Doodles and Drafts – All of Us Together with Bill Condon

 bill-condonBill Condon is a man of modest expectations that do not match his considerable abilities. He writes with charm, wit, sincerity and affection. His novels for young people, of which there are many resonate a genuineness that fascinates newcomers and for many older readers, transports them back to the idle days of their childhood, warts and all. We are fortunate to have Bill at the drafts table today to reveal some of the mental conflicts he still encounters prior to penning a new story (a predicament faced by nearly every author) and some insights behind the inspiration for his latest junior novel, All of Us Together.

All of Us Together is a tale of warmth, heartache, tragedy and hope all rolled up in one very threadbare blanket that was the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The heroes of this tale are ordinary folk trying to etch out a life during an extraordinary period of Australia’s pre-World War II history. Poverty and having to grow up sooner than you ought to thankfully are not issues many modern day Australian youngsters have to deal with on a day to day basis (although unfortunately they are never completely absent from any society). Condon manages to infuse enough hope into what appears an untenable and inevitable situation for Daniel and his family when they are forced to leave their family home and begin afresh, without being morose. All of Us Together is a realistic and unapologetic view of life with an emphasis on the positive power of sticking together through thick and thin.

Here’s what Bill has to say:

On Writing

Recently I started to watch a movie called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I didn’t care for it very much and turned it off after a short while. The thing that struck me most about it were the very first words spoken. A teenage boy says: ‘I have no idea how tall-of-us-together-front-covero tell this story’. This is exactly how I feel every time I go into battle with the blank page. One of the problems I have is that usually my mind is blanker than the page.

Although I have been at this game for a long time and have published many books, writing doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it often feels like I’ve never written anything, and have no idea how to go about it.

As gloomy as it may sound, one of the great motivators for me has long been the prospect of death. From the early 80s I wrote children’s poems and plays, short stories, and non-fiction. This was my comfort zone, and I was fairly successful at it. However, I felt that a novel was beyond me.

One night I was talking to one of my two wonderful sisters, and she hinted very tactfully, that perhaps I should try to push myself a little with my writing. I think she even put it more delicately than that, but it was enough to stir me into action. When I was 50, I at long last took the plunge and attempted a young adult novel. I was afraid that I’d fail, but I was even more afraid that I’d die without having tried. The book was called Dogs and it won an Honour Award in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. Awards are such a lottery, but I was lucky. Perhaps if it hadn’t done well I might have gone back to doing what came easier to me. Even so, it was another five years before my next young adult novel appeared. I’ve now written eight novels, and each one has been a huge struggle.

the-simple-thingsIn 2014 I had a junior novel called The Simple Things published. I thought writing for younger kids would be easier than writing for teenagers, but I was so wrong. It seems any kind of writing is just plain hard for me. I’d written that book and had it accepted in 2012, but it took two years to get published. Then another two years went by, in which I was unable to write anything. So for four years the blank page won out. The one thing that finally got me going again was my old friend Death, or the fear of it.

At the start of this year I had a lot of medical tests done and I’d convinced myself that the results wouldn’t be good. ‘Just one more book’, I told myself. So I went back to a story I’d tried to write the year before, only to give up on. This time I attacked it as if I had a very pressing deadline. From the outset I had a title, All Of Us Together. I knew it was a junior novel set in the Great Depression in Australia, but like the boy I mentioned at the start of this piece, I had no idea how to write it. Then memories kicked in.

When I was young my parents told me of their Depression experiences. If only I’d known that I’d need their help in writing a book one day I would have listened much more closely than I did. But as young people often do, I took them and their stories for granted. I’m sorry to say that it was pretty much a case of in one ear and out the other.

Luckily, some things stuck. I remembered my dad talking about Happy Valley, a ramshackle unemployment camp near Sydney. There were similar camps all over Australia, set up to cater for people who had lost their jobs and homes and had nowhere else to go. I remembered my mum telling me about the tramps who would regularly turn up at her parent’s door to ask for a handout. She said they were always given something to eat.  Both of these memories – Happy Valley, and the tramp asking for food – made it into my book. And too, I borrowed from my own life, as I usually do. When Daniel, the main character in the story, gets into strife, his misdeeds are ones that I got up to when I was a child.

Slowly I got to know and understand Daniel and his sisters, Adelaide and Lydia, as well as their parents, and instead of dreading the thought of going to my computer, I actually wanted to spend as much time as I could with my fictional family.  They had become almost real to me, and I hope readers will feel the same way.

Once I’d found my way into the story and the words were starting to flow, I received my test results. All is fine.  This leaves me free to get on with life, and keep on hoping, for one more book.

We hope so too, Bill!

