Author Tags: Fiction, Kidlit & Young Adult, Music
Teresa McWhirter grew up in Kimberley, in the east Kootenays of B.C. She received a BA with a double major in English and Creative Writing from the University of Victoria. She has lived in Thailand and Costa Rica, and has had a variety of jobs, including teaching English in Korea, driving an ice cream truck, and scaring children at a haunted house, before touring Europe and North America with punk rock bands.
Her first novel about urban girls who drink too often, and hang out with male losers all the time, is called Some Girls Do. It was followed by a similar novel, Dirtbags, about a young woman named Spider who drifts through much the same malaise in Vancouver. The compensations of the outlaw brand of young adulthood depicted in these two novels consist mostly of loud music, drugs and parties. These are not the young, hip, irony-driven quipsters from Douglas Coupland novels, biding their time, hoping for elevation into a higher level of consumerism; McWhirter's generation of urban drifters are jumping over the edge of despair into pits of self-destruction. Romance is a luxury they can't afford.
Teresa McWhirter’s fourth novel, Five Little Bitches, is derived from her experiences touring with punk rock bands. It outlines the personal histories of five female members of a band called Wet Leather, as well as the rise and inevitable demise of the group in the male-dominated world of rock ‘n’ roll. According to publicity materials: "Each of the women is plagued by her own unique demons, but their devotion to music and the punk lifestyle keeps them pushing on. As the band progresses, they tour Canadian, American, and European towns and cities—and all the alleys, gutters, back stages, vans, hotel rooms, highways, and airways in between. Part punk rock travelogue, Five Little Bitches is full-throttle grit-lit from a psychologically charged feminist perspective. The novel is a testimony to a generation of girls in revolt. Suck it up!"
Some Girls Do (Raincoast, 2002; reprint 2013)
Dirtbags (Anvil 2007) 978-1-895636-88-8
Skank (Lorimer 2011) $9.95 978-1-55277-715-2 Young Adult novel.
Five Little Bitches (Anvil 2012) $20 978-1-897535-5
PHOTO by Jada Stark
[BCBW 2014] "Fiction"
Some Girls Do (Polestar $21.95)
Thrift stores and breakfast chocolate. psychedelic art and petty theft. Gargling wine. It’s a good thing life isn’t always as colourful as the characters in Teresa McWhirter’s first novel Some Girls Do (Polestar $21.95). We meet Carrotgirl.
“She leapt out of bed with a horrible grin on her face and started to clean, even if she was still drunk.
“She didn’t just give her spare change, she took her favourite bums for picnics in the park.
“If she had a hangover, then after her chores she rode her bicycle on all-day missions of goodwill and penance.”
Having encountered such animated characters as Carrotgirl, readers might assume their creator is equally as outgoing. But meeting McWhirter reveals not a girl bristling with craziness, shooting Tequila at noon, but a shy writer sipping coffee, soaking in the activity of Vancouver’s Main Street. But who knows what comes out at night…
“She opened the fridge and put her mouth underneath the gala keg of wine on the top shelf. She steadied herself and turned it on. ‘AAAAHHHH!’ she gargled.”
From eleven points of view, McWhirter’s narrative jumps from retro, vinyl-clad diner to sweaty, pulsating night club. Her ‘welfare babies’, primarily girls, share a short attention span, few goals and a general discontentment. They search for boys, yet they view the male species as weak—or at least as having a bad track record.
“They had already learned from the tragedy of their mothers, absentee prom dates and fathers. It would take Gritboy a long time to pay for the crimes of his gender.”
The girls crave stimuli. Her crowd doesn’t look for work, or else they don’t care about their jobs. But Carrotgirl’s apartment is immaculate—with porcelain carrots hung from the ceiling and formica turnips polished in a painted bowl. She has a famous foul mouth and backlog of dick jokes.
“When they ran out of alcohol Carrotgirl devised impossible intricate schemes to find more, and if she didn’t sweet jeez she was like a freckled powerhouse on a course of rampant destruction. She lined her bike basket with flowers and smelled like strawberries but once she’d punched a guy outside a liquor store and he’d stayed down.”
Some Girls Do reads like candy, but offers philosophical tidbits and personal revelations. ‘It’s hard to believe good things about yourself until someone else says them about you.’ Not Freud, but helpful. ‘The end of love felt more than being in it’. While it provides a window into a directionless generation at large, Some Girls Do takes us inside the workings of the all-girl posse—for anyone who wants to go.
“Girls should read it,” said McWhirter in a CBC interview. “Girls today need more unity.” 1-55192-459-5 (2003)
[Spring 2003 BCBW]
Five Little Bitches by Teresa McWhirter (Anvil Press $20)
Teresa Mcwhirter’s fourth novel, Five Little Bitches is a Hard Core Logo-like travelogue.
We hit the road and the bottle and rock bottom with four female members of a punk band, Wet Leather, as well as one band member’s estranged friend.
Having kicked drug addictions and other self-destructive behaviour, the estranged friend becomes their mother, big sister and landlord.
It’s clear that McWhirter has toured with bands herself. She convincingly writes about Wet Leather gigs in Canada, the U.S. and Europe—leading to exhaustion, excess and exclusion in the male-dominated world of rock.
Though the storyline is at times frenetic, it captures the essence of a sub-culture.
Five Little Bitches introduces Maxine Micheline, lead singer of Wet Leather; then we meet drummer Squeaky Ladeucer, bassist Kitty Domingo and guitarist Fanta Geiger.
The foursome are authentically complex individuals that the reader can’t help but admire on one page, and revile on the next. Although she is non-judgmen-
tal, McWhirter is not averse to softening the image of a movement associated with unmitigated recklessness:
“From Fanta’s vantage point on stage left, she watches men pound each other in the crowd. A woman joins in and they pound her, too. They seem to find such joy in this violence. Though, when someone falls, everyone rushes to help them back up.”
The design of the text is as bold as its uncensored language. Every page is coloured with the chaos of punk rock shows, volatile relationships, pain, joy and humour — and illustrated with gritty black lines, graffiti art, band posters, set lists and photos.
It’s not an inspiring tale of righteous women in the 1980s who don’t wear bras or shave their armpits.
Rather, McWhirter presents women who, at times, abuse themselves and each other, and who occasionally compromise their well-being and their friendships at the promise of sex and drugs.
These are flawed, real women who are unapologetic. But as much as the characters of Five Little Bitches appear hellbent on being abrasive, this thoroughly modern feminist novel ultimately succeeds because it portrays human vulnerability.