Episode 13 with Cristy Burne

Episode 13 with Cristy Burne

Episode 13 with Cristy Burne


Fiona Bartholomaeus

Welcome. You're listening to Between Our Pages, a Premier's Reading Challenge WA podcast.

My name is Fiona Bartholomeus and together we'll be diving into the wonderful world of books and reading right here in WA.

Today we're chatting with popular children's author Cristy Burne about her latest book, Beneath the Trees. Let's go.


Fiona Bartholomaeus

Beneath the Trees is an adventurous book about the wilderness and survival, as it follows Cam and Sophie who go looking for a platypus and end up lost in a rainforest.

It's one of the latest books from passionate author, scientist, and creative Cristy Burne.

Cristy, thanks so much for joining me.

Cristy Burne

Thank you for having me. I love talking about books and adventure, so I'm really excited to be here. Thank you.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

You're a public speaker, a scientist and science journalist, and have worked in various jobs such as a garbage analyst and in a science circus.

How do you combine that all with being a children's author?

Cristy Burne

I think it goes together perfectly.

I think one of the most important things about being creative is that you're willing to give stuff a go.

You're willing to try new things. In fact, you have to try new things to put water in your bucket, to fill your bucket every day.

So before I can sit down and write a story, I need to be filled with those new experiences, new adventures, threatened, challenged.

All those experiences go into writing a book. I recommend garbage analysis for anyone who wants to.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

That sounds amazing.

Cristy Burne

Anyone who wants to be a children's author, to get down and dirty with your garbage analysis.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

So what was the moment that made you go, oh, I could take some of these experiences and turn it into children's books?

Cristy Burne

I think the moment I fell in love with reading. I can pin down to being a kid sitting cross-legged on the classroom floor in about Year 3 and my teacher reading to us from The Witches by Roald Dahl.

And the whole classroom was transfixed and we just looked up at her and waited for her to do the voices, you know, like, ‘Witches of Inkland, miserable witches’.

And it was so real and so magic and I was like, ‘I want to do that for somebody one day’.

I want to transform reality with the things that I make out of words.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

You've written a few children's books, and one of your latest ones was called Beneath the Trees. Can you tell us what it's about?

Cristy Burne

Beneath the Trees is the story of the worst family holiday I've ever been on, combined with a really great true story of conservation.

And it spun out. It's quite a long story. Are you ready?

It spun out. I was invited to speak at the Whitsundays Voices Festival, which is way on the other side of the country, and the beautiful organiser there said, her name's Tracy, she's like, ‘Christy, if you're going to come all the way, you should bring your family and go on a holiday’.

I was like, ‘yes, I should. That's a great idea’.

And I really love being out in the bush and I love walking.

So we thought let's go to Eungella National Park where you can see live wild platypus just playing in the quiet river pools.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

I think many of us want to experience that at some point.

Cristy Burne

It was going to be idyllic. We'd be walking through. through, there'd be birds piping and little platypus splashing, except that it was torrential rain.

It was so much rain, the car park was flooded, the river was flooded, everything was flooded, and there were no platypus anywhere.

So I said, ‘well, let's go hiking’.

And my kids said, ‘no, that's a terrible idea’. But I said, no, come on, you know, I'm the mum, too bad, pack a bag, Let's go hiking.

And we asked the people at the hotel for advice on where we should walk and they said, ‘there's a great hike, we'll drive you eight Ks up the road. We'll drop you off in this deserted car park and then you can walk through the forest 8ks home’.

Wonderful. It's a, it's a pathway it's not like we're bush bashing. It's a one way, when we get home, we'll have a bath and a shower and a lunch, and wow, what a great experience we will have shared.

But as they drove away, we realised we had no reception. And about one kilometre into that hike, my son, who was in Year 2 at the time, looked down at his naked calf and there on his white skin was this black creature.

And he said, ‘Mummy, what's this little black caterpillar on my leg?’

And I just freaked out. I had to try and get it off his leg and that was a massive effort in itself, and then by the time we did get it off his leg, we realised we were just covered in leeches, so many leeches.

And rather than turn around and go home, I said, oh, here's a great idea let's keep going because –

Fiona Bartholomaeus

Everything will be okay.

Cristy Burne

Probably. If we go back, we have to go to the car park and we have no reception and we have to walk home.

Let's just – it's only a few leeches and if we move out of this leech nest, the rest of the hike will be fine.

But no, not quite. The rest of the hike was a nightmare. Our raincoats were saturated. All our food was gone. All our water was gone. The children were crying. They were too scared to touch any of the leeches.

In Beneath the Trees, there's this crucial moment where they realise they're lost and they come to a river and they think, this is it. We can follow this river home.

And we had this moment because we came to the river and there was supposed to be a bridge, but because of all the rain, the bridge was gone.

