Interview with Christine Bongers author by Jill Smith
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.
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. Do you rely on your editor to pick up things you might have missed?
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.
8 You said at Somerset that having brothers gave you room to dream. Did they support your goals or tempt you to be challenged?
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 websites, pages and links.
NOTES FROM SOMERSET CELEBRATION OF LITERATURE 2015
When I go to Somerset, I listen, I write copious notes, I soak up the atmosphere like a sponge and reflect on what makes a successful author and what doesn’t. This year instead of putting said notes and notebook on a shelf to occasionally refer back to, I thought it would be better to share some of the author’s comments and insights.
Christine Bongers 9.15am to 10 am years 7 – 9
This was a thoroughly enjoyable session. The students filled the seats and their anticipation was palpable.
I’ll give an ‘in a nutshell’ wrap up of her very accomplished oration.
Firstly, being born in the middle of nowhere in central Queensland isn’t the end of the world. Even having 6 brothers can work as they made everything a competition, and they played cricket. Cricket, especially for Christine, who was the wicket, was boring. Boring gives you time to daydream. Her daydreaming led to a desire to be something so she did journalism, then discovered she loved radio, then got a job with ABC radio, which led to ABC television, which was even more fun.
Her main tips for budding writers:
1 read a lot
2 write – Write about what you love, and topics you are passionate about
3 live an interesting life
George Ivanoff 10.15am to 11 am grades 4 to 7
George admitted to being a reluctant reader at school but is now an avid reader. The turning point was when he found books he really liked – science fiction. Once he discovered Doctor Who in about grade 5 he was hooked on watching obsessively and creating an ongoing (to this day) collection of books. Then he found the ‘Choose your own’ Adventure books, which he read obsessively also. He thought these would be fun to write.
George went on to explain about his ‘Gamers series’, which I’ve read and reviewed and loved. Then about his own ‘Choose your own’ books, how he covers many genres from a pirate adventure, fantasy and sci-fi, in the ones already published and in his next series, horror, alien invasion, sports and again computer games.
His writing tips which became an exercise in writing a story and planning on a white board where these key elements.
Story structure – think about every story you’ve ever read and worked out a basic structure, main points.
1 Every story is a journey – the physical journey, the emotional journey, coming of age journey etc
2 Problems – the main character must have a goal and the author puts obstacles in his way, that makes the story more interesting
George said every writer eavesdrops and that’s where they pick up ideas.
Yvette Poshoglian 11.15 am to 12 noon Years 4 to 7 http://yvetteposh.com/
Being a teacher Yvette pitched straight to her audience and there was a lot of interaction. She asked the kids questions they eagerly answered while delivering invaluable tips on how to become a writer.
Yvette began by saying she has written the Ella and Olivia series. Then said reading is great, discovering things in an imaginary world. Her first writing was in Year 7 when she wrote The Cricket Diary, as she loves cricket.
Her writing tips were
1 write a little every day, keep on writing
2 make the characters people you want to follow on their journey, the reader cares about
3 give the character motivation to keep the story going
4 listen to other people, spy on people
5 use all the senses, touch, taste, sight, hearing, smelling and the sixth sense – sensing
Yvette explained how she loves kayaking, and the boat houses on the Sydney Harbour gave her the idea for the Frankie Fox books. Then she discussed what makes a good spy because Frankie Fox was a trainee spy.
She said her father speaks five different languages and can slip in and out of crowd unnoticed. That would be an important part of being a spy.
Yvette said she loves books and that book lovers have the power to change things. Movies of books are good too, the book is often better.
James Moloney 12.45pm to 1.30pm Grades 7-9
James Moloney has been writing for young people for more than 20 years. Once a teacher and a librarian, his books have made him one of Australia’s most respected authors.
He went onto explain the different genres he writes in.
Adventure – History gave him the idea for 1844 Do you dare, about Brisbane in the very early days, wild horses would race down Queen Street, and this book is about the last race.
Fantasy – lighthearted books – He talked about Book of Lies a Young Adults book exploring what it would be like for a book that could read peoples thoughts and detect if they were lying, and record them.This was when the book was nearly full and it became its own version of the truth and manipulated what was happening. The original book created by the wizard was to encourage a peaceful and just world, when the book became full it changed the magic.
