I’m delighted to present this email interview with Christine Bongers. After having read her debut novel ‘Dust’, which I reviewed in my last post. Shortly I will post a review of ‘Intruder’ which was a brilliant read also, and has been short-listed for the 2015 CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers. I was glad to be part of the audience earlier this year during her presentation at Somerset Celebration of Literature. I took lots of notes which are on the Notes from Somerset 2015 tab. For more about Christine go to her wordpress site she has a wonderful page there – Twenty things you don’t need to know about me.
1. Did you start writing at an early age?
I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book and was always scribbling down stories. When I was still in primary school I remember begging my dad for a rusted old typewriter I found at a farm clearance sale. He refused, but a couple of months later he and Mum gave me a brand new Olivetti for my twelfth birthday and my path in life was set.
2 What books did you read in your youth that inspired you to write?
I devoured everything I could get my hands on. I adored Jack London’s adventure novels White Fang and Call of the Wild, as well as classics like Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books and Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong series. I dreamed of writing my own Lagoona series based on my adventures with six brothers growing up in the bush – and that was probably the very earliest inspiration for my first novel Dust.
3 Many writers struggle with presenting themselves. Did public speaking come naturally to you? Or, was this something you developed in your radio/television days?I was a chatterbox in primary school and a debater in high school. I worked hard to get rid of the bush twang when I first worked in radio and television presenting came easily to me. These days when I speak in public I always try to share stories from my life and books that I think the audience will enjoy.
4 Do you work closely with an editor? Intruder is written in the first person and that is no mean feat, so easy to slip up but you accomplished this seamlessly, which leads me to the question of editor. (they always manage to see something the writer misses)
I enjoy writing in the first person. It’s very like acting – you slip inside the skin of your character and show the reader what they are thinking, feeling and experiencing. I’ve been lucky to have worked with fantastic editors who not only pick up any mistakes, but also see what is missing (usually something that is clear in my mind but that hasn’t made it onto the page). Having that fresh pair of eyes scruntinise my work is invaluable and helps me achieve the vision I have for each book. Intruder
benefited from two structural edits that helped me analyse what wasn’t working so that I could take the story and key relationships to the next level.
5 Do you research for your books? Or do you mostly draw from personal experience?
I do whatever research is needed for authenticity and accuracy in a story. Dust was set in the early 1970s, so I scoured old photograph albums, newspapers and school magazines to help ignite both memory and imagination. I created playlists from 1972-73, made a point of knowing what was on television, in the papers and on the radio, and what makes of cars were on the road. My subsequent novels Henry Hoey Hobson and Intruder were contemporary fiction and didn’t require the same level of research to create authenticity and atmosphere. Both were set around where I live in Brisbane so getting the details right was a breeze!
6 Do you plan, plot out and summarise your books before you write them? I’ve discovered through workshops I’ve attended that some writers plan to the minute degree while others let the story lead them.
My first novel was a bit of a flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants experience, but my subsequent novels were more thought out. These days I plan more than I used to and always know the big events and conflicts that drive the story. But I don’t write detailed plot outlines because I’m scared they might kill my enthusiasm for writing the actual story.
7 Your dad clearly had a tremendous influence on you. Did his advice, that you live the life you want to lead, cause you to change direction in your life and take writing as a serious career?
8 You said at Somerset that having brothers gave you room to dream. Did they support your goals or tempt you to be challenged?
My brothers are the best. They taught me to be fearless and to persist, even in the face of near-insurmountable odds. I love them, individually and collectively, and continue to find them enormously inspiring.
9 Did you set up your own website and social media platforms? I ask this because again I’ve discovered some writers do everything hands on themselves and others hand it to professionals that provide multiple website, pages and links.
Thank the high heavens for the Qld Writers Centre and their ‘Setting up your own Website’ workshop! I’ve never kept a journal but my blogsite over the past six years has become something of an online journal chronicling my adventures as a published author (who drops the occasional ball juggling work, kids, family and life). I’ve loved putting it together and have no great urge to change what it has become.
10 Do you see providing workshops, teachers notes, courses, and going to writers festivals as an essential part of an authors work?
Look, I love going to Writers Festivals and schools and engaging with large groups of readers, it’s a great way to promote my books, but I am wary about spending so much time talking about writing that it eats into my writing time. Each of us needs to find a balance that works for us. But having said that, promotion is a big part of the job. No-one buys a book they’ve never heard of, and there’s a lot of noisy competition out there, so writers do need to develop a voice if they want to be heard.
11 What are you currently working on?
I’m working on my first adult crime novel which I hope to complete this year. Intruder has just blipped on the crime writing radar with two shortlistings in the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Awards to be announced on 29 August – so it’s a good time for me to be dabbling in crime!
12 I believe you have another book being released shortly, can you tell us about that?
Ha, I’ll have to finish that adult crime novel first – stay tuned for details in the new year. 🙂
13 Where do you derive your inspiration from?
Life. Inspiration is everywhere.
14 Where do you hope your writing career will lead you?
It doesn’t need to lead me anywhere. I’m happy where I am right now, sitting at my keyboard, pounding at words. 🙂
Christine thanks so much for answering my questions. I love that you are enjoying doing what you love to do. I will eagerly read and review your work.