To me, one of the things that’s most fascinating with diaries, is the different perspectives they may bring on specific events. Here are two versions of Saturday 25th November 1967 when Kenneth Williams appeared on the Simon Dee show
From his diaries: “To Lime Grove for the Simon Dee show. I babbled on talking rubbish and came away suicidal. Simon gave me this print of the television transmission. It’s the bit where he held my hand & said ‘Honestly I just like looking at you’. He has the most fantastic self possession.”
From Ingrid Jo Boissevain’s Diary of a Posh Schoolgirl: “There was a pretty hilarious man on ‘Dee Time’ called Kenneth Williams or something. He kept going “ooh, duckie” in that gorgeous way that Pam does! It seems to be catching on. Everybody does it nowadays – even the chap in Rumbelows.”
Ingrid has quite a privileged upbringing as part of a loving family with Mum, Dad and 11 year old sister Chump. They’re having a swimming pool built, and have a tennis court, taking frequent trips on their boat. They have plenty of holidays in Europe, trips to the fashion shops of London, the theatre and parties. This is all recorded in such detail that, whilst perhaps not typical of the times, it’s really fascinating. It’s also recorded with great humility and at no point do you feel Ingrid takes what she has for granted.
I don’t want to give too much away but, attending an all-girls school, boys, or the lack of them, become a real obsession “We kept bumping into those horrible mods, and also this lair of six creepish creeps!”. And it’s hilarious how a fleeting exchange with a German lad while on a skiing holiday becomes the missed opportunity of a lifetime according to Ingrid!
Perhaps unusually she’s obsessed with French pop stars, it being a diary there’s no explanation for this, but she listens to French radio a lot and ends up ringing up hotels in London to see if her idols have made a reservation. One of my favourite entries is Saturday July 15 “THE POLNAREFF PILGRIMAGE”
We fell completely in love with the hotel, it was such a peaceful and friendly little place. Before we left we touched the door knobs of rooms 1, 2 and 3 and took in all the details – the “thick flowered carpet” they describe in S.L.C. is red with fern patterns. We were in such a swoon the rest of the day we didn’t look where we were going, even crossing the roads. In a Polnareff vacuum, we managed to find our way back.
There’s also tons of historical social detail including what they ate at meals and in restaurants, how much things cost, what was on TV and what they thought of it. There’s detail on the lessons they had at school and O levels, as well as critique on current affairs and social changes which are fascinating. Here’s an example on the legalisation of marijuana – a debate as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.
For radio enthusiasts there’s a lot about Johnnie Walker and Radio Caroline (while the opening of radio one gets the briefest mention).
As a child of the eighties the sixties are something I hear about as the place where it all started. Being able to read a teenager’s first hand account is a gift. The rise of the mini skirt, the popularity of the Monkees, the good and bad in the charts and on Top of the Pops. It’s all there and documented without inhibition.
I get the impression the diaries are quite heavily edited which I find a bit disappointing, because I want it all, but what is there is absolute gold. Read it – you won’t be disappointed and it’s definitely worthy of publishing in book form. And we simply must bring back the word snaz!
Today we’re meeting Shaun Bythell, owner of the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland and author of the acclaimed Diary of a Bookseller. Published in 2017 the diary covers the period February 2014 to February 2015 and provides insights into the book selling industry and revelations regarding the shocking and puzzling behaviour of customers. Here we talk to Shaun about the process of keeping the diary, turning it into a book and what it’s been like to have it published.
You started the diary as an aide memoire to record customer interactions, what sort of diaries had you kept before? I’d never really bothered keeping a diary, apart from a brief period in my teens which lasted about a year, and which – mercifully – I’ve lost. I’m pretty confident that it would be toe-curling reading now.
How difficult was it to write it every day?
Writing it daily was relatively easy, particularly when I was in the shop and close to the computer. It wasn’t anything like what finally went to press though, it was very skeletal in form, lacking sentence structure and very sparingly written. The first incarnation was almost unreadable. I still write it every day though, now that I’ve got into the habit.
At what point did you realise you were writing a book?
