From hand-made zines to published novels Reply

by Kate Thorburn

Zinester, author and tour leader, Vanessa Berry at large in King Street, Newtown

Zinester, author and tour leader, Vanessa Berry at large in King Street, Newtown

Vanessa Berry is a woman of many talents. She is a lecturer, blogger, raconteur and artist. She can now also add author to the list, following the recent release of her second book Ninety9. And she is a zinester.

A zine, she says, is a hand-made original magazine that is photocopied for small-scale local distribution. Vanessa is a prolific zinester, having created 130 zines since she began zine-ing in 1996. “It’s all very casual,” she  says. “I don’t have a regular publishing schedule. I’m not even in the practice of counting my zines.”

Vanessa’s zines  contain short stories, drawings and memories. They vary in length from a few pages to over 70, as was the case of her 1999 Vinnies  zine, a documentation of every Vinnies op shop in Sydney. She recalls another of her more unusual zines Laughter and the Sound of Teacups that she wrote from 1997 to 2002. It was an unfiltered account of everything she did on the 23rd day of the month. “They got really super long by the end,” she says, “but I regard them as my apprenticeship for writing.”

Vanessa moved from the world of zines to the world of books when she wrote her first novel Strawberry Hills Forever, an anthology of stories from past zines, published in 2007.

As the title suggests, Ninety9 is a memoir of the 1990s, a decade when she was an adolescent in Newtown.

“My age and the nineties match up quite well; at the start I was 11 and at the end I was 20.” During the nineties, she says Newtown experienced extensive gentrification as a café culture flourished and students and artists who had made the suburb their home were gradually pushed out by the increasing cost of living.

In conjunction with Newtown Library and Art & About Sydney, Vanessa held a walking tour through her former stomping ground in October. She even created a map of the topography of King Street in the 1990s so tour participants could revisit the Newtown of old.

“I came up with the idea of doing a King Street walking tour because when I wrote Ninety9, I thought about coming from the suburbs into places like Newtown and it being somewhere I could connect with, a world I wanted to be a part of.”

Vanessa’s three-hour nostalgic Ninety9 and 1990s Walking Tour started at Newtown Library, moved towards Newtown train station, then stopped at historic sites like the former Burland Community Hall and late-night kebab shop King of Yeeros. Along the way, Vanessa told stories from the 90s about each site.

Ninety9 is more of a novella than a novel. From the start, she approached as a book whereas says her zine-writing process is similar to writing a letter to a close friend. “With zines you don’t have to polish the writing, you don’t have to get rid of all the tangents or digressions,” she says.

Vanessa’s next project is another book, but she says she will always find time to zine. “I love writing about the past and reflecting on the past,” she says.


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