Christina here. I hope you’ll forgive me revisiting a topic Anne blogged about back in 2012 (here) because this is an exciting time of year for me – IT’S NEW DIARY TIME!!! That means I get to choose a brand new diary for next year and let me tell you, this is serious business.
I’ve kept a diary on and off since I was eight years old. When I was given my first one, the appeal lay in having somewhere secret to write down my thoughts because of course it had a lock and tiny key. (I didn’t know that anyone with a decent hairpin could probably have picked it). I relished the opportunity to keep my opinions away from prying eyes, especially those of my little brother once he learned to read. And anything secret seemed exciting then – my friends and I formed several secret clubs but that’s another story.
These days I don’t have many secrets to write about and there’s no lock on my diaries, but I still love to jot down what I’ve done each day and where I’ve been. Whenever possible I add things like ticket stubs and other tiny mementos, and there’s the occasional picture too. It’s not the end of the world if I miss a day occasionally, but on the whole, I’m pretty good about keeping up with it.
But is anyone ever going to read my diary apart from me? That is a question I frequently ask myself these days. Weeks and months of the Groundhog Day that was the year 2020 for example are not going to make riveting reading for anyone. Who will care whether I spent all day making apple pies? Weeding? Writing? Or that it was raining for the best part of a week? Probably no one.
And yet, as someone who has been doing genealogy for many years, I know that what I consider a boring life at the moment can seem exciting to future generations. I would kill for a diary kept by my great-great-grandmother or anyone before her. The little details of everyday life that we will never know about our ancestors would fascinate me, and I’d love to read the thoughts and views of a person from the past. So maybe one of my descendants will thank me? “Oh, she lived through the great pandemic!” they’ll say. “How odd that they didn’t have a cure back then!”
As Anne mentioned, there have been some famous diarists through the ages and their contributions to our knowledge of their times is invaluable. Samuel Pepys is perhaps one of the best known and people wanting to study Restoration London and the Great Fire for instance are indebted to him. And who could fail to be moved by Anne Frank’s diary? When I read it, I was very young and just didn’t want to believe that her story ended so unhappily. I kept expecting a sequel or an editor’s note at the back saying she’d made it home after the war but sadly not.
Eyewitness accounts from bygone eras are obviously an amazing resource for writers. For my first historical novel, Trade Winds, I used the diary of Colin Campbell when telling the story of a long journey to China in 1732. He was a Scotsman acting as supercargo (in charge of trading) on the first ship belonging to the Swedish East India Company (SOIC), which sailed to Canton in 1732. He kept a journal all through the voyage and it was invaluable to me.
Later, when I wrote Monsoon Mists, I based my descriptions of the city of Surat in India during the 1750s on another diary, that of Christopher Hinric Braad, a Swede who also travelled with the SOIC on some of their journeys to the Far East. His journals are the most meticulous you could possibly imagine, and contains not only copious notes and descriptions, but also superb drawings of all sorts of things – fish, plants, buildings and places. They really helped me to picture the sights the hero of my story would have seen during his travels. I too illustrated my very first diary, but alas my efforts weren’t quite on a par with Mr Braad’s. Mind you, to be fair, I was only eight …
I seldom look back at what I’ve written but those early entries make me laugh. I seem to have been preoccupied with what was served for lunch at school (and complaining bitterly at being made to eat brawn and haggis, both of which to this day make me shudder). Other complaints included the fact that my mother refused to bake cinnamon buns (she hates baking) – I had to make sure I was always at my best friend’s house when her mother did. And as a romance author in the making, I recorded my various crushes on boys in my class of course. I listed them in order of preference and it seems to have changed from day to day (fickle, moi?).
My teenage diaries are more interesting and naturally full of angst and rants against the unfairness of parents and their dictates. And boys. Always boys. However, when I read through them a while back in search of details of the various places I’d visited or lived in I drew a blank. That clearly was not of interest to me then, only drama with friends and school.
Another purpose of a diary for me has also been as an outlet for pent up frustrations and emotions. No one needs to read it really because just writing it is cathartic. Putting pen to paper has always calmed me down and helped me to order my thoughts. And while authors can put a lot of their feelings into their books (many a villain is based on someone we dislike!), there are some things that are too personal, hence the need for a diary. Maybe someone will read them one day or perhaps I’ll burn the lot. I haven’t decided yet.
In the meantime, they are filling a vital function in my life and I treat myself to a new one every year. I thoroughly enjoy choosing the right one, taking my time as I have to look at it every day. For the last ten years it’s been one made by Paperblanks, one of my favourite stationery companies, and the fact that they are all a uniform size appeals to me. Here is the one I’ve chosen for 2022!
How about you? Do you feel the need to jot down your thoughts in a diary or do you vent in other ways?