Monday, 28 January 2013

A MARRIAGE MADE IN (BOOK) HEAVEN


Writing led to my husband and I meeting one another; it was a crucial element of our courtship, and now 30+ years later it is still a vital part of our lives together. In 1981, the author of two children’s books (both with Penguin), I applied for funding from the Literature Board of the Australia Council to run a poetry reading during the Campbelltown Fisher’s Ghost Festival. Part of the funding agreement was that half of the invited poets should be from the local area. Someone told me about a quiet, unassuming man who wrote hilarious poetry so I followed the lead. On the program were poets of the calibre of Nancy Keesing, John Forbes, Chris Mansell, Geoffrey Lehmann, Susan Hampton and Max Williams but the audience favourite on the day was that local, Bill Condon.

A short time later Bill joined the South-West regional Fellowship of Australian Writers of which I was the founding-President: soon he was elected Secretary and we worked hard to raise the profile of writing in the Macarthur region. For years Bill had written plays, poetry and short stories while working as a shift-worker in a milk factory: a few of his stories had been published in a greyhound racing magazine. My background was in journalism and teaching: I’d been seconded from the latter for a short period to work on editorial team of the NSW Department of Education School Magazine.

In between working full-time at our respective jobs, and over a period of about six months Bill and I co-wrote a collection of children’s plays which eventually was published under the title Madcap Café and Other Humorous Plays. Although long out of print, we still continue to receive occasional CAL payments and requests from teachers for permission to stage plays from the book. We also co-wrote a children’s action novel, The Slacky Flat Gang, also published and now out of print.

After ten years as a labourer, and at my urging, Bill quit his factory job with the aim of becoming a full-time writer while supplementing his income with part-time journalism at a provincial newspaper. However he was immediately offered a full-time job at the paper, quite remarkable considering he had left school in his Intermediate Certificate year. Meanwhile, I was doing as I had done for many years – freelance writing and working at a variety of part-time jobs including schools’ performer, writing teacher, bookseller, journalist and advertising sales’ rep for a newspaper. I was fortunate on four separate occasions to also receive grants and fellowships for the Literature Board, all of which allowed me to write full-time and to produce many books for young people. I’m quite sure that without the Board’s funding I would have given up writing and gone back to full-time teaching.

Bill worked for ten years full-time on the newspaper, and then part-time until eventually he left permanently, again with the idea of full-time freelance writing. By this time my well-paid work as a Department of Education Accredited schools’ performer gave me hope that I might one day own my own home so this became my main occupation, along with freelance writing. As his pile of manuscripts turned into published children’s books (mostly poetry and play collections and educational books), Bill joined me as a schools’ performer. He overcame his shy, retiring nature and developed some wonderful comic skills while working with infants’ children and their teachers. While he was entertaining in the junior school department, I would be performing to primary classes, both of us promoting our books and a love of reading as well as offering writing insights and advice. At lunch-times we would often sell our remaindered books, all of which we had autographed the night before. It was a hard-going but fun-filled few years before, finally, at the age of 50 my dream came true: Bill and I bought our present home in Wollongong, NSW.

A fantastic change occurred to us and to all (mainly) children’s authors in 2000 when the Federal Government introduced Educational Lending Rights, a payment scheme to compensate authors for books held in educational libraries. This annual payment combined with our annual PLR payments, meant that Bill and I can both work from home as full-time writers without having to undertake part-time work. We have also been able to cease commissioned work (mostly from educational publishers) and instead focus on what really want to write. In 2002, Bill’s YA novel Dogs (Hodder Headline) was awarded the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Honour Book for the Year for Older Readers and a year later his second YA novel No Worries (University of Queensland Press) also won CBCA Honour Book of the Year. The crowning prize for Bill working in YA books was in 2010 when he won the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God.

Meanwhile, I have had the time and freedom to finish two YA novels (Crossing the Line, Ford Street) and The Girl in the Basement, a verse novel (Nobody’s Boy, Celepene Press, 2012), compile an Australian children’s poetry anthology (Our Home is Dirt by Sea, Walker Books, 2012), and work on a number of non-fiction children’s books (published by Cambridge University Press and Hinkler).

How is it working with another writer in the same house twenty four seven? Wonderful! Bill and I each have our own offices, mine downstairs, his upstairs. Normally we are in front of our respective computers by 9 am, although I often start very early in the morning, my preferred working time. We meet for lunch and generally finish around 5pm, but often we will work at night. Usually when one has finished a major writing project, the other will read and offer constructive criticism; sometimes we will thrash out ideas for new stories or scenes in books. Once a week we hold a weekly writing workshop in our home with other local children’s writers. This is our life: we are truly blessed.

Dianne (Di) Bates and Bill Condon have published over 200 books between them, mostly for the juvenile market. Their website is www.enterprisingwords.com





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