Probably near the end of the first year. I began to wonder what I was going to do with this year of anecdotes and while I didn’t set out to write a diary, it began to look increasingly as though it couldn’t be anything else. I think the diary format probably lends itself to writing about work – several of the less flattering reviews online have complained that it is boring, but work generally is – the quotidian repetition of patterns is what constitutes work for most people.
What approach did you take to sharing your diary and how did you get a publishing deal?
After a year I’d reached a point where I needed help, so I asked Jessica, my partner, what she thought I should do with it. She suggested sending it to an agent. I’m extremely fortunate – through Wigtown Book Festival – to know Jenny Brown, an extremely highly regarded literary agent, so I sent the first draft to her with a letter telling her that I wouldn’t be the least bit offended if she thought it was rubbish. I didn’t hear back from her for a few weeks, so I followed it up with an email asking if she’d received it. She replied that she had, and she loved it, but that it needed considerable work before it was ready to pitch to publishers. With her advice, and that of a publisher who was interested, I finally bashed it into the shape it is now, and Jenny found a publisher who liked it enough to take the plunge and publish it.
What sort of challenges have you faced along the way?
Rewrites. I hate having to read my own work, and sadly it is unavoidable when you have to rewrite something. And I did wonder for a while that we might not find a publisher, but Jenny is an excellent agent and knew exactly who to send it to.
What kind of reception have you had and how does that make you feel?
Initially (inevitably, I suppose) there was silence. No reviews, no emails, no letters. Of course, it’s obvious now that people were reading it, but at the time I was wondering if people were even buying it. Now, I receive emails and letters most days. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that people have enjoyed it enough to let me know, and I reply to everyone who writes to me. Obviously there are also people who didn’t enjoy it too, that’s inevitable, and it’s hard to ignore negative feedback, and whatever anyone says about letting it wash over you, it’s extremely hard to read critical reviews, particularly when they’re personal. On the whole, though, I’m delighted with the response the book has had.
What do you think your book means to those who’ve read it?
I think the most vocal of the people who have read the diary has been the bookselling community, who have (with one exception) been delighted that the trials and tribulations of working in a bookshop have been given a voice. I think it’s also – from the feedback I’ve received – given those outside the bookselling community an insight into how it works, and the immense pressure it is under from forces like Amazon and eBay.
What impact has the book had on business?
So far it has been great – apart from the extra income it has generated, it has also brought people to the town and the shop, which is crucial at this time of year when the tourist footfall is almost non-existent.
Anything you decided to take out or weren’t brave enough to share?
There were things I had to be sensitive about. One of the negative online reviews I’ve had was from a bookseller in Hay-on-Wye who concluded his rather embittered review with the sentence ‘In thirty years of second hand book dealing, the stories, customers and scandals are far far better than anything in this mildly disappointing work.’ Of course there are better scandals, but out of sensitivity to my customers (and friends) I wasn’t stupid enough to include them. Also, I occasionally changed a customer’s gender, or clothing, or the day on which they appeared if I thought they might be offended.
How did the people you wrote about feel about what you said about them?
Mostly, in the case of the customers, I don’t know them so I’ve had no feedback. My friends all seem quite happy with the way they have been portrayed. Mr Deacon, one of the regular characters, sadly died before the book came out, but I gave a copy to his daughter and she wrote to me to tell me that she was very happy with the way he was depicted. Having said that, I wait nervously every day for someone to come in and punch me.
Have any customers contacted you because they recognised themselves in the pages?
Not so far, but a few locals have recognised people I attempted to disguise.
Which favourite entries do you want to highlight?
That’s a difficult question when you’re talking about your own writing, but I suppose the two parts that I’m most happy with are in stark contrast to one another – the first is the entry about a house clearance on a farm where the people who owned the books were a childless couple, and the other is the reference for Sara Pearce, who used to work in the shop.
Some people are bound to judge you – how has that felt?
Not pleasant. I think that sometimes people forget that you’re a human being, not just a name on the cover of a book. Fair enough, not everyone’s going to like it, but you can find a way of articulating that without sounding spiteful.
Have you got a section for diaries in the shop and what’s in it?
