Diaries and the joy of remembering

This week, I’m delighted to welcome Julie Newman in the House of Dreams to talk about her diaries, as part of my occasional series of guest posts about personal writing. Julie has written a number of memoirs and nostalgia pieces for magazines including This England and Evergreen, and her diaries have proven to be a really useful resource.

I first met Julie in 2008 when she enrolled on my course, Finding Your Voice. She is currently working on an account of all the houses she has lived in. She still keeps a daily diary and attends various writing courses. She says creative writing has become something of an obsession!

Julie Newman

I discovered my love of writing at secondary school, writing comic-strip stories for my friends to read in break-time. Then, as a teenager, I began to keep a diary. Now I have a cupboard full stretching across thirty years. 

My first little diary had a tartan cover. The year was 1966. One of the girls at work kept one and I decided it would be a good idea, mainly to record dates with boyfriends and different events.

‘He’s lovely!’

This extended to writing about my feelings/teenage angst. One boyfriend in particular made a huge impression on me, so much so that he is the subject of my memoir ‘No One Comes Close’.

When we met up again it was 1987, twenty years after we had parted. I sent him a 40th birthday card, not knowing where he was living, but it found its way to him in Australia. I was unhappily married at the time. We met secretly in Trafalgar Square, while he was visiting his family. After two more meetings, I was overjoyed when he decided to come back to the UK and make his home here, with me. This was the catalyst for my divorce.

My diary-writing had lapsed in the intervening years but started again in earnest when my life took this unexpected turn. This time I recorded all my feelings, hoping to find answers as to why our relationship did not make it past the first post. He couldn’t find work and went back to Australia but we kept in touch.

I later remarried but never forgot him. I instinctively knew when he was visiting – a kind of spiritual pull – and would phone his mum, hoping to speak to him, which I managed to do on a number of occasions. This continued until his death in 2008.

I still have my little tartan diary. Last September was the 50th anniversary of our first meeting; I carefully thumbed through the pages, now spotted brown with age, and remembered all the times we met in London as if it were yesterday.

If you have enjoyed Julie’s contribution, please leave a comment.

If you would like to contribute yourself, email me author@jennyalexander.co.uk with about 600 words about your personal writing and a couple of photos.

I’ve got some cracking guest posts lined up for you already – I’m loving this series!


15 thoughts on “Diaries and the joy of remembering”

  1. Julie, thank you for sharing it. That was really special. Brought a lump to my throat. Am going to have to go write now instead of finishing a report I had planned for this afternoon.
    Thank you 🙂

  2. A whole world of five dimensional re liveable experiences resting under a few words in an old diary. So much stronger than just remembering. It’s a risky business, diary keeping, very painful sometimes as well as magical. Thanks for sharing this Julie and Jenny

  3. To me my journals are like my “National Geographic” magazines: too valuable to throw away. Of course, my journals are more personal and not widely-read. But they still have the same emotional pull. My vast collection of “National Geographic” magazines (dating regularly to the 1970s) provide unique insights into the incredible world around me; taking me places in words and photos that I can only hope to visit in my lifetime. A close friend suggested selling them a while back. I all but yelled at him for even mentioning such a thing! “They aren’t TV guides!” I told him.

    My journals are my own unique view of the world and provide me with a sense of understanding about myself and how I relate to everyone and everything around me.

    1. Yes, people whose idea of recording personal thoughts is a Snapchat photo or clicking the ‘Like’ button on Facebook probably wouldn’t understand us.

      I normally keep my private life pretty private, but your tale about a long-lost love brought back one bitter memory for me. In January of 1998 I had just come out of an odd relationship with a guy who just wasn’t ready to make a commitment, when I met another guy. As in the first relationship, I took an instant liking to him, but I had to be cautious. I had started to think I wasn’t relationship material myself. We had a lot in common: rock n’ roll, cars and trucks, and a love for dogs. He had 2 rambunctious Chihuahuas at the time, and I kept thinking that’s the type of dog I wanted to get. The only real drawback is that his ex lived in the same apartment, but slept in a separate bedroom. Nevertheless things started to work out, then came undone a little at a time. I never knew why I just let him go, but I feel the presence of his ex was a major factor. I don’t do partner-swapping or group activities. I didn’t have any indication the two were still involved, but the ex and me started clashing; albeit not seriously. Ironically, I’d last seen them both – together – in the spring of 2001.

      In July of 2015 I was wondering whatever happened to him and decided to search online, as is the habit these days. I was stunned to discover a Facebook page noting he’d died just four months earlier. Some friends who hadn’t heard from him in a while managed to get into his condo and discovered him dead. There was no sign of violence, and he’d never said anything about an illness; so nobody really knows how he died. (Or at least I don’t think they do.) He had a wide circle of friends, but when I lost touch with him, I also lost touch with them. Still, it shocked me. He was 47.

      Now, at 53, I’ve resigned myself to a solitary life – with my journals and other writings, of course!

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