I was a silly weirdo and am glad I stayed that way: Memoirs of a Ginger– Meeting Shane McDonald

Shane Today we’re meeting Shane McDonald a civil servant from Belfast who grew up in Armagh during the 80s and 90s. Since the start of this year he’s been sharing his 23 year old diary from 1995, the year he finished his A-Levels and went to Queen’s University in Belfast. He talks all things diaries, telling us why he’s going back to the 90s, the inspiration of ‘Derry Girls’ and what might happen next.

How old were you when you started keeping a diary and what made you start?
I was 12 when I first kept a diary for any substantial amount of time – for me that was about 2 weeks! I was a first year grammar school pupil. I was an unsporty, speccie nerd. I haven’t really changed. I’d watched the TV adaptations of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books a few years previous and I suppose I identified with the character, but also liked the idea of writing something to look back on – a recording of my life I could go to at any time. It’s always been in me to do this. The family didn’t have a video camera until later than a lot of folk, so I used to record things on a wee flat tape recorder my parents had. When I was 9 I made a half hour recording of me and my friend Chris one afternoon in April and made a conscious decision then to keep it as long as possible. I still have that tape and a lot of other tapes from that time. I haven’t listened to them in years but, like diaries, they’re always there for me.

How many years did you write your diaries for and how difficult was it to keep them going for that long?
I’ve kept a diary on and off for 28 years now – more off than on. My first proper diary was from March 1992 to August the same year. It wasn’t too difficult then because most nights I wanted to get to it to write down what happened and how I was feeling. A lot of things around then were happening for the first time for me and getting it all down on paper just seemed natural. It was the same for the 1995 diary which documents a full year. In fact, for me, any diary I keep for any length of time normally documents novel or exciting life events.

What about your diary keeping now?
I still try to keep a diary but find it difficult now as many of the entries would be of working days, one quite similar to the next. When I do write entries now it’s more thoughts than events of the day, and even that can be repetitive as one of my super-powers is procrastination, so what I wrote I was going to do 5 years ago is enragingly similar to what I still have to do!

However I do think if I made the effort to get into a habit of keeping a regular diary it would have a knock on effect to my life – that is, it would get me into other new habits. I mean, how many times can I write, “Didn’t go to the gym again like I said I would…again” before I decide, “Right, I have to have something different to write in that thing tonight. I’M GOING SKYDIVING!”?

How did you feel when you first began to re-read the diaries in adulthood?
The obvious answer to that would be I cringed a lot, and of course I did, but what reading an old diary for the first time in a while mainly does for me is take me back to how things were at the time of writing. It often serves as a reminder of what I really should be doing with my life, presently. A lot of people might read their old diary entries and think, “I was a silly wee idiot dreamer.”  I know I do, but then I think, “Maybe I should be more of a silly wee idiot dreamer these days…”

I laughed at a lot of what I wrote too when I first re-read them, not just because of some of the embarrassingly twattish things I thought and said, but because sometimes I was actually funny. It’s as if some things were written by a different person. One of my favourite lines in the 1995 diary is something like, “I need to put on weight. I’m 5 foot 8 and built like a fork.”  The first time I re-read that I laughed out loud.  I didn’t remember writing it and thought, “Who is this boy?” The diary is full of things like that. Throwaway lines and comments, absurd train-of-thought scribblings, what my head, and I suppose my friends’ heads, were like at the time.

How did you get to a place where you wanted to share your diaries with the world?
When I was writing my diary in 1995, at the end of the year, I told my friend Paul I’d kept it. He thought it was pretty cool that I’d done that. I said to him I could re-write it and edit it into a book. He said, “Hmm. Dunno if there’d be much point.  I mean, who would want to read ‘Memoirs of a Ginger’?” And of course he stared at me, smirking, waiting for my reaction, then I bust out laughing with him while giving him a dead arm – protocol at the time.

