Archive for the ‘Dust’ Category

Jambin floodsThe older I get, the more I suspect happiness is linked to low expectations.

I expected nothing from yesterday’s birthday, had planned nothing in the aftermath of floods and other dramas, and yet 24 hours later I’m still aglow from the unexpected pleasures it brought.

A romantic dinner with hubby the night before… Great Italian with the kids last night. A call from an old pal – celebrating a 43 year friendship that’s still going strong. Another from my brother – hearing his voice on the phone after a tracheotomy tube had prevented him from speaking for a week was the most joyful of birthday presents.

All six of my brothers remembered, even the one on night shift in cyclone-torn Central Queensland. Such great blokes, and lord knows, they all had more important things on their minds.

The 42 people evacuated by helicopter from flood-devastated Jambin included one brother, his wife, their daughter and granddaughter, and another nephew and niece.

Water surrounded my family’s homes in Biloela and Jambin, but didn’t make it inside, thank the high heavens. Chooks and dogs survived, but not the four black snakes my brother killed while clearing debris from around his front steps.Mum's house in Bilo

A neighbour across from my Mum admitted panicking as the rising waters turned the surrounding streets into canals. ‘Oh, I wasn’t worried,’ said my 84 year old mother. ‘I’ve been through this before.’ And she has. More times than most. Despite power failures and unreliable telephone coverage, she somehow managed to send me a beautiful bunch of flowers, bless her.

The floods of the 1970s made an enormous impression on me as a teenager and decades later featured in my first novel Dust‘Silently, like a thief, the flood had crept up on us, stealing our land, our paddocks, the path to our back door, our bottom step.’ This year, the flood waters made it two steps higher.

poolBack in the 70s, I was a Suzi Quatro-obsessed teen.

And in a strange twist of fate, as the flood waters recede yet again in Central Queensland and the indomitable folk begin yet another clean up, I’ll be reliving that teenaged obsession.

A good friend has surprised me with tickets to Suzi Quatro for my birthday – and try as I might to keep my expectations low, they keep bubbling up.

Can the Can, baby, we’ll be Devil Gate Driving tonight!Quatro, Suzi

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. :)