Twelve things I’ve learned about writing this year

1. I need to let my brain run.

It’s an annoying hyperactive shit, my brain, and left to its own devices it will bang on in a ceaseless stream of commentary like autonomy autonomy autonomy funny-sounding word isn’t it wonder what happens if you say it with music notes maybe that ad jingle you know the one AUUU-TOOO-NOOO-MEEE (au-to-no-mee) the paint’s chipped just there look also ring Dan HOLY SHIT DID YOU PAY THE MILKMAN no no need to shout just thought I would AUUU-TO-NO-MEEE oh my God remember that awful thing off the news yesterday BRUTAL it was BRUTAL let me replay you some horrible details did you call Dan also there’s no bread do you think the world’s going to end? This is why I like to distract it regularly with books, TV, podcasts and conversations with real people, because otherwise I end up standing in the middle of the living room saying ‘SHUT UP’ out loud, like a madwoman. But the thing it does really well, if fed the right information and not diverted, is create stories. On writing days, I don’t divert it. I let my brain get up to fifth gear and then I feed it work. I cannot expect it to work at a moment’ notice, after it’s been dulled by an hour-long podcast on how the Freedom of Information Act works. It needs to be fresh. So I start working days by gently prompting it – often as I’m still lying in bed – then leaving it alone for an hour or so. By the time I get in front of a screen it’s got five good suggestions about how to deal with that tricky midpoint plot twist.

2. The more I work, the more it works.

I used to read posts on Twitter where writers talked about their characters haunting them, or about constantly thinking about their novel, and I’d do this eye-roll-but-secretly-a-bit-worried-it-wasn’t-happening-for-me thing. That was before I started writing a book that was working. Now I have a book that is working, and last night I dreamed about it. The story is like a fever, or early love – constantly there, a preoccupation that has moved in like a possession and developed a life of its own. The more I let my brain run, the more I work on the novel, expand it and give it depth and tangle its characters together, the more it seems to happen by itself, and the easier it is to pick it up and work on it.

3. Earworms are an occupational hazard

Something about the intense focus and creativity of writing mode breeds spectacular earworms. It’s especially bad when you have kids, and kids’ TV is in your life. I fantasise about taking revenge on whoever came up with the new Thomas And Friends theme. It runs circuits of my head like a leaf stuck to a bike wheel.

4. Reading at the same time as writing is essential

I used to think that I should avoid reading when I was working on new material, because the other writer’s voice would end up leaching into my work and altering it. I don’t know whether I’m more secure in my own voice now, or whether I was just wrong all along. Anyway, reading whilst writing is a very good thing. It shows me ways that other people have dealt with all the things I need to deal with, like plotting and character development and awkward timelines, in a way that I wouldn’t remember if I just sat and thought ‘Hmm, how have books I’ve read in the past sorted out X issue?’

5. Make it up if you have to

Research is great, but sometimes you just can’t access the right people and there are no books telling you what that particular thing is like. One of my characters is a luxury goods broker. I’m not even really sure it’s a thing. I sure as hell don’t know any. No-one’s written a non-fic book called ‘Inside Luxury Goods Brokering’. I just needed a job in which my character could be a bit of a materialistic douche and earn big bonuses whilst working for a small family firm. So I made it up. Nae worries.

6. Then again, research is essential

It’s not so much facts that are the problem. It’s OK to make up facts. If, in the event of this book’s publication, an annoyed luxury goods broker writes to me and complains about my inaccurate portrayal of luxury goods brokering I’ll be all right with it. I’d rather have got it right, but eh. It’s the people who matter. I care if I write a crappy, stereotypical portrayal of mental illness. I care if I write cartoon minority characters. That’s where I can’t just make it up. The inside of my head is not enough. I have to do research, and sometimes that changes how the story works, but it always makes it better.