Thanks for visiting. Discover more bookish revelations about Bill as he continues his Blog Tour around Australia.

About Kids Books November 2016

BLOG TOUR DATES

17 November Di Bates http://www.diannedibates.blogspot.com.au

18 November Clancy Tucker http://clancytucker.blogspot.com.au

19 November Sally Odgers http://promotemeplease.blogspot.com.au

20 November Sandy Fussell www.sandyfussell.com/blog

21 November Dee White http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com
22 November Dimity Powell http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/author/dpowell

23 November Elaine Ousten http://elaineoustonauthor.com/
24 November Melissa Wray http://www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au
25 November Susan Whelan http://www.kids-bookreview.com
26 November Romi Sharp http://www.justkidslit.com

#ByAustralinaBuyAustralian

 

 

Interview with Dianne Bates, author of A Game of Keeps

Di alone bwDianne (Di) Bates makes a living from full-time writing. She has worked as a children’s magazine and newspaper editor, manuscript assessor, book-seller, and writing teacher. Di has a wealth of publishing experience and is a recipient of The Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. She has written over 120 books, mostly for young people, with a couple more contracted and many manuscripts awaiting review at publishing houses.

I feel privileged to have such an expert in the field answering my questions about her experiences in the world of literature, and celebrating the release of her new book, A Game of Keeps.  

Did you always want to be a writer?
No, I always planned to be a visual artist but found I have no talent whatsoever. I didn’t write my first book until I was in my late 20s when I made a conscious effort to have a book published by age 30. The book was Terri (Penguin Books), not a good book at all I realise now. Thank goodness it is out of print!  

Can you please tell us about the range of writing pieces you have published in the past?
Just about everything except board books, from fiction to non-fiction, for readers aged 5 to 19 years. This includes joke books, a (forthcoming) poetry anthology, verse collection, play collections (co-written with my husband, Bill Condon), novels, textbooks – you name it. Some work has been commissioned but most have been written on spec.  

A+Game+of+Keeps Congratulations on your latest release, A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). What is the novel about?
For readers 8 to 11 years, this novel is about a bright, cheerful only child of a single mother who often leaves her alone.  Ashley wants much out of life, but more than anything she wants her parents to be reunited. Happily, she is taken under the wings of an elderly couple who support and encourage her.  

Does this story have a personal significance to you? How?
My husband Bill and I never had children together, but we have fostered full-time and also informally ‘adopted’ children. One of the children was in the same situation as Ashley in A Game of Keeps. She was a truly special, talented child with a wonderful outlook on life. We took her in under a program called Aunts and Uncles wherein adults take a child in their family for a weekend once a month for a minimum 12 months. With our Ashley, we saw her more often than that because her mother had huge personal problems. We grew to love Ashley and were a positive influence on her life. (I have also published Nobody’s Boy with Celapene Press, a verse novel based on a boy we fostered for some years).  

What is the main message of the book that you want readers to take away?
As a child, I was very unhappy because of a turbulent home life. I would have loved to have read A Game of Keeps because it demonstrates that no matter what life tosses at you, you can survive if you have faith in yourself and in others, and that there is always hope.  

How long did it take you to write A Game of Keeps?
I worked on it for about 12 months.  

Is this the general amount of time it takes to write books this length?
Yes, but some books take less time. The longest it took for me to write a book was almost 20 years! This book, The Shape (Allen & Unwin), was based on the death of my daughter, Kathleen, so it was obviously not an easy book to write. It went on to win a CBCA Notable Book Award.  

What were your favourite books when you were a child?
I only owned one book – Heidi, which I re-read many times, but I borrowed frequently from a public library (no school library in my day). My favourite author was Enid Blyton; I must have read every book she ever wrote. I remember loving How Green was My Valley, The Swiss Family Robinson and a poetry anthology I found on the local tip. I’m now in my mid 60s so when I was a child there were few authors writing for children. Nowadays I read – and enjoy — many children’s books.  

What are your biggest motivators?
I have a lot of self-motivation (which people with a passion always have), but I’m greatly encouraged by my award-winning YA novelist husband, Bill Condon. I keep in regular touch with numerous other children’s authors and attend a weekly writers’ critique meeting which is invaluable. What motivates me most of all is getting my work accepted! Annually I send out about 100 manuscripts, and have an average acceptance rate of 15 to 20%. Rejection is part of trying to get published, part of life really. You have to keep faith in yourself and your work.  

What advice do you have for emerging writers wanting to get published?
Don’t expect it to be easy. Persistence is paramount. Always watch out for new markets. Subscribe to industry magazines such as Bookseller and Publisher, and Buzz Words http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com (a fortnightly online magazine for people in the children’s book world which I founded in 2006.) Network, always meet deadlines, write daily, read widely, be professional, and when you’ve ‘made’ it, encourage new writers. That’s what I try to do.  

