Christine Bongers, a former radio and TV journalist, is celebrating the release of her new novel, the riotously funny, fast-paced Henry Hoey Hobson, a novel aimed at upper-primary readers. For those unfamiliar with Christine’s work, her Dust was released to critical acclaim in 2009, and went on to be selected as a CBCA Notable Book for 2010. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the book launch – geography’s always working against me – so to make up for it, I invited Christine around to introduce her new novel, and discuss just how Henry Hoey Hobson popped into her life.
When inspiration happens…
Dark figures slipped out of the shadows. Warlocks and witches, monsters and vampires, circling the open coffin. Pale hands, fingertips dipped in black, reached in and pulled out bottles of liquid that gleamed red in the moonlight…
Halloween 2007 and Brisbane’s spec fiction writing community was partying at the home of my very favourite vampire writer, Jason Nahrung.
In the flickering flames of my memory, I was the one who didn’t fit in. Wrong outfit, wrong genre, and running late for a rival function that was more twin-set and pearls than fangs and gothic horror. I stood at the edge of the crowd, gazing with longing at the fabulous creatures cavorting around the coffin…
My mind is like a messy desk, crammed with memories, embellished by imaginings that I stack into wobbly piles that inevitably collapse and are restacked with other random musings. The bits that slip down the back I forget; the carnivorous dust bunnies can have them. The bits I hang on to are those that I instinctively feel will make a good story.
For a couple of years I held onto that image – a coffin, brimming with drinks, circled by those wondrous creatures of the night. But as a writer of realistic fiction, I wasn’t sure when, or how, I would use it.
In 2008, I made a half-hearted start on a children’s story called My Very Favourite Vampire Writer but lost interest after only eight lines. I pushed it to the back of the messy desk in my head and got on with the adult crime novel I was writing.
Then in 2009, Henry Hoey Hobson stalked into my consciousness. A likeable kid that nobody liked. How was that even possible?
His story came together in my head as a three-way collision between groups with seemingly nothing in common, and a boy who didn’t fit in.
If true character is revealed under pressure, then I wanted to crush Henry Hoey Hobson into diamond.
I made him non-Catholic, non-anything as far as he knew, dumped him into a little Catholic school, stripped him of friends, family and options, and made sure his single mum was too busy to throw him a life raft when he looked in danger of drowning in the dangerous waters of Year Seven.
I made him an outsider, and gave him just one shot at making friends – the creepy new neighbours, owners of a coffin, the only people in the street less popular than he was…
I had a ball writing this book. I not only found a use for my coffin scene, I also found a use for my very favourite vampire writer (for those in the know, he was the inspiration for the character of Caleb; his muse, the gothic and mysterious Vee is another story altogether).
Henry’s resilience in the face of adversity made me laugh… made me cry… and ended up making me proud.
CBCA National President Marj Kirkland agreed. When she launched Henry Hoey Hobson in Brisbane, she told the crowd that she’d fallen in love with a twelve-year-old boy.
I did too and I thank the high heavens that I went along to that Halloween party… Henry Hoey Hobson would never have been written but for those drinks around the coffin.
– Christine Bongers
Henry Hoey Hobson is Perpetually Adolescent’s Top Pick this fortnight – grab a copy today!