A visit from Dianne Bates

When Counterfeit Love, my latest book for young adults, came out this year, I have to admit to suffering a little fatigue. I’d had eleven books published in four years, and was feeling like I’d just finished an ultra marathon. But when I look around at my fellow children’s authors, I realise I’m just ambling along.

dianne-batesToday I welcome an author who has more than 120 titles to her name. Dianne Bates has a flair for humour, but has delved into some very disturbing topics in her young adult fiction. Bates has drawn from personal experience in her work, including her latest book – The Girl in the Basement – which tells the story of a girl abducted and held in a basement, awaiting her fate.

Here, she answers some questions about her work.

You’ve written more than a hundred books, across lots of topics, but your YA books seem to focus on very dark themes – abandonment, self-harm and kidnap. Why is that?

Most of my fiction books for younger readers are humorous! I guess the darker issues are something that I feel suit teens who are transitioning into the adult world and so often suffer much angst. During my adolescent years I knew abandonment and the feeling of being trapped, also I self-harmed. It’s said that one should write about what one knows, so I often draw on my life experiences when I write social-realism (which is most of the time).

Can you explain the inspiration for your latest book – The Girl in the Basement?

The Girl in the BasementAs a child I lived in a household of domestic violence and was constantly in fear of what might happen next, so I could well relate to the experiences of a teenage girl who is trapped physically and psychologically. I also had first-hand experience of an unpredictable man in my life so you could say I didn’t need to do much research but could draw on my childhood memories.

I read a lot of crime fiction and real-life crime books which I found helpful in creating the life and mind of a criminal (the book is told from two points of view). In researching specifically for The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia), I read about the experiences of young, abducted women who managed to flee their abusers. In particular, Sabine Dardenne’s whose book, I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped. Interestingly, the same week that the women were released from years of captivity in the house in Cleveland Ohio was the same week that The Girl in the Basement was released by Morris Publishing Australia.

What is the appeal of writing for young adults?

Many books for young adults published more recently have been fantasy and/or sci-fi, and are about dark themes such as vampires, dystopian societies and so on. As a reader I am more interested in the world as it is now so I don’t bother with these genres. I think there are many young adults who want to read about how fictional characters negotiate the kinds of problems they are faced with in their lives. Reading social-realism is not just living vicariously, it’s also about seeing solutions and seeing that there can be hope when life seems grim and nobody is listening. My other YA novels are The Last Refuge (Hodder Headline) about domestic violence victims and Crossing the Line (Ford Street Publishing) about a girl who is in care and who becomes obsessed with her psychiatrist. I suffer from bipolar so have experience of being in psych wards (nowadays I’m sane because I’m medicated).

How do you avoid covering old ground when you have written so many books?

Crossing the lineI rarely cover old ground! I have been writing and getting published for over 30 years and I’ve never run out of ideas. I don’t just write novels for younger children and teenagers: I also write non-fiction (including a few textbooks), joke books, poetry and verse anthologies, plays, articles, short stories, even an (unpublished) adult novel. My husband (YA award-winning author Bill Condon) and I make a living from full-time writing and have done so for years. Both of us write a 40-hour week each. Over the course of a year I submit upwards of 100 manuscripts to publishers (with a success rate of 15 to 20%).

What are you working on right now?

Lately I have been writing novels for young readers aged 8 to 10 years. The latest is A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press) about a foster child and I’ve just sold two other junior books, one to a small publisher, another to a major publisher. Currently I have a few projects. I’ve just had a junior novel To the Moon and Back assessed by a professional freelancer who has suggested many ways to improve the text, so that’s my writing project.

I am also in the process of proof-reading A Beginner’s Guide to Better English (Five Senses Education) to be published later this year. This week I have resumed editorship of Buzz Words (All the Buzz About Children’s Books)  which I founded in 2006; it’s a fortnightly online magazine for people in the children’s book industry. At the moment I am doing a lot of admin work with the generous help of Vicki Stanton who has done a sterling job at the editing helm for a few years while I took a break. There are hundreds of subscribers, so I am wrangling my computer skills to try to implement everything. I am also finding new content for the first issue I put out on 15 October. If anyone wants a free sample, they can contact me at Buzz Words. 

Thanks to Dianne Bates for giving us an insight into her work.

Visit again soon for more interviews, book news and reviews. Happy reading until then.

Julie Fison



The Girl in the Basement

The Girl in the BasementThe Girl in the Basement is the latest novel from award-winning author Dianne Bates. Dianne is visiting the Boomerang Books blog today to tell us a little about the writing process behind this new novel. Take it away Dianne…

The Girl in the Basement, the Writer in the Garret
By Dianne Bates

No fiction is created in a vacuum; at the core of all writers is a jumble of thoughts, experiences, beliefs, emotions and lots of odds and ends, all waiting to be tapped and then assembled to form story. Every one of my novels, whether it’s a humorous children’s story about a truck-driving grandmother or a burping bushranger, has resulted from mining snippets of my subconscious and then deliberately shaping them.