I do have a section for letters and diaries. There are about 200 titles in it at the moment, ranging from political diaries to soldiers’ diaries with everything in between. I recently sold a set of The Diary of Virginia Woolf, I think in six volumes, which always sells quickly and for a reasonable price.
Which other diaries have you read and what have you liked about them?
Although not strictly a diary, Any Human Heart is loosely written in diary format. The Intimate Thoughts of John Baxter, Bookseller, is also fiction in diary format and a very, very entertaining book. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a diary that wasn’t a work of fiction. I suppose what I like about diaries is that they are about the most linear form of timeline that it’s possible to have in a book.
When you’ve bought collections of books, have you ever come across personal diaries and what have you done with them?
Sadly, I have never come across a personal diary. If I did, I would probably return it to the person who sold me the books, particularly if it was their own diary. I’m a great respecter of privacy, and I wouldn’t even look at it, except to ascertain whose it was, unless – of course – it turned out to belong to Shackleton, or Mallory or someone whose diaries would be of considerable historical interest.
What’s next for you? Any more diaries to come?
I’m currently working on what I hope will be the final rewrite of the second year of the diary. I have another two years in draft form after that, making a total of four years, but I’m not sure the format can sustain that long a run, so perhaps the third and fourth years really will end up being an aide memoire for something different.
You can follow The Bookshop on Facebook where Shaun posts snippets of his day, photos of the anonymous postcards he receives and some of the more unusual books he has in stock.
The latest diary I’ve read is that of second hand bookshop owner Shaun Bythell. It really is a beautiful and amusing read. He’s very witty so as well as many wry observations there are some great anecdotes as well. A year in the life of a bookseller, I hope there’s a follow up, or a P.S. of some sort. In the meantime I’ve joined his Facebook page so I don’t miss out.
Here’s what I said about the book on *whispers* amazon
There is so much to love in this book, the account of a year in the life of a second hand bookshop, and it’s proprietor Shaun Bythell, in remote Wigtown, South West Scotland. There are the highs and lows of running a business and the comedic relationship Shaun has with his formidable employee Nicky, insights into the book selling industry and the impacts of Amazon, and other corporate giants, on booksellers all over the UK (and no doubt the world) and revelations into the shocking and puzzling behaviour of customers and the vagaries of the human psyche.
Shaun took over the bookshop in November 2001 when he was 31. Just over 13 years later he began recording the things that happened in the shop as an aide-memoire and in turn that became a diary. There are daily entries from 5th February 2014 to 4th February 2015 (Sundays generally exempted) and Shaun’s prose is charming, vivid and peppered with his dry wit and humour making for a thoroughly enjoyable read. He never lectures, and rarely judges, just describes.
If you love books and reading you’ll no doubt love this book too and you should think twice about whether you order it off here, or from Shaun directly. As for me, if I didn’t have fantasies about becoming a writer already, the lure of the Writers’ Retreat and a stopover in the festival bed would certainly have ignited that for sure.
The irony is that I found out about the book using the Amazon search functionality, without which I am sure I’d never have discovered it, or not for a while anyway. So I added it to my wish list and it was delivered by Santa last December 25th. As a result of reading Shaun’s diary I feel a sense of guilt about using that site now. His shop is a drive over over three hours from here, but I’m going to go one day – it sounds amazing.
The latest (kind of) diary I’ve read is How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb. Really is a memoir but it includes some extracts from the diaries he kept as a teenager. I wish there had been more, he clearly relied on them quite heavily to remind himself what he was like and what had been happening in his life, and they were funny. Anyway, here’s my review from Amazon:
This came recommended to me by someone who’d listened to the audio book version and knows I’m “into diaries”. I had quite high hopes for it; I’d heard him be entertaining on Rufus Hound’s ‘My Teenage Diary’ radio show and I thought the premise of the book was interesting, the title alluding to an alternative approach to a bloke finding his way in life.
However, and I hate that there’s a however, it didn’t really work for me.
As an essay on gender stereotypes, set against his own experiences, it had some success, as did the autobiographical elements, but when merged together it was a bit jarring and meandering at times.