Find out more about Di Bates:
http://enterprisingwords.com.au 
http://diannedibates.blogspot.com.au
 

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner  

Review – The Simple Things

Great Aunt Lola is about to die. At least ten year-old Stephen thinks she could because she’s that old, and grumpy. And Stephen, labouring under a self and parent imposed ‘shy label’, is more than a little scared of her. He simply wants to flee, but is stuck in Aunt Lola’s house for the next three weeks until she turns eighty, or dies.

The Simple ThingsThey say the simple things in life are the best, but could friendship with his elderly aunt be that easy and straightforward? Award-winning author Bill Condon convinces me it can.

Condon’s latest ‘tween’ novel, The Simple Things is for bridging the generation gap, what styling gel is for rampant adolescent hair-dos; maybe not 100% essential but essentially 100% worth the effort.

Actually, it was no effort at all to immerse myself into this heart-warming tale about letting go, facing personal doubts and overcoming uncomfortable situations. It’s a story about an only child who does what his parents tell him to do, is scared of climbing trees and doesn’t seem surrounded by an ocean of friends.

Blue, Stephen’s dog back home, is the one he misses most during his enforced exile at Aunt Lola’s place. However, he soon meets Lola’s neighbour and past flame, Norm, and Norm’s granddaughter, Allie. With their help, Stephen is able to confront a few of his short comings. He also embarks on a small sojourn of self-discovery as he learns about the simple things in life – like fishing, cricket, climbing trees and death. All this explicably pulls him closer to Aunt Lola. They form a prickly alliance, each benefitting from the other until finally they are forced to admit a deep and special friendship.

The Simple Things is ‘smiley face perfect’ (re; the wet cement moment page 127). Condon writes with unaffected adroitness, delivering this story with equal measures of gentle humour and poignancy, and just enough secrecy to entice readers to want to find out what really lurks behind Aunt Lola’s tough-guy bravado.

Bill CondonCondon’s characters are bright, sharply drawn individuals with enough depth to make us laugh and cry, minus the melancholy. I found Stephen’s charismatic, larrikin father and sarcasm-welding Allie most endearing along with our hesitant hero’s comical boyish charm.

The Simple Things is one of those easy to read, easy to enjoy books, so I suspect it was not that simple to write. But I for one am grateful Condon persevered as Stephen did with his aunt, for it simplifies the complexities of a young person’s relationship with themselves and their aging relative with composite grace and humour, allowing young male and female readers to value and cherish their own relatives all the better.

See why here.

Allen & Unwin February 2014

 

GIVE ME TRUTH

Author, Bill Condon always manages to get right to the heart of young adults and the issues they face. His book Give Me Truth, a story about family breakdown is no exception.

Teens, Caitlin and David have a lot more in common than they realise. Aside from attending the same school and being involved in the same play, they are both watching their families fall apart in a dramatic and violent way.

They are also alike in that they want to know what’s really going on inside their homes, and they have their own ideas about how it can be fixed.

One of the strengths of Give Me Truth is that it doesn’t shy away from reality. Bill Condon has created beautiful characters who face a difficult and ugly truth.

Give Me the Truth is about ordinary teens going through common family problems, but it’s they way these characters talk and act that makes them unique and authentic. They are teens who see outside themselves and dare to enter the world of someone else’s pain.

David

I said, Come outside for a while, Dad.’

But he was in another place to us, much too far away to hear. He kicked at the door and broke through the outer layer, leaving splinters and the imprint of his shoe.

Caitlin

Hi Mum,

I’ve gone out looking for boys with Megan.

(To audition for a play, really!)

Won’t be long. Hope you’re feeling better.

Love from your adorable oldest child

and future star, Caitlin

XO

Give Me Truth is another powerful, memorable novel from Bill Condon, the award winning author of Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God.

CONFESSIONS OF A LIAR, THIEF AND FAILED SEX GOD

After reading Confessions of A Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God, it’s easy to understand why Bill Condon’s novel won the YA section of this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

It has a distinctly Australian flavour, historical setting, believable characters and great dialogue.

It’s 1967 and 16 year-old Neil Bridges has more than his fair share of issues to deal with. A new teacher has arrived at Neil’s strict Catholic school and introduced himself to the students by giving them all the strap.

What students are forced to endure at the hands of their sadistic teachers pushes some of them over the edge, but not Neil. This is Neil’s year of tested friendships and falling in love.  In the background, the Vietnam War rages and Neil’s brother’s number has just been called up.