7. Titles are hard

Short story titles are easy. Short stories tend to have one theme and only a very small cast of characters, so you can pluck out some pleasingly symbolic collection of words pretty easily. Not so novels. The book has been called The Book since its inception. Now I have to think of a title because I’m submitting it to a first novel competition. It was called Fortune for a bit, before I decided that luck wasn’t actually the overriding theme, and also it sounded too much like a Jeffrey Archer novel. It was Fathom Five for about 6 hours before I realised that was way wanky. Now it’s The Book again. If inspiration doesn’t occur before the end of the month it’s just gonna be called the protagonist’s name because this is haaaaaaard.

8. It’s OK to not know where it’s going. To a certain extent.

There’s an E.L. Doctorow quote: ‘Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ I know who my book’s protagonist is, and I know where he starts and ends up. I know how he changes. If I didn’t know that, I wouldn’t be able to write the book. But as for the details, I can see as far as the headlights. And that works great for me. Letting the book grow inside my head as I go along keeps it fresh and interesting and weird. For me, sitting down with a detailed outline wouldn’t work. I don’t think I’d write the thing if it was only a question of labour.

9. Just Do It

That’s it really. Write this bit, because then you can write the next bit. If I hang around hesitating because I don’t know what a luxury goods broker’s office would look like and also I’m not 100% sure whether the drink driving scene should be someone’s fault or kind of an accident, it stalls the work. Sometimes a bit of breathing space is good, but sometimes it’s time to get in there and do something. I can always change it later.

10. Sometimes family life helps rather than hinders

I complain about the demands of childcare and the way they impact on my work time, but there’s an upside (and not just the obvious one, i.e. having a lovely family). I’m asleep by 9:30 every night. I barely drink. I take my vitamins. I zealously avoid doing anything I don’t really want or really need to. I am aware so much more of my time limits. I have never been more productive than I am now, despite also being under more pressure of time than ever. I’m efficient in a way that I wasn’t at twenty-five, or even at thirty.

11. It doesn’t have to be perfect

I’ve been listening to the Worried Writer podcast, on which a writer interviews published authors about their process in a wholly unpretentious way. It’s so reassuring. One thing people talk a lot about is rewrites. How many of them there are, how tough they are. That’s after the book’s been accepted for publication. There’s a whole polishing phase that goes on after your draft is done, if it makes it. It does need to be as good as it can be to have a chance of being accepted at all, but it doesn’t need to be as perfect and polished as the book you pick up off your shelf. That’s the result of a team of professionals. It’s OK to think your book’s not perfect, as long as you carry on writing and editing it, get it to the best standard you can and then send it out.

12. Be brave

I used to have a needle phobia. To get rid of it, I became a blood donor. The first few times were horrible; horrible enough that the nurses asked me if I really wanted to do it. The next few times were OK. Now I just get slightly clammy palms. The thing I learned was that the moment of puncture, the bit where the pointy metal went in my skin, was never anywhere near as bad as the fear. Every time it happened I was like ‘Oh hey, that was fine really,’ and then I’d feel awesome about having done it. Sending out work for review is similar. It feels bad and scary, but press ‘Send’ or ‘Post’, and it’s over. Then you get feedback and it’s helpful, and it’s never as bad as you fear. And you can feel awesome about yourself and your work. Never sending it out just makes things worse, and makes any rejection sting more when you are forced to do it. 2018 is going to be the year of going for it. Cheers, and Merry Christmas all.

Guide to Running a Live Lit Night

Yeah, there were probably better titles, but I’ve had four hours’ sleep and I went out to the local jazz festival yesterday and drank too much wine. Also my small daughter is doing that ominous coughing that suggests she’s thinking of waking up from her nap an hour early. This post is going up and it may not be pretty, but I like to think it may be helpful.

I run Cheltenham’s premier (only) live flash fiction night, Flashers’ Club. We’re barely off the ground, with our third event happening tonight. But as we lumber along, flapping our ungainly wings, there’s definite air between us and the dirt. Flashers’ works. I didn’t know that it would. It has been an extremely steep learning curve which has required me to be more mentally agile than should be demanded of someone who’s constantly knackered, and it has been fantastic. And now, feeling like I’ve actually learned a few things about creating a live literature event, I feel the need to share them. Because anyone can do it.

So, you want to run your own live lit night?