My latest novel, The Girl in the Basement, is about a teenager abducted on her sixteenth birthday by a psychopathic serial killer who wants to create a family. Thank heavens I’m not a psychopath, but at times in my life I have experienced feelings of rage and of revenge, emotions which I explored to create Psycho Man. And too, I still remember how it felt to be a teenager: it was much easier to mine those memories to create Libby Bramble. Both Libby and Psycho Man demanded to be heard, so I wrote the book using multiple viewpoints: Libby tells her story in first person while the kidnapper’s story is told in third person. I wanted to show Libby always living in the moment whereas the kidnapper, being more elusive and anonymous, needed to be presented in a cloak of mystery. The use of present tense throughout the novel means there is more immediacy to the story as events unfold.

The Girl in the Basement is based on the real-life discovery in 1987 of a Polaroid photograph picked up by a shopper in a Florida (US) car park. It showed a teenage girl, and a boy about ten who were both bound and gagged and who appeared to be in the back of a van. Disturbed by the photo, the finder took it to police.  Hundreds of stories with the picture were run in national media, including a TV program, Missing People. This resulted in the parents of both children contacting police. The boy was said to be Michael Henley, who had gone missing from a camping trip 17 months earlier. The girl, identified as Tara Calico, had disappeared 75 miles away a year earlier while out cycling. Both Michael and Tara were from New Mexico but were unrelated. For their parents, it was the first inkling of what had happened to them.

I was distressed by the story and often wondered if either of the victims were ever found. As it turned out, there were numerous unconfirmed sightings of Tara in 1988 and 1989, mostly in the southern half of the United States. However, she has never been found, alive or dead. Remains found in the Zuni Mountains in June 1990 were eventually identified as Michael’s. It is believed he died of natural causes. Thus the identity of the boy in the photo is still unknown.

In developing a storyline for the novel, I needed to ask and answer many questions. What if a demented man is lonely and wants a family? What if he stalks young girls looking for one who is ‘ideal’? What does he consider ‘ideal’? Where would he keep her and for how long? What if he also wants a ‘son’? How does he capture his victims? What if the children he imprisons are resistant to his efforts to charm them?

A long time spent thinking and making notes and linking answers to one another resulted in a storyline beginning to develop. Next, I needed to consider where to begin the story. I needed to know, too, whether the kidnapped teenage girl and the younger boy ever escaped, and if they did, how? What might happen during the time of imprisonment? I needed, too, to think about and to map out background stories for my main characters – their present and past relationships, where they lived, what motivated them in life. And, too, I needed to plan settings, especially the house where Psycho Man takes his captives. How might he treat them there? What freedoms, if any, might he allow them? How does he keep them alive? Importantly, does he allow them to live?

The Girl in the Basement sets a scenario of how the combination of being a teenage girl, over-indulging in alcohol, being alone, being in the wrong place and being very unlucky can predicate abduction. More than any demographic, young women are likely to be victims of crime, especially kidnapping, so it’s not surprising that teenage girls would have a fear of being abducted by a stranger. Wikipedia reports dozens of cases of kidnapped victims over the past century; some have been found alive, but many were murdered. I was helped in my understanding of the psychology of a captive by reading about the experiences of young females such as Jaycee Lee Dugard, Natascha Kaumpsch and Sabine Dardenne, who were held by different psychopaths at different times in different countries. Dardenne’s book I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped.

The Girl in the Basement offers readers an insight in how it is possible to survive one of the hardest curveballs that life can throw, so I needed to present Libby, the hero of the story, as a young woman who is resilient, resourceful, independent, caring, and brave. And I needed the reader to understand what it must be like to be unhinged, as Psycho Man doubtless is. I needed to show how he functions in ‘normal’ society, just as Ariel Castro, the abductor of three young women in Cleveland, Ohio, fooled many people by appearing to be ‘normal’. Reading many real-life crime books and crime novels helped me enormously in preparing to write and to actually write and craft my psychological thriller.

The writing of The Girl in the Basement (which underwent numerous draft titles) took about five years. Before submitting it to a publisher, I not only underwent weekly copy-editing workshops with my husband, award-winning YA author Bill Condon and a group of three other published authors, but I also paid for the finished draft to be assessed by a professional, in-house editor. She made many suggestions, all of which I followed in order to finish with a manuscript I finally decided was publishable.

