Posts Tagged ‘Dust’

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. 😉

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.

I know. A pet lamb the size of a dugong, with its own collar. What’s not to love?

But the rapture of those Grade Eight girls at Stuartholme still caught me by surprise.

Who could have guessed those old seventies photos would be such a hit?

Author talks are still a novelty for me.

Dust has only been out for eight months and this is the first time I’ve pulled out the paisley.

I’d swear that this little number on the right (made by Mum for the Biloela Show in May 1972), was one of the new generation wonder-fabrics: rayolene, a one-hundred-percent synthetic cross between rayon and crimpilene.

I could be wrong, but how could that be when I remember everything else so clearly?

The dress and matching jerkin were fully reversible. It was a warm day for May, which is why I’m not wearing the toning hat that Ma crocheted for me, the one with twin pom poms dangling from the crown on strings.

The knee boots laced around hooks; they were the envy of every girl in the valley. Bought at the Mac and East sale in Brisbane when Mum took a bit of a break from us kids. To get kidney stones out, from memory…

There’s more, but I’m saving it for my next school visit. Stuartholme College, you were great; you were the first to prompt me to pull out the paisley, but by jingo, you won’t be the last. 😉

When I took my first baby steps as a writer of fiction, it was the good folk at the Qld Writers Centre who held my hand and picked me up when I stumbled and fell.

They encouraged me to walk unassisted, and then to run. They clapped when I did cartwheels over my first book contract, and my second.

So what do you say to an organisation that has been with you every step of your writing journey?

You say, thanks. Publicly. You urge anyone with an interest in writing to do themselves a favour and join the QWC. And when that organisation asks if you’d like to be part of their blog tour, you say Hell, yeah.

QWC: Where do your words come from?

I’m tempted to say out of my fingertips, because no matter how much I plan my writing, what sprouts from the ends of my fingers when I settle at the keyboard always manages to surprise me.

For me, writing is a numinous blend of art (evoking the subconscious) and craft (using conscious intent derived from a lifetime in skills training).  As a kid, I would have read brown paper if there was nothing else to read. I could have read for Australia if they ever made it an Olympic sport.  I wrote for a living for twenty years before I turned to writing fiction.

For me, American poet Hart Crane nails it: “One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.”

QWC: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up on an farm outside a railway siding called Jambin, just up the road from Biloela, Central Queensland. I left there to go to Uni and have lived in Brisbane pretty much ever since.

But that’s just geography. I really grew up in a marriage that brought with it two pre-schoolers as part of an excellent package deal. Seven years later, I still had two preschoolers underfoot – my life was ground hog day – and it taught me everything I needed to know to start writing fiction.

QWC: What’s the first sentence/line of your latest work?

I’ve just finished writing a children’s novel about a kid called Henry Hoey Hobson who is the only boy in Year Seven.  It starts like this:

‘She was waiting with a gaggle of mates, blocking the steps leading back down from our classroom. Golden in the sunlight, with that curious blend of stealth and grace that marked out the queens of the jungle. I lumbered towards the all-female pride, a wildebeest, hellbent on his own destruction.

QWC: What piece of writing do you wish you had written?

I actually said ‘I wish I’d written that’ when I read Karen Foxlee’s The Anatomy of Wings. A wonderful novel, beautifully written, that resonated with my own experience of growing up on the fringes of a mining town.

But the one passage that gives me goose bumps every time I read it is Shakespeare’s St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. It is everything I aspire to in my writing.

QWC: What are you currently working towards?

My dream is to publish a novel a year, and so far, with exactly one published novel under my belt (Dust 2009), I am right on target.

However I am keeping the dream alive with Henry Hoey Hobson due out in July 2010, and a work-in-progress, The Lonely Dead (an adult crime novel), my big hope for 2011 .

QWC: Complete this sentence: The future of the book is…

…in good stories, well told. The packaging is not my central concern. E-books will have their way with the willing. There will always be people, like me, who are seduced by the crack of a virgin spine, the scent wafting up from the riffle of pages, the shiver of anticipation on reading the dedication and turning to Chapter 1…

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, happening October to December 2009. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog The Empty Page.


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?

‘Astonishing and fascinating . . . Christine Bongers has created a gripping and intriguing story which is difficult to put down and even more difficult to forget.’ 5-star review, TOWNSVILLE BULLETIN

‘This is a fierce, snarling, lively little tale, like being squashed into the backseat of an old Holden with a bunch of sticky kids. The raw authenticity of Christine Bongers’ first novel will appeal to readers in their mid-teens: there’s no danger of adult interference as Sis tells her story.’ Viewpoint on books for young adults, Vol 17, no 3 Spring 2009

‘Powerful, evocative and warm, Dust is about the impact of fundamental moments that shape our identities.’ Notebook Magazine, September 2009.

