The Writing Race has a special guest racer tonight: the wonderful and inspiring author Christine Bongers. Speakeasy caught up with Christine to ask her about how she has developed her craft and built her pathway to publication.
Sp: How have you developed your craft as a writer?
CB: My journalistic background equipped me with the basic writer’s tool kit; nothing fancy, just the standard tools of the trade. However, that early training in getting "the twenty-second grab" and listening for the killer quote, developed my ear for dialogue. When I started writing fiction about five years ago, I found that writing dialogue came easily; for the first time in my life I could just make the quotes up!
Other things, like structure, I struggled with, at first. I read a lot about novel writing – Stephen King’s On Writing, Elizabeth George’s Write Away, Carmel Bird’s Dear Writer, stand out in my memory.
I wanted to connect with other writers and started turning up at QWC seminars, paid for an editorial consultancy, and finally submitted a draft to the Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development. My work was short-listed in 2006, and that gave me the confidence to come out as a writer.
In 2007, I enrolled in both Veny Armanno’s Year of the Novel through QWC and in an MA at QUT, and was halfway through Kim Wilkins’ Year of the Edit in 2008 when my novel Dust was accepted for publication.
Sp: How do you make time to write amidst family and other responsibilities?
CB: You make time for what you love and writing novels really gets my juices flowing. A novel is so damn big and complicated and engrossing: like a tapestry that covers a castle wall, rather than a little cross-stitched sampler that you’d frame and hang in a well-lit nook. It takes time. Lots of time.
My big breakthrough was getting our youngest (fourth) child into school, which opened up a bit of writing space in my week.
In my dreams, I write between 9am and 3pm, four days a week, and squeeze my (other) day job into one day a week. In reality, that never happens with a big family, a busy partner and changing work deadlines, but I do try to write something, anything, every day (and some days, fail in even this modest ambition).
I compensate by setting weekly and monthly writing targets (which I often don’t meet), and by challenging myself to meet longer-term, self-imposed deadlines. Right now, I am aiming to complete the first draft of my second manuscript by 1 July, the date Dust hits the bookstore shelves. (Just 30,000 words to go – woohoo!)
Sp:Can you describe your pathway to publication?
CB: I don’t come from a short-story writing background, so I didn’t have much in the way of writing credits to attract the eye of a publisher, or even an agent, for that matter. So I had to look at other strategies.
I enrolled in the MA at QUT specifically to rewrite my manuscript and I asked if Leonie Tyle, publisher of Woolshed Press (an Imprint of Random House Australia), could be one of the examiners. She read my manuscript, passed it with no changes and that’s how I ended up with my publishing contract.
Sp: Can you tell us about your forthcoming book, and what inspired you to write it?
CB: Dust is a coming-of-age story, largely set in 1970s rural Queensland, with contemporary scenes opening and closing the novel. It is set in the landscape of my youth, a time of ruthless innocence, when kids shot real guns and certain things, dangerous things, were never discussed.
For me, the past is sticky shit, hard to get rid of, and I wanted to show how stories and experiences from our earliest years, can and do resonate through the rest of our lives.
I’ve devoted a whole page of my website at www.christinebongers.com to what inspired me to write Dust, so I won’t repeat that all here. Let’s just say that it’s impossible to ignore your dad’s advice when he’s dying and he’s right. I was meant to be a writer; I just didn’t know it at the time.