An Interview With Christine Bongers

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Christine Bongers debut teen novel, Dust comes out in June of this year from Woolshed Press, an imprint of Random House Australia.

I'm already sold on the novel, based on this fantastic blurb from Woolshed Press website:
In Dust, twelve-year-old Cecilia Maria grows up in the heat of 1970s Queensland, where she battles six brothers on her side of the fence and the despised Kapernicky girls, lurking on the other side of the barbed wire. Decades later she must face
old ghosts when she returns home with her own reluctant teenagers.
Warm but tough-minded, Dust glitters with a rare and subtle wit, illuminating the shadows that hang over from childhood and finding beauty in unexpected places.
The motivation to write Dust came from something Christine’s father said to her as he lay dying in hospital. ‘Then, amidst the grim tangle of tubes and drips, bandages and blood, he gave me a final piece of advice: Don’t die without doing what you were meant to do, without being what you were meant to be.
‘After a couple of false starts I discovered I wasn’t writing my Dad’s story; I wasn’t even writing my own. The bolshy little character, who became Cecilia Maria or Sis for short, had her own story to tell: a story born of ignorance, trailing a lingering regret.’

Christine was lovely enough to agree to being interviewed here on Hey, Teenager of the Year. You can find her blog here.

1. List the books you've written. Which do you like best? Which was the hardest to write?

Dust is my first novel, so like a first kiss, it will always be pretty damn special. But now that it has left me to make its own way in the world, I am consoling myself with two works-in-progress: an adult crime novel The Lonely Dead; and a teen fiction novel about the hapless Henry Hoey Hobson and the goth witches coven that moves in next door.

2. What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Occasionally potty-mouthed (and my Grade Six teacher would probably agree).

3. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were ... a cause of great anxiety for my parents.

4. Have you always wanted to write for young people?

I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do with my life when I was young. I dropped into and out of Uni a couple of times, became besotted with radio broadcasting, tripped and fell into television, segued into PR and one way or another wrote for a living for most of my adult life.

When I finally found the courage to write fiction, I felt like I'd come home - to the messiest, craziest, coolest place to be in the whole world.

I don't think I had a rocky road to publication; Dust was the first manuscript I wrote and it took four years from conception to publication, so that's a pretty fair apprenticeship in my book.

5.Who were your biggest inspirations and idols growing up and today?

Growing up, I idolised my six brothers, and if you read Dust you'll get some idea why. My biggest inspiration though was this cranky old English teacher I had in first year high school. He said: 'If being the best in this class is all you're ever going to aspire to, then you'll never amount to much. How about you try to be the best that you can be."
If you're still out there, Mr Rainie, I'm trying!

These days, my biggest inspiration comes from the kids around me. They have such courage; taking on challenges that would spook most adults, dreaming big dreams and throwing themselves at life. They remind me every day that anything is possible.

6. Who are your favourite authors and which novels do you love best?

I love too many authors to list but have to say Tim Winton, Melina Marchetta, Sonya Hartnett, Alyssa Brugman and Michael Gerard Bauer are right up there, alongside crime writers Peter Temple, Kate Atkinson and Carol O'Connell. My all-time favourite book is Cloudstreet and my current favourite is The Anatomy of Wings by Queensland writer Karen Foxlee. Damn, that woman can write.

7. If you were in a novel, who would you be?

I'd be Cecilia Maria in Dust. Like me, she had six brothers and grew up in the bush, so people often ask "Is that you?" I wish. She's everything I wasn't at twelve years of age and quite a few things I'd like to be, even now.

8. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child?

No, my Mum had six kids in five years, including two sets of twins, so it was way too crowded at our place for imaginery friends. Instead I had books and a bolt-hole in amongst the dust bunnies under the bed.

9. Complete this sentence: My life outside of writing is as busy as all-get-out with hubby, four kids, an old cat and a new puppy! But it's all good. I mean that sincerely. It really is.

10. If you were a superhero, what would be your name, power and costume?

I'd be the Mad Flapper. I can fly, you know. It's my secret power. Seriously, I've been flying most nights for years now. I can glide, swoop, soar and flutter. It's a buzz. Just gotta watch out for power lines and tree tops (they look soft, but trust me, misjudge the height by a couple of millimetres and you're looking at some pretty nasty navel gouges). I wear twig-resistant, black lycra, because it's more flattering for the fuller-figured woman. If I could just manage to do it when I was awake, my life would be complete.

11. Xena Warrior Princess or Sabrina the Teenage Witch?

Emma Peel. Sorry, showing my age, but I was transfixed by her in leather in 'The Avengers' when I was in primary school and never got over it. I still want to be her.

12. Have you read Twilight? Did you enjoy it? Do you secretly believe your own books are better? (I know you do, don’t try to lie…)

I read the first one to see what all the fuss was about and managed to finish it despite the ordinary writing. But man oh man, what a gigantic step backwards for womankind.

Yes, it taps into a common romantic fantasy - the one where the sexiest guy in school inexplicably chooses little old ordinary me to fall in love with. We've all dreamed that dream, so I understand the attraction. But why oh why, couldn't Bella be a little more worthy of heroine status and Edward more interesting?

She is such a victim, so disempowered, with a freaking death wish to boot, and he's a cardboard cutout wish-fulfilment fantasy if ever I saw one: faster, stronger, sexier, smarter, and a concert-grade pianist. He carries her on his back for pete's sake.

I watched the movie (sooo sloooowww) with three of my kids and four of my nephews and nieces and they cacked themselves laughing at me nodding off, waking up to have a bit of a rant, then nodding off again.

So yes, I do believe my books are better written, with more vibrant characters. Will they be as successful? I wish!

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