I forgot about the idea of making my diary in any way public until around March 2013 when I saw an account on Twitter, @NrnIrnGirl1981 – the 1981 diary of a Northern Irish schoolgirl Bronagh. I found her diary both amusing and interesting and thought it was pretty amazing of her to publish her diary in tweet form. Then I thought that maybe I should give it a go.  But what diary? There was no WAY I was tweeting the March to August 1992 diary – too much cringe, not enough interesting. And it was already March and the 1995 one covered from January. And maybe 1995 wasn’t far enough back yet anyway – 18 years ago at that time.  So I just left it at “Some day I’ll do it.”

Then at the start of this year a show called Derry Girls started on Channel 4.  It was the best thing I’d seen on TV in a long time and it really spoke to me – not just because of where I live but because I was the same age as the characters are at the time it is set.

I was on Twitter reading comments about the show and, when I Twitter searched “Derry Girls” one of the accounts that popped up was Bronagh’s – @NrnIrnGirl1981 which reminded me of what I said I’d do “Some day”.  It was the 6th of January and I thought, Derry Girls is real hit, it’s set in the mid 90s when I was their age, so is my diary, maybe I should start tweeting it! So I did.

And what approach did you take on Twitter?
With Twitter I’m limited to 280 characters so publishing a diary in this way is one of the best exercises in editing I’ve ever had. The easy part of editing is excluding content in the diary that there’s no point in sharing – the mundane or repetitive – and there is also a lot that I won’t share because it’s too private or it may hurt or offend specific people if they happen to read it.

What kind of challenges have you faced along the way?
The difficult part is taking what I feel to be noteworthy, typing it out, then hacking it into tweetable chunks.  That is, I didn’t want to just ramble the main events of an entry onto a Word document then post them as they are using as many tweets as it took; I wanted to ramble it onto the Word document then chisel away until each tweet not only fits with the next one, but also sits well on its own, while staying faithful to the original diary. Sometimes I’d be sitting at 320 characters and think, How do you get this down to 280?  Do you REALLY need to tell people you took a shit, Shane?  It might fit nicely in “shower, shit and shave” but you’ve written that before. Repetitive.  Take it out.

How did it feel when you first let someone else read your diaries?
I’ve never actually handed anyone one of my physical diaries to read – not even my wife – but when I first started tweeting the 1995 diary I felt kind of vulnerable, almost exposed. Then as time went on and people started commenting positively I felt more secure posting. People have tweeted and private messaged me saying how much they have been entertained by my diary, how it has brought back memories of places and people. Someone has suggested publishing it as a book. At the start I thought, Is there a point to all this?  Will anyone give a shit?  But getting positive feedback keeps me going.

Sometimes I’d get no feedback for a while and I’d think, Are people getting sick of this? Then someone would @ message me or private message positively and I’d be encouraged all over again.

What really encouraged me was discovering that other people are doing the same as me in some form or other, like @1980sDiaries, and when I read the associated blog about other public diarists I thought, Wow. I thought I was relatively alone in doing this, but there seems to be a bit of a movement happening here. Maybe it’s because people are living their lives more publicly now with the internet and social media, but there are people out there like me sharing their lives, past and present, and some of them with a lot of success, so no matter what feedback or response I’m getting, I should just keep going.

Who of the people in your 1995 world have read the tweets and what do they think?
It’s given a few people I know a good chuckle. My wee brother recently remarked, “How come everything in your diary about me is accusing me of shit?” I told him it was obvious – because he was always up to shit!  People who weren’t even in my life at the time have @ messaged me, too. Things like, “I know them, they got married!” or, “I knew him, God rest him.”  It’s nice to see wee connections like that happening.

There’s a girl I’m still friends with who is mentioned quite a bit in the 1995 diary.  She says she read it all and found it “proper amusing!” That was a fucking relief – as soon as someone I’ve mentioned in it says they read it I think, “Oh, fuck, what trouble am I in?”  But so far it’s been all good. That girl still follows my Twitter diary.  I hope it still gives her a laugh.

