By Andrea Louise Thomas Photos Yanni
Balnarring author/screenwriter Christian White could rightly be called the King of the Cracking Pace and Master of the Plot Twist. His books are addictively readable and critically acclaimed. His debut novel, The Nowhere Child, won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.
That award set off a bidding war for publishing rights. Christian chose Melbourne-based Affirm Press, which published his book in 2018. Amongst other distinctions, the book became a Number One National Bestseller; in fact, one of Australia’s bestselling debut novels ever! It’s also been acquired for a major screen deal.
Having written a bestseller right out of the starting blocks, Christian felt the pressure writing his second book, The Wife and the Widow, published in 2019, but it also became a bestseller and won the Ned Kelly Awards along with other accolades.
In 2020, Christian wrote Second Skin, an audible original novella. He also co-wrote (with Natalie Erika James), an Australian feature film called, Relic, a bone-chilling horror movie filled with wild plots twists, just like his novels. It debuted at Sundance Film Festival in 2020. In 2021, Christian and his wife, filmmaker, Summer DeRoche, co-wrote Still House, also an audible original novella.
While writing his third novel, Wild Place, another page turner, set on the Mornington Peninsula, Christian was also working on a Netflix series called Clickbait with screenwriter Tony Ayres. Released in 2021, it too became a smash hit; in fact, the Number One most watched series in 20 countries.
Christian was lauded as an overnight success, but, in fact, there is no such thing. He’s been writing his whole life. His mother, a schoolteacher, was a wonderful storyteller who encouraged her young son to build on story frameworks she made up. This most likely planted the seed for Christian becoming a writer. Both his parents were, and still are, incredibly supportive.
By 12 Christian was writing/producing story zines. He really got serious about writing in high school where he had some very encouraging teachers. When his English teacher read out his stories in class, Christian realised that being a writer was what he most wanted.
Initially, he was nervous about pursuing his dream.
He was afraid that if he tried and failed, he’d have to give up a dream he held very close to his heart. At 37, he finally took the leap into full-time writing. He wrote everything from sci-fi to literary fiction but found the thriller/crime fiction genre was his niche.
Before writing, Christian had worked in a wide variety of jobs from apple picking to editing adult films. He met his wife at the editing job when he managed to get them both fired and that was the turning point to starting his writing career.
Christian went to RMIT to get an Advanced Diploma in Screenwriting and formally learning story structure gave him confidence.
While at RMIT, he entered an Australian Writers Guild competition to write a television pilot. He won. This got him a meeting with Matchbox Pictures which led to Clickbait.
Clickbait was a launching point. He had the opportunity to work with other talented like-minded people. It was inspiring. The show reached millions of viewers giving him a huge boost in confidence. It was also fun to write because it keeps the viewer guessing right to the very end.
Screenwriting influenced the way Christian writes his novels. He’s a very visual storyteller who writes with an audience in mind. He structures his novels like television shows, finishing each chapter as if it’s going to a commercial break. It keeps the tension simmering and keeps the reader turning pages.
Affirm Press saw the genius in Christian’s style and storytelling. He chose Affirm because they were so passionate about his work. Christian loves their supportive, collaborative editing process. His first draft of The Nowhere Child was over 100,000 words. With their help, it was tightened to 86,000 words. As he explains, “Every single word needs to earn its spot.”
He wrote five versions of The Nowhere Child before submitting his manuscript to the VPLA. He had a full-time job and no expectations. Once it was published, everything changed.
“After the first book, I had two things I didn’t have before: a deadline and an audience. So the pressure was on,” he says.
As nerve wracking as that pressure was, he actually wrote his second book, The Wife and The Widow in six months, which was six months before deadline. Structuring helps.
Writing in alternating chapters, whether by character or time sequence, not only keeps the reader guessing, but it makes the writing fun.
“One of the secrets to great writing is knowing that the audience will bring so much to it. It’s as much about what you leave off the page. The reader brings their own imagination to the piece,” he says.
Christian sets aside three hours each day to write. On a first draft, he’ll aim for 1500 words a day, more for a second draft. With a screenplay he aims for 5-10 pages a day depending on the deadline. He sets achievable goals and leaves his writing at a point where he is excited to get back to it the next day.
Now he’s writing his fourth novel, working on a novella with his wife and finishing a screenplay for a movie that’s coming out soon. (He’s not one to rest on his laurels). Success hasn’t gone to his head because, as he says, “A good dose of impostor syndrome is a good thing,” He also credits much of his success to his brilliant wife without whom he believes he would never have made it.
The secret to success is simple. He says, “You have to follow through, your work has to be good, and you can’t be a jerk.” It’s clearly working for him.