Monday, 6 May 2013

The Glory Box - Debbie Bennett

I have a box. An old boot box I think it is, squirreled away in the back of a cupboard in my study. Every few years, I find it again, pull it out and spend an hour or so reliving parts of my past. Newspaper clippings, cards from my 18th and 21st birthdays, medals from chess competitions (bet you didn’t know I was the under 18 Wirral girl’s chess champion on more than one occasion), concert tickets, old photographs – they’re all there. A chronology of my teenage years; things that were important to me back then. I even have a small red plastic cat – the kind you’d get out of a cracker – that I distinctly remember playing with aged about ten with my Pippa doll I bought from the local toy shop (it was 65p and it took me weeks to save up my pocket money).

And I have diaries. Seven or eight year’s worth, starting from just before I was thirteen years old and about to venture out to our local youth club. It’s all in there – the boys I liked, the moments of such exquisite embarrassment that it makes my toes curl even now to think about them, the awkward lonely evenings of being fourteen and fifteen when your friends all have boyfriends and you don’t. Pages of how I felt when my friends were all at a party that I hadn’t been invited to (I went to a different school, and I think – hope – they just forgot I wasn’t there when they were making plans…). Seventeen had nothing on me, with the stuff I used to write down!

But it’s all inspiration, isn’t it? How better to think your way into a character when writing, than to read diaries, especially when it’s stuff you wrote yourself? Just reading a few lines and I’m sweet sixteen and back there at a New Year’s Eve party and hooking up with guy who’s twenty-one with a motorbike and I’m thinking he’s the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen. Or recording the rather horrible accident I had falling off a horse at fourteen. Or I’m listing my school lessons and teachers, and boring myself even now!

I stopped writing every day when I left home to go to university. Maybe real-life just got too exciting, or maybe I just grew into myself. I was one of those quite needy kids who wanted to be accepted but never quite felt part of the gang. At university it took me a while, but everything clicked when I met the “right” group of people and for the first time I felt I could be me, if that makes sense. And I think when you can pick out those experiences in your life, the things that made you who you are now, you can use them to fuel your writing – make your readers feel how you felt. I know I have a diary entry where I've written (and believe me, I paraphrase) I've met the man I'm going to marry.

In case you're wondering - that last photo isn't me. I have no idea who it is. It came from a Sunday newspaper supplement many years back, cut out by a boyfriend and given to me because it reminded him of me! Somehow it resonated and I kept it, though I've never been quite sure why ...


9 comments:

Chris Longmuir said...

I was impressed by the tidiness of those boxes. My boxes would be overflowing and messy, if I'd kept them. By the way - did you marry him?

Reb MacRath said...

I've lost all my old diaries and envy your having kept yours. I wouldn't ever have looked at my younger diaries. But I wish I hadn't lost the one I kept for the first year that I stopped drinking. I did something every month: pure diary one month, study of a hard-drinking poet the next, quotations about drinking another month, thoughts about addiction in general, etc. All lost in one of my cross-country moves. Fascinating post, Debbie.

Dennis Hamley said...

That was indeed a fascinating 'all our yesterdays' post, Debbie. I wish I had such a storehouse. I just have to keep it in my head, to draw on from time to time. But it's lovely to watch it actually in the process of happening to someone else. One of my mentorees, if there is such a word, has just sent me some stuff and apologised for its lateness. His reason was that he'd taken a chapter into a crowded Costa to perform on it the list of editing tasks I'd given him, a strange woman sat at the same table and asked him what he was doing so assiduously and he told her. 'She was the most beautiful woman I have ever see,' he wrote, 'and now I'm dating her.' I excused him. There are things even more important than writing.

Bill Kirton said...

Yes, Debbie, a post with the effect of Proust's Madeleine. All Our Yesterdays, indeed. I no longer have my teenage diaries because when I unearthed them a few years back the embarrassments of the yearnings, soul-searching, abysmal poems and blatant egocentricity went far beyond toe-curling. But you're right, the persons we were still lurk within us and even the really young ones resurface still.

Debbie said...

@Chris - yes, that was my husband I wrote about!

Pam Howes said...

Lovely. I enjoy nostalgia stories. I wish I still had my teen diaries but my mum chucked them away when I left home and got married. I went to get my nostalgia box one day and they'd gone, along with a piece of Scott Walker's shirt, a broken drumstick the late Beach Boy Denis Wilson threw into the audience at a concert in Manchester and loads of concert tickets, some with autographs. Such precious memories to me, they meant little to my mum who thought it a box of rubbish. That happened in 1969 and I'm now 64 and I've never really forgiven her! :-)

Greg Strange said...

Sounds grand as owt. When did you say you were publishing your diaries?

Lydia Bennet said...

great post Debbie! Nostalgia IS what it used to be!

julia jones said...

Respect, Debbie! I regret to say that if I ever find any of those totally squirm making letters or diaries in my own possession I chuck them away in horror (and yes, I am a biographer by trade ...)