Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The secret diary of ...

There’s a programme on Radio 4 called My Teenage Diaries where well-known people read and discuss extracts from – their teenage diaries. The premise is that they are genuine entries and I assume that participants haven’t been paid millions of pounds/blackmailed/forced at gunpoint to appear. These are some of the methods that would have to be employed to get me to take part (in a parallel universe where I was invited to do so), but if I did I would have to make it all up. 

I kept this diary for the year I turned seventeen. My biro was leaky and my handwriting abysmal. Added to which, much of what is decipherable is in teenage girl code eg ‘Saw DM in corridor!!!!!!!!’ and other sightings of – I was going to say ‘lesser spotted’ but that wouldn’t be accurate – males of the species, their full names long forgotten. Weirdly, I also seem to have had a close interest in football, and entries for Saturdays are peppered with results, followed by the apparently obligatory line of exclamation marks

That’s all I’m telling you. Some secret diaries should remain just that.

Fortunately, other people have written wonderful diaries and the form is one of my favourite to read, as well as providing useful resources for my own writing.

The books compiled by Simon Garfield from a trawl though the Mass Observation archive at the University of Sussex are fascinating: We are at War, Our Hidden Lives and Private Battles: How the War Almost Defeated Us. These are diary entries written by ordinary people and excellent for background reading on the Home Front in WWII and the early post-war years.

The Assassin’s Cloak is an anthology of diary entries, arranged day by day. The diarists, far apart in time and space, include the Rev. Francis Kilvert, Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, Lord Byron, Louisa M. Alcott, Barbara Pym, Malcolm Muggeridge, Virginia Woolf, William Soutar, Lord Reith and Jimmy Boyle.

The Diary of Anne Frank is all that a good read should be as well as being one of the most important documents of the twentieth century.

We’re very fortunate that Samuel Pepys kept a diary during a very turbulent decade in British history and that he captured on paper the bigger picture (the Restoration of the monarchy, the Great Fire of London) as well as his own trials and tribulations (a gallstone operation, being jabbed with a hatpin by a lady fending off his unwanted attentions). He’s one of my heroes, although I wouldn’t care to sit beside him in church.

I love reading fictional diaries too. I always have E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady and its sequels at hand for re-reading, as well as Diary of a Nobody (and Keith Waterhouse’s and Christopher Matthews’ wickedly funny homages).  Bridget Jones’ and Adrian Moles’ first diaries are fun too, and The Journal of Mrs Pepys is brilliantly done.  If you were to pick a real or fictional character and write their diary who would it be?

This blog is a bit like a diary. However: If I pass someone interesting in the corridor I shall keep the information to myself. I shall be sparing with exclamation marks! And if you want to know the football scores you’ll have to look somewhere else.


  1. Love your post, Kate - and I smiled in fond remembrance at all my own teen-girl speak and exclamation marks! I think blogging is a kind of modern version of a diary, albeit one that is more public. Great choice of reading material you mentioned.

  2. Glad you liked the reading recommendations, Rosemary.

  3. Hi Kate, I don't know how this post slipped by. I love diaries, too, although my attempts to keep a diary and then journal (how grandiose) have always fallen foul of my inability to do routine tasks. Knowing Samuel Pepys write a diary recently earned me a point in a quiz. Which character would I pick? May I choose one of my own? I'd write one for Hatty Menzies. Anne Stenhouse

  4. Anne - I kept another diary the year my eldest was two, not a private journal but a family record. Wish I'd kept that up.
    Still thinking about whose fictional diary I'd like to write ...