James explained that he often tries to get into characters that are very different to himself as a challenge, examples being Aboriginal Dougie or the main character in Silvermay as a female.
He said writers are observers. They need to tease the reader to show whats going on, to trick the reader trying to second guess them.
His writing tips throughout the talk
1 Think like a writer
2 Always read
3 Make the story work – have a hero or heroine save the day
4 Write what you know
6 Show don’t Tell
7 Planning is essential, chapters, characters, especially to know the end
Again, at the end of his talk, James answered questions from the audience and the questions were clever and insightful.
Michael Gerard Bauer resigned from teaching in 2000 to pursue his writing dreams. His first YA novel, The Running Man, was named the 2004 CBCA Book of the Year and he has been short-listed on three further occasions. His other works include the popular Ishmael trilogy and Just a Dog.
His most recent publications, the very funny Eric Vale and Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale series for younger readers, are fully illustrated by his film-maker son, Joe Bauer. Currently, Michael’s books are sold in over 40 countries and translated into 12 languages.
Michael began by saying he was shy and didn’t want to get a job that included public speaking,
He became an English teacher, then a writer. Both require public speaking. He started with a serious book ‘The Running Man.’
The Ishmael series was based on him facing this is the greatest fear. How could he get a boy attending an all-boys school St Daniels, to face this fear, simply put him in the school debating team. The Ismael series starts in year 9 with ‘Don’t Call me Ishmael’, with ‘Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs’ and going through to year 12 in Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel.
‘Dinosaur Knights’ is a sci-fi based on the idea of pulling something through time, naturally, it had to be a meat eating dinosaur. Changing facts to suit the story, the creature he brought forward was a plant eater, but there would be no fun in that.
Michael then explained that ‘Just a Dog’ was created because of a typing error that became a joke. This story is like a diary of a boy and his family and how ‘Mr Moseley’ was more than ‘Just a Dog’. I loved this book.
Then the group of students and the few adults in the room were treated to a power point presentation of how the Eric Vale series was created. Michael wrote the text and sent it to his son Joe to do the illustrations. The spin off from these books is the Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale series.
2 stories are all around us
3 he had to learn to speak in front of people, and practice made him better
Again the students asked great questions and Michael happily answered.
These are notes I jotted down from ‘Writers Block Workshop, Robina Library, 9th May 2015′ – Jill Smith©May15
Louise the librarian and organiser of the event introduced the first speaker.
Dave Burton Brisbane based play writer, with a soon to be released memoir.
Yes, he had a power point presentation, and with his engaging wit the time and information flowed happily.
The Writing Craft – was his topic
1 manufacture an environment so you can write as to many writing is instinctive and creating that space allows you to sharpen the tools you already have
2 basic of language is important
3 self-motivated discipline to allow you to write endlessly
Draw on your value and philosophies to writes from life experience, there will be trial and error and some dumb luck involved.
The main tip – SHUT UP AND DO IT!!!
Every word you write makes it better, get the writing commitment.
Dave explained that he has read many ‘Draft Zero’s’ which are the sketch, the whisper, the private conversation between the author and the page written when the writer is in the grips of an exciting idea, and the weird fairy Godmother demanded a story be written.
When the writer wants to bring it out into the cold light of day they often ask someone to read it and ask – Is this a thing?
Often the writer does get the ‘Draft Zero’ done and then lets it sit in a draw.
The next main tip – KEEP GOING!!
Writing is a marathon and the biggest obstacle is yourself.
David went on to explain that he was fortunate a small production company run by Andy Barclay took up his play ‘Lazarus won’t get out of Bed.’
Generally, he doesn’t show anyone his draft Zero.
Writers need to build confidence and then really go for it.
When someone is asked to read a draft zero the writer should be asking them questions about the draft, such as:
Do I have too many characters? Is the theme strong enough?
It’s ok to be bad on the first draft. Good writing takes time.
Do a lot of work. Work will be as good as your ambition. Follow that taste and believe in your instinct.
Now is the easiest time to get published.
Writing needs time. Allow for it to be crap for a bit, or at least not as good as it could be.
