Archive for the ‘Dust’ Category

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?

P1010192The last time I was this excited was my wedding day. I had practiced my vows until word perfect, but at the altar, went blank. The minister took pity on me and prompted me gently, “I, Christine Mary Bongers…” I stared at him dumbly. “Who??”

So this time, I took notes and the words came tumbling out…Stories of Bille Brown, a legend in our home town of Biloela. Treading the boards of the Royal Shakespeare Company, acting opposite Billy Connelly, John Clease and Jamie Lee Curtis, starring as the Prime Minister in The Dish, opening his new play The School of Arts at QTC in July.

P1010198Bil was, and is, an inspiration to people like me. For kids from the bush, 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.

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

Eight months ago, when I signed with Random House Australia, I confided in a friend that if I could choose anyone in the world to launch my book, I would choose the most famous person that I never knew, growing up in Biloela.

P1010213And he came. Bille Brown launched Dust; proof positive that if you dare to dream, all things become possible.

Friends, family, fellow writers, and people who were simply happy to celebrate a new author and a new book being launched into the world, packed the deck at Riverbend Books. They bought every single copy of Dust in the shop, then turned round and put in their orders for more.

What a night. And if that wasn’t enough, I woke up to this, fellow writer Lynn Priestley’s beautiful post on the evening. I’m still pinching myself.
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I just had to steal that caption from Gary Kemble’s article in the March edition of Writing Queensland, because (she says, trying to keep the excited quiver out of her voice) he is talking about me. Well, my books. Or, to be more precise, my soon-to-published novel Dust and the WIP.

Avoiding ‘Second-Novel Syndrome’ looks at how authors cope with the pressure of writing numero duo after their first novel has hit the shelves.

I must have snuck in on a technicality because my first novel doesn’t hit the bookshelves till July, but who cares? Not me. I am delighted to be gracing the pages of QWC’s flagship publication, Writing Queensland, and in such fine company too.

There I am on page six, sandwiched in between the charming Nick Earls, best-selling author of is-it-fourteen-novels-now, Nick?, Will Elliott, winner of the inaugural ABC Fiction Prize, Clarion South graduate Deborah Kalin, and my very favourite vampire writer, Jason Nahrung.

To read the full article, grab your latest copy of WQ, or if you don’t have one, click on the Qld Writers Centre link on the right and subscribe. QWC is da bomb, and you get a monthly WQ free as part of your membership. To read the full text of my interview with Gary Kemble, simply scroll down…

Q. Can you tell me a bit about the process of writing Dust and now The Lonely Dead? Was there any overlap between the two — or did you start writing The Lonely Dead after finishing Dust?

I started writing Dust when I still had a pre-schooler at home, chucking balls at the back of my head to get my attention. It was written in fits and bursts, sometimes months apart, over two or three years, and it showed. The first draft was short-listed for the Varuna Manuscript Development Awards, but it really could have done without those early back-of-skull distractions.

A harsh but fair manuscript appraisal from Driftwood slapped some sense into me and I decided to rewrite it from scratch as part of a Master of Arts in Youth Writing at QUT. I simultaneously did Year of the Novel with Veny Armanno and the combination taught me everything I should have known, but didn’t, about writing that first novel.

It took me six months of solid work to rewrite Dust. Finishing it was hard – I’m like Tank the penguin in Surf’s Up, happy to hole up in my room, endlessly polishing my ladies. But I’d given myself a 12-month deadline to finish my Masters, so I forced myself to down tools and submit. Then I had six weeks off and wrote nothing more complex than a grocery list.

I officially started writing The Lonely Dead on 19 May 2008, but I had already written a couple of character sketches a year or so earlier, to fill in one of those ghastly hiatuses where you are waiting to hear something, from someone, about your first novel. So the first 10,000 words almost wrote themselves.

The Lonely Dead is like a smart younger sister – watching and listening and taking in all the mistakes of the first-born. It thinks it knows the pitfalls to avoid, but being the willful child of a distracted mother, it will, no doubt, find new and exciting mistakes to make and call its own.

Q. Was there any pressure from any quarters to write something more similar to Dust, to ‘establish your name’ with readers?

No. Leonie Tyle’s Woolshed Press, an Imprint of Random House Australia, is publishing Dust. Leonie did ask if I had plans for any other YA novels, and I do, but I want to finish The Lonely Dead first. She’s happy with that and told me to put as much heart into it as I did with Dust. She also says RHA is excited that my next novel is adult and crime, so everyone seems happy with where I’m heading.

Q. At what point did you find a publisher for Dust? Had you already started work on The Lonely Dead?

I had specifically asked for Leonie to examine my Masters because she is one of the country’s most respected publishers of young adult fiction and I wanted her to read every word of my manuscript and tell me what she thought of it. Luckily, she loved it.

I enrolled in Year of the Edit with Kim Wilkins to help polish the final draft that went to RHA in September last year. By the time Dust made it through their Acquisitions process in October, I was almost 20,000 words into The Lonely Dead.

Q. How did finding a home for Dust affect your writing, if at all? Did you gain confidence from the sale, or did you feel like the pressure was on?

I was so excited about Dust, I couldn’t concentrate on The Lonely Dead at all. It was weeks before I got back to writing my second novel, and even now, there are ongoing distractions – revisions, line edits, blurbs, bios, marketing requirements, interviews with Writing Queensland, lol. But hey, I’m not complaining, this is the dream, the goal, what I’ve been working towards for the last few years. It’s all good.

Getting a publisher was important for me. I was too vain for vanity publishing and wanted the affirmation of a commercial publisher believing in my work enough to invest in it. So yes, the sale gave me confidence in my writing. Also, the fact that I was 20,000 words into The Lonely Dead, meant I was spared the anxiety of deciding what to do next.

Q. The Lonely Dead sounds like a very different book to Dust — different target audience and presumably very different content. Was this a conscious decision — to get away from Dust and so avoid the risk of repeating yourself?

I’m not sure that what I write is a conscious decision. I started Dust without a clear vision of where I was going, but with a firm conviction that I had to set my story in that time and place. Adults will enjoy it for the humour and authenticity of the 1970s setting, but Dust is a young adult novel because it is so clearly in the voice of an adolescent – a cracker of a kid, with a great take on the world.

The Lonely Dead on the other hand is adult, crime and contemporary. The main characters and situation came to me out of nowhere: one dead, one guarding a secret, one determined to discover the truth. But there can be no secrets in a murder investigation, so the conflict was there from the beginning.

This time round I get to play with multiple viewpoints, which is wonderfully challenging after writing a first-person narrative. I also get to play with ideas, words and language that appeal to grown-ups and that’s fun too.

I can’t see a problem with tackling something so very different in my second novel. The British writer Kate Atkinson is an inspiration in that sense. Her debut novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. She then went on to write a string of Jackson Brodie crime bestsellers. And wouldn’t we all love to do that!