I have always wanted to write an epistolary novel. I didn’t know the word epistolary of course and still can’t pronounce it with confidence but I love epistolary novels (a novel written in a series of letters).
In the case of Your Friend Forever, it starts with our heroine, Maud, writing letters to her favorite popstar in 1981, then there’s a 30-year lag and the letters become emails. While writing the book, oddly, I found it much easier to live in Maud, 12, than Maud, 42, even though I was 42 when I wrote it … let’s all perpetually feel like we’re 12, and 42, exactly the same as being 12, but with sagging skin?
It was easy for me to remember the excitement of being a teenager. Why can I remember all the lyrics on every 80s album without knowing a single popular band right now? I guess our brains aren’t like sponges anymore; instead, we only own sponges …
Being a teenager in the 80s / 90s, for me and most of the kids I knew it was all about the music and which band you liked or didn’t like. Loving a band was choosing a team, and you wouldn’t just love their songs, you would also try to decipher their mood, their attitudes and try to make it your own with very limited means.
The only places we had to go to get our information were Smash Hits, NME, Melody Maker, Record Mirror, etc. and sure enough neither of us had the money for all of that, but sometimes we would forgo our dinner money for the last issue. something, or we would use our bus money to buy a badge and go home in the rain, proudly sporting the badge on our school tie. My schoolbag was always half pound / half cassette and I was always running out of batteries for my Walkman. Oh how the invention of a USB cable would have changed my life for the better back then!
One of us would get a copy of Smash Hits and we would all look into it at school. Then carefully take the scissors and distribute the different pieces to those who need them for their albums. Liza adored Brian May and anything Queen related or any band with really big hair. Gillian would have something to do with Axl Rose or Jon Bon Jovi. Emma loved boy bands so she took everything Take That / New Kids on The Block. I would take anything to do with Erasure / Depeche Mode / Jimmy Somerville / synth pop of any type / Hue and Cry related. Sharron’s only true love was T’pau. The big problem came when someone wanted the lyrics of Jon Bon Jovi but there was a picture of Carol Decker on the back. Then we surreptitiously searched the classroom for someone else with a copy of Smash Hits. Maybe there was some sort of deal that could be negotiated, swap a photo of Seal for Ben from Curiosity Killed the Cat? Then give the Ben poster to Kathryn who will give us a Bon Jovi duplicate. Everyone sorted? Phew.
We were all obsessed with music and we defined ourselves by the music we loved. As an adult, when I meet people they tell me “what are you doing?” Which always makes me want to stick my eyes out. Even if your job is interesting, who really wants to talk about it? It was better when you were 14, and people were like, what bands are you in? If you liked the same bands then it was over, you were friends.
However, we had to be careful. I once heard a girl in the year above me talk about the London Boys. I jumped into the “I love the London Boys!” Did you see the setback he made on Top of the Pops? She turned and looked me up and down. “We were just saying how shitty they are” Even now I can feel my cheeks burning at the memory, and the humiliation I felt hearing them piss each other. laughing as I walked away. But if someone plays London Nights by the London Boys, I’ll dance, and if there’s a stage to do interpretive dance on, great.
As a rule of thumb, if someone tells you which bands they liked when they were 14, you can imagine what kind of kid he was, how smart he was, and whether or not you would have gotten along with him at the time or if you got along well. them now. We all judge each other, so why not use that as a litmus test? Better yet, the next time you interview someone for a job, just ask them which bands they like. Soon you will know if this is a tasteless bellend and then you can decide if it is a problem or not.
There was no internet, of course, so compiling information about the groups and what they could do / wear / say at any given time was a full time job.
We couldn’t just follow them on Twitter, there was no hope of interaction, unless of course we got our hands on a fan club address, or indeed any address of any kind. is. I read the fine print on the backs of tapes looking for PO box addresses and quickly developed an unconditional letter-writing habit.
If I had an address, I would write to them. About everything that was going on in my life. However, I never received a response. I always thought maybe it was because I had all of my Skipton Building Society envelopes. I just crossed out the address of the Skipton Building Society and wrote on behalf of the person I was writing to that day. These envelopes had FREEPOST on them, so I didn’t care about the stamps.
I often wonder if John Major got my letter about the start of my period while he was disguised as a reindeer in the Christmas cave with the headmaster disguised as Santa Claus. I had to walk around the school holding my hand with him, panicking that the blood I could feel running down my legs wouldn’t seep through the funny fur.
As I got older and allowed to go to real concerts, I started meeting like-minded people in the queues or in the front row of concerts or in the soggy tent next to my soggy tent. We exchanged addresses and wrote to each other.
While standing in the front row of an Aztec Camera concert, I exchanged addresses with a girl who was the daughter of a vicar. We wrote to each other a bit about Aztec Camera and how we enjoyed the gig. Even though we were both clueless that they had to leave the stage before the encore, because when we asked the security guards to remove the playlists and give them to us, we saw that they were indeed going to do Somewhere in my Heart. We were both thrilled with Roddy Frame’s leather pants, so it wasn’t that bad.
My best friend was deeply in love with Brian May, I was happy to accompany her to all the concerts she was going to attend. We’re both still in touch with a girl we met in the queue outside the Apollo in Manchester, who has been getting along for 30 years now (agh). At one of his concerts, however, I was very crushed and had an asthma attack. Security guards pulled me out and had to drop me through a hatch in the stage to the St John Ambulance crew waiting impatiently below. According to Liza, Brian May turned slightly and saw me come out. HE SAW ME. She was quite upset about it. I was pretty upset that I missed half the gig and then we had to wait outside in the snow until midnight to get his autograph, only to find that he was already gone.
I eventually learned the lesson, however, that loving the same group doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the same kind of person. I met an American woman at a concert when I was 18. We became pen pals, writing maybe two or three times a year. At one point, the letters turned into emails. When I was 30, I had free time and had no one to go with. I decided to go to America and stay with my old pen pal (yes you can see where this is going? I haven’t). She met me at JFK airport and drove me to her and her husband’s house somewhere in New Jersey. They fed me, poured me a glass of wine and then took out all their memories of George W Bush … It was 10 days that I will not hastily forget … We are still in touch despite her collection of MAGA hats … I convinced myself that this is only a phase and that under Trump’s second love amendment – scream American, there is the cool 18 year old American girl who has come to the UK- United alone to watch lots of bands because she loved them and me too.
By writing Your Friend Forever, I definitely awakened the young part of myself. Wake up, Zena! Stop doing the dishes! You’re not just a mom in high waisted jeans. You’re funny, and you like muisc, and being silly with your buddies, and yes your buddies are all middle aged too but they’re still the same silly idiots they were 30 years ago. Go do something stupid with them, remember who you are!
Your Friend Forever is published by Unbound, priced at £ 9.99