What kind of reception have you had and how does that make you feel?
I was worried that some people may be offended by some of the things I’ve written or object to being mentioned or challenge what I’ve said about them, but I’ve encountered none of that.  Recently I mentioned an actress called Tara Lynne O’Neill who plays a main character in Derry girls.  I mentioned her because, in the summer of 1995, I went to see a production of Grease that my friend Neil was in where she played Sandy.  She private messaged me wondering who I was.  I explained, best I could, and got no reply, then a few days later she replied with “Geg!” (which is LOL in Belfast, by the way).  A few days later I then messaged her that I was in a way inspired to tweet my 1995 diary by seeing Derry Girls and she replied with “Loving yer diary mate!” so she was either being polite or has actually started reading it.

And I’m not sure how many people do actually read it – the account currently has over 2000 followers but for all I know it could have about 4 actual readers!  People do seem to like it, though.

What do you think your diaries mean to those who read them?
Hopefully whoever reads the 1995 diary on Twitter will be entertained by what someone’s life was like in the pre-Internet days.  Maybe they’ll even be taken back to their own lives at the time, or reminded of events, places and people from then.  One post I did recently got retweeted with the response, “This just hit peak 90s.” That kind of thing makes me smile.

Sarah Tipper Tweet.jpg
Anything you haven’t felt brave enough to share?
Yes.

Do you have any favourite entries you want to highlight?
One that comes to mind is the REM concert at Slane in July that year.  An amazing day and, if I hadn’t tried to get it down on paper the next day, I probably would now remember little to none of it.  Let’s just say, there was drink taken.

“Saturday 22nd July, 1995 Slane. REM.
Me, Paul K & Cormac went down to the Mall for the bus. John Duffy & Bugs there, Duff’s beard BUSTLING. David Feeney & John Hughes there, too. Onto bus. Mixed half bottle vodka with lemonade & drank some on the way. Arrived, walked around a bit & found a spot to sit. Lovely sunny day. Went into a pub & met a wee stocky man who tried to sell us drugs. Paul’d taken this strong hayfever tablet so what he drank made him sick & he kinda vomited everywhere on the way to the pub toilet. Covered his mouth & the boke kinda went in a wee spray that he managed to stem with his other sleeve. Got outside & Dave Feeney was bokin all over the street, comin out of him like a waterfall. Quite funny to watch. He was fine. Just too much beer.

Got past security man w my drink, basically gulpin it in his face. Was so blatant with it the he musta thought, “That MUST just be lemonade. He wouldn’t be cheeky or stupid enough to drink it in front of me like that. Besides, he looks about 14.” Needed a piss. Give Paul my bag & headed behind a hedge. So many people pissing so I walked on round to get space to go. Went, then ended up out at different spot to where I came in. No Paul K or Cormac. Met Darren Campbell & talked to him for a bit, then walked on round to where I thought the other 2 mighta been. No sign. Paul had my bag – nothin but sandwiches & Fanta in it, but wasn’t fair on him cartin his own bag & mine about.

Bought paira sunglasses & cap. Cap taken off me durin Luka Bloom by a DICK. Looked round at him & he went “Wha?” He maybe wanted a row. I felt like punchin him right in the fuckin nose hard as I could. No one has a hard muscly ballsack or nose, so it woulda threw him til I ran away, maybe even with my cap! Plus the blood woulda had him shittin himself. That’d teach him. Plus he’d have a nice crooked nose to remind him not to steal wee ginger boys’ caps. Plus he woulda hunted me down & kicked the shit outta me &/or killed me. I just moved on into the crowd.

Drunkenness kicked in bit too much. Don’t remember much of Belly. Sat on the ground for a bit during Sharon Shannon. Think I dozed in the sun – like a lotta people there. Met Paul Fagan & Paddy Gallagher during Spearhead. Good to see them. Familiar, homely people in a sea of strangers. Still no sign of Paul K or Cormac. Oasis were brilliant. New song Roll With It is class. REM, AMAZIN. Michael stipe is a LUNE. I hear a sober John Hughes hit a policeman & was arrested. Mad… Finished with fireworks.

