Meeting Christie Thompson

Last night, we held another great online event, this time chatting with Christie Thompson, author of the striking coming-of-age novel Snake Bite (Allen and Unwin). Christie joined us on Facebook, where we were able to find out more about what compelled her to write this gritty novel and how Canberra locals have reacted to her portrayal of their suburban landscapes.

In case you weren’t able to tune in on the night, here’s a transcript of our chat with Christie…

TBYL: To start off the questions tonight, a broad one… Christie, can you please give us a little insight into what compelled you to write Snake Bite?

0_Thompson_ChristieChristie: I was thinking big. I wanted to write a coming-of-age story that would define a generation of teenagers. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded in doing that, but the novel is definitely very contemporary and it captures a pretty specific moment in time. It is also quite pertinent to what teenage girls are going through now. I was reading a lot of pop-feminism, like Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs and Emily Maguire’s Princesses and Pornstars.

TBYL: Did you speak with teenagers themselves?

Christie: I was also influenced by the way television portrays sexuality in young women. Shows like Jersey Shore and Ladette to Lady influenced the voyeuristic tone of Snake Bite, so that was my ‘research’ more than talking to teens. But I live in a group house with people around my characters’ ages. So that helped in capturing the tone.

TBYL: The ‘moment of time’ component was very interesting I thought – very contemporary, but as a reader I could also identify with some of the the Mum’s time-markers (music, tv etc). Was that deliberate?

Christie: Yes, it was deliberate. The 1990s, when Jez’s Mum was a teenager suddenly seems like a lifetime ago, even though Helen is only 33 (in 2009). It makes older readers realise the significance of time passing, and that there are currently a new generation going through the same things we went through in prevous decades.

TBYL: I found that absolutely fascinating Christie, although it made me feel a little old!

Christie: It makes me feel old too, Mandi. I am closer in age to Helen than Jez, which helped in making the references to the 1990s authentic!

TBYL Reader, Andy: Christie, I’ve read a few conflicting reviews about your book. I haven’t read it yet myself. What I would like to know is what was your initial target age group for this book and did it change once you finished writing it?

Christie: I’m not sure what conflicting views you are referring to, but am very interested to find out! Snake Bite was written as adult literature, not YA. That was my intention, and hasn’t changed. You will find it in the adult section, not in young adult.

TBYL Reader, Andy: One review said it should be in schools as essential reading and another stated for early 20’s and older.

Christie: It contains quite a lot of swearing, drug/alcohol use and some pretty tame sex. I’m not sure if that will wash on the school’s curriculum, but I have given several author talks to school age kids (Years 7-12). It’s really not as shocking as Puberty Blues, though…They were 13 year old having sex in the back of panel vans!

TBYL: Christie, how much of the book is based on your own experiences of Canberra, and did you get much ‘push-back’ from the locals?

Christie: I have lived in Canberra all my life, but to be honest the book was less an examination of Canberra as ‘place’, than suburbia as place. In that sense, it really could have been set in any remote outer-suburban enclave. The locals have been GREAT so far! They are very interested to see their neighbourhoods in fiction and have been so supportive. Overwhelmingly the response has been that it is a bit of a negative representation of Canberra, but also very accurate!

TBYL: I thought that might be the case – have you had any feedback from readers regarding whether they identify with the place (and the players), even those not in Canberra?

snake biteChristie: I’ve had mostly good feedback, which is a bit annoying. As a writer, I really wanted to get a dialogue going, and be controversial. It seems people are just loving it. Give me more backlash, I reckon.

TBYL: Ha! I’m surprised that you’ve not got a little bit, it’s a pretty harsh picture that you paint.

Christie: Sure, it has been observed that it is ‘gritty’ etc. Maybe people are being polite? I wish they’d tell me what they REALLY think and I’d love to hear that it got a discussion going. For example the scene where Jez assaults the guy at the party…is she warranted in those actions? Is Casey really a ‘slut’? Does Lukey deserve Jez’s forgiveness? Does Casey?

