Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. She now lives in Melbourne with her family and a cheeky dog, works with gifted children, and teaches writing at TAFE.
Bren’s first book How to Bee is a story about family, loyalty, kindness and bravery, set against an all-too-possible future where climate change has forever changed the way we live.
Bren MacDibble now answers the Booktopia Book Guru’s Ten Terrifying Questions!
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Whanganui, Westcoast, North Island, NZ, near a black sand beach. From there we (Ma, Pa, and three brothers) moved up the Eastcoast, through Hawkes Bay, working farms, and inland to the highcountry to herd curly-horned sheep, then back over to the Westcoast to Huntly to herd bulls. We worked hard but we were also free to roam the countryside and forests.
Schools changed every six months to three years, education was patchy, and sometimes repeated. I left high school to go straight to work as a legal office junior. To say I’m a self-taught writer is wrong though. School libraries fueled a love of reading when I was a kid, and I’ve done some lovely workshops as an adult. Clarion South back in 2004 was amazing, and I definitely would not be a writer if other writers didn’t do their jobs so well and share their knowledge so openly.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve, I was going to be a bareback circus performer because I wanted to travel and work with horses.
At eighteen, I was already working and had given up any plans to join the circus or a later more sensible plan to be a radiologist, and I just wanted to do something that didn’t feel like work.
At thirty, I had spent two years backpacking around the world so the travel part of my twelve year old plan had worked out. At thirty, I also had a 2 and 3 year old and was living in Australia where I knew no one, so all I wanted to do was catch up on sleep and figure out how to juggle toddlers and any kind of job. Reading books to them and wanting to work from home is what first set me on the path to writing.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I’d never want to live anywhere else than in New Zealand. I’ve lived in London, Sydney and Melbourne since then, and have travelled all over the world. I always planned to return to New Zealand, but I’ve been away more than 20 years now, so clearly I’m terrible at planning.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Only three? Don’t you know we absorb it all and mash it all up in our squishy little brains and then extrude it out again in all sorts of odd shapes? Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, for the mash up of themes and plethora of ideas, all in a small novel (most of his novels are not small). We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, for showing me the power in a child’s voice. And maybe Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice for being so out there and different and trying new viewpoints, and inventing new rules for societies.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t paint, can’t act, and people tend to get angry if you sculpt their hedges into interesting shapes. Plus, there’s no more intimate way to tell a story than by writing. You can crawl right into a character’s head and live there. You know what they say about people who read living a thousand lives? Well, writing is living many lives too… but where you get to overcome a lot of challenges. Maybe even solve problems you can’t solve in real life.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
How to Bee is about a feisty young girl who loves the orchard where she lives, and loves her family, and stands up for what she believes is right.
It’s set in the future after bee loss has caused famine and forced orchardists to hire people to hand-pollinate the flowers the same as they do right now in one county in the Sichuan Province. There is a vast difference in this future between rich and poor. Rich people have been insulated from the problems of climate change, and are able to afford food, and extra security, while lower income people have lost everything.
Peony, our young protagonist, doesn’t mind being poor because she gets to live on the orchard and is going to be a Bee (a hand-pollinator). Peony’s mother has other plans, and drags poor Peony off to the city to work as a maid. Practical Peony clashes with privilege when she meets the daughter of the house. Peony hates just about everything about living in that big house in the city, but there are people there who need her help too.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
One of the reasons I wanted to set this novel in a future time was because I saw that children were completely understanding the problems of pollution, bee loss, and climate change and taking on that stress. I wanted to show a world where something terrible had already happened, and life was going on, changed and hard, but still full of love and family and hope.
“You can crawl right into a character’s head and live there. You know what they say about people who read living a thousand lives? Well, writing is living many lives too… but where you get to overcome a lot of challenges. Maybe even solve problems you can’t solve in real life.”
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Margo Lanagan. You open one of her books on the train, and you’re completely immersed in a strange new world. You’re not forced to read through dry explanations about how it works or why… and suddenly you’re not on a train anymore. You’re beachcombing a cold rocky shore looking for the tastiest sea hearts, or making sure your mother’s skin is locked safely away, or bawling your eyes out because your sister is sentenced to sink in a tar pit. You’re just there, in it all. Discover the books of Margo Lanagan.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Write more books. Write books that take readers out of trains and give them other lives. Writing more seems obvious, but when you’re busy with day jobs and night jobs, and houses that burn down and need to be rebuilt, writing time gets eaten away so quickly.
“I wanted to show a world where something terrible had already happened, and life was going on, changed and hard, but still full of love and family and hope.”
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read outside your genre. Read amazing authors, and if they’re sharing what they do and how they do it, pay close attention.
Try to figure out what you really love about stories, about prose, plots, characters, and then write wildly, trying to incorporate all you love in your own writing.
Write for yourself. Write for the fun of it. Write to learn. And when you hit a wall, and don’t know how to get any better, find some new amazing authors and read some more, and see if they’re talking about what they do.
Thank you for playing, Bren!
How to Bee
A story about family, loyalty, kindness and bravery, set against an all-too-possible future where climate change has forever changed the way we live.
Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, 'Tomorrow we'll find two new bees.'
Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. All Peony really wants is to be a bee...
About the Contributor
Bronwyn Eley is new to the book industry, having previously served in the Royal Australian Air Force & even spent some time as a barista until entering the exciting world of Booktopia. Books are her true passion. Bronwyn writes in her spare time, often has her face buried in a book and enjoys keeping fit (which she undoes by eating loads of chocolate) with Martial Arts and personal training. She can't answer what her favourite book is but she has a soft spot for The Host (Stephanie Meyer), Peter Pan (J.M Barrie) & Outlander (Diana Gabaldon).