On my own at the end, it was when I was wonderin how I was gonna find my bus home when I heard someone callin me. It was Paul Fagan. Lucky. He knew where to go. On bus, Paul K said he was lookin out for me all day. Main thing was, we all enjoyed the day, regardless. Cormac got tore into more cans on the way home. I slept. Got lift from Mall to Woodford w Paul K’s mum. Dozed in her car, too. Great day. Too drunk, though…”

Other highlights of the year would be my 18th birthday, the last day of A-Levels, and results night. In fact, there’s plenty going on throughout to hopefully hold interest.  It’s quite condensed – I’m fitting the (hopefully) interesting parts of page-long entries into tweet-sized chunks. I’ve tried to leave out the rubbish.  Also, in 1995, my first term of first year in Uni is coming up, so there’s going to be quite a bit of capering from now until the end of the year on the Twitter diary.

What do you think of yourself when you look back at what you wrote?
I think I was a silly weirdo and am glad I stayed that way.

How long do you think you will keep sharing them?
After 1995 I didn’t start keeping a diary again until 1998-1999.  I’m not sure I’ll share that one because it wasn’t regular and, to be fair, at that point, I was more up my own ass than I’ve ever been.

I started keeping a daily diary again in 2000 when I documented another full year. I could share that one but I’m wondering is the year 2000 still too recent. A lot has changed since then but maybe I haven’t – I’ve maybe become more settled.  And I have diaries from then up until now, but more on and off, and less content-wise as time has gone on.  I don’t know if they’d be worth sharing.  With the 1995 diary, because of what was happening in my life, I think there’s enough variety to keep people entertained.  And I am worried I might be boring people already with that one so maybe there’s no point risking tweeting later, less event filled years.

If you could return to the mid nineties and give yourself any advice, what would it be?
Don’t wait.

Which other diaries have you read and what have you liked about them?
I’ve delved into a few I’ve discovered through Twitter and the blog. I’ve found them interesting and amusing in their content but the ones I keep coming back to are @NrnIrnGirl1981 and @1980sDiaries  There is something so appealing and humorous about the tone of a miffed teenager.  Much of the time they come across as put upon and unfairly treated by parents, teachers and fellow school pupils alike, that the world is doing them an injustice and everything is “SO UNFAIR” a la Harry Enfield’s Kevin – no offense, Jamie; I can only relate too well! Uncomfortably well.  As well as that, there is their music tastes at the time, their attention to fashion, which I still don’t have, and the innocence – a lot of the two diaries are so sweet to read, and sometimes when reading I think it’s a shame Bronagh and Jamie and me had to grow up – our naivety did us no harm, after all.

What’s next for you and Shane from 1995?
I’m compiling the tweets onto Word. I don’t know why I didn’t keep them like that as I went along, but it’s easy enough to do now. Once that’s done the diary will be there, pretty much already edited – thanks to Twitter’s limited posting space.

So a version of my 1995 diary that I’m happy for everyone to read will exist in one Word document. What I plan to do then is give it a once over, tidy it up, fill it out, elaborate a bit in places – without rambling. There’ll be nothing to add to it – everything I want to share will have already been tweeted, faithful to the diary – so it will really just be making the whole thing less piecemeal.

I’ve published my diaries in full in book form – is this something you would consider?
I really don’t know if that in itself could exist as a book, though it has been suggested. If I was going to push it as far as a book, I think I’d have to do something extra with it – an idea is to have the diary as one half of a book, and the second half would be about things within the diary.

Now, believe it or not, that could be less boring than it sounds. What I mean is, with(in) entries in the diary, I could have numbers or pointers to a corresponding page in a second half of the book. For example, if in an entry I mention something about someone, or an event, or a place, or whatever, if I have more to say on it – e.g., more about an event or place, historically at the time, before or since, there will be a pointer to a page in the second half of the book about it.

So instead of just a straightforward diary, I’ll have a second half to it that could be anecdotal, historical, factual – a wee bit of Belfast/Armagh history, folklore, whatever.  I just need to make sure it’s not boring!

Maybe I’ll indulge my friend Paul with the title – ‘Memoirs of a Ginger’. Tagline, “5 feet 8 and built like a fork.”

