Video transcript
NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2023 - SWF author interview (primary) - 04. Cirsty Burne

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[intro music]

AMY: Hi. My name is Amy Liu, and I'm a student from Epping Public School. I'm here today on Cammeraygal land at The Concourse in Chatswood as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Primary Schools Day. And I'm so excited to be interviewing the fabulous Cristy Burne for the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge. Hi, Cristy. How are you today?

CRISTY BURNE: Hi, Amy. I'm great. How are you?

AMY: Good, thank you. How did you get started with writing?

CRISTY BURNE: I started writing when I was your age. That's such a good question, because I don't think it's just like, one day you wake up and you're a writer. To be a writer, you actually have to write something, and so when I was your age-- do you have to write stories at school? Yeah. That's how I started.

I just would write one page, and I'd be thinking, 'That's really good. I'm never going to write chapter two ever again. I'm just going to write one page, and then it's finished.' And then I realised, if you write one page, and then you write another page, and then you put a cliffhanger, and you write another page, that's how you write a book. So I just started writing a book from writing a story. It's really fun.

AMY: If you weren't an author, what would you be?

CRISTY BURNE: Oh! When I was little, I wanted to be a kindy teacher. Do you have any little brothers and sisters?

AMY: Yeah.

CRISTY BURNE: Yeah. How cute are they, right?

AMY: So cute.

CRISTY BURNE: Yeah. So I wanted to be a kindy teacher. Or a bookshop owner, because (singing) bookshops. [laughs] I love bookshops. Or what I am-- what I actually am, when I'm not being a writer, is I am a scientist. I love science. I love learning about science, and I love writing about science. I'm not good at doing science, because I tend to blow things up by accident. But I do love learning new things and discovering new things. Yeah, I think I'd be a scientist.

AMY: Like 'Aussie STEM Stars'?

CRISTY BURNE: Yes! I love those books. Those books are the life stories of real Australian scientists, right from when they were a kid. Because sometimes you look at someone and you think, 'Oh, wow, how did you-- like Fiona Wood. How did you get to be Australian of the Year?' And she's the inventor of spray-on skin, and she's a national living treasure. She's the head of the burns unit at West Australian hospitals. How did she get to be that cool?

And then to find out that she was just an ordinary kid, but that she was feisty and she was tenacious, and she didn't give up, and she fought for her right to go to university. I just think that's such a cool story. I love all of that. Have you read them?

AMY: Yeah. I have it in my bag.

CRISTY BURNE: Oh, Amy! I love you!

AMY: I was reading one of your spookier books from my school library, called 'Takeshita Demons'. Then I found out you changed the series' name. Why was that?

CRISTY BURNE: That's a really great question. 'Takeshita Demons' got published 13 years ago, and I have lived in Japan for 3 years, so I have an understanding of Japanese culture, and I speak Japanese language, and I've worked in a Japanese school and Japanese company. But I'm not Japanese, and the protagonist in that book is Japanese.

Since those books came out, there's been a real change in publishing, and it's a good change, I think, because the change is now publishers are wanting stories written by the person who experienced the story. Because I am not Japanese, those 'Takeshita Demons' books wouldn't get published today. Because today, I think, publishers are wanting stories-- Japanese stories told by Japanese people or true stories told in your own voice.

Which is why it's so important for kids to write, because kids know-- you know your life, right? You had the weirdest breakfast this morning. Totally weird. Bread, milk, chocolate milk. That is a weird breakfast. But no one else had that weird breakfast, and that's how come you can tell a great story. Because it's your story. I think it's really important that people tell their own story in their own voice.

And I changed 'Takeshita Demons' to an easier-to-pronounce title. But also, those books are out of print now. So if people do want to get hold of it, they can still get it as an ebook. But yeah, I think I've changed my focus, now.

AMY: We have the book in our school library, and I've been trying to get it the whole time.

CRISTY BURNE: Oh, really? It's really spooky. You know that scene when the phone rings? I didn't plan that scene. I was writing it, and then the phone rang, and I thought, 'Who's going to be on the phone? Oh! What if it's the dad?' And then that really spooky scene totally came to life. So that wasn't planned. Usually I plan.