Use your ‘Following’ on Blog etc to get it better. Write ‘Fan’ fiction to get writing.
Good writing is clear, distilling the foggy into the comprehensible.
CLARITY – Is it clear? Words don’t get in the way.
The challenge is with Fan Fiction as the backbone, a way to find absurd things to write about with hundreds of other people writing stories.
‘Write hard and clear about what hurts.’ Ernest Hemingway
Write for one person. Writing is telling a story to someone.
WRITE FOR ONE PERSON
The story is for your reader. Who’s your perfect reader? What does their day look like? What kind of music do they like?
Know your audience. What would they think of this?
It’s way less about seeming impressive and way more for helping. What are you giving your readers?
Dave admits to being a Pop Culture Nerd – Sci Fi/Fantasy
When he writes he is being creative and doesn’t look back.
Editing is a skill in itself. He can be very critical as an Editor.
Good writing is clear. Can we understand it? Does it make sense?
Essential Principles of Editing
- Good writing is clear?
- Does the sentence make us want to read the next sentence?
- Edit up – start at the bottom – Who are these people? What is their objective? Is it clear? Is the character speaking realistically? Then look at the sentences.
You are your own best editor and the cheapest, but if you want to get help, choose carefully.
Disect a show you like and work out what works.
Stories are rivers, they move, if it’s sitting still, get rid of it. Engines move.
Moving the story quickly, keep consequence to action clear.
Writers have two jobs, the Writer and the Editor.
Writing and Publishing is weird. Read and if you find yourself stopping, know why you are stopping.
Create daily rituals – That’s how artists work. Form a habit to write building something.
Find a time of the day when you can focus.
Attend workshops like this one to meet people.
Dave then said he is still learning and his soon to be released memoir ‘How To Be Happy’ is a result of him asking questions.
After morning tea, Librarian Louise got up to explain about the Library facilities.
Online Library – What do you need?
Gold Coast Library offers research aids, newspapers and magazines are available from now and a previous era. Digitised history, writers can view headlines to get a feel for speech/style.
Gold Coast History images can help with research
TROVE is a great resource for writers – http://trove.nla.gov.au
Scan old images, old newspapers, family history and describing clothing.
Books not in the Library Collection can be sourced by 1 a request to purchase or 2 can access through interlibrary loan through universities. The Library does not pass that cost on. Rates pay for the Libraries.
As Isobelle Carmody still had not appeared, and David Burton was at the back of the room, he offered to continue his presentation. With a rousing applause, the audience of writers eagerly awaiting knowledge gladly accepted his generosity.
David started by saying two books every writer should read are:
The Element of Style by William Strunk – very concise style
Steven King On Writing
Synopsis writing is an entire skill
Critiques – if you can’t hear the criticism the story could be boring and needs more work.
Pick audience really carefully. Be specific with questions you are asking the reader to critique.
Get critiqued, Manuscript appraisal and ask questions about the problems posed, is the story clear about what way it’s going. If it’s not OK, let’s get help or put it aside and re-edit with a problem-solving voice.
Sit down, start writing, no excuses. Brian O’Hanlon
You fail only if you stop writing!
You’ve got an entire manuscript of approx 10,000 words
The Synopsis must be very clear it is the ultimate test of clarity
When he writes he keeps a Synopsis document open
How do you describe your book? – 1 page, 1 paragraph, 1 sentence
Look at blurbs. This is the pitch.
Clarity – Who is it for?
The Synopsis is
1 This is what the book is about.
2 This is who the book is for.
3 Simply, clearly, spell out the plot. It’s not just this happened, this happened, then this happened next, just get to the essence of what it is about.
Readers need to be emotionally moved.
Good synopsis keeps you honest.
The Cover Letter is different, it does 1, 2 and 3 above but this is about you. It’s about selling yourself.
Self Publishing, you really need to know your genre. Research the AMAZON market.
Louise chipped in, you can practice your pitch, find your market and find the factors that appeal by searching Genre, Sub genre, know key words. Ask a Librarian.
Market – This book – This person
Key – writers know not only books but about writers
Online writing Blogs offer a gigantic library through the Internet.