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
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 Tiggies 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
Tompsons 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