Canberra Centre Masthead

Author Q & A with Canberra's Christie Thompson

Martina Taliano

christieRecently, I reviewed Snake Bite, a fantastic new novel by local author Christie Thompson. After reading the book I wanted to know more about Christie, and how her amazing mind was able to come up with characters and events that I could imagine happening right now in the suburbs of any city. If you haven’t had a chance to grab your own copy yet don’t worry, there are no spoilers!

Where did your inspiration for Snake Bite come from? Why did you want to write about something that is happening right now?

I wanted to write a coming-of-age story that would define a generation. Nothing if not ambitious. I have always loved coming-of-age books, and I was too late to the party in writing about my own generation. The 90s was well documented in ‘grunge’ literature, so it was like, ‘What comes next?’

I watched a lot of contemporary reality television. I was particularly interested in the way young women were being portrayed in shows like Jersey ShoreLadette to Lady and Girls Gone Wild, just to name a few. I thought it would be really interesting to write a book that almost emulated the style of reality television in its voyeurism. From there, I started reading a lot of pop feminism, which may have influenced the subtext of Snake Bite, although I really didn’t want an obvious or didactic subtext.

Entertainment was the most important thing for me. I wanted to write a fast-paced book full of dialogue and action, the type of book a reader can’t put down.

Some readers have commented that they have struggled with the language and terminology used. I thought you did an excellent job of capturing the way that teens relate to each other. What do you say to those people who can’t relate to the characters’ language?

The beauty of language is in its diversity, from different countries, to different cultures and ethnicities, demographics, generations and so forth. What I’m doing in Snake Bite is trying to capture a specific moment in time.

So it might be generationally or regionally specific, but I don’t see that as a reason for readers to be dismissive of a novel. When I was an English literature student, I didn’t pick up Austen and say, ‘oh, well…lower-middle class English narrator in the early nineteenth century! I can’t relate to that!’

Conversely, I read it with keen interest because I wanted to gain some insight and experience of a life different to my own. And inevitably, if the novel is good, you find it contains universal themes, and you find something within a work with which you can relate.

Where do you come up with things like ‘Girls chronically over-sharing information about their vaginas totally tugged my tampon”?! While this is not something that I would say (probably because I’m so old) it made me laugh.

That is an example of an absolute Jez-ism. She has a mind of her own, out of my control, even though I’m her creator! But seriously, when writing a really strong first person narrative, you have to think of turns-of-phrase that are going to be unique to that particular character. ‘Tugged my tampon’, to my knowledge, is a complete original.

I think Snake Bite might set some kind of record for vagina references in a literary novel. What else are you going to talk about in a female coming-of-age story, when a character is figuring out how to use her genitalia? I love being a bit vulgar, pushing the boundaries, making people feel uncomfortable. It’s part of my humour.

I felt like Jez was facing many issues that girls face, but that her innate sense was that of a feminist. I know that many young women today see feminism as something that isn’t part of who they are, even to the point that feminism is a bit of a dirty word. Was this an important part of Jez’s character for you to portray?

Jez can’t relate to feminism in its academic sense, but that is telling in itself. I wanted to highlight the perceived lack of relevance of feminism to the lives of some women, particularly low-income or working class women. There is a complicated feminist subtext to Snake Bite, definitely. But is Jez innately a feminist? I’m not sure about that. If she is, that wasn’t part of my design. I think Jez is too unsure of who she is to start actively challenging the status quo.

Casey definitely represents an affront to some feminist sensibilities. She sees overt sexuality as necessary to become empowered and noticed. I think that’s definitely a reflection of contemporary culture. We need only look to Miley Cyrus’s recent VMA performance to cite an example of that. The examples are numerous and ubiquitous in popular culture.

I think that young women’s rejection of ‘feminist’ as a label stems from a lack of understanding. It is amazing how many people still think a feminist is a lesbian, man-hater, reactionary, victim, hippy and so forth. You also get backlash from men who think that having a feminist agenda is a personal attack on their manhood. No wonder only a brave few women publicly announce an affiliation with the movement. When we live in a patriarchal world, being a feminist can be biting the hand that feeds. But that is exactly why it is important to have a movement toward equality.

Jez sways between wanting to be loved by her mother, Helen, and pushing her away. While this is probably indicative of many relationships between mothers and daughters I felt really sad for Helen. Do you think that people of different ages or life stages will view Helen differently?

That’s the sad thing about some teenagers’ relationships with their parents. They might love their parents to bits, but they’re at that formative stage where they simultaneously want to tell their parents to f*&k right off, and also throw themselves into their parents’ arms and be a kid again. It’s hard.

Helen is a sympathetic character because she is so unpretentious and vulnerable, but she is also pretty clueless.  She is responsible for guiding Jez, but she is still figuring out her own path and her own problems. Jez is pretty harsh to her at some points during the novel, but they also have some beautifully tender moments. I think that reflects a realistic mother/daughter relationship. It’s never going to be all smooth sailing.I think that people who are parents might side with Helen, although I can’t be totally sure as I’m not a parent myself.

You write in such a way that I imagine I could drive out to Kambah right now and meet Jez, Lukey, Laura and Casey. In your acknowledgements you thank your friends Laura and Jessica for lending their names while noting they are nothing like the characters. Have you drawn characteristics from people you have known or are they totally made up?

The short answer is that they are totally made up. Of course my characters are going to contain facets of people I have encountered throughout my life, but essentially they are fictional characters. I’ve always been the type of writer who is more concerned with character than any other element of fiction.

I think about my characters extensively, until they become real in my head and I know them as well as my own friends and family. Jez and Casey came really easily to me, Laura took a little more work to get to know.

I used my friends’ names because it was hard to think of generic names that didn’t already have a strong fictional or cultural association. I also had a bit of fun inserting my friend Dan as the bus driver who flirts with Jez when she is on her way home from the city. Dan actually was a bus driver, and I knew he’d get a kick out of being made into a fictional character. He uses it as a line to impress women now: ‘Did you know I’m a character in a book?’ Classic!

Can you give us a hint on your next project?!

I’m hoping to go overseas, write a book on-location and have an immersive writing experience. Writing about Canberra has been really fun and it’s a setting that I would love to come back to at a later stage. But I also need to broaden my horizons and take on a different sort of project.

If you have any other questions or comments for Christie make sure you find her on Facebook!  If you have read the book and loved it as much as I did, let me know!

Martina Taliano

Martina is a wife, stepmother, daughter, sister, friend and serious bibliophile. She struggles with late night dilemmas such as whether to wait to get to the shop to buy a hard copy book to share with everyone, or to download the e-book and start reading straight away. Martina has many wonderful qualities, however patience is not one of them and the e-book usually wins. Her perfect world would be one where every child is read to every day and no one ever utters the terrible words 'I don't like reading'. More about the Author

  • Great. Really coming along as a journalist and writer. Thanks Martina.