first novel Dust.

St Ambrose’s, the little neighbourhood school at the end of the street I moved into twenty years ago, inspired Perpetual Suckers, the school setting for my second novel Henry Hoey Hobson.

St Finbarr's 2And today, it was St Finbarr’s at Ashgrove, a small community with a big heart, inspiring me all over again with its inaugural Literature Festival.

Hats off to uber-librarian Dominique Gardiner, Principal Anne Hall and St Finbarr’s P&F, for pulling off a literature festival that punches above its weight.

The all-star lineup included Australian Children’s Laureate Morris Gleitzman, and four local authors: St Finbarr’s old-boy and Book-of-the-Year-Winner Michael Gerard Bauer; Josie MontanoSheryl Gwyther and moi.

’twas a great way to cap off this year’s Book Week celebrations – and if you don’t believe me, tune into Channel 9 News on 4 September for their take on this little school with a big love of all things literary. 🙂

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reading-seussBig shout-out to Books in Homes Australia for putting more than two million books into some of Australia’s most disadvantaged homes.

I helped hand out nearly 600 books to Carole Park State School students this morning thanks to the generosity of program sponsor Mainfreight Australia.

Company representative Josh Meads remembers being on the receiving end of Books in Homes when he was a kid and is now  passing their bookpacks on to a new generation.

Love your work, guys! For more information, click here.

 

 

We learnt about the Finnish concept of Sisu – a mental toughness that kicks in when all else is exhausted – on a walking tour of Helsinki, with icy winds and snow whipping around my hubby’s unprotected ears.

(He wasn’t listening when I told him to pack a beanie and gloves, so the blizzard on arrival was a shock to his system. He’d joked on the plane ride over that it would be a balmy 24 degrees. And it was – on the Fahrenheit scale.)

While I was doing a fair impression of the Michelin Man in puffer, gortex jacket and four layers of clothes, hardy locals were showing we Aussies just how soft we really are – by stripping down to their budgie smugglers for a quick dip in the ice-trapped local pool.  

Respect, my Finnish friends. Man, you are tough. But I guess that comes with the territory when you live in a country where the mercury rarely pushes above 15 degrees. Where only five million people became legendary throughout the world for standing alone in the Winter War against overwhelming Russian forces – and surviving. That’s sisu.

 

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

Now that I’m home again, home again, jiggety jig, I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned and experienced while away.

 


Time with loved ones is more precious when travelling, the juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar giving each day a special edge.

No wonder the Dalai Lama exhorts us to step away from the everyday: ‘Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.’

This year, it was Helsinki. Where I am glad to have discovered a new word to live by.

For when the going gets tough. Sisu.