Saturday, 12 January 2019

Dear Diary ... by Victoria Cornwall

January is a strange month. It can have the aura of optimism (new beginnings) or dread of what is to come. It is also the best month to start a diary.

I kept a daily diary between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. Although I have rarely looked at them in detail, I still keep them safe in a battered cardboard box that has seen better days. The diaries vary in size and quality, ranging from a tailor-made book (with a lock to keep out prying eyes), to bulky A4 notepads which threaten to fall apart at the seams.
Each diary bears my thoughts and my hopes for the future – one even has a message to my adult self. The scribbled writing matures as the years pass and I now realise that the daily ritual also helped me to hone my writing skills in a way that I did not appreciate at the time.
Of course I am not the only one to keep a diary. Queen Victoria was a prolific diary writer. Her detailed journals eventually filled more than 100 volumes and give us an intricate insight into the woman beneath the crown. Surprisingly, the public now has access to her candid thoughts as they are now available to view online here.
Anne Frank’s diary became the most famous diary in the world. Although Anne fervently protected its contents from prying eyes when she was writing it, it was eventually read by millions. Anne had always wanted to publish a book about her time hiding from the Nazis during WW2. After learning of her death, her father considered granting her wish by having it published for her.  The decision to go ahead was not an easy one for him to make, but after seeking advice, he did. Anne Frank - The Diary of a Young Girl gave Anne her voice back and brought her to life for millions of people – a voice and life Hitler had tried so hard to extinguish.
Anne’s diary was an eyewitness account of a major event of the time, Hitler’s persecution of men, women and children of the Jewish faith, but it was not the first diary to be a witness to a memorable period in time. Samuel Pepys was the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty and a Member of Parliament, but it was his ten year diary, which he kept as a young man, which brought him the fame which still lasts today.  His diary is considered the most important primary source for the English Restoration period as it details eyewitness accounts of major events of the time, including the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.  Today, the public can follow each diary account in real time should they wish to experience the Restoration period for themselves.
My diaries will not delight historians, as Queen Victoria’s and Samuel Pepys's have done, or educate future generations about exclusion, discrimination and antisemitism as Anne Frank’s diary has. The 1976 summer drought and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations were probably the only newsworthy events to make it into my childish jottings. The receipt of a souvenir jubilee mug pales into insignificance when compared to Samuel Pepys’s recollections of the Great Fire of London. However my diaries, which are stored away in the shadows of our loft, are special to me and helped me to fall in love with putting words onto a page. They may never be read in their entirety, but they might just raise a surprised eyebrow from my descendants who dare to open the covers and read a short extract from the pages within …

Have you considered writing a diary?
What stops you if you haven't?

Fiction by Victoria Cornwall


14 comments:

  1. I think the art of diary-writing is fading. I used to keep one, but gave up. I don't know if I could do it now.

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    1. I think you are right, Jo. I don't know anyone who keeps a diary now.

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  2. I wrote a diary when my daughter was on a life support machine many years ago and I couldn't have survived without it. (Thank goodness she did.) You learn a lot about yourself in the process.

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    1. I would suspect that your diary of that time would make a very emotional read these days Marion.xx

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    2. Yes, Jennie - I used it to write an account of the effects of E.coli for a national magazine. They wanted one of their staff to write it, but when I refused, they came back to me and said go ahead. I had lots of response and I hope it helped others.

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    3. What an awful time for you! I think that is why I kept one through my teenage years ... it is an objective place to vent my worries and thoughts. Have you shown the diary to your daughter? I do hope she is well and living a full life now.

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  3. Has journaling taken over from keeping a diary d'you think these days? Lots of writers apparently keep a journal of personal jottings. Great blog Victoria.

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    1. Thank you, Jennifer. I must admit, I had to look up the difference between a diary and a journal. There is a difference, as the word journal can be used for other things whereas a personal diary cannot. So you are probably right, people are probably more likely to keep a journal of jottings rather than a personal diary. I seem to learn something new everyday.

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  4. I used to journal and then started to write morning pages, as set out in Julia Cameron's wonderful book 'The Artist's Way.' It's nice to go back and look at thoughts from the past.

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  5. I wrote in tiny diaries as a teen. But I think all I included was who I'd kissed and who I fancied. As a uni student I wrote in a journal, undated angsty entries. Still got them all somewhere.

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    1. Ahhh ... teenage kisses. :) :) They can range from thrilling to desperately disappointing!

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  6. Well done, Victoria on maintaining a diary throughout your teens. I went through a phase, probably between the ages of around 8-11, of starting a diary each year, however I was always over-ambitious in the amount I wanted to record and so my good intentions never lasted more than a couple of weeks. Some people use Facebook and Instagram much like a diary, keeping a record of what's happening in their life. Perhaps future historian's will be scouring data trails rather than paper journals?

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  7. My husband is the diary keeper in this house ..... years and years and years of them .... I've never peeped inside even though he leaves them lying about .... saint or what?

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