I was thrown back into a time warp with this book from Zena Barrie, because I was almost the same age as Maud at the same time. In the early eighties I was given my first cassette player and I loved Adam and the Ants – it think it was the same year I was given a stage make up kit so I could paint the white stripe across my face, although it didn’t have the same effect on an adolescent girl. I understood completely the place that Maud found herself in, a turbulent time at home and no one to talk to, plus being fascinated by a musician for the first time. I used to get Smash Hits and cut out lyrics and photos to collage on my note books. Maud picks up a pen and paper and writes to the lead singer of her favourite band Horsefly. While the family carries on with their own drama, Maud is asking Tom what to make of it, but also some of the bigger questions in life. Will her Mum and Dad get back together? Are teachers naturally clever people? Is her teacher Mr Hanson really having a wank in the stationery cupboard?
The author has that brilliant skill of making us laugh on one hand, while also being incredibly poignant at the same time. It reminded me of Sue Townsend and her wonderful teenage diarist Adrian Mole who manages to be hilariously funny while also worrying about life’s dramas that keep going on all around him. It’s not all fun for Maud as her Dad leaves, they can’t afford much so she’s often hungry, and the house is damp. Her clothes aren’t always washed and sometimes they don’t fit. Her mum is really struggling with depression, which comes across from her appearance and lack of care. The school don’t notice, which is so upsetting, although safeguarding in 1980 was different to the stringent regulations schools abide by now. Neglect is a very hard thing to call or prove, but terrible for the child involved. Yet through it all Maud is her charming, funny and endlessly questioning self. Not that she wants to make these enquiries of her friend Sarah, because she’s bound to get an answer that revolves around sex. In between there are snippets of interviews and exchanges of Tom’s that show us Maud really has very little idea about how a young music star would behave or spend his time.
We then jump to 2011 where Maud is 43 and married with two children. Tom meanwhile, is still trying to revive his career. Is Maud his only fan though? She begins corresponding with him again and I loved the brilliant way the author has written the narrative of a middle- aged woman, but with the same character that we’ve got to know from her teens. She’s still so open and confessional, but with some wisdom and experience. Tom is her sounding board, her journal, the person who has been there all the time. He hasn’t ‘known’ her, but she feels that connection, because he’s heard all her teenage secrets she’s held nothing back. In the same way she did as a girl, Maud uses her letters to Tom to understand herself and to stay sane in difficult times. The most poignant thing about her letters are that she hasn’t yet lost hope that things will get better. I think people will enjoy this, especially those who remember their teenage years with fondness.
Meet The Author.
Zena Barrie lives in Manchester and runs the Greater Manchester Fringe and the Camden Fringe. She ran the Kings Arms pub and Theatre in Salford for a while and also the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, as well as working in a wide variety of roles at the Edinburgh Fringe (from street performer to venue manager). In the 90s she did a degree in Drama and Theatre Arts specialising in playwriting. Up until recently she has been co-hosting the award winning spoken word night Verbose. She is also one half of performance art duo The Sweet Clowns. Your Friend Forever is her first novel. @ZenaBarrie