Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Diary

I have never kept a diary. So please forgive me if what I imagine are the reasons for maintaining one is incomplete.

  • A diary as a way of preserving memories of events and feelings
  • A diary as a log of one's personal development

  • A diary as a way of conducting a conversation with yourself to play out problematic scenarios or figure out your feelings about an event or incident
  • A diary as a way of blowing of steam, as catharsis

  • A diary is where you can share your vulnerabilities and anxieties without fear of disclosure or judgement

although Kurt Cobain would seem to disagree on this last point.

I’ve always rather regarded writing fiction as fulfilling many of the functions of a diary. As did Picasso apparently (though painting rather than writing in his case)

It certainly let’s me blow off steam, while the emotional journey undertaken through the pages of a book often provides catharsis. The process of writing frequently involves thinking through scenarios and challenges, how the character would think and feel.

Are those characters inevitably you, are those situations ones drawn from your own life? I honestly believe that all writing is autobiographical, including fiction, for the simple reason that no writer can write something that is completely outside of them. Even if you write something based on something you read in a newspaper, or an anecdote someone told you, the fact it resonated enough with you to remember it and later to work it into your writing, means that it has become part of your own experience, even one imported second hand. However, what a writer has to do is work their autobiographical material to make it more universal, so that it has the possibility to engage its readers, rather than remain so personal to the writer that it can't communicate itself.

Where writing fiction does diverge from writing a journal, is that the writer is exposing their vulnerabilities and anxieties by making their book public, unlike the secrets that stay cached in a diary (unless someone else steals in to read your private journal, or like Cobain youm invite others in to unravel him because he couldn't do it for himself).

Time is a key element of a diary. If you make entries every day, then the time is largely structured already for you. If you catch up to events more sporadically, then time is not so determinate of your entries. As a child I did possess a previous year's diary which I used as a notebook rather than a diary. If I had made any entries surrounding events of that day, they would have been already fictionalised since the page they appeared on, had a day and date that only matched up in the past, not in the present. 

When you have children, everything in your life can revolve around them. Manage to escape for an evening for a meal out with your partner, the chances are the conversation will be dominated by the child at home. When our twins were born, someone presented us with two Baby Books to maintain a record of their developmental stages such as first solids, teeth and words. In a way these books are diaries, marking the early years on entry into the world. (There's a question as to whether the parents should retain the Baby Books for their own memories, or present them to the children themselves once they have grown up, after all they contain clippings of their hair and nails and a baby tooth or two (reappropriated from the Tooth Fairy).

In my new novel "Three Dreams In The Key Of G", a diary plays a central role in the narrative. The mother of two young daughters keeps a journal, so that when her second daughter arrives, she has a supposedly ready record from her first born to refer to. However, all the pages and therefore the chronology of events appear to be out of order. Why ever could that be?

“Loneliness is the diary keeper’s lover. It is not narcissism that takes them to their desk every day. And who “keeps” whom, after all? The diary is demanding; it imposes its routine; it must be chored the way one must milk a cow; and it alters your attitude toward life, which is lived, finally, only in order that it may makes it way to the private page.

William Gass - "Temples Of Texts"


 A date for your diary 26/07/2018
Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK

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