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 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.
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!
I love going to see live music (mostly metal, but sometimes rock and blues too).
My favourite season is autumn.
I joined Twitter initially just to find out when a new series of Red Dwarf started but I’ve stayed because it’s full of interesting people doing creative things.
I don’t like mild cheese.
I have a tattoo of a rabbit with a chainsaw.
I think pirates are overrated.
I once accidentally ordered thirty-six packets of Wotsits from Waitrose.
I never really know how to introduce myself so I babble on about inconsequential things.
You started writing with your Eviscerated Panda series, what was your inspiration?
I started writing the first book in the Eviscerated Panda series not knowing it was the first book in a series. A friend whose band I reviewed told me I should write a book and so I did! I haven’t stopped writing since 2011, I don’t think I can stop now because my brain writes stories when left idle. My inspiration was how much fun I’ve had hanging around with people in bands and seeing live music. I’ve seen some brilliant and ridiculous things that I like reliving through the prism of fiction.
What reaction have you had to that?
The Pandas saga has had a great reaction from heavy metal websites and magazines. People have read it on their way to concerts and at festivals and have tweeted quotes at me. The characters feel like old friends to me and I’ll be a little sad to finish the saga.
Then you’ve taken one of the characters from Eviscerated Panda and created her teenage diaries, why Cleo Howard?
I chose to create Cleo Howard’s diaries because so often we hear about musicians, but not so often do we hear about the audience. Then I chose the diary format because (a) I loved Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole diaries and (b) I regret not keeping a teenage diary.
The diaries are brilliantly hilarious and also moving, so much so I wasn’t sure if they were actually real at first, how much of them is autobiographical?
Cleo Howard’s diaries are probably about one-third autobiographical. Often I’ll take a situation that happened and didn’t go the way I wanted and change that in Cleo’s world. The trouble with real life is it doesn’t tend to make neat stories. I love how the priorities of teenagers are not the priorities of adults. I also love the drama and import teenagers give to minor things, like having an unfashionable coat. Although Cleo is fictional, most of her concerns, and those of her friends, are the concerns of many teenagers.
You were a teenager in the eighties so what made you decide to set them in the nineties, starting in 1997 in particular?
I set the Cleo Howard diaries in the nineties for consistency with Cleo’s age in the Eviscerated Panda saga. I use a sort of blended reality where I write about real events, such as concerts, but there is fiction in what happened to my characters at the events.
How different was your eighties compared to Cleo’s nineties?
My eighties weren’t all that different to Cleo’s nineties, Vienetta spanned both decades because it’s delicious! My Mum used to nag me to bring my dirty mugs downstairs and the most important thing on my mind was usually what I’d wear to go to the pub that week…
What made you decide to recreate diaries as Cleo’s rather than publish your own?
The Cleo Howard diaries are based on some truth, but I didn’t keep a teenage diary, I just have a good memory. I have kept a diary since 2008 though, in part inspired by reading Pamela Des Barres’ “I’m With The Band – Confessions of a Groupie”. Also I decided to record myself in character as Cleo Howard reading the Very Metal Diary Of Cleo Howard 1997 and create YouTube videos because I think the intimacy of reading a diary could also be had if someone listens to my reading with headphones in.
What freedom or experiences did you give Cleo that you didn’t get?
I gave Cleo the freedom I didn’t get to go to gigs and festivals. It was 1991 before I went to a big gig in London (The Wonderstuff at Brixton Academy).
How did you go about maintaining accurate historical detail?
I’ve conducted many strange web searches! Also, there is a great BBC website that tells you what was on telly; I read magazines from the time I’m writing about and watch old adverts on Youtube.
What’s next for you and Cleo?
I’ve recently written about the 80s in a few short stories; I’ve written a readable advent calendar called Tales To Take You Christmas. It has a story called “Late Night Thursday” which is set in 1988 and a story called “The Bell” which is set in the early 80s. I’m writing more of these short stories at the moment and I’m sure I’ll find myself in the 80s again soon.
As for Cleo, after The Y2K Diary Of Cleo Howard and Eviscerated Panda 6 have been written then we’ll part company. The Y2K Diary sees Cleo go successfully off to university. Eviscerated Panda 6 – The Number of the Panda will end happily for her so my work will be done.
Which other diaries have you read and what have you liked about them?
I’ve read a lot of other diaries; Rae Earl’s My Mad Fat Teenage Diary, Kenneth Williams’ Diaries, David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding, George Grossmith’s Diary of a Nobody and Jamie Days 1984 Diary.
Finally, how often do you buy Kerrang! these days?
I haven’t bought a Kerrang! for ages!! But I do subscribe to Terrorizer and Devolution magazine. Thanks for asking me to do an interview for your blog. I’m honoured and I love your 1980s diaries!
Even if you’re not a fan of Heavy Metal (as you’ll know I’m not having had my childhood tortured by an older brother who was into it!) you’ll still love Cleo’s diaries. With a nod to Adrian Mole and Rae Earl they really do deserve a place up there with them as an icon of the diary format.
Something absolutely massive and major happened today. I came home at dinner time because I had block release. I tried to use my school pass on the service bus and the bus driver took it off me. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t do anything straight away. I just sat down and thought what I could do to get it back. I thought the best plan was to ask for it back and eventually when I’d argued long enough he would show me the rules and regulations on the back and then I would snatch it off him. All the time I just kept thinking, “assert yourself! Don’t get off until you’ve got it from him. Don’t let him get away with it – be strong!” It sounds a bit stupid I know but I think it helped.
So when it came to my stop in the village I asked him for it back. He said I couldn’t have it. I asked why and he started telling me all about that it was for the school special only and that I couldn’t have it back. Every time he finished telling me that I couldn’t have it back I asked again, he said no, and I asked why. This went on for ages. It was quite lucky because there was a woman waiting to get on so he couldn’t drive off or anything. I was being a right little bastard and I must have got on his tits so much. Then this woman started to join in saying he should have given it to me. Then she said I should take his name and his number and go all the way to the depot and take it up with them there. I said I didn’t need to because he was going to give me it back and I was going to get off there. He started saying that if I was going to get off there then I’d better because he would take me all the way to the depot it was no skin off his nose.
I thought that I couldn’t be arsed going to the depot so I started to back down the steps. I must point out that it was a single decker but it was absolutely jam packed with people. Quite a few people who I knew. I don’t know their names but I did recognise them. Anyway, he still refused to give me my pass so I started to get off and was sort of halfway up and down the steps. At this point I was not off the bus. I was really cross because he was such a little Hitler and I had no power at all. So as I got off I said, “well I think you’re just a twat.” I could have used some much stronger words but I thought it was in my interests not to. He said, “well you can think what you like, I think you’re an idiot.” I said, “I don’t care what you think, you’ve just done even more to put the name of metro in the dirt.”
You’re not going to believe what happened next, I certainly couldn’t. He leapt out of the driver’s seat and started to try and push me off the bus. He was really rough and got me by the neck with his arm. I was really shocked, I said, “that’s assault, I could have you for that!” He said, “I’m not having you calling me a twat”, and here comes my favourite part of the whole story, I said, “I just did, and I will again, you twat!”
He still tried to push me off and I was saying get off, get off me. While all this was happening the bus was deadly silent as everybody watched and the handbrake was off so the bus began to move up the main street, it didn’t get very far, maybe 20ft or so. It was very dangerous though. At this point he got back in the driver’s seat and I had to jump off. I still can’t believe he actually did that. I really managed to keep my cool I thought. He thought he was so clever as well taking my bus pass. He was wearing dark glasses and he had awful shitty teeth.
I was shaking as I walked home and didn’t think that I’d dare tell Mum and Dad. The first person I had to tell was Vicky. She just sort of said that she was really glad that she wasn’t there. Everyone else from school that I told wished that they’d been there. I told Mum and Dad, they weren’t pleased that I’d called him a twat but they were on my side and that was really nice. Mum rang up the bus headquarters and explained what had happened. They’d said that he shouldn’t have taken my pass and definitely shouldn’t have tried to push me off the bus. They said that they’d get my pass back to me by Monday morning. Mum said that if it hadn’t come by Saturday she was going to ring up again. I am really surprised about the whole thing, anyway it was just the way things were going to go that weekend.
I felt strong after the incident with the bus driver. It sounds really stupid but it was right. It felt like it was the right thing to happen. Cathy said she was very proud of me for sticking up for justice. It’s definitely keeping the New Year’s resolution not to let people shit all over me.