Red, White and Blue

Across the internet today there is an abundance of 4th of July posts. So, considering I missed Canada Day I thought I would weigh in.

The idea is to give you a quick run down of three books I’ve read, not recently, purely on the basis of what colour their covers were.

Red white and blue

RED: The Orton Diaries, edited by John Lahr.

The Orton Diaries

Sunday 19th February. [1967]

Watched an old film on television called My Favourite Blonde with Bob Hope. This has sentimental overtones for me. It was at the companion picture, My Favourite Brunette (also with Bob Hope), some time in the early forties that I was first interfered with, A man took me into the lavatory of the Odeon and gave me a wank. I re-lived those happy moments as I sat watching the picture today. I remember coming down his mac. I must’ve been about fourteen.

(There is some information here that a few readers might consider a spoiler so be advised)

I first became aware of Joe Orton through the actor Kenneth Williams, while reading his diaries Orton was mentioned on occasion, as was Orton’s partner, Kenneth Halliwell. I started out googling him and then found myself increasingly interested in his life. Before I finished his diaries I found myself weaving some of him and Halliwell into my first book somewhat, even buying his plays and reading them all in one night.

Now, I have to tell you this: Joe Orton is notorious for his scandalous, by the standards of the times, sexual exploits. Although, by today’s standard I think he would struggle to get a spot of Jeremy Kyle and if he did it might be a case of Halliwell complaining about Orton running around shagging everyone, although not exactly behind his back.

The diaries are short, only lasting from 1966-67 but strangely they become his closing statement. They detail a time when homosexuality was still illegal, the creative scene was hard to break into and education played as big a part in your success as how you spoke. Cottaging, writing and going to jail are all just pepperings of what happened in that pivotal year where Joe Orton started to become a star and instead became memory.

When I read things like this, diaries and autobiographies, I find myself more emotionally unstable than with a fiction story or even a factual but less personal book. What I mean by this is, in the cases of Orton and Williams whose diaries only ended because they died, I feel that if I finish the book I’m killing them all over again. I know this is irrational but I can’t help it. When I read Williams’ diaries I left the last two weeks for nearly a month before I lamented and killed him, I mean read to the end. With Orton I had less of an emotional investment so I left the last week for a week before I read it. I should note here that the last week in his diary is not the last week of his life but you’ll read about that. And when I read the last week I first wished I hadn’t then I was glad I did. It completely changed everything.

But, I do have to point out that the influences that Orton and his life had on my work, I have not changed, I will not change and I will not regret. Reading this book may influence my work in the future and that’s okay, my work is exactly as it should be and I won’t change that.

To sum up –  it’s a book full or sexual exploits, egocentric thoughts and the rise from nothing to something. And even more. It’s a book you will smirk, gasp, grimace and laugh at. And it’s something you may wish you’d never read. But either way, I don’t regret reading it and I would recommend it.

SIDEBAR: Couple of notes – 1. Even though they weren’t exactly my cup of tea I do think his plays are worth a read, you can buy them all in one collection as I did. They are described as having their own category – Ortonesque – because there was nothing else like it. 2. There is a film, Prick Up Your Ears, which is the story of Orton, and it pretty much sums up the diaries, It is based on a book about Orton written by the same man, John Lahr, who edited them. It stars Gary Oldman (The Harry Potter Series, FRIENDS) as Orton and Alfred Molina (The Da Vinci Code) as Halliwell, as well as a few other familiar faces, Julie Walters playing Orton’s mum and so on. This became one of my favourite films before I read the end of the book and yet I haven’t watched it since, so it’s all up to how you prefer to do it.

WHITE (Yes, I know it’s technically grey but the spine is white): The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley.

The go-between

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

The Go-Between was one of the books we were tasked to read in high school and I have to admit, while it made an impact it wasn’t a favourite. I didn’t hate it and I didn’t love it. And when I started this I had to look up what happened to remind myself because it’s been around ten years since I read it, inside is filled with highlighters and pen with notes scrawled down the side. From pointing out pieces that fit with the themes to just general observations on the text.

The story starts with an elderly man, Leo Colston. looking through old things and remembering events of his childhood. From boarding school to Brandham Hall, the luxury house of a friend where he is roped into something untoward between Ted, the farmer and Marian, a beautiful woman who lives there. The book is a story of a boy’s revelations about the adult world.

I think I will need to reread this book soon. I hated reading books at school because they became a task to be completed, I don’t think you should read a book because you have to, it should be because you want to. So maybe I would enjoy it more if it were my own choice and on my own time.

Either way I would recommend this because despite it not particularly resonating with me it has stuck in my memory. I often remember bits of it, that I won’t spoil, and wonder about how else the book could have ended. And especially how it would play out in these times.

BLUE: Koyasan, by Darren Shan.


Then Maiko – if it was Maiko – stepped on to the bridge and advanced, taking slow, stiff, sinister steps. Koyasan gripped the handle of the lantern tightly and lowered it, so the light was shining directly at Maiko. Her sister’s eyes didn’t flicker. Her pupils didn’t narrow. She walked on, oblivious, unaware of light or darkness.

Koyasan was written by Darren Shan for World Book Day in 2006. It is about a little girl who is afraid to cross the bridge to the graveyard near her village where the children play. This is because she’s afraid of the spirits on the other side. But then what can Koyasan do when her little sister’s soul is stolen and the girl comes back a mere shell of herself?

It is a short story, as all WBD books are, but has so much in it.

I have a deep love for this book and to tell you why I have to take you back to 2006. More specifically Friday, March 3rd, 2006. I was fourteen, nearing fifteen and approaching the time of my life that I would now rather forget. I turned into a selfish teenager who thought the world revolved around her and didn’t care who she hurt in the process. Note that I use third person here to distance myself, it’s the only way I don’t throw up thinking about it.

Anyway, I remember the date because I wasn’t going to school that day, the home economics class was offering a class for school pupils at some university, the specific one escapes me now, all I remember is that the Lothian number 23 bus stopped just outside the grounds after a lengthy detour. I had no interest in becoming a chef and I was rubbish at cooking but for the chance to miss the beginning of the day and spend the rest, from 10am to 3pm, pretty much bunking off, of course I was going to sign up. So I did.

That day I had my lie in and pissing about in my house then I wandered down the street to get the bus to the university. On the way I passed a book shop, it wasn’t a new one, I passed it all the time. I had ten minutes to kill so I wandered in, not really expecting to find anything I could afford, just having a look. I love looking at books, seeing all the different titles and covers and wondering what’s inside.

I don’t remember why I wandered over but I got to the World Book Day stand still stacked with books from the day before. I picked them up, had a wee look and then decided I liked the look of Koyasan and, since I had some money that wasn’t earmarked then I bought it.

I stuffed it in my school bag and went to the bus stop. I read it on the way to the university and it wasn’t until I started reading it and enjoying it did I realise how shit I had felt before it. I finished the book with a few stops to go and realised, wow I felt really shit. Ten years later I can tell you I was having a spell, a term often used when talking about depression to refer to a period of time where you feel heavy, everything is rubbish. It’s more sadness than the other types of moments you get with depression. I can’t really explain it better than that, to be honest. All I know was I was feeling heavy, when these spells occur it takes you over – you can’t speak really or function at all, except on autopilot.

I looked up as the bus went towards the university and I remember thinking, “I can’t do this. I don’t know why but I know I can’t. I just want to sit here and read this over and over and over until I feel better.” So that’s what I did. I looked at the uni as the bus passed it, it went towards the end of the road and I saw a roundabout type thing at the end where a couple of buses were sitting. I’d been on bus runs before, where you ride the bus for no other reason than to just ride it. Sometimes you ride it to the end of the line and back and sometimes you just ride it as far as you can be bothered with then go back. But, a few bus drivers don’t like it, they don’t trust teenagers who just ride the bus and back. Back then you’d maybe gave them a look and ask why but now I get it – the abuse they get, they never ending task of trying to keep the bus from being vandalised, I get it now.

So, to avoid questions and having to talk I got off the bus a stop before the little cul-de-sac of drivers and crossed the road to wait for it to come around again. I stood and passed the time, listened to my MP3 player – 2006 guys and it was silver and metallic pink, it was awesome, I still have it but I don’t think it works anymore – and waited. When it came round again the driver said something about me just passing time and I said yeah. He could see I had uniform on and probably knew I was skiving (bunking off) but since I seemed harmless he didn’t say anything. I just went back upstairs and opened my book again.

I rode the bus until just before 3, I was exhausted and I had no idea why, I had ate junk food and read and read the book over and over, weirdly I wasn’t sick of it. And when I was walking up the road to my house I realised something. I wasn’t heavy anymore. I felt okay, I even smiled.

It wouldn’t be until my depression really kicked in and I realised that it was in fact depression I was dealing with and it wouldn’t be until years later when I started to understand my own mind, what made me worse or better, that I would realise that that day taught me a valuable lesson: When I was feeling heavy or sad or angry or any other kind of spells I have, fighting it would just make it worse, sometimes you have to roll with it.

Sometimes you have to look out of a bus at a university and just watch it roll by.

Each of these books taught me something that sticks with me and I love them. They may not be about the independence of a country but they represent the times in my life when I read them, the time when I made turning points. Whether it was letting someone influence my work, and making peace with the fact that that person was not what I thought, that that influence may have been from a less then desirable source but to let the influence and lessons stay; to try not to let myself be changed by other people’s selfish actions; or that I know myself better than anyone else, I know what my health needs better than those and that sometimes you have to be marked absent on a register to smile as you walk home.

4th of july

So that is my 4th of July recommendations that have nothing to do with independence but my own.

Let me know what you think!


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