TBYL: I loved the fact that Jez belted the guy! I’d love to know what other people thought. The ‘slut’ issue is so much more complex… I’d hate to be ‘slut-shaming’ but it’s pretty realistic that peers would label each other like that.

Christie: Exactly. I think it is a complex issue. I hate the term ‘slut’, but it is a term certainly relevant and ubiquitously applied by teenage girls.

TBYL: It’s really complex when Casey starts accusing Jez of being a slut. My immediate reaction was… ‘pot calling kettle black’ but then I felt ashamed of myself…

Christie: Or are they both warranted in exploring their sexuality in their own manner? It’s not clear cut… I tried hard not to be didactic, just to show my characters ‘finding’ themselves, so to speak…

TBYL: True. I think you balanced it very well.

TBYL: How do you feel about the ‘coming of age’ tag that is used to describe your novel?

Christie: That’s fine, really. The coming-of-age novel is a longstanding tradition in literature, although it is overwhelmingly from the male perspective. I believe there was a term called ‘bildungsroman’ (hope that’s right?) in German applied centuries ago to the male coming-of-age novel. The female perspectives are too few and far between, in my opinion. That is probably why my book has been so compared to Puberty Blues.

TBYL: I think you’re right, hard to think of others… I’m sure they must be out there though? Surely?

Christie: Looking for Alibrandi (very tame, though, and YA)… My Brilliant Career

TBYL: Did you consciously work to have Snake Bite help fill that literary gap?

Christie: No, not really, although I think it possibly does fill a gap! I’d always enjoyed the coming-of-age novel. It’s such an interesting time in one’s life, full of self-discovery and a really unique way of seeing one’s world, at that time!

TBYL: Did you want us to like Jez? I know that I did…

Christie: I hope people like her! She is a bit petulant at times, but also very dry, funny and vulnerable (despite her tough exterior).

TBYL: I’d challenge anyone to find any teenager who isn’t petulant at times!

Christie: Definitely. And who wants to read about characters who are perfectly sweet and nice and never have any conflicts! Not me!  I hope people can relate with her. I had a great time writing in her voice. She (and the other characters) became so real to me, it is almost like they are friends of mine. Does that make me a little mad? Maybe. When I finished the manuscript it was bittersweet. Great to have finished but also I knew I wouldn’t get to spend time hanging out with Jez, Lukey, Casey, Helen and the rest anymore…

TBYL: I’d be interested to know, who influences you as a writer? Do you have a favourite author/book?

Christie: I love Australian lit, gritty realism stuff. Texts that tackle meaty societal issues and have good subtext that gets you thinking. Some of my favourites are Kate Grenville (Lilian’s Story, Dark Places) and I like Christos Tsiolkas, Michel Houllebecq, Tim Winton… So many authors… Of course the coming of age novel. And I love many classics too. Hemingway, Austen, Toni Morrison, Ian McEwen. My bookshelves are overflowing.

Today I bought a Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Harris and another Kate Grenville. I did a double major in English lit at uni and am *nearly* finished a PhD. Reading widely is enjoyable.

TBYL: What was the last thing that you read?

Christie: I am reading through Thomas Harris’s books. Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and next I’m be reading Hannibal. I tend to get stuck on an author and read heaps of their stuff. Recently was impressed by Joyce Carol Oates and Cormac McCarthy, so I will be seeking more of both of them!

TBYL: I’ll ask one last question. I always have to ask, what’s next for Christie Thompson?

Christie: I have so many things I want to do, and writing another novel is high on that list. I’ve got some ideas and just need to find the time/space/money to get another project off the ground.

It was fantastic to chat to Christie, and I can’t wait to see what she puts together for her next novel!

If you’d like to read the TBYL review of Snake Bite, you’ll find it here. If you’d like to pick up a copy of the book, visit A&U here…

And of course, stay tuned for our next online TBYL Event, coming up at the end of October!