Dust, by Christine Bongers: easy to take a shine to

dust by christine bongersIt’s not hard to see why Dust (Woolshed Press, 2009) was named a Children’s Book Council of Australia notable book, among its many accolades. It’s a simple, powerful coming-of-age story, the sort of thing that’s just the ticket for school libraries. Fairly subtle, too.

Chris Bongers grew up in Biloela and she taps that experience in this tale set in the countryside of her childhood. Like heroine Cecilia, Bongers had a mob of brothers to run amok with, too: how many chinese burns, corkies and horse bites did she trade? Droughts and flood and heaps of strine are, however, only the wonderfully drawn backdrop of this tale, set in the 1970s with a modern bookend.

Cecilia is on the cusp of moving from primary school to high, and there’s a steep learning curve to do with being yourself, of making choices, of caring for those on the fringes who have no one to care for them.

Working up ways to dodge the worst of penance in the confessional is just the start of it.

There’s the mysterious Kapernicky sisters, chalk and cheese and both just a little off; and the new girl, peaches-and-cream Hayley in her revelatory knee-high white boots; and Glenda with her ciggies and alluring coterie of no-gooders … and just what has got into Cecilia’s brother, Punk?

australian women writers review challenge logoBongers has the knack of flipping the switch from larrikin humour to pathos. Of painting her characters in human strokes, the good with the bad with the damn frustrating. Of letting the time go by, incident by incident, letting the allusions grow as the illusions slowly fade.

She perfectly captures that onset of maturity, young people trying to make sense of the world. Coming to realise that the dust of regret accumulates, seeking a way to keep the surfaces clean or at least keep the rug in its place; discovering the power of compassion.

  • This is my third review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge. The first was Glenda Larke’s Havenstar; the second, Krissy Kneen’s Steeplechase.
  • Words of writerly wisdom

    Recent common sense from writers wot know:

    Two-million-word writer Kim Wilkins:

    Write the fucking fiction! Don’t write blogs and marketing plans and twitter yourself in front of everyone in hopes of building a platform. Write the fucking fiction FIRST. The rest is just white noise until you have a good finished product. And it must be good.

    Read the rest here. It’s fucking gold. You can have a ‘cosy chat’ with Kim at the Brisbane Writers Festival on 9 September.

    Justine Larbalestier, whose blog is informative and entertaining, on YA writers doing it for the money:

    If someone really decided to become a YA novelist solely to make big money then they’re an idiot with incredibly poor research skills. Choosing to write novels—in any genre—as a path to riches is about as smart as buying lottery tickets to achieve the same.

    And to complete the trifecta, Joe Abercrombie offers an overview of planning, something I’m going through at the moment with a similar process to this:

    I’ll know the setting and the rough plot for each part, some idea of what each point of view character needs to do, but usually I only plan the first part in any close detail, working out exactly what each chapter is going to contain.

    Abercrombie and Wilkins are guests at GenreCon in Sydney in November, which should be a hoot.

    The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

    alan garner's weirdstone of brisingamen

    “So it was agreed; they walked swiftly, and carefully, close together, and the swords were naked.”

    Isn’t this a great line? It gave me chills, last night, as I was revisiting one of my favourite childhood reads, Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

    The book was first published in 1960, and follows the adventures of Susan and her brother Colin when they are caught up in a mythic battle between the forces of good and evil. It’s a road story, set in quite a small patch of Cheshire, as the pair, with allies, seek to unite a magical talisman with its rightful keeper to stave off a looming apocalypse. I’d been dying to revisit Garner’s work, and Susan Cooper’s too, ever since reading Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay, a gorgeous tale which landed me firmly back in memories of those beautiful stories that marry myth and the modern age.

    It’s not without hesitation that we revisit such favoured tales, for fear that they have lost their power with the years, both ours and theirs. Fortunately, no such disappointment awaited, and Garner’s magic still runs strong. Off to revisit Moon of Gomrath, to see who of Brisingamen’s cast pop up!

    Here’s a lovely piece from the Guardian, marking the book’s 50th anniversary. (In an aside, it’s also 30 years since Ian Curtis died, the Joy Division singer being a native of Macclesfield, in the environs of which Brisingamen takes place.)