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Louise Wener This Life Interview

posted Sep 5, 2016, 7:45 AM by Vu Nguyen

Ebury Publishing

As front woman of 1990s band Sleeper, Louise Wener was the cool girl we all wanted to be. She tells Anna Pursglove how she went from sex, drugs and rock n' roll to writing books in Brighton.

Being a lonely, asthmatic child made me crave fame. I was an ugly, short-sighted kid with chronic asthma, so I spent a lot of time off school and in my own company. I got very good at watching and listening – and inventing: I had a big imaginary landscape. People from the part of Essex where I grew up seemed to me to have this incredibly static, slightly claustrophobic existence, and I wanted my life to have colour and magic.

I had no rock ’n’ roll credentials. So when I went to Manchester (University, where Wener studied politics and English) and suddenly there was an ad for a singer or a guitarist on every notice board, it was all a bit of a revelation. I’d come from a sleepy little suburb, brought up mostly on pop music. I just wanted to be famous, like Blondie or Bananarama. Of course, once Sleeper got big, I had to pretend to be all indie and earnest but, in truth, everything I learnt about bands was done on the job.

There was no camaraderie among the women of Britpop.
In fact, the competition was fierce. It definitely felt like there was only room for a few of us, and that made for a very bitchy atmosphere. If there was any sense of shared experience during that era, it was around drugs. You hung out with the ‘drunkards’, or the ‘cokey’ ones, or the ‘heroiney’ ones – or all of the above.

People still recognise me in the street,
which feels bizarre now I’m 44. I also get a few people on Twitter saying, ‘Wow, I was in love with you in 1995.’ I’m not sure how to respond to that other than to point out that it’s 2011 and possibly time to move on.

I’m very grateful that Andy (Sleeper drummer turned music lecturer and Louise’s partner of 16 years) and I made it through the Britpop years unscathed.
Because everything you’ve been told about the moral bankruptcy of that time is sadly true: two men having sex with one groupie on the tour bus, or female fans lining up after gigs offering blow jobs. Some people did lose themselves in it all. Luckily, I'’ve always had a good bullshit detector and I was aware that although fame was exciting, it was also fragile and would end one day.

Britpop didn'’t make me rich
. We got about £12,000 for a six-album deal! This fact still makes me want to weep.

I’'ve heard some great rumours about myself.
It’'s true that Graham Coxon [Blur’s guitarist] proposed to me repeatedly when we toured together, although, he proposed to just about everybody. Sadly, it’'s not true that I play one of the ZingZillas on CBeebies. I haven’t countered that myth before because I wish I did.

I came to motherhood late.
I had Iris (now five) when I was 39 and Frank two years later. Iris’ birth was very traumatic. An inexperienced midwife made some very bad mistakes and it ended up with me having a blood transfusion. Despite that, it never affected my bond with Iris. It felt to me from the start as though it was the two of us versus the rest of the world.

Being a parent means a constant sense of incompletion.
When you’re with them, there’s always that little bit of the old you, nagging about what you’re missing, and yet, when you’re away from them, you don’t feel whole.

It also makes you examine your own childhood. Looking back, I think my dad had a depressive illness, although he would never have described it like that. His lack of fulfilment was certainly the elephant in the room for me and my brother and sister when we were growing up. The sad thing is he finally started studying law – his great passion – after retiring, but died soon afterwards. I think my willingness to throw myself into things that attract me is probably a reaction to his missed opportunities.

Writing my first novel was about regaining some autonomy.
While I was in Sleeper, there were always people to please – the rest of the band and the record label. Once I was alone with my little electric typewriter, it just felt the right thing to do. I wrote two half-novels and junked them before I started to understand structure, pacing, timing and character. I was about 10 chapters into what would become my first novel, Goodnight Steve McQueen, when I knew it was good enough to send to a publisher.

I draw on people I know when I’m writing. But I don’t think friends would recognise themselves in any of my novels. It’s more facets of people I use, rather than faithful copies. The trick is to embellish your own experience…to bring a character to life.

Sometimes the work/life balance thing doesn'’t work at all.
Find me any mum who doesn'’t say that. At the moment, Iris is at school and Frank goes to nursery two days a week. Even without Andy and me having to do massive London commutes, there are days when the jigsaw just will not fit together.

I worry about role models for Iris.
There is something deeply unsettling about what’s passing for female empowerment at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot wrong for women back when I was considered a role model, but, back then, nobody was getting their boobs out – not in the music business, anyway. I don’t, for example, get why Cheryl Cole is such an idol for women. We have taken a step backwards as far as feminism is concerned and not many people appear to be questioning that. As the mother of a daughter, that’s worrying.

I’'ve suddenly got a yen to get married.
Having had no particular inclination for it before – I’m not religious and I certainly don’t need the government to approve my relationship – I now have a little germ of a fantasy to do it. Maybe in a year or so when the kids are both old enough to join in and to remember it. I’m not interested in the frock or any of that stuff, but the idea of a big old knees-up for my friends and everyone I love is getting more and more attractive.

Letting go is good to do.
When Sleeper broke up, I felt like I’d been demobbed but, at the same time, knew that I would never start up a solo career. I accepted that that phase of my life was over (my mum helpfully told me that I could ‘always go and work in a shop’). If I could go back now and talk to that younger me who was leaving the band, I would tell her, ‘Don’t regret it. You’ve done something hardly anybody else gets to do. You'’ve lived the dream, it was fun, and now it’s time to move on. It’s all right and it’s going to get better.’

 Just For One Day: Adventures In Britpop, by Louise Wener (Ebury Press, £7.99), is published on June 9th