So our only choice was to turn around and hike back through all the leeches and mud and my children were crying and I was crying. We had no food. It was terrible.

Or, somehow follow the river home. And that was my cool idea.

And in the book there's a really dumb character called Jack, that's me, I'm the dumb character called Jack.

And then there's a smart character called Cam, and that's probably my husband, who said, ‘no honey, if we do this we're all going to die’.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

It's funny hearing you tell that story, and I've read the book and it's almost parallel, not quite, but very, very similar in the book, especially the leech scene.

Even have an illustration in there of shoes covered with black little caterpillars but not quite.

Cristy Burne

Oh it's horrific and then the good news story, the beautiful story was about this beautiful platypus that had been seen with a plastic band around its neck, it was being strangled and these people found it reported it to the wildlife rescue people and then they staked out the billabong, waited for it to pop up, captured it saved it and set it free. And I thought that's a beautiful, true story, how can I take that real inspiring story and mix it in with our horrific holiday and make a fun adventure?

Fiona Bartholomaues

I like that it's a merge of two different stories.

Cristy Burne

Yeah, absolutely. And kids always ask that platypus, was it okay?

And you know what? Yes, it is okay. You can make a difference.

One person can make a huge difference to the world and I love those messages to be in all of my books, that it matters what you do and it matters that you make an effort and that you try and that you engage.

That's what I want for all kids.

Fiona Batholomaeus

And speaking of messages, I like that there has some practical advice and safety messages in there.

How important was it for you to include those, like make sure you stay warm and covered up and make sure you know where you're going and you're with other people?

Cristy Burne

Yeah, so I grew up in New Zealand and that hypothermia safety was always a part of our school camp briefings.

And because of those briefings, I've actually, I've saved someone's life. I've saved someone from hypothermia.

So we were hiking in Tibet, me and this hot young single boy, but he was all about, ‘oh, let me show you my muscles’.

And I was like, ‘no, dude, you need to put on something warm’.

And then when it came time to set up our tent, he was like, ‘oh, let's just set it up here’.

And I was like, ‘you mean here where this river is running? That's a bad idea’.

What are we going to have for dinner? He's like, ‘oh, oh, we don't need dinner’.

I'm like, ‘dude, you're sick. You're sick’.

Because people with hypothermia, they forget that they are cold, they forget that they're hungry, they start making really stupid decisions. And it was only because of my training in primary school that I could recognize that he was not in a good way.

Yeah. So I think of myself as a hero.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

So how important is it for you to write books such as this one, which has those important life messages?

I think that's always secondary. For me, it's got to be fun.

So you want kids to love reading, I want kids to stay up all night reading, I want them to get in trouble for reading, right?

If kids are going to be naughty, that's how I want them to be naughty.

And that means you've got to write something that they want to read that they can't put down.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

For those who pick up your book, what do you hope they take away from it?

Cristy Burne

I really don't hope they take anything away from it.

I just want to entertain them while they're reading it and then I want them to go, ‘right, what am I going to read next?’

That's what I want. I want them to go, ‘okay, that was awesome’.

I want that feeling again.

Addiction. I want addiction. I want them reading.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

It's a good thing to have and it gets kids ready when they go to school but also when they're at school. They can learn so much from books.

Cristy Burne

It's so important.

And we were chatting off air before about how vital it is for kids to have problem-solving skills and to be compassionate and to be able to think outside the box because we don't know what the future is going to hold.

We don't know what skills they will need, but they will need to be able to think creatively and to solve problems and to depend on each other.

So those are the things I think that reading can really teach us.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

And especially in this book, you see other kids having to solve this problem of getting back home.

So you can see them, some of them being calm, some of them not really being calm and seeing how they deal with a situation that's quite problematic.

Cristy Burne

Yeah, and I'm really proud of the way that Cam handles that situation because she is in a, I felt like it was a life or death situation for our family.

I've never been in such a dangerous situation with our young kids before.

And Cam, the character, is responsible for her younger sister and her older cousin, and she handles it using humour and creativity. She really does. She invents.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

She really does, yeah.

Cristy Burne

Yeah, and it's that ability to lift yourself out of what's real into something that's greater than real and it gives you greater powers to cope with whatever you're going through. So, yeah, I was really proud of her.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

Now, your books are quite adventurous. I'm curious, were you an adventurous child?

Cristy Burne

I don't know if I was, but the way my parents helped me become adventurous, I think, made a difference.

So, you know, I was too afraid to speak at all, let alone speak in public for a long time. I wouldn't even have a phone call and now I speak in front of hundreds of people all the time.

So they took me to speech and drama lessons. and then when I failed at that, when I stood up in front of everybody and said, ‘oh, I've forgotten what I was going to say’, they just said, ‘congratulations, you gave it a shot’.

