And just like that, we’re on Episode 10 of Book Ends! I had every intention of it being more regular than this but I’m happy we’re still churning them out as the literary world proves to be a goldmine of interesting and inspiring people to chat to.
The special guest for this episode is Rae Earl, author of My Mad Fat Teenage Diary, which became an acclaimed TV series, My Mad Fat Diary, earlier this year on E4 (the book is now referred to as My Mad Fat Diary too).
The book is a collection of the journals Rae kept the year she turned 17 – it was 1989, the Berlin Wall was still up, Charles and Di were still together and Rae herself had just been released from a psychiatric ward, suffering from extreme anxiety, self-harm and OCD. There was very little known about, or services available for, adolescent mental health at that time and often teenagers suffering from mental illnesses were lumped in with the adults, as Rae was.
As well as this to deal with was her mum’s new Moroccan bodybuilder boyfriend, constant dodging of the neighbourhood bullies (aka The Green Lane Twats) and a perpetual quest to shift some of her 14 ½ stone from her “five foot stumpy four” frame. Writing became Rae's therapy and her journals recorded all the details of that tumultuous year.
Over a decade later, working as a broadcaster and married to a very lovely Aussie bloke, Rae was about to throw the diaries out when her husband noticed the pile of dog-eared notebooks and asked what they were. He encouraged her not only to keep them but to share some of the (less naughty!) content on their radio show. The response she got from their listeners motivated Rae to collate and publish the journals as My Mad Fat Teenage Diary. In the book's introduction, Rae poignantly states:
“Everything I’ve written is true. I’ve changed people’s names but they all existed. (One person is actually a mixture of three people: Bethany – she’s three girls rolled into one. There is never just one bitch in a fat, mad girl’s life.) I’ve taken some liberties with time, but everything happened. Every word. I’m sharing it because these days it makes me laugh – and because I still see fat girls everywhere labelled as ‘bubbly with a nice personality’. And I suppose I want to tell them (and everyone else) that in the end it’s all OK. You can be fat and nuts and a virgin when you are 17 – and things can still turn out OK.”
Rae is also the author of OMG! Is This Actually My Life? Hattie Moore’s Unbelievable Year, a YA fictional diary set in the present day, published earlier this year.
In a bizarre coincidence, Rae now happens to live in my hometown and has become a close family friend. So on a recent trip back to Australia I popped round for a coffee and Rae graciously agreed to be this episode’s guest.
In this magnum opus of an interview, Rae shares the process of turning a personal diary into a book for all the world to read; the response to it; the events that inspired it; the surreal-ness of seeing someone playing YOU in a TV show; hidden phallus projections in English literature; and of course her tips and advice for budding young writers. She even reads excerpts from her two books – we begin with Mad Fat Diary and there’s an excerpt of Hattie Moore at 22:24. I must apologise for being unable to stifle a giggle at some point, listen out for it.
“The teenage experience goes across all generations….it could be set in 2247 and it would still work. The point is not the era, it’s the subject matter.” – Rae Earl in this interview
And like Hattie, I totally got the teasing about having the surname Moore. I even gave Rae a few more (no pun intended) to use in future Hattie stories :) I got to see Rae’s writing shed too. It was as awesome as it sounds.
Thank you Rae for a wonderful few hours in your home, for the milk chocolate McVities and for being the most hilarious Book Ends guest I’ve had so far!
Thank you Tom (who makes his first Book Ends appearance in this episode too) for being the patient genius audio producer that you are.
And thank YOU for listening and reading and following Book Ends! I hope you enjoy this episode – it was thoroughly enjoyable to put together.
You can listen to the podcast here:
My Mad Fat Teenage Diary (now released as My Mad Fat Diary) by Rae Earl (Hodder)
OMG! Is This Actually My Life? Hattie Moore’s Unbelievable Year by Rae Earl (Walker)
What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe (Penguin)
The Turn of The Screw by Henry James (Oxford Paperbacks)
Mister Men by Roger Hargreaves (Price Stern Sloan)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend (Puffin)
1984 by George Orwell (Penguin Classics)
“This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin (poem)
'I Want A Dog' by The Pet Shop Boys (buy on iTunes)
'Babies' by Pulp (buy on iTunes)
'David's Last Summer' by Pulp (buy on iTunes)