Julia’s Diary

Friday 11th October 2002


Spent yesterday writing a play in a day for Live Theatre as part of their RSC season of new play readings and new writing activities. It started at 10.00 a.m with coffee and newspapers, sitting with the directors and circling stories. A statue of Adam had collapsed in New York, and Dylan Thomas’s shed was being taken apart and renovated, whitethroats were nearly extinct, and a cleaner had got �27,000 from a faulty cashpoint, taken it home, and then felt so guilty he’d returned it with �200 of his own money. Theses stories seemed to go together rather well! I sat in an office with people bringing me coffee and wrote like a maniac. At lunchtime I was beginning to panic. I could see a good idea like a mirage in a desert and it was a long way off. At 2.00 the actors arrived and we had a read through. I did one more draft and then it was rehearsed and performed that night in the theatre, before a reading of Paul Telfer’s Poor Kit Smart. My best part of the day was working with the directors and actors. I just wish we’d had longer. Still there is alot to be learnt from writing badly and quickly, and not being too precious about it. Last night, though, I could hardly sleep…it felt like a premature birth or something!

Now I’m back in peaceville and about to get back to the novel; that pleasureable made up world that I control absolutely.

Tuesday 7th October 2002


I’m back in my writing room after a brilliant week in the castle in Dumfries. We hardly went out at all, and I wrote loads without feeling overworked at all. The castle was more like a big stone tower in the middle of nowhere. Inside it was warm and comforting, with good quality cotton sheets on the beds and shiny cutlery in the cupboards. At night I heard ghosts having conversations in the cupboards, and the others swore they were fast asleep. Bats and owls flew about above your head.

Back in Newcastle everything is very busy. I spent yesterday afternoon going to see a doctor at the Freeman Hospital. We waited for over three hours. I get very frustrated at not being allowed to see my notes and x rays. I make doctors explain things to me. It feels like this is hard work sometimes, but worth it. I MAKE them see me as a person, not a patient. Anyway, I’ve got to have an operation (on Halloween) to remove fluid from my lung lining. A pleural effusion …sounds like something Fanny might cook. I feel perfectly normal, so it’s annoying to be made to go to hospital. Damn.

Doughnuts Like Fanny’s is on at the Saville Exchange in North Shields on 29th October. I am suggesting that attendees might like to dress as Fanny (wig and false eye lashes…you could be Fanny classic, or Fanny sixties) or Johnie (easy…jacket and monacle). If you want to come it might be wise to book. On Thursday 10th I’m writing a ‘play for today’ for Live Theatre. They lock you up in a room with the newspapers and the play is performed that evening as part of the RSC stuff at Live. It’s a bit nerve wracking, but I suppose the audience knows that you only had a day to write it.

I’m reading a great new novel by Louise Trondeau called the Water’s Edge, about a hotel in Bournemouth. A really lovely book. Didn’t like the Salley Vickers one that much, although her first nov was brilliant. I hope everyone reading this diary is well! Bye for now.

Thursday 26th September


I really like September. I was on a train last night chugging through Hexham and Wylam and Corbridge, and there was a glowing rustly twilight and a bonfire smell in the air. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here in the North of England either, despite all the things we grumble about like the long cold winters and the dog mess. I always feel romantic in September! I’m about to go and spend a week in a castle writing my novel. I hope it’s haunted, and that it’s got central heating.

Everything is breaking at the moment; computers, boilers, cars etc. I wonder why things always break in unison?

I also managed to do my tax, which always seems like the most bizarre activity. Is there someone somewhere who goes through all these brown envelopes looking at crumpled receipts with ‘stagewear’ written on them in biro? Writers could potentially claim everything against tax. Life is art after all. Things like turkish baths, facials, therapy, dog expenses…it’s all inspirational.

Monday 23rd September


Since I last wrote this diary we’ve had the Shorelines launch which was great. Cate’s glass looked beautiful, and I have fallen in love with sticky vinyl lettering. I’m about to spend a wek away in a castle with two other novelists writing the Taxi Driver’s Daughter. I feel I can only really concentrate when I go away from everything. I love my home, but it’s full of teenagers, and although I have a writing room, there are so many other writing jobs to do. However, going on a retreat gives you a real boost, and when I come back it’s easier to continue working on a big project because my head will be full of it.

Yesterday I went to the launch of a new book called Leftboobless, by a woman called Sylvia Mitchell, who decided to write about her experience of having breast cancer, and to include lots of writing exercises that helped her. Sylvia is a very positive woman who had organised the whole thing brilliantly. It was the best raffle prizes I’ve ever seen, although typically I didn’t win anything. Andrea Badenoch and I ‘launched’ the book for Sylvia, and we talked about how writing had helped us get through breast cancer. Frankly I couldn’t have survived without writing, or at least having some creative way of expressing myself. The launch was wonderful..packed with people..but it made me angry with breast cancer. You can have a very positive attitude and learn alot from cancer, but it’s still a pain in the arse and something I could have done without. If anyone is interested in Sylvia’s book email me and I’ll tell you how to get a copy. It would be a good gift for anyone who was recently diagnosed.

Monday 15th September


It’s mad out there! The students are back, and lying in the corridors, whirling things on strings, and being pestered by different societies. I was never in a society when I was a student. Hmmm.

I have heard from others since I last wrote this diary that all the anaesthetists they know ARE fun loving hedonists. Still, I’ve finished that play now, so now I’ll be thinking only of taxi drivers!

Tomorrow Cate Watkinson and I will be putting words and glass together at the Customs House Gallery in North Shields. I like it up there. It’s all airy and riverish. The exhibition opens tomorrow.