This book has many series issues to be faced by the main character, and Bill Condon handles them with such realism that the reader is left feeling that they have just opened the door to a real person’s life.

At times the book builds to an emotional intensity that can be confronting, but Condon uses humour to provide relief, and show the different shades and hues of life.

Neil’s honest authentic voice makes him a complex and likeable character. Here’s how Neil describes his brother with whom he has always had a love/hate relationship.

Kevin is nineteen. I’m three years behind him. Don’t think I’ll ever catch up.

He’s got a motorbike. I’ve got a bus pass.

He’s got his own bank account. I’ve got my own tooth brush.

He’s got Elvis sideburns. I’m secretly using Dad’s razor, but I just scrape off soap.

(Confessions of A Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God – published by Woolshed Press 2009)

This is typical of Condon’s mastery. In just a short passage he has managed to convey so much information about the characters, their relationship and the era in which they live – all with a gentle humour that makes the reader care about Neil and want to know what happens to him.

Even though there is tragedy in the book, there is also hope and healing, and the readers is left feeling that Neil will handle whatever life dishes up to him next.

Confessions of A Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God has strong themes of mateship, family and identity.

Find out more about Bill Condon and his other great books at

PM’s Literary Award Nominee: Bill Condon

In a time when publishing for young adults seems to privilege the here and now (and sparkly paranormal romance), Bill Condon had the guts to set his Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God in 1967. There are no token youth-of-today references – there’s not an iPhone or a Facebook fight in sight – instead, readers are confronted with an affecting narrative, authentic teenage voices, and an honest reflection on the adolescent male experience. It’s a timeless story with real heart.

When I wrote the above review, I’d just completed the task of reading every single Australian young-adult book being considered for the CBCA’s Older Readers prize, and I knew, without a doubt, that I had just read something special. When it wasn’t recognised by the CBCA, I was… well, incensed. Now, the literary world seems to have corrected its… grievious oversight, and Bill Condon’s Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God has made the shortlist of the PM’s Literary Awards (Young Adult fiction category) – worth $100,000, tax-free.

As I always seem to do in these circumstances, I decided to invite Bill to drop by and extend on Chrstine’s blogpost, and look at what inspired the brilliantly-titled Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God. And what it feels like to be shortlisted, obviously.

BILL CONDON
On inspiration and awards…

One day about two years ago – as a way of avoiding writing – I searched through the online phone book for a name from the past that had popped into my head. I looked
in every state and found just a handful of people with this name. Then a Google check on one of them told me he was a chess champion. My man from the past was very good at chess – I had a match.

I hadn’t spoken to him for over forty years but when we talked it was easy. I asked him if he remembered when Brother Michael, our school Principal, punched and kicked him with hundreds of boys watching, all of us amazed to see him punching back.

Oh yeah. He remembered vividly and he was still seething about the injustice of it. I got the impression it had been eating at him all those years.

‘I didn’t do it!’ he said, almost pleading with me to believe him. ‘They found out later who did but I never got an apology.’

He’d been accused of stealing money. When he denied it, he was attacked. That happened when he and Brother Michael were alone in a classroom, but it spilled out into the quad when he fought back.

I had my own troubles at the school but I’d always told myself to get over it and move on. Even so, at times I still found myself searching Google and the phone book for
the name of one particular lay teacher. I didn’t know what I’d do if I ever tracked him
down, but I couldn’t get him out of my mind. And then I found the chess champion, who was also, like me, still trapped in the past. More and more it seemed like the only way to exorcise these ghosts, was to write about them.

Someone once said ‘write what you know’, and that’s what I’ve tried to do with
Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God. Much of it is true and by writing about
it, I think I can at last close the door on those issues. No more hunting down sadistic
teachers for me. (I might have to go after critics now.)

I thought this book was dead in the water after it missed out on scoring even
a Notable listing in the CBCA awards. But then it did a Lazarus and made it on to the
shortlist of the Prime Minister’s Awards. A big shock.

I’m very sorry for all those writers whose books aren’t on that list. I know the feeling – but if I can get there, so can you. Keep going. I’m very honoured to be in such great company. I’d love to win, of course, but I don’t expect to and won’t be disappointed.

Whatever happens, I’m living every writer’s perfect dream.

PS. On retirement, Brother Michael received the Order of Australia for services to
education.

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God by Bill Condon
Neil Bridges attends a Catholic boys’ school in which teachers rule with iron fists and thick leather straps. Some crumble under the pressure but Neil toughs it out, just as his Vietnam-bound older brother has done before him. He has to be a man, after all. But at sixteen, how can he be sure of himself when he’s not sure of anything else? He loses a friend and finds another, falls in love and unwittingly treads a path that leads to revenge and possibly murder…