For the Newcastle launch of Ninety9 I made a reconstruction of my teenage bedroom. I liked the idea of doing a reading from bed; I spent a lot of time in bed when I was a teenager. At the launch someone said to me, when I started to explain this, that it’s “the dream of being able to do everything from bed” but this wasn’t my number one motivation. I was thinking more of Proust writing In Search of Lost Time from his bed.
Simon found the single bed frame on the side of the road, and we put our skimpy air mattress on it when there was no way of getting a proper mattress to the gallery. There were vague plans to tie a mattress on top of a car and drive it in, but I could forsee disaster with this plan. I would precariously balance on an air mattress instead. When I tried it out, pre-launch, the slats underneath me collapsed with a loud series of cracks. “I’m alright!” I yelled to the art students who were working in the gallery; the woman painting landscapes beside me, a girl who had watched me blu tack my pictures to the wall while eating asparagus spears out of a tall jar with a plastic fork. We reinforced the bed with boards and a milk crate so I wouldn’t fall through it while reading.
A number of people commented that it was too neat for a teenage bedroom. It’s true, my teenage bedroom had a path that led from the door to the bed and the desk between all the mess. But I am not Tracey Emin. Mostly it was about the pictures on the wall.
I’ve kept these pictures in suitcases and tins ever since the 90s. Although it might seem that I’ve kept a lot of stuff from my past I threw away a lot of my teenage things in my 20s, happy to be clear of that time in my life. I kept the tapes and the pictures, a few pieces of clothing and photos. There seemed no good reason to throw them away when they weren’t taking up much space. I didn’t keep a proper diary when I was a teenager and wrote Ninety9 from memory and these remaining objects.
In making my teenage room recreation I photocopied all the pictures at Officeworks. The originals were fragile and I liked the idea of making copies of them, making them new again. I listened to endless awful songs “I’m a little drunk and I need you now…” (followed by ‘Horses’ by Daryl Braithwaite) playing in the store and arranged my old pictures on the copier. Shreds of the fragile paper from old Spin magazines dropped off and onto the laminate floor of Officeworks. Beside me, a woman copied knitting patterns and we tried to make it look as if we weren’t trying to spy on what each other was doing.
The launch was on a hot afternoon at the end of the festival. People came into the gallery and sat on the floor as I read about my first band T-shirt, a Cure shirt, underneath the Boys Don’t Cry poster I’d bought from Red Eye records a few months ago. After I bought it I went to a friend’s art exhibition and she was so delighted I’d bought a Cure poster she kissed me on the cheek. I read the story of the “We’re Behaving Like Insects” t-shirt, as I’d made a recreation of this shirt using a white out pen the night before I travelled up to Newcastle, to wear at the launch. I read the story about the first National Young Writers’ Festival in 1998, and how Vanessa Psychobabble was a different version of Vanessa Berry, and it was hard to know which one to be when I was at the festival.
After the launch I took all my pictures down from the walls and deflated the air mattress, packed all the pieces of the room into my car and drove to the beach to drink a pineapple fizzy drink on the concrete steps above the sand. I thought about 1993, 1998, 2003, 2013. At no time throughout the writing and publishing process with Ninety9 have I wished to return to being a teenager but a lot of the time I don’t feel that much different to how I was then. I’m much happier and more confident and wise these days but I’m the same observer I always was, watching every moment as well as living it.