Why you should never read someone else’s journal

In the long hiatus between my mother’s death on October 19th and her funeral last Friday, I wasn’t able to focus on work much at all, and that felt OK and appropriate. I slept a lot, dreamt a lot, read non-fiction books and wrote in my journal.

I was working through some of the exercises in Change Your Story, Change Your Life: Using Shamanic and Jungian Tools to Achieve Personal Transformation by Carl Greer one morning, when it occurred to me that anyone reading my journal after I died might not understand, as I do in the writing, that it’s an experiment, and not a report.

Slow start warning: I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter, which felt like puff and waffle. Glad I didn't.
Slow start warning: I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter, which felt like puff and waffle. A few chapters in, I’m glad I didn’t.

Actually, my whole journal is a perpetual work-in-progress. Every page I write is part of a creative exploration. It isn’t me – it’s a kaleidoscope of all the possibilities of me, and I’m aware of that when I’m writing in it in much the same way as when I’m gathering notes for a work of fiction, knowing all the time that many of my ideas won’t fit the story and will have to be discarded.

A journal or diary is a first encounter with ideas and events, before you’ve had a chance to ponder and decide what you think of them. To get a true sense of a person’s life, I guess you’d need to read their autobiography, because there you have a completed work. Where a journal is a mess of notes, often contradictory or inconsequential, an autobiography is an expression of the writer’s identity, his or her choice of what’s important and how they understand what’s happened.

I was struck by something in Natalie Goldberg’s book on memoir-writing Old Friend from Far Away last week; she says we shouldn’t think we have to be old before we can write a memoir. We don’t need the whole story all in one go, at the end. We can write memoirs from time to time throughout a long life, and each one will be the most complete expression of who we are and how we understand our lives up to that point.

In that sense, I guess autobiography could be seen as a work-in-progress too, but the difference is that in autobiography we are writing what we know about ourselves and our life, whereas in journalling we are feeling our way along the borders of our knowledge, and what we find must be judged as me or not-me, accepted or discarded, as part of the process of becoming.

If you read someone’s journal – as well as the obvious problem that it is private writing and they did not intend it to be read – you will not find the person there, and thinking that you will could give you every which kind of wrong impression, like listening to someone’s dreams and believing you can interpret them. A good dream therapist will simply hold the dream so that the dreamer can look at it from different angles, because only the dreamer can find out what it means.

I love my journals
I love my journals

I include all sorts of things in my journals – dreams, ideas, experiences, book reviews, quotations, drawings, writing exercises and creative experiments. I love them, just as I love my dreams, specifically because they don’t define me.

With both, there’s a feeling of infinite possibility, a continuously forming sense of direction, so that even at the end of a lifetime of journalling and dreaming, I’m sure there will be no conclusion, because the conclusion is always up ahead.


My children have strict instructions to burn my diaries without reading them when I die. What would you like to happen to yours?

‘Use your dreams to grow your soul’ – Patti Allen in the House of Dreams

Today, I’m delighted to welcome dream teacher and author Patti Allen MA in the House of Dreams. Patti served on the teaching staff of Seneca College in Toronto in the field of Holistic Health for ten years and currently serves as a mentor for Denise Linn’s online courses for Hay House.

With a specialty in facilitating dream groups, and a frequent guest on radio and TV, she presents lectures and workshops on the topic of dreams and how to work with them. Her dream healing oracle deck, The Abaton Keys® combines creativity, wisdom and dream knowledge to help dreamers access their own wisdom.

Patti Allen
Patti Allen

Patti, when did you first begin to remember and explore your dreams?

The first dream I interpreted was in 1980 after hearing an interview with Gayle Delaney on the radio. It helped me with a decision that was weighing on me. But I didn’t start exploring my dreams deeply until I didn’t my training in the Rubenfeld Synergy Method® in 1991, a technique for integrating body, mind, emotions and spirit. Part of the requirement was to go through the work myself and my dreams became quite vivid and intense. It began my search for meaning and a life-long love of dream exploration.

How do you use dreams in your own life?

Dreams have advised me on relationships, helped me problem-solve and given me access to Source and creative possibilities. They amuse me, educate me, help me learn about myself and those in my life. Quite simply, I am enlightened by my dreams and I am bereft without them.

What is the relationship between dreams and creativity?

I believe that we are created in the image of the Creator and embedded in that is creativity! Dreams provide inspiration in the emotions they convey, the colours they feature and in the stories they tell and visual images they show us. They are just waiting to be mined and used to create our lives… whether we use them in a “creative” project or not.

I’m particularly drawn to your website page on the Abaton Keys. What was your process in creating them?

Thank you! I did my master’s degree on the role of dreams and healing in ancient Greece and I loved the healing practices associated with dreams and the healing temples of Asklepios. Then, Denise Linn, the founder of the Soul Coaching Institute and my teacher in Soul Coaching®, created a course for Hay House on oracle card readings. I served as a mentor for that group and was inspired by the course material to actually create my own deck. It was a creative birthing that couldn’t have happened without the amazing work of collage artist Julia Still. As much as I organized the project, there was something bigger than myself, organizing me! To this day, when I do a reading for a client, I check the book that explains each card. The work came through me but didn’t necessarily lodge in the part of my brain that I can access. An interesting process to say the least!

Is there anything else you would like to say about dreams?

Yes! Explore your dreams, play with them and use them to grow your soul. There is no right or wrong way to start. We spend a 1/3 of our lives sleeping and through dream work, we can be 100% awake!Patti Allen

To learn more or contact Patti, go to www.pattiallen.com

When was the last time you felt really happy? Write for 10 minutes…

I’m reading Nathalie Goldberg’s book on writing memoir, which goes under the wonderful title of Old Friend from Far Away. As you might expect with Goldberg, it’s full of practical writing exercises, and when I came to this one, I was briefly stalled: When was the last time you felt really, really happy?


I’ve done the exercise before – I can’t remember now what prompted it – and it was really easy. Having fresh blueberries on my morning muesli – that had made me happy. Watching an old episode of Frasier while I was eating it – happy, happy, happy. My normal approach to life is celebratory and thankful, so happiness always feels close to the surface.

But today I found myself having to cast my mind back, across the numb times of these past few weeks, during which my mother was given a diagnosis of leukaemia, developed pneumonia and died, all within ten days. She approached the end of her life the way she approached every part of it, with stoicism, taking care of the practicalities and being clear about her preferences and decisions.

She was 90 years old, and had been ready to go for several years, as her physical condition deteriorated; she was not at all afraid of dying. She died in her own home, having steadfastly refused all life-extending treatments, with her family at her bedside, on her wedding anniversary, so in many ways it felt like a blessed death.

In this interval between my mother dying and her funeral, I’ve been mostly sleeping, walking and reading – books like the Nathalie Goldberg.

When was the last time I felt really, really happy? I suddenly remembered my book launch, at my friend Gill’s art gallery in Devon. My younger daughter was staying with me, and she raised the toast for one of the books I was launching. One of my oldest friends raised the second toast. I did some readings.


It was a stunning, beautiful evening, a full moon over Dartmoor, and a happy throng inside the bright gallery, among the paintings and artefacts. Everything flowed.

A happy throng
A happy throng

Afterwards, my daughter stayed on for a few days. The weather was hot, as it often is in Cornwall in the last days of September, and we walked the coastal path together.


So that’s what I’ve just written about, and now the last time I felt really happy was half an hour ago.

Such is the transforming magic of writing. When you use all your senses to immerse yourself in the creative experience and allow your body to feel the emotions, you are creating or re-creating real experience for the self.

Right now, I can’t manage to push forward into new worlds with fiction and my current work-in-progress, but writing into the more familiar territory of my own life feels easy and affirming.

I’m looking forward to offering a new course in memoir writing in March-April 2016 

Reading George Orwell on the island of Jura

I really enjoyed reading a post by Elizabeth Kay recently over on Authors Electric about visiting the setting of a favourite book and it got me thinking about a magical experience I had a few years ago.

I’d been listening to a series of dramas on Radio 4 about George Orwell, and was particularly moved by the last one, about the last few years of his life before he finally succumbed to TB at the age of 46.

He was living in an isolated house on the island of Jura, struggling to finish his final novel, 1984, despite increasing ill health. His wife had died during an operation a year or so before, shortly after they had adopted a baby boy, and Orwell’s sister Avril had come to Jura to look after him and his son.

So much pain and loss…  in that moment, and that place, he created a book I barely remembered from my schooldays, but felt it was time to read again. I decided to go to Jura and read it there, where Orwell had written it.


It isn’t easy to get to Jura. You have to first take the ferry to Islay, and then make the short crossing from there.


It’s a big island, home to only about 200 people. The ferry lands at the South end of the road, where there’s nothing except a shelter, and after a drive of maybe twenty minutes you get to the only village, with its hotel and distillery. I sat in the bar drinking coffee, where doubtless Orwell would have sat, and read a few chapters before driving the 23 miles to the North end of the road.


There’s nothing at the North end either. Just a track that begins a 7 mile walk to the house Orwell lived in.


I love wild, empty places, but I was struck by the extreme isolation that Orwell chose, so far from any neighbours and so inaccessible. I imagined him writing his dark dystopia, with its bleak vision of human nature and society, having already removed himself as much as he possibly could, before the complete departure of his death.

Have you ever read a book in the place it was written? Did being there intensify the experience for you?

Since writing this, I discovered a lovely post on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure by Lynne Benton about visiting Agatha Christie’s stamping grounds. Read it here


Jenny Alexander:

Here’s a beautifully written piece about synchronicity on a blog I’ve been following for some time. Do take a look!

Originally posted on rarasaur:

Originally written 09-25-14, from Central California’s Women’s Facility, a state prison colloquially known as Chowchilla. It was posted by Dave in November, and turned to a draft on my return. I wasn’t going to repost it, but it was the message I think I needed to hear today. It should be tagged #HowIWidow, but as I wasn’t one at the time of writing, well…

I believe in fixed points of time. The idea that some things are inevitable.

Yes. Free will is rampant, and — yes — daily choices are made at the micro-level in the span of a nanosecond, over and over again.

But in the ever-evolving tapestry of life, some points are tied up by fate in advance, destined to make a knotted appearance no matter what the thread before it chooses to be or do.

A butterfly may decide to flap into a tornado, and all of…

View original 497 more words

The loneliest day in the life of a published writer

In between books, when I’m pondering my next project, I like to read about writing, and I particularly enjoy books by other authors in which they share their own experiences of the highs and lows of the writing life – thoughtful books, personal books, such as the one I’ve just finished reading by Dani Shapiro, Still Writing.

This one's definitely going on my recommended reading list
This one’s definitely going on my recommended reading list

I read this book a few days after publishing my own book on writing, When a Writer isn’t Writing, and a few days before the publication of my YA novel, Driftso this idea caught my attention:

The loneliest day in the life of a published writer may be publication day. Nothing happens. Perhaps your editor sends you flowers. Maybe not. Maybe your family takes you out for dinner. But the world won’t stop to take notice. The universe is indifferent. You have put the shape of your soul between the covers of a book and no-one declares a national holiday.

Shapiro goes on to explore why writers keep on doing it, even though so few are heading towards any major recognition or celebration of their work.

I pondered before reading on, because of the moment I was in. I remembered when publication days really did feel like the loneliest time to me, in the days before social media, when maybe your publisher would send you a card, but that was all.

Back then, I learnt to make my own celebrations. I followed the Weatherly rule (Lee Weatherly‘s genius idea, passed on to me by Liz Kessler) and opened a bottle of bubbly with friends as soon as I finished a manuscript, rather than waiting a year or more for publication day before feeling I could celebrate.

I learnt to get started on something new as soon as possible, so that my creative energies were happily engaged in writing the next book rather than focusing on the build-up to publication day for the one I’d finished.

When publication day did eventually come, I learnt the importance of throwing a party, not as a publicity or sales event, but as a personal celebration, because writing a book is hard and, as the writer of your particular book, you know what an incredible achievement it has been to go the distance.

This year, the launch is in a lovely gallery on the edge of Dartmoor. All welcome!
This year, the launch is in a lovely gallery on the edge of Dartmoor. All welcome!

I still do all these things, but I must say publication day doesn’t feel so lonely any more to me now that we’ve got facebook, twitter and blogging. When I put the word out about a new book, I straight away hear back from people I know and people I’ve never met, so that instead of a solitary card on my doormat I receive a steady flow of congratulations.

Soon after that, rather than waiting several months to receive a few letters from readers via my publisher, I start getting direct messages in twitter and fb, and emails through my website, from people who have bought my book, and started reading it.

A lovely selfie via fb from a friend who has just bought my book
A lovely selfie via fb from a friend who has just bought my book

And rather than just a press review or two, readers begin to post their thoughts on my new book in amazon and elsewhere.

So publication day is no longer the loneliest day for this writer, and that’s down to all of you. Thank-you for calling by!

Why my new book is published today

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.


Years ago, a friend told me she thought that the world was divided into two sorts of people – those who had seriously contemplated suicide, and those who had never even considered it.

At the time, I felt sceptical, because thinking about suicide started for me in early childhood and I’d always assumed that everyone did it, but when I asked around, it turned out maybe she was right. Lots of friends told me it had never even occurred to them, but for others it was like a kind of home base, the place they always returned to in their dark times.

I think young people who have this mindset are particularly vulnerable because they don’t have the experience yet to know those desperate feelings do pass, and things do get better. Most of those who have made serious suicide attempts express gratitude later that they didn’t succeed.

So the message older people want to give to vulnerable young people is ‘Hold on’, as in the classic REM song “Everybody Hurts’ which was written in deliberately straightforward language, for pre-college teens.

Lesbian, gay,bisexual and transgender teenagers have a very much increased risk of suicide, and there’s great work being done for them in the It Gets Better Project, where ordinary LGBT adults share their stories of getting through horrible times at school to go on and lead successful lives in happy relationships.

Siblings of suicide are another very high risk group, and they’re the people I wanted to tell, as a survivor of sibling suicide, it does get better. I’ve done it the best way I know how to, in my new Young Adult novel, Drift, the story of a 16-year-old girl whose brother has killed himself.

It’s her story, not mine, but because of my story, I knew how to write it.


Drift is published today.

You can read my first interview about the book on the book eaters site.

‘If I had to summarise this book with just one word, it would be beautiful…’ See the rest of young book blogger Marta’s review here.

Creative dreaming, creative writing

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