Cleo1999It was only 17 years ago but who remembers 1999? It was not a time as Gerry Anderson envisaged where Moonbase Alpha was flung into the far echelons of space, at least that would have been something historic. Nope we had to contend with far more trivial things such as Teletubbies , Spice Girls, Pokemon (oh god no) Harry Potter and the inevitable doom of Y2K. Memories are hazy for me but then again I never kept a diary. One person who did was Cleo Howard and now we can relive it all again along with her most intimate thoughts and secrets in her account of The Nearly New Millennium.

Putting things in context, Reading based author Sarah Tipper started off writing as it was on her bucket list to publish a book and she has done pretty sterling work as this is actually her 8th now. She started off with one about fictional thrash band Eviscerated Panda which has sprawled into five volumes and counting. One of the main characters in the trials and tribulations of a metal band was one of their chief supporters Cleo Howard. Her story was interesting enough to dip back before the events of these novels into her youth and recount her day to day life in diary form, starting in 1997 and now reaching 1999 in the third volume. Sure enough events will catch up soon and these diaries will match up with the time of the first Panda book but at the moment I have been enjoying Cleo’s warts and all snapshot of life in the late 90’s. She’s a wilful character just trying to make sense of her place in things, pass exams, listen to metal, go down the pub with her friends and spend as much time as possible with her boyfriend Barry.

As usual this is a real page turner, it’s divided into 12 chapters corresponding with the months of the year with day to day diary entries. I found myself trying to read this a chapter at a time but found myself far too often dipping straight into the next one unable to put this down. It’s not that Cleo’s life is particularly exciting or full of drama. She lives with her mum and is attending sixth form at school and hangs round with a load of different characters there and at favourite watering hole The Green Man, where she will see in the turn of the century. Tipper breathes life into all the people involved from family, the other metal heads and straight people who co-exist with Cleo and gives us individual characters who you feel you could easily have known and engaged with in your own life. Although she has her head screwed on straight Cleo is at this stage unsure of what she wants to do with her life and is at times a little on the dizzy side but like many of us at this age she knows what she wants right now and that’s to go to the occasional gig and have a good time. One such show that gets her out of Reading to London this time around is Type O Negative at The Astoria with Coal Chamber and Static X who were apparently a no show. It’s one that I was at myself although again memories are hazy.

The times are also really relived with Cleo providing plenty of narrative about the TV shows she was watching and the books reading. She was a bit late getting to that rite of passage novel The Rats by James Herbert which shocked many at an impressionable age and is also discovering The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter. Hero on the TV is very much Dave Lister and we get regular updates on Red Dwarf. Metal Hammer, Kerrang and Terrorizer all get a lot of mentions and are bought depending on who is on the cover. A simple rule is if it’s Fred Durst it stays on the shelf. One of the most amusing sections of the book is a week where Cleo embarks upon a dreaded biology field trip and it is one of many situations that you can easily imagine having been in yourself.

Cleo doesn’t hold back talking about her sex life and there is more info about periods here than even the most metrosexual man could possibly pretend to know. This all sits rather badly when Cleo’s snooping mum sneaks a look in the diary and causes no end of mistrust between them. There’s even a day missed after this occurs and news that future editions will be recorded on floppy disc. Don’t worry though I am sure they will be committed to paper for us to read.

Essentially it doesn’t matter if you are a metal fan to enjoy this look at life and you won’t have to go on a voyage of discovery to Reading if you have not been there already. An appetite for biscuits, gossip and a sense of humour will help to draw you into Cleo’s cosmos and like a packet of a certain tube of crispy things once you pop you won’t be able to stop. I haven’t quite worked out how many more diaries we are likely to have revealed to us but interestingly enough the very genesis of Eviscerated Panda is touched upon here, so regular readers keep an eye out for that.

We have a copy of the book to give away, link to competition here

(Pete Woods)