Rule 1 (and the only real rule, but I’ll include a few other things I personally have learned): do it. That is all. Do you love the idea? Does it give you that feeling in your chest that you could really actually maybe make this work? Then you can make it work. There is no better way to learn than to throw yourself at the thing headfirst and see what happens. This may be alien to your nature (it is to mine), but still, try it. You might like it. There is nowhere on the web (especially not here, given my state of mind) where someone can tell you exactly how to set up your live lit night. It will grow organically. It will evolve to become just the right thing for your city, your crowd, your genre. Your thing is your thing. Run with it. Having said that, a few tips:

  1. You cannot over-promote a live lit night. Get a WordPress site, if you like confusion (sorry, WordPress, but man), or get any other free webpage/blog that you can. Twitter is your friend. Facebook is a bit shit, but you need that too. I don’t do Instagram, but I guarantee you if I did it would garner us a larger audience. Use all of these channels like you’re trying to wear them out. Promotion is work. It means being confident about your night when you’re not sure anyone – anyone at all – is going to turn up. It means writing chirpy tweets that that sarky person in your head keeps reading back to you in the voice of Reece Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. It means finding new ways, every week – sometimes every day – of saying the same thing without pissing off your followers. ‘Come to my thing!’ ‘Hey, why not come to this thing!’ ‘Are you coming to our thing?’ Annoying yet? Yes, it is. Promotion means getting creative. It also means getting reciprocal. The writing community, the live lit community, is amazingly supportive. You’re going to need to get out there and go to some things, talk to some people, get to know exactly what your local community is. Other live lit events will promote yours to their audience, as will indie publishers, writers’ circles, bookshops, litmags, university writing departments and individual writers. You should do the same back. Apropos of which:
  2. You need to be listed on ShortStops. ShortStops is a literary institution and it is invaluable and FREE. ShortStops also uses WordPress, so if you’re thinking of getting to grips with one blogging platform it should probably be WP. Get on it.
  3. Venue. Lots of places will host events for free. Coffee bars, bakeries, pubs, art spaces, anywhere they have funding or can sell your audience stuff. If they offer a free PA system, bite their hand off. It’s preferable to have no background music/noise, but that might not be possible. It’s going to be a bit rough and ready. Bear in mind that it’s your job to make the venue’s gamble worthwhile. Be good to them. Keep them updated on ticket sales, or Facebook likes, to let them know how many people may turn up. They need to know how many staff to put on. You are doing each other a favour, so good communication and two-way respect is essential. They may not want you to run your first event on a Saturday, because you’re an unknown quantity and they don’t want to lose half their floorspace to an event that may pull in 6 punters. Accept this. If you have an amazing turnout and you desperately want a Saturday, you may be able to negotiate it for the second event.
  4. Format. In some ways all live lit nights are basically the same: some people read some stories, then there’s a break, then some more stories. Then again, there are a thousand decisions to make. How long are the stories? What’s the limit? Is the limit by read time, or word count? Actually, are you featuring just stories, or poetry? What about novel extracts? What about memoir? What about travel writing? Do you accept genre stories? Be clear about this, or people will submit/turn up with something you don’t feature and be upset if told they can’t read. Probably best to specify that you don’t feature porn, polemics or gratuitous violence. People can be very strange.
  5. Selective or open mic? Selective nights are harder work than open mic nights, because they require you to review submissions, but they’re less seat-of-the-pants than open mic. On open mic nights you never know how many people will turn up, or what they’re going to read. On selective nights you do, and you can give them a proper intro and everything, and you know pretty exactly the run time, and you can cherry-pick the most interesting stuff. However, you are also putting yourself in a position of editorial decision-making, which raises three issues: a) how qualified you feel to make those decisions, especially if it will be just you and not a group of writers, b) the fact that selection places a certain pressure on the night’s stories to be good quality, and c) the fact that the selection of stories will reflect directly upon you or your group. It is a stone-cold fact that not everything submitted to lit events will be great. Not everything I have submitted has been great, as evidenced by the rejection e-mails. If you have an insufficient number of quality, interesting pieces submitted to your selective night, you are going to end up selecting some that you’re not happy with. On the other hand you might get 