Tessa Duder | Tiggie Tompson
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The Tiggie Tompson Show
The Tiggie Tompson Show, 1999
Tiggie Tompson All At Sea
Tiggie Tompson All At Sea, 2001

The Tiggie Tompson Show
Tiggie Tompson's Longest Journey, 2003

The Tiggie Tompson trilogy

Following the success of my Alex quartet published between 1987 and 1992, my publisher at Penguin Books urged me to consider creating a series featuring another memorable female character - one who would, in this case (unlike Alex, set in the late 1950s), mirror the lives, environment and concerns of contemporary Western teenagers.

My response was The Tiggie Tompson Show, about a 14-year-old girl overweight and low in self-esteem, and further burdened by a mother who is a well-known television celebrity. The story draws on my own experience as an actor, specifically in 1997, when I won a guest role on the New Zealand soap Shortland Street and featured in 11 episodes.

One of the pivotal events in the book, where her classmates remove her clothing from the shower during a school camp and force her to walk naked down a bush track, is based on a true story believed to have happened at a North Island girls’ school. This became the key event prompting Tiggie to change schools, hopefully to lose herself in the hurly-burly of a large liberal city school, but where, in fact, doors begin to open for her.

In the course of the first book, she changes schools, discovers a talent for acting and auditions successfully for first, an on-going television soap, and then, a major drama. In the process she gets a life and something of a waist, though I was careful not to make this too fantastical or an over-simplified Ugly Duckling story.

It would be true to say, however, that the increasing emphasis on female 'body image' and the resulting phenomenon of eating disorders is one which has, as a mother and grandmother, long concerned me. I became very fond of the determined, forthright yet self-deprecating Tiggie, discovering the mature, articulate voice not uncommon among single children, her acting and organisational skills, and the first sexual yearnings of a girl who has always thought herself unlovable. Many of the reviews have also commented on the humour of the character and the book.

Naturally, I was very pleased when this book won, from what was agreed to be a very strong field, the country's top award for a young adult novel, the 2000 New Zealand Post Senior Fiction Award.

In the second book, Tiggie Tompson All at Sea, which was published in New Zealand and Australia by Penguin in 2001, Tiggie is grappling with one of the consequences of being on television - she is recognised by her previously unknown half-brother living in Australia. He becomes an unwelcome feature of her life as Auckland (First Major City to see the Light) prepares to host the Millennium and the America's Cup.

To add to her problems, her mother is offered a job in Brisbane, starting immediately, and the television drama due to begin shooting in January is (as occasionally happens in this tough industry) delayed. Her friend Vita, who appeared prominently in the first book as a 16-year-old TV celebrity actor, has gone to an Australian clinic to treat her previously unacknowledged anorexia. These events all test Tiggie’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Stranded in Auckland over the holidays, she goes to sea, believing it to be research for her role in the forthcoming drama, and through a dramatic and life-threatening incident in the Hauraki Gulf, discovers her own untested physical strength. I wanted this to be a pleasurable experience both for herself and the reader. Another on-going thread running through the book is her increasingly satisfactory relationship with the ambitious and sophisticated Gareth - though it is left unresolved.

Tiggie Tompson All at Sea was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Senior Fiction award in 2002. The third and final book, Tiggie Tompson’s Longest Journey, exploring her relationships with Gareth, Vita and her family while involved in the demanding filming of her role as Eliza, was published in 2003 and also shortlisted in 2004.

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Last updated 25/10/14 ©2014 Tessa Duder.