‘Bongers’ main character, Cecilia, is a smart, gutsy and lovable girl with a delightful rebellious streak. But this is much more than an Australian Anne of Green Gables. It is amusing and light-hearted, yet it steadily builds to a profoundly sad and disturbing crescendo. I loved it.’ 4 ½ STARS, Highly Recommended, Good Reading Magazine, July 2009.

“Christine is a novice writer and I believe her first book will create a minor sensation. She has captured the outback of the 70’s with an evocative and earthy flavour. Her story is complex, multi-faceted and sensitive-tough. This is as good as it gets, please show your English Department to allow for multiples.” Australian Standing orders, (Secondary Standing Order No. 6 2009)

“Dust is a novel of transition: from drought to flood, from childhood to adolescence, from innocence to maturity, and from ignorance to hard-won wisdom. Told in beautifully lyrical yet surprisingly tough language, the novel perfectly evokes an Australia also in transition, socially and politically. It provides with remarkable clarity a glimpse into another era and into the hearts and minds of its beautifully drawn characters. Although set some 35 years ago, the novel rings with truths about the human condition that young readers today will easily recognise and value.” Judith Ridge, Teaching Support Kit, Dust

‘Bongers has written a book about a just-distant past which is likely to appeal to today’s teenagers. The issues of wanting to fit in, of not being understood, the fear of alienation, are constants for young people. Bongers’ characters know and feel these issues keenly. Dust will reward its readers.’ Courier Mail, 1 August 2009.

I found my underpants on the front lawn this morning. The puppy feigned innocence, a single striped sock lolling from his puppy chops.  Clearly, it was time to get my act together and unpack after my first ever youth literature festival.

I’ve been back four days from Voices on the Coast, run by Immanuel College at the University of the Sunshine Coast. My suitcase is still trailing t-shirts, jeans, tights and a lone striped sock onto the bedroom floor.

Most of the underpants have made their way to the laundry basket, after being rescued from puppy chops and his burgeoning stash under our dining room table.

If the organised fairy had come to my christening, my bag would be unpacked and repacked, ready for Thursday’s launch of Dust in Biloela (6pm Qld Heritage Park, formerly the Silo, for those in the vicinity).

My blog would already be posted, my child’s clothes neatly labelled for Sunday’s Canberra trip, the fridge stacked for my next absence, my letters posted opposing the removal of copyright protections on Australian books, three months worth of bookkeeping completed, and the BAS ready for lodgement on the 28th.

Instead, I’m unpacking my thoughts on youth literature festivals, knee-deep in chaos, luxuriating in the guilty pleasures of skiving off when there’s real work to be done.

So, in no particular order, five unforgettable moments from my first youth literature festival:

1. The little girls in the front row who had as much fun as I did at my primary school sessions; the two big boys who read out their work in my high school workshop.

2. Festival organiser Kelly Dunham’s amazing organisational skills (bet she doesn’t take four days to unpack a single suitcase) and her wonderful army of high school minders and trouble shooters that kept us all going.

3. David Stavanger aka Ghostboy’s electric opening night performance that exploded any preconceptions about poetry and poets.

4. The engagement and enthusiasm of the kids, their librarians and teachers, ratcheting up my own pleasure in talking books and writing, making me wonder who was learning more, me or them.

5. Michael Pryor asking me to to sign a copy of Dust for him. The man has published twenty books, has more than a million words in print and a purple velvet jacket to die for. He didn’t need to buy my book, but I’m still thrilled that he did.

Regrets? I have a few. I wish that I’d had time to sit in on the sessions run by the other presenters, including Shaun Tan, Maurice Gleitzman and cartoonist Brian Doyle. Brian can teach anyone to draw; next time it’s going to be me.

Next time, I’m schmoozing the organised fairy, getting her onside, sitting in on her sessions, winkling out her secrets. Next time, I’m not missing a thing.

I had a moment at about 12.35 today. I was strapped into a headset in the ABC Radio Studio at Toowong, about to be interviewed live on Queensland Country Hour.

The gracious and discerning Robin McConchie, Queensland’s Executive Producer, ABC Rural, had invited me in to talk about my novel Dust.  She had read it, loved it and thought the setting in 1970s Central Queensland would interest her listeners.

She was in the pilot’s chair, twiddling nobs, when it became apparent to even a technoklutz like myself that our radio-controlled plane might be about to go belly up.

She smiled reassuringly then snapped out a mayday call to tech support.  My mike wasn’t working. And we were about to go live in – oh, a couple of minutes.

“Would you like me to try the other mike?” I offered. There was another one just beside me.  I moved chairs.  But it didn’t work either.

Robin must have nerves of steel. Nothing worse than a silent guest in a live interview. Dead air, the radio journalist’s nemesis. She sent off another mayday call into the ether then turned her attention to the weather. What a trooper.

A tech slithered in quietly with a microphone stand, cables, and a third mike, which he rapidly assembled and pointed in my general direction while the live weather report between Robin and a thoughtfully long-winded weather man ground to a close.

She segued seamlessly into her interview with me with such confidence that I could only assume my mike was now working.

I hope it was. You can check here just to make sure.