So they really had that attitude of just give it a shot. That's what adventure is.

And they took us hiking. So I was not a sporty kid. I was not a strong kid. But you don't need to be sporty or strong to go hiking. You need to be mentally strong.

You need to be able to push through when it's hard and I think that's another, grit is another thing that kids need.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

I read that you work in an intersection of story, science, technology and creativity. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Cristy Burne

A lot of people think that science is not creative and that scientists are people who sit and do maths in a tower.

And then a lot of scientists think that artists are people who just faff around and make stuff and it has no real purpose.

But I think those two things are both incorrect.

Art is incredibly important for expressing who we are. Who are we if we don't create? Like look at AI can create, it can make beautiful things but it doesn't get joy from creating something. It doesn't feel fulfilled after it's created something and that's where being human is so vital right? Like that's what art is and then science is just finding new things discovering new things.

Science is just curiosity.

So those things marry together so beautifully. And grit, to be creative, you've got to try something and fail or write a book and have it get rejected. You've got to keep going back.

And same with science. You have a hypothesis, you give it a shot, it doesn't work out, you switch your hypothesis up a bit and change it and try again and it doesn't work out.

So that hero's journey of going outside your comfort zone, giving it a shot, failing miserably, pulling yourself up off the floor and trying again.

I think that's, we're all the hero and that's how life works, isn't it?

Fiona Bartholomaeus

And at the core of it, creativity and science and art are exactly the same thing.

Cristy Burne

Yeah, exactly. Exactly and we need people who are creative scientists and we need artistic scientists and we need science savvy artists as well.

So yeah, I love smashing all those things together.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

So why is it important for you to inspire creativity, daring and resilience through your books and your other work?

Cristy Burne

It's important to inspire it through my books so I can pay my bills.

Because I'm in the very fabulously lucky position that I'm now a full-time author, so this is what I love to do. I love to speak to people and inspire people and create change through stories.

So yes, that's important.

But also stories is so accessible.

We have free public libraries, like with air conditioning. Anyone can go, find a book about something that you love or something that you're interested in and be transported and learn something new and walk in someone else's shoes.

So that's really a superpower that we have as human beings to share stories like that. So I'm really very passionate about that.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

And you've got a couple of new books coming out very soon, one called Into the Blue and one called Ultraviolet. Can you tell us a little bit about them both?

Cristy Burne

Well, isn't it funny that you can work for years on something and then they, 2 separate projects and they've come out within a day of each other, even though they've been on the drawing board for years.

So the first one is called Into the Blue, it's a story set on Coogee Beach. There's the wreck of the Omeo there and it starts out with a snorkelling adventure that goes horribly wrong.

It's also based on a true story.

It's about a kid who makes a mistake and because he's too embarrassed or too scared to own up, he knows he's going to get in trouble. He doesn't say anything. And by not saying anything, the situation begins to spiral and things get worse and his guilt grows.

So it's a really, I love this little book. It's about owning your mistakes and it's about being brave enough to do that. So I just love it.

Don't ask me about the true story until my children are older or they might get cross with me.

And the second one's a graphic novel that I've been working on with an amazing co-creator called Rebel Challenger.

So Rebel's done all the illustrations.

Ultra Violet is a young scientist. She has a best friend called Izzy who doesn't believe in any science, and I love that they're still best friends.

They don't reject each other just because they have different beliefs, they hang out, they learn new stuff.

They have a talking hermit crab called Leonardo da Pinci.

Thank you. Thank you.

And Leo is just like a sidekick on all their adventures and this particular adventure, this is the first one in a series, this particular adventure kicks off when there's an alien invasion and the 3 heroes accidentally get exploded down through the sewer into a fatberg. Do you know what fatbergs are?

Fiona Bartholomaeus

I do not.

Cristy Burne

My gosh this is marvellous. Everything that you put down your sink, down your toilet, down the shower, it all goes into our sewer system.

And because people are putting things down there that shouldn't be down there, there's sort of a strange chemical reaction that begins to happen.

And all the wet wipes stick with all the waste and it starts to concrete and it grows bigger and bigger and bigger.

And you can get fat bergs the size of double-decker buses that block up the entire sewer.

It's a big deal in London because they have old sewers, but it happens in Australia as well. They dug one out of Melbourne recently.

So I love this idea that underneath us right now, kind of like a picture of Dorian Gray, there's all of the waste that we flush away and hope will disappear that's actually growing into a massive, disgusting, festering pile of coagulated human waste.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

I love how different the two books are, but they're both so amazing. And I love that you've switched up a little bit and have a full graphic novel. That must have been really fun for you to do something a little bit different that way.

Cristy Burne

So clever.

Rebel's done such a great job. So I just give her the text and she invents everything around that.

And so many of the jokes are visual jokes. And, you know, we have so much information to read and download every day, so getting good at visual literacy is really, really important.

