Wellington author Eleanor Catton, shortlisted for the 2009 Guardian first book award for her debut novel The Rehearsal, talks to the newspaper about the book’s beginnings, its inspiration and the “hardest bits”. “In my honours year at university I’d become massively excited about the idea of the performativity of selfhood, particularly with respect to gender. The Rehearsal grew outward from these ideas, I think – the characters and the plot really came second. Teenagers are so wonderfully self-conscious about their own selfhood, and this hypersensitivity turns everything into a performance of a kind. In this way the high school setting provided me with a good platform to explore the ideas I was interested in. Also, the experience of adolescence was still fairly fresh in my mind – I was 20 when I started writing the book.” The winner of the award will be announced in December. The award comes with a £10,000 prize plus an advertising package in the Guardian and the Observer for an author’s first book published in 2009.