You can follow Shane’s Twitter account here and, while we’re waiting for that memoir you can catch up with his artistry via his Facebook page here. Shane recently had an exhibition of his work in his hometown of Armagh.

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Shane, top middle with friend Neil at the bottom, older brother Terry top left and friends Mark and Marty

 

Monday 10th March 1997 – New York

If you’re following my 1986 diary you’ll know I’m currently obsessed with Desperately Seeking Susan. A twitter exchange with a fellow fan of the film reminded me of the pilgrimage I took to one of its locations when on a two month trip round America. I took the trip with Cathy (who was in my class back in 1986) and we kept a travel journal where I described what it was like to visit Battery Park:

Keep the Faith

Monday 10th March 1997 – New York
The forecast for today was rain, and although it had rained during the night it was lovely and sunny when we woke up – or rather when Cathy woke up and tried to revive me from my coma.

We decided to head down to Battery Park and to see the Statue of Liberty. Before we got there I bought a Polaroid camera. It cost $90 altogether including some films and tax – about £60. I’ve always wanted one – for years – and I’m glad I took the plunge. I justify it by it being my birthday in 10 days.

Polaroids
“I’ve always wanted one” (Madonna invented the selfie back in 1985)

When we arrived it Battery Park it was wonderful – maybe I should explain why. As we know Madonna is a passion of mine. One of my favourite films is ‘Desperately Seeking Susan. At an impressionable age I watched the movie over and over and over again. I love everything about it, everyone in it is fabulous, it’s funny, stylish and hip. It’s set in New York, much of it around Greenwich Village/China Town and one of the main scenes occurs in Battery Park. It’s the place where Susan and Jim always met through the personal ads. I’ve always wanted to go to Battery Park – Gangway One – and to see it today was incredible.

benches
“The benches are the same…”

It was just like it is in the film – although it was summer then. The benches are the same, the railings where Madonna stood, the gangway where Rosanna Arquette’s purse falls into the water. I was amazed. It was disappointing that we couldn’t actually get to Gangway One because they’re doing renovations. It gave me such a buzz to be there. If New York City, with its steaming grates, fire escapes and noise, is like a movie set, then Battery Park is Desperately Seeking Susan.

Me in Susan's footsteps
“the railings where Madonna stood…”

You probably don’t get it – but if there’s any film you’re really passionate about – imagine you get to visit the set. For example, if you love Star Wars, imagine you get to walk around the Millennium Falcon! It’s not unusual, people pay homage to Graceland in their millions every year as they do to the set of Coronation Street for God’s sake! As the naïve 12 year old who watched and lapped up every detail of the movie it’s incredible to be a 23 year old actually there.

Gangway One
Keep the faith. Tuesday, 10am. Battery Park Gangway 1.

Seeing and experiencing the places that seemed so unobtainable, so sophisticated and so far away is a true dream. I even think I found Gunner’s Coffee Shop on Centre Street where Dez and Roberta are thrown out. To find the Magic Club would be a true dream. I’d better shut up now as I know Cathy is being very polite when she smiles sweetly as I drone on, and on… and on.

Battery Park
Here I am using the famous binoculars…

 

I didn’t know back then that The Magic Club was film set and not a real place. It was pre-google and the internet was in its infancy so useful articles like this didn’t exist

set

How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb

4159JIpmssL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_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!

“there’s more to life than finding exciting things to write in your diary.”

Book - FranceToday I finished with Natasha. She’s chucked.

She’s not really, it’s just that she’s still in France, as far as I know, in May 1991, and I’ll never get to know what happened next. Here’s my review of Lesbian Crushes in France: A Diary on Screwing Up my Year Abroad.

 

 

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.

Being a lesbian was not the done thing – Meeting Natasha Holme

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.

natasha-holme_aged14_childhood-bedroom
Natasha age 14 in her bedroom at home

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.

Book - School Book - Uni Book - France

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.

natasha-holme_bulimia-chart-1990
Bulimia Chart 1990

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.

natasha-holme_diary-page_1991_01_31
Diary Pages

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.
Then:
“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)

natasha-holme_diary-spines2
Natasha’s Diaries