My experience with major publishers is that they invariably spend up to (and sometimes longer than) 12 months sitting on their manuscript slush piles. As I wasn’t prepared to wait this long, I took a gamble on a relatively new publisher, Morris Publishing Australia, based in Brisbane. Luckily I received a reply before too long and it was positive.

George’s bit at the end

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Thank you, Dianne, for sharing your behind the book story.

Dianne is the author of many books, including Crossing The Line, Nobody’s Boy and The Hold-up Heroes. To find out more about Dianne and her writing, check out her blog.


Catch ya later,  George

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Interview – Author Dianne Bates

KBC warmly welcomes prolific author, philanthropist and children’s literature champion whith this enlightening interview. Take it away, Di!

What is your name?
Dianne Bates, though everyone knows me as Di.

What do you do?
I’m a children’s author of over 100 books.

Tell us a little about your life.

My husband, Bill Condon (an award-winning YA novelist) and I live a quiet life with our dog Sassy in the northern suburbs of Wollongong, New South Wales, near the ocean. I had a very abusive childhood, my only ambition being to leave home, which I did as soon as I could.

I’ve had many jobs including factory worker, kitchen hand, nurses’ aide, journalist, regional newspaper and national children’s magazine editor, teacher, bookseller and schools’ performer.

Bill and I have fostered children; currently we’ve been adopted as grand-parents to five neglected local children. My youngest daughter, Kathleen, was killed at the age of two; my other daughter, Claire, lives permanently in Canada.

What genres do you write in?
Much of my earlier writing has been humorous (for example the Grandma Cadbury and the fictional Bushranger series), but I’ve written half a dozen social realism novels for older readers, plus a lot of non-fiction for the educational market.

Which do you prefer and why?
My latest YA novel, Beyond the Locked Doors, is a psychological thriller. I enjoyed writing it so much I plan to write some more thrillers, but having said that, I do enjoy writing funny books for younger, reluctant readers.

How long have you been writing?
My first children’s book, Terri, was published by Penguin Books in 1980. At the age of 29, I decided to write a book: it was published two years later.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
As a child I was a talented writer, but in fifth grade, falsely accused of plagiarism, I didn’t do much writing thereafter until I was in my late 20s. Then, when I was teaching primary-aged children, I used to write humorous plays for them to perform.

What inspired you to first write for children?
Moved by the desperate efforts of reluctant primary-aged readers that I taught, I wrote books which I thought would interest them. Many of my books appeal to these readers.

How did you get your first book published?
While writing my first book, I met the late Michael Dugan at a writers’ festival: Michael was then editor of Puffinalia, a national children’s magazine published by Penguin Books. Michael published my first children’s stories, read my book manuscript and passed it on to the Penguin children’s publisher who accepted it for publication. Years later, I co-edited Puffinalia with Doug McLeod! Later I was editor of the national children’s magazine, Little Ears.

How has the children’s literature scene changed in the past 10 years and where do you see it headed?
Increasingly it is becoming more difficult to get books published in print; however, it is easier than ever to convert one’s work to e-book format. One high school in Victoria (Aquinas College) is going paper-free from 2012, and I think this is the way of the future. This means that e-book authors will need to rely more and more on marketing their work through social media. Not such good news for older authors, such as myself, who first began writing on non-electric typewriters and who are not as experienced in handling e-publishing and promotion.

I know of several former print book publishers who are learning as much as they can about e-books with a view to becoming e-book literary agents. Bring them on!

What advice would you give other aspiring writers?
Rewrite and edit ruthlessly. Find a mentor (and make it a two-way relationship). Network widely through social media and by attending conferences and festivals. However, more importantly than all of this, persevere. Have faith in yourself and your abilities because no-one will care more about your work than you.

What interests you, beyond writing?
I love to paint and to make. I spend a lot of time interacting with children and also working in schools as a performer and writing teacher. I love my home and pottering around in it, spending time with my husband, Bill. And I love meeting up with friends for lunches and going to the movies with them.

What books did you read as a child?
Sadly there were no books in my home, and we had no school library. I borrowed from a municipal library as often as I could, mostly Enid Blyton books. Nobody ever encouraged my reading, but somehow I found my own book path.

Novels I loved as a child were A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Swiss Family Robinson, How Green was my Valley, Heidi, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. On a rubbish tip I once found a tattered book of poetry and read it over and over. To this day I love poetry, both reading and writing it.

Why do you write?
Stories find me and compel me to write them. I love words, both in the reading of them and in the writing. My husband, Bill Condon (winner of the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for YA literature) and I are both writers – we live among words every day; they are our life.

What five words best sum you up?
Resourceful, dogged, reliable, optimistic, creative.

Learn more about Di and her wonderfulwork at Enterprising Words.