And being able to see a picture and then understand why it's funny or see a picture and understand that character is feeling one thing but saying another thing you know?

I love all of those cute jokes that can come out, they're so funny I just love the humor that's possible through that visual medium.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

And I like how Into the Blue is set around the Omeo wreck which is just off the coast of WA and I like how some of your other books have been very true stories turned into a bit more fiction but are based within Australia.

Cristy Burne

Yeah so I rewrote my bio for Into the Blue because so much of it is true.

It says ‘Cristy Burne is an award-winning children's author’. I didn't rewrite that, but that's all true. I'll skip to the other bit.

‘She loves snorkelling on the Omeo with her 2 boys, true, visiting her 98-year-old Nan, who is related to the Muse family of boat builders’.

So our history with boats goes all the way back, bless Nan.

‘And one day she was absent from school and scored zero on a HASS test that somebody else wrote her name on’.

That's not in the book, but that's a true story of getting ripped off.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

Maybe you can write a book about that one in the future.

Cristy Burne

Yeah so everything that happens to you, even if it's terrible, even if you score zero on a test you didn't take, can become fuel for a creative story.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

Now, the Premier's Reading Challenge has yet to start for 2024, but it's always important to keep reading.

How important has reading been in your life?

Cristy Burne

Well, I'm a parent, so reading has saved my sanity because I don't know how to parent. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing.

I never took any lessons and suddenly someone gave me a baby.

I do know that sitting on the couch reading books to my kids, reading out loud, reading novels and picture books, but novels right from when they were really young, has been the easiest way that I know to be a good parent.

And same in the classroom as well.

Going back to that memory of being in Year 3, transfixed by the journey that my teacher was taking us on.

That's what reading means.

So it's a way of being together, it's a way of sharing our love for each other, it shows I care enough for you to share this with you and to read this with you.

And yeah I just think it's magic, it's just a bunch of squiggles on a piece of paper.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

And if you still remember a story that you were told in Year 3, it really impacts and centers moments in your life.

Cristy Burne

Yeah yeah absolutely, so thank you shout out to all the teachers who read to their kids because it's also, when you go into a classroom and the teacher's reading. There's so much peace.

Everyone chills right out and I love that. It's like a meditation.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

It is a little bit.

Cristy Burne


Fiona Bartholomaeus

Now before we let you go, one thing I like to do with all my guests, I like to ask a couple of rapid-fire questions.

Cristy Burne

I'm nervous now.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

Just want the first answer that comes to your head.

Cristy Burne

Okay. Ice cream.

Oh, you haven't started. Sorry.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

What is your favourite book?

Cristy Burne

Ahhhhh Does that count?

Fiona Bartholomaeus

Your recent favourite?

Cristy Burne

No, I'm taking the fifth. Is that what they do in America when they don't answer? I haven't watched enough TV.

I don't have a favourite book, I don't even have a favourite genre. I just read everything. So pass.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

What are you reading at the moment?

Cristy Burne

What am I reading? I've got a pile.

I'm reading about four different books at the moment. So I don't even know their titles.

What am I reading at the moment? I'm reading a lot of verse novels, I have about 10 verse novels beside my bed.

I'm reading a lot of nonfiction, so I'm really interested in brain chemistry and how what we think impacts the way that we act, so I'm reading about five of those at the moment.

In terms of fiction, I'm reading an adult novel, and I can't remember what it's called.

The most recent book that I've read is by an author called Jeff Vandermeer, and it's the first in like a sci-fi trilogy.

It's called Annihilation and I read it in a single night, I couldn't put it down. It's so weird, it's so surreal and then I gave it to my husband and he read it too, so yeah I recommend it.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Cristy Burne

I prefer fiction, like if I'm on a flight for example I'm not going to pull out non-fiction, I like to be on a holiday, so I like fiction.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

And finally in the spirit of the Premier's Reading Challenge how many books do you hope to read in 2024?

Cristy Burne

All of the ones that that I've just mentioned, plus all of the other ones on my list.

It's embarrassing. If you saw my workspace, it is almost solid books. It's like I've bought a little fort.

Fiona Bartholomaeus

That's a good problem to have, though.

Cristy Burne

It's a good problem. And I do read them. I do read them.

But I read them in like a menu. I think, what do I want to read now? So I'll just read a chunk and a chunk.


Fiona Bartholomaeus

You've been listening to Between Our Pages a Premier's Reading Challenge WA podcast.

Thanks to our guest Cristy Burne for joining me on this episode.

This episode was recorded on Wadjak Noongar land, we acknowledge the traditional custodians and pay respects their elders past, present and emerging.

Stay tuned to your favourite podcast player for future episodes.

Thank you for listening. Happy reading. We'll see you next time.