Also his style flitted from straight narrative, to journalistic research, to poetic prose. It meant that I was confused at times; why was the room wet? Oh, right, he was crying… It just didn’t sit well in the overall context. Also although the autobiographical elements are generally in chronological order they weren’t always and, as this is predominantly about his youth, I was unclear about what experiences happened when which was distracting.
Before reading this I didn’t know anything about Robert Webb, other than he was part of ‘Mitchell and…’ and danced brilliantly to Flashdance for Comic Relief, and now I know a whole lot more. And I’m glad I do, and I’m glad I read it, although it didn’t rock my world. It would have been much better if the essay on gender stereotyping was not combined with biography. On their own they could have been something insightful and special. Together they were not.
I feel like I’ve been quite hard on it in the review, as I did enjoy it, I just felt it could have been more than it was. I’m currently reading The Diary of a Bookseller and it’s utterly amazing. Will, or course, be reviewing it soon!
The latest “diary” that I’ve finished reading is the one written between 2016 and 2017 by two charming characters from the Channel 4 TV series Gogglebox. If you’re not from the UK you’re likely not to know much about them or the TV show. It’s basically us watching other people watch TV. Sounds insane doesn’t it, but it’s brilliant. Even if you don’t know them or the show I think the book would still hold interest as Giles and Mary are so entertaining.
Here’s my Amazon review:
If you know Giles and Mary from gogglebox you’re part way to knowing what to expect in this book; if you don’t you’re about to be introduced to two beautiful souls; gentle, intelligent, considered and genuinely hilarious.
This isn’t a traditional diary with day by day accounts of what they did and nor will you get any insights into the inner workings of the gogglebox process. Instead it’s a year in their life from which they use the events that happen to them as a stimulus to describe their view on the world, each other and their relationship.
The prose is delightful with Mary’s entries in particular displaying a tight and intelligent use of language making it instantly relatable and engaging (her description of Giles’ mother as having a “sharp and well stocked brain” still sticks with me). Giles creates vivid pictures and smartly observes many things that are wrong in the world (including ineffective toasters at hotel breakfast buffets that are “medieval-type instruments of torture that use a process akin to briefly waving a slice of bread past a three bar electric fire”)
It’s full of self awareness yet is self deprecating (Giles, “my strength is complaining”) and their character comes through strongly. They share their idiosyncrasies, their amusing nicknames for things (twentyfirstity, seancespeak, hatrolallia) and how one copes with the other.
It’s a genuinely lovely book, intelligent, rye, perceptive and funny but ultimately they’ve written a love letter to one another and together prove that everybody is a somebody.
The third volume of Natasha Holme’s diaries starts in September 1990, on a Teaching Assistant’s course in France, and ends in May 1991. Her eating disorder is still with her, as is the unrequited love she feels for Alex, but both take a back seat to the lengths she goes to in order to make her life more interesting.
And this is what makes the diary gripping, entertaining, shocking and provocative – all the things that Natasha herself is. I found myself wondering all day what was going to happen next, what Natasha thought she was doing and how bad things were going to get. I couldn’t wait to get back to the book to find out!
On the adventure with her is Ange, also on a year out in France as a teaching assistant, and they become great friends. They meet many other people, some good some bad, all from Natasha’s perspective of course, but they make it a diverse and entertaining read as what they said and did is described.
Interestingly, as well as the breath-taking adventures and baffling decisions you’ll be party to, you also get an insight into the importance Natasha placed in her diary as it almost becomes a character in itself, an aside I found fascinating.
I approached the book with some trepidation; having experienced her obsession with her French teacher, and how she embraced an eating disorder with great aplomb, I was worried as to what extremes she may go, to “screw up her abroad”. But it’s probably my favourite of the three books although I have adored them all.
And here’s the crunch, at one point Ange told Natasha, “there’s more to life than finding exciting things to write in your diary.” However, based on this book, I’m not sure there is.
If you like diaries, and are as nosy as me, I can’t recommend Natasha’s trilogy enough.
Today we’re meeting Natasha Holme, an obsessive diary writer, who published the diaries she kept between 1983 and 1991 as the critically acclaimed Lesbian Crush trilogy: Lesbian Crushes at School, Lesbian Crushes and Bulimia, Lesbian Crushes in France.
Tell us about yourself
I’m an obsessive diary writer. The obsession started in my early teens as I was discovering my lesbian sexuality. This threw me into turmoil then. I started recording my infatuation for a young female French teacher with whom I fell in love at first sight at the age of twelve. I am comfortable with my sexuality now, but the diary-writing obsession remains into my late forties.
How old were you when you started keeping a diary and what was your life like at the time?
I was 13 and at a fee-paying school in the early 1980s. My parents were middle-class, my father a strict Christian. Being a lesbian was not the done thing.
How many years did you write your diaries for and how difficult was it to keep them going for that long?
The entries became longer and longer until I was writing thousands of words per day. By the time I was twenty-three, I couldn’t keep up. I had such a backlog to write, that my diary-writing fell by the wayside for a few years. I initially found this deeply distressing, but later I very much appreciated being relieved of the burden. It became spasmodic for several years. Then, in January 2008, I quit my job in order to follow my life aims (including writing and publishing three of my diaries). I was fascinated by where this process would lead, so I’ve been 100% back on the diary-writing ever since.
How did you feel when you first began to read the diaries in adulthood?
I loved them, and was so utterly chuffed with myself for having taken the trouble to record my life in such detail.
How did you get to a place where you wanted to share your diaries with the world?
When I was nineteen, in 1989, I met a young woman my own age. We fell into a romantic relationship which neither of us could handle. When it ended, I wrote as if writing to her. Perhaps it was then that I started thinking of my diaries as something to share. By 1991 I was dreaming of getting published one day.
What kind of challenges have you faced along the way?
It’s taken me several years to re-read, edit, hone into something comprehensible, eight years of diaries (from 1983 to 1991). Designing the book covers, building two marketing websites, writing blog posts, etc. has been an enormous amount of work. But I’ll be smiling on my death bed.
How did it feel when you first let someone else read your diaries?
Fortunately, the first two people who read my bulimic diary (the first one I published) fed back to me that they found it excellent, definitely publishable, and that they couldn’t put it down. One said that she was rushing home every evening to get back to it. So, I felt elated–and encouraged to proceed with publication.
Who of the people in your world at that time have read it and what did they think?
Absolutely no-one! I use a pseudonym. None of my family or anyone that I knew back then know anything about it.
What kind of reception have you had and how does that make you feel?
I used to be hypersensitive to the book reviews I received–as if they would make or break my life. I’ve had everything from a reader telling me she’s read Lesbian Crushes and Bulimia: A Diary on How I Acquired my Eating Disorder three times and recommends it to everyone she meets, to a reader saying that the same book is every bit as awful as the title suggests. I find bad responses amusing now and tend to re-tweet a scathing review for fun.
What do you think your diaries mean to those who read them?
Lesbian Crushes and Bulimia is the diary that has really struck chords with some people. Although it’s so much easier to be lesbian now than it was in the eighties, it can still be a burden to grow up with for some. When young women are prone to eating disorders anyway, issues with one’s sexuality can be a factor in provoking that. So, I’ve had a number of young women write to me and thank me for publishing something that they can identify with so strongly.
Anything you haven’t felt brave enough to share?
The letter I wrote to my French teacher, with whom I was in love for seven years. The way I behaved when I had to leave school and so could no longer see (um … stalk) her through the school corridors anymore, was disgraceful and humiliating. But I drew the line at sharing the letter.
Do you have any favourite entries you want to highlight?
Here’s a couple of my favourite entries from my teenage diary (Lesbian Crushes at School: A Diary on Growing Up Gay in the Eighties), the first when I had just turned fifteen, the second when I was nineteen:
Friday 19th October 1984, Home
TODAY was different. At the end of assembly Miss Tennyson asked the Lower Fifth Spanish group to stay behind. We had been accused of writing on the Upper Thirds’ desks in room 19.
Miss Tennyson said, “I don’t expect you to write ‘fuck off’ on desks, or ‘fucking, sodding bitch,’ or suggest that any member of staff is sexually … strange.”
We couldn’t believe it and we were trying not to burst.
She said, “‘Fuck’ isn’t a word you should use for something that is supposed to be a beautiful experience.” That was lovely. I nearly fainted. I haven’t heard anyone speak so plainly. Especially Miss Tennyson.
“Do you know what the word ‘sodding’ means? Hands up if it’s just a swear word to you?” (Everyone puts their hands up) “Does anyone know what it means?” (No hands) “Then I presume you use it out of ignorance. It is the most repulsive word and I cannot believe you’d use it if you did know the meaning. I suggest you look it up in the dictionary.”
I did. It took me ages to find out. It was under ‘sodomy.’ She wasn’t joking. It’s disgusting.
Mr. McKay was a quarter of an hour late for Spanish, sticking up for us, arguing with Miss Tennyson. He assured us that no-one was going to get detention. According to evidence, it couldn’t have been us who had written on the desks. He told us that someone had also written ‘Mr. McKay is a something something.’ He was lovely about it. He didn’t even show being upset. But he added, “I’m not.” And we all cracked.
I had a talk with Mr. McKay after school for ten minutes about Spanish and French. He knew everything about me, that I’d got grade 1 in French and German. He said I was obviously a linguist, that he was really pleased when he saw my “well-known name” on the list for Spanish. I owe everything to Miss Williams. I think she’s great.
Right, now I’ve got to tell you some of the comments people made about what Miss Tennyson said:
Lee: “How the hell does she know?”
Sara: “What does she know about it?”
Didn’t see who: “We’ve had more beautiful experiences than her.”
Thursday 18th May 1989, University
Graffiti in the library: ‘It really turns me on to see dogs shitting. It makes me want to screw their dirty bums.’
Can you believe that? That’s so disgusting. I love it.
What do you think of yourself when you look back at what you wrote?
I feel just slightly remorseful, as I was far more whacky, interesting, adventurous, irresponsible, self-destructive than I am today. What I gained in self-respect and self-awareness, I lost in character.
If you could return to the late eighties/early nineties and give yourself any advice, what would it be?
Good grief. Impossible. I was such an opinionated idiot that I wouldn’t have listened to a word of advice.
This past week I’ve been re-tweeting interviews with some of the inspirational diarists I’ve been fortunate enough to chat to; people who are laying their past bare for the entertainment of others. This post is a tribute to another such person.
When I kept a diary in the 80s I had no thoughts of ever sharing it with anyone else let alone publishing it. And when a new acquaintance I’d met through a shared love of eighties pop told me she kept a diary as a teenager and was thinking about publishing it, my immediate reaction was “who on earth would want to read someone else’s diary??”
Fast forward a few months and she was still talking about this diary of hers and asked me to take a look to see what I thought of it… I can honestly say I absolutely loved it! It just seemed to capture something so special, something so innocent and so of its time – it was perfect. She wrote about what was on TV, what music she listened to and what was going on in the charts as well as what was happening at school, her friendships and aspirations in the love department! She let me read all of the 1984 diary and I was gripped – I loved it; couldn’t wait for the next instalment and then the next year!
Here are just a few of my favourite entries:
Friday 20 January 1984 My first ever village disco! It was brill. The local DJ did it. I wore my new purple skirt and white blouse. So did Ros, we looked similar except she has sewn lace round the hem of her skirt. It looks really nice. Also took my glasses off and wore purple eye shadow. Couldn’t see much but was good not wearing them, even though nobody asked me to dance anyway.
Saturday 28 January 1984 Went up town. Bought (well Mum did) a donkey jacket and pixie boots. They will make me look really trendy! About time. Maybe someone will fancy me now. Listened to Frankie properly. It’s disgusting. It says ‘When you wanna lick n chew it’ or something like that. I love it!
Tuesday 7 February 1984 On the bus someone told us why Relax is so rude. Apparently the word ‘come’ means to fiddle with yourself! No wonder it got banned then!! Watched Grange Hill, Gripper was on, he looks even uglier than before. Wish I was Jackie as Zammo is really sexy!
Friday 2 March 1984 Watched Grange Hill. It was the last one with the school disco. They were dancing to True by Spandau Ballet. Stewpot and Claire are back together and smooched at the end ahhh. In fact lots of people did. That made me depressed as I have never smooched with anyone. Why do so many people have boyfriends and not me? Also, why have they banned smelly rubbers, which I liked collecting? It’s not fair. Am really fed up tonight.
Thursday 19 April 1984 Met Charlotte and Corinne up town. Went round payphones ringing up operators and saying ‘can I speak to Busby, please?’ It was really funny! Ros came. She likes the computer.
Sunday 3 November 1985 Went round to Claire’s at about 6pm wearing my Duran scarf, badges, cap, sweatbands, Roger earrings and carrying my Duran briefcase. Claire and I wrote some more of our stories, pretending we were with Simon and Roger. Inspired by her I wrote things like “our mouths melted together and we snogged for 5 minutes. I had wanted him since I was 13 and now it was true!”
Monday 9 December 1985
Ethel from Eastenders was on Wogan tonight, plus Willie the pug, who I now totally regret not putting for my ‘Most Very Horrible Thing’ in the Smash Hits poll.
I loved what she was doing, and the potential her diaries had, and so was with her all the way – I even tried to inspire her by making a mock-up book cover! So it was heart-breaking at the end of March 2016 when she sadly passed away.
She never realised the dream of having her diaries published in full although she had made a splash in some ways before she died. She blogged three months of 1984 as “Untrendy Teenager”, extracts from her 1984 and 1985 diaries were featured in The 2016 80s Annual by Sarah Lewis and her 1985 diary was chosen to be included in Oh Comely magazine’s Teenage Diaries feature (issue 28)*.
*I love the entry they chose to use as it’s all about going to see Desperately Seeking Susan!
It was Cat who inspired me to start keeping a diary again, aged 43, just to see where it would take me. Inspired me to publish my diary from 1984 – just to see if I could, and who was really the catalyst for my adventures with diaries and diarists. So if you like what I’m up to and where we might go, we’ve Cat to thank for that. She was a warm, loving and giving person and she would have thought all this was brilliant. It’s so sad she’s no longer with us but the past she left behind can still live on.
Any of you who have hung around here for even a short while will know that I’m fascinated with the intimacies of other people’s diaries. Therefore I am sure you’ll understand how excited I was to discover another writer who has published their teenage diaries!
This time we’re concerned with growing up gay, and coming to terms with sexual identity, as the eighties turned into the nineties. Natasha Holme has published three books which essentially cover 1988/1989 (although this does include some briefer entries from 1983-1987), 1989/1990 and 1990/1991. I bought all three volumes without hesitation (well, after a quick read of the reviews so I was sure they were what I hoped). Here’s what I wrote about volume one on Amazon….
I was overjoyed when I found this whilst scrolling through the returns from an Amazon search for “diaries” in books. A quick look at the reviews confirmed my hopes – these are the genuine diaries kept by a teenage lesbian in the eighties!
The book takes us on a journey through Natasha’s O-Level results, 6th Form and finally her reluctant first year at University. The earlier entries are quite sporadic and brief, jumping days at a time, but by the end we get to hear what Natasha was up to most days.
I’m assuming the reason for this is that the entries are, in the main, relevant only to her on-going and developing crushes on friends and teachers. The central focus of her attention/obsession is her French teacher the peerless Miss Williams. Initially Natasha tries to manipulate the situation just so she will be taught by Miss Williams again, but by the time Natasha is at University (the same one Miss Williams went to of course) things take a quite different turn. What Natasha does can be quite shocking and potentially disturbing, particularly if you’re Miss Williams, but it’s also in turns harmless and highly amusing!
There are entries that genuinely made me laugh out loud (it was worth the price just for December 3rd, 1988 alone!!) and others that made me sigh and feel sad. Yet from reading the pages of her diary I came to love Natasha for her bravery, her attitude, her honesty, her wit and her silliness.
My only criticism is that there wasn’t more! I wanted the unedited version, particularly of the years 1983 – 1986, but I’m greedy like that! At least I’ve got the next two books to look forward to!
I was also reminded of Rhona Cameron and her book 1979 and wonder if that in some way inspired Natasha? Either way, they’re brilliant. I’m on to the second book now, can’t put it down but don’t want it to end either!