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.
What are your favourite diaries by other authors and what have you liked about them?
Favourite real-life diaries:
– 1979: A Big Year in a Small Town by Rhona Cameron (laugh-out-loud funny)
– The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister by Helena Whitbread (nineteenth century out lesbian diarist)
– My Mad Fat Diary by Rae Earl (the author was at the same school as I was, and at the same time)
Favourite fictional diaries:
– The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith (highly amusing)
– Diary of a Provincial Lesbian by V.G. Lee (top observational comedy)
– Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (such a clever story)