AMY: Have you ever thought about writing more books for 'Hashimoto Monsters'?

CRISTY BURNE: Yes. But for that reason that I've just said, I won't now, because I want Japanese writers to write about those monsters. You know all the Pokémon monsters? The 9-tailed fox, and all of those traditional Japanese monsters. They are the monsters that are in those books. But how cool would it be for someone from Japan to write a story like that?

The stories that I'm writing now are based on my life. Adventure stories, stories with science mixed in, and also the 'Wednesday Weeks' books, which is, of course, magic and science mixed in together with comedy and adventure. My favourite kind of thing.

AMY: Since your first series were horror books, did you like horror-themed books when you were young?

CRISTY BURNE: I hate horror. I'm so scared of horror. I don't watch scary movies. I don't read scary books. Which is why I'm surprised to write a scary story. But you know what? Do you write? Do you write your own stories?

AMY: Yeah, sometimes.

CRISTY BURNE: So you know what's going to happen. It's not scary when you know what's going to happen. The scariest thing is when you don't know what's going to happen, or when you don't know when it's going to happen. It's going, tick, tick, tick, tick. But you don't know why, and you don't know when something is going to go bang, right? That's what's scary. As a writer, you have all the power. You can write a scary story, because you know when something's going to happen.

AMY: How did you get started with 'Aussie STEM Stars'?

CRISTY BURNE: That is such a good question, and it's a great story. This is why you must be brave. You must be brave. I was very brave. I went to a conference filled with lots of other writers. I met some people I'd never met before, other science writers, and we swapped business cards, and I thought nothing of it.

And then one day, I was sitting at my desk, and the phone rang, and it was a publisher, and the publisher said, 'This lady that you met at the conference has given me your number. Would you like to write a biography of Fiona Wood?' And I was like, 'Let me think. [yells] Yes, I'd love to.' [laughs] Yes, of course, I would love to. So that's how I got started.

AMY: That's a really funny story.

CRISTY BURNE: Isn't it? And she is so amazing. I had 15,000 words of research before I started writing the book, because there's so much information about her, and so many people are interested in her. I recommend that book. I recommend that book to everybody, adults and kids alike. Please read it. She's so inspiring. She's just an amazing person. All the 'Aussie STEM Stars' books are so inspiring.

AMY: I really like it.

CRISTY BURNE: Yay! Thanks, Amy.

AMY: I noticed that in your books, you like to teach your reader something. What made you decide to write like that?

CRISTY BURNE: When you read them, do you feel like you learn something?

AMY: Yeah.

CRISTY BURNE: Cool. [laughs] Because I don't really set out to teach anything, but I do like to manipulate your brain. So when you read something that I've written, you think about what I'm thinking about, and the things that I'm thinking about are things like, 'How can I be brave? What does it mean to be brave? How can we live on this planet, this beautiful, beautiful, planet, how can we live on it more sustainably? What is friendship? What is family? What is funny?' [laughs]

When I'm writing I'm exploring those ideas, and I'm trying to make myself laugh. If you learn something, that's awesome. I think that's really, really cool, and hopefully, it's also fun to read. But I don't set out to teach anything. So I'm glad that you learned something.

AMY: What was one of the most surprising things you learned when creating your books?

CRISTY BURNE: A surprising thing I learned-- Do you know what to do when there's a leech in your eyeball? No. Well, then this is a very important part of the interview. So listen up, because I learned that if you have a leech in your eyeball, you know what you should do? Get a very sharp pencil. Mm. A sharp pencil and a piece of paper, and write down how you're feeling.

Write down everything. I can feel it wriggling. I can see it growing fatter. I feel like I have a sausage poking out of my eye. I feel afraid. I think I'm going to vomit. Write down everything, and after 20 minutes of writing, the leech will be sticking out of your eye like a sausage, like this. Like a false eyelash.

And what you do is nothing. It will just drop out after 20 minutes, and it will wriggle away, and you will have a whole sheet of notes for a creative writing story, and a happy feeling in your heart because you've fed a forest creature. [sighs] So that's one of the most interesting things I've learned while writing my books. Don't forget it. It's very important. [laughs]

AMY: Have you ever got a leech in your eye?

CRISTY BURNE: Good question! I have never had a leech in my eye, but I have had leeches everywhere else. Is that too much information? I had a lot of leeches on me. It was the most disgusting ever. You know in 'Wednesday Weeks', in chapter 2, when they're in that sludge swamp?

AMY: Yeah.

CRISTY BURNE: Yes. Well, that's pretty much where it was inspired from, leeches. But I have been talking to schools and at festivals. Three times, somebody has put up their hand and said, 'Did you know that I had a leech in my eyeball?' They're not in your eye, because your eye doesn't have blood in it. But behind your eye, there's lots of rich blood vessels.

And they will drop on you from trees. While you're asleep, they will sneak in, because you can't feel them. They inject anaesthetic, so it's totally numb, and also anticoagulant, so your blood's nice and runny. They drink you like a milkshake until they are full up, and then they're just like, 'Oh, I've had enough. Thank you so much.' Then they just wriggle away, and you bleed for a bit, but you can still see. Isn't that a beautiful story?

AMY: It's a bit creepy.

CRISTY BURNE: Thanks, Amy. You're the best. [laughs]

AMY: Are there any characters from your stories that you relate to?

CRISTY BURNE: Yes, all the characters. I relate to all the characters. Yes, in every story. Miku Takeshita is a kid who lived in Japan, and then moved countries. That was me. As a young kid, I lived in New Zealand, and then I moved to Australia. So I really feel that.

In 'To the Lighthouse', it's a book about a kid who's not allowed to do anything, because his mum loves him so much that she's like, 'Be careful, be careful.' I relate to that, because I want my kids to be careful. But I also relate to Emmy's parents who are like, 'Be free, children, do whatever you want.' [laughs] I want my kids to be free, and I want them to be brave.

I always relate to all the characters. Even Wednesday Weeks, right? She's very, very good at magic. Well, no. She's not very good at magic. She's very, very good at blowing things up by accident. But she loves science, but she's not good at science.

And that's me. I'm not good at doing science, but I love it anyway. I love that she just tries things. You don't have to be good at something to enjoy it. I just give it a shot. And also I did accidentally explode sewage on my neighbour once.

AMY: [laughs] That is so funny.

CRISTY BURNE: Funny for you. Not funny for him. [laughs] Oh, how embarrassing. [laughs] It was my sewage, Amy. It was my sewage.

AMY: [laughs]

CRISTY BURNE: He was leaning over the pipe. 'Go, OK, flush!'


In my backyard. It's very embarrassing.

AMY: How-- [laughs] how can young children become good at writing stories?

CRISTY BURNE: Oh, how do you become good at anything? You become good at something by giving it a shot. You become good at something by trying again and trying again. You become good at something by enjoying it.

Don't write a story that's boring. Write a story that makes you laugh. Write a story that makes you smile. Write a story that makes you cry, if you want to cry. Just write something that you think is fun. Because if you write something that you think is fun, you'll keep doing it, and then before you know it, you've got a whole book.

And my other advice is, of course, read. Reading is the easiest way to be successful at life. [laughs] It's good for your spelling. It's good for your ideas. It's good for your experiences. It's good for your compassion, because you learn about other people. Yeah. Reading is like a superpower, and kids who read are also better looking and more intelligent. [laughs]

AMY: Thank you so much for letting me interview you today, Cristy. It's been amazing talking with you. I hope everyone watching out there today enjoys reading your extraordinary novels as much as I did, while they work to complete the Premier's Reading Challenge.

CRISTY BURNE: Yes! I've had a really, really great time as well. Thank you for interviewing me and laughing at my jokes, and yes, the reading challenge. Read books, win prizes. Get out there and devour stories, people. Because there's so much fun to be had in books and stories, and you are better looking and more intelligent, like us. [laughs] Thanks, Amy. You're a legend.

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