Julia’s Diary

Monday 16th Dec 2002

—16/12/2002

So it’s nearly Christmas. In my family we rent a house, so it’s a bit like a holiday, and no one has a monopoly over the kitchen arrangements. Looks like I’ve finished everything I meant to finish, and it’s a peculiarly neat year in that respect. I hope everyone who reads this diary has a lovely Christmas! I’ll write more before I go, but now I’ve got to get in a taxi!

Tuesday 10th (I think)

—10/12/2002

Days merge at the moment. Tuesday feels like Saturday. Shops are open too late, and it’s alright to drink sherry at ten in the morning. I am trying to keep up a routine in all this chaos, plodding to my room every day despite all the tinsel and merry making. Sometimes it seems more orderly to exist in a made up world rather than a real one, especially when the real one is so unruly. At least in my made up world I can have sentences, paragraphs and chapters. Characters generally do what I tell them to. You never know these days when some drunken office worker is going to bump into you in the street. And the streets in the real world are much colder than in my made up one.

Actually, I haven’t been going out much, although I did have a sentimental hour hanging things on the artificial Christmas tree. It has less branches than it used to, but I like the way it is recycled over and over again. Soon it will just be a plastic stand and a stalk.

I hope you are all feeling mulled.

Monday 2nd December 2002

—02/12/2002

I’m working on the novel all the time now. Attachments has finished its run at Live Theatre. It was a very happy production, and I’m sorry it’s finished. When writing a novel there is very little you can say about it. Each day you have to step into a made-up world full of pretend people that you feel you know better than many of your friends. Tomorrow I’m visiting a prison so I can get some detail; it might only be a small paragraph, but I think it’s worth the trip.

I must say, I do sometimes feel as if writing novels is rather like archeology in that you unearth the novel from some part of yourself. This novel is not at all autobiographical, but it feels very close to me, and I am very fond of the people in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I met them one day on the bus!

I went to a book launch last Thursday for the poets Peter Mortimer and Michael Standen. There was a good crowd there. The singer Katherine Zeserson ‘sang’ one of Peter’s poems beautifully. Peter’s book ‘I Married the Angel of The North’ was published by Five Leaves Press, and Michael’s ‘Gifts of Egypt’ was produced by Shoestring Press. Both books look fantastic. Hoorah for the Small Press, and for Cannongate and Flambard whose publications have both been on major shortlists. The more that Waterstones seems to only stock about twenty best sellers the more important these eclectic, passion run presses are. My own press, Diamond Twig, is tiny but our writers are really like diamonds and our books are very beautiful and collectable. I hope everyone who reads this diary buys books from small presses. Everyone should have at least one they support.

Monday 25th November 2002

—25/11/2002

I keep meeting people who have read this diary. It’s strange because I think I thought hardly anyone would read it, but actually rather alot of people do. Apparently this kind of diary is called a BLOG..derived from web logs. Mmmm. One of the reasons I wanted to do it was because having had cancer alot of people think that one steadily declines, which is not the case. My (breast) cancer was diagnosed in 1995 and I’m quite used to it now. I think of it as an incompetent kind of disease, that sometimes manages to rally a weak drunken army and to attempt to make an attack somewhere in my body. However, most of the time it lies about in a dirty heap snoring. It recurred (the Battle of The Windpipe) in 2000 when a new tumour was found in my chest. However thanks to a drug called taxotere (from yew trees) it disappeared again. I think it’s also thanks to acupuncture which I’ve had for years. Earlier this year there was an uprising in my lower back ( the Spinal Wars) which went on for a while, but is now defeated. I never used to like all this battle imagery, but infact it’s rather apt. I do feel like I have to go to war sometimes. There are a few weak battalions hiding out in the mountain areas and forests of my body..hence a recent operation….and I’m sure there are all kinds of ambushes and hijacks ahead, but on the whole I am quite stable now. I have a good team of doctors (the generals?) who all know me well, and I feel quite in control of myself. I don’t have to take horrible drugs or anything. Most of the time I forget about it. I suppose its always true that the image we have of a disease is rarely accurate. Susan Sontag’s book ‘The Metaphor of Illness’ (or something like that) talks about the personality of diseases like TB and AIDS. In terms of cancers, breast cancer gets loads of attention and patients get alot of sympathy, unlike people with bowel cancer or brain tumours.

I spent the weekend looking at Art; at Baltic, the new Biscuit Gallery in Newcastle, and then some open artists studios at the Cluny Warehouse. Saw some fantastic stuff. Now I’m back on the novel, but refreshed by so much visual stimulation. Writing is after all, a very visual medium and is all about trying to get the reader to SEE. Attachments is going great at Live Theatre. People laugh alot which makes me feel happy.

Tuesday 19th November 2002

—19/11/2002

I’ve come back from another week away writing. Luckily it rained all week so there wasn’t much temptation to go out. It’s interesting when you remove yourself from any domestic duties. After a few days my whole inner clock changes and I think if I stayed away for longer I would probably stay up most of the night, get up late, probably writing in bed until early afternoon. Also, I realise that however hard I might try to work like a machine, I can only WRITE for about three hours a day. However, it’s wonderful to spend the rest of the time thinking and doing nothing, and this is definitely when ideas come. Also being away with other writers helps, as we tended to spend evenings talking about problems in the work and how to overcome them.

While I was away ‘Double Lives’ opened at Live Theatre, so I didn’t see it until it had been on several nights. Charlie and Trevor are fantastic, and they have given the play so much energy. I really like writing for particular actors, and I wish I could always work that way.

I’m stuck for a good novel. I know there are hundreds of brilliant books out there, but I’ve reached that point when one can’t decide what to read next. I long to strike a new seam!

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