Interview for janespentopaper blog January 2016
When and why did you start keeping diaries?
I’ve always loved writing and making notes. As a teenager I wrote news stories and detailed sports reports on games I played. I’d thought about keeping a diary for a while as I’d been writing thoughts down at the back of course books. It was in my first year at university when I properly started a journal. I’ve kept it going ever since; for over 30 years. One night I just started writing (after a frustrating evening!). It started off as my confident and an outlet. I had a wonderful family but my parents worked all the time and my best friend sadly died in a car accident. So I didn’t confide in anyone. My diary started as a restrained outpouring of my mind mixed with functional and social details. I also enjoyed the process of writing it, by myself, in my room.
What makes you keep on going?
As I’ve got older it’s also a record of my children being born and growing up, my successes and my failures. It’s a reminder of what I consider important, both personal and in the world. It’s a record of my views.
Another reason I keep writing is that it’s become incredibly therapeutic. If I am feeling down or worried, writing down my thoughts helps articulate and order them. It helps give me a sense of perspective of what’s whirring around my mind and what’s important. I always feel better afterwards.
Another reason is that I’m a stationery nerd so choosing the journals, pens, pencils and labels has become one of life’s pleasures.
What do you write about?
My diary is always a barometer of my mood. And what’s making me feel content or fed up. I write about my family and their ups and downs. Work can dominate at times, sharing my frustrations with decisions, people and processes, but I always remind myself that it’s just work. I observe politics and news and have an opinion and a prediction. It’s interesting looking back. I write about people I see, guessing their story. On holiday I do a daily diary, I get up earlier than the rest of my family so I find a coffee bar and write, observe and record. I also record personal events in detail, so the births of my children, my marriage, graduations and last year the death of my mother. The latter sounds morbid but looking back at my feelings and memories at the time has helped.
At the start of each year I have listed my hopes for me and everyone else. It’s been an interesting measure of a year in our lives.
There’s also a lot of detail that one day someone else will find very tedious.
Has anything inspired you?
I love reading real history – diaries from real people caught up in history. The experiences from wars; on the battlefields and of victims like Anne Frank. Mass observation projects are fascinating. The British government asked people to record their post war lives which have been published. It’s an amazing insight into their lives and their values. Samuel Pepys is a hero. I love the normal day to day gossip he shares alongside momentous historical events of over 300 years ago. I’ve been to see the originals at Magdalene College, Cambridge University. Tony Benn is the purist – obsessive unedited record keeping and one of the first to use multi-media, recording on his tape recorder each night.
How often do you write?
Whenever I feel like it or if an event dictates it. Usually 2 or 3 times per week
Where do you write?
My favourite time and place is a Saturday morning while walking my dog Wilfy on the hills near my home. I take a flask of coffee and a cheeky snack for us both. We stop at one of a number of benches dedicated to local people. I’m most relaxed on Gillian’s bench, named after a local woman. The quietness, the views and the independence all inspire me.
Are you honest?
I generally write on the basis that one day my family may read it, so inevitably this means there is a degree of economy. I’m always truthful, but I do sometimes temper my language and omit anything that could be distressful, but that’s very rare.
Have you changed anything?
Over the past 10 years I have occasionally asked one of my family to write a page; on their life, a holiday or an event. Most years I have also created life questionnaires; favourite music, preferred career, best friend, hopes for the year, that sort of thing. It’s fun to compare over the years.
I occasionally write poetry and draw – especially when I’m by the sea or away on holiday or business.
In recent years I have also started sticking in images and memories, but I try hard to maintain a journal not a scrapbook.
When will you stop?
I have thought about stopping, trying something new but I know that I will never stop. It’s too enjoyable and it’s a passion.