After the cancellation of her original date, Tracey Thorn, rather than open the 2019 Spring Literary Festival, came to ‘bury it’ to use her own words. In conversation with senior Creative Writing lecturer Henry Sutton, Thorn, one half of legendary pop duo ‘Everything but the Girl’ and former Marine Girl, was both witty and charming. In Sutton’s introduction, its hard not to recognise her achievements: A musical career lasting five decades and three published works are proof enough to show her talents across various mediums.
Her new book Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia is a well written, angsty follow-up memoir to 2013’s Bedsit Disco Queen, and ‘details’ (in the broadest sense of the word) growing up in green-belt suburbia in the void of late 70s Britain, and the prolonged boredom and atmosphere this period created for Britain’s youth. Thorn jokes that this era and her approach to the memoir was reminiscing a place by not ‘what it was, but what it wasn’t.’
The memoir is dated from the diary entries Thorn kept from 1975 until 1981, the year prior to her departure from the ‘in-betweenland’ of Brookman’s Park, Hertfordshire to the end of her A-levels and the journey to university. The diary entries are noted for their unspectacular entries about basically nothing at all. The first entry from 29th December 1975 shows Thorn’s great charm at the prospect of not announcing yourself to the world: ‘Went to St. Albans with Debbie. Got a belt. Could not get a jumper or skirt.’
The self-awareness of this monotony in her day-to-day life is a reoccurring motif throughout the memoir, something that Sutton shares in his thoughts on the book. In her entries from 1976 they range from more banal activities of teenage life: 20th February 1976: ‘Went to St. Albans and Hatfield. Got jeans in Dimple, £8.75, and a waistcoat in Tamla.’ 27th March: ‘Went to a disco in New Barnet. Cost 35p. It was good. Went with Liz and Deb and the mob.’
The elements of boredom don’t make for a lack of entertainment, and as Thorn acknowledges to Sutton, she compares this age of ‘do-it-yourself’ entertainment (a key factor, she admits, in her musical progression) to that of contemporary adolescence in the digital age of social media. As a mother to two teenagers, she goes on to compare the similarity of boredom on an inter-generational level, at one-point joking about the thought of a smartphone in her generation and how it is now taken for granted, siding her sympathy with the younger generation.
At the heart of Thorn’s writing is her sense of place and the (lack of) connection she has with it. In describing how she came to familiarize herself with living in suburbia, she liked the idea that you could have the city on your doorstep and so ‘dip in and out’, experiencing city life without living in the heart of a city. During the Q&A Thorn was asked whether this affected her in going to university, in particular, her relationship with Hull compared to her suburban upbringing. As a it was in Hull that she developed her musical prowess and met partner and bandmate Ben Watt, she acknowledges the gravity of a change to an extent; it was to move from the ‘blinkered’ view of green-belt suburbia to the ‘raw appeal’ of Hull.
Towards the end of the evening, Sutton jokily apologises to Thorn as she takes the chance to reminisce about her application process and her ultimately failed attempt to get into UEA. In a witty response she says that it bared down to this ‘miserable attempt of an interview’, in which she was asked whether ‘King Lear and ‘1984’ bared any connection as it happened to be what she studied at A-level.
On whether she has any more literary ventures to pursue, she says she has agreed with a publisher to do an unofficial biography of Go-Betweens’ drummer Lindy Morrison; Thorn cites her life as a ‘really interesting story’, concluding with how music biographies and documentaries are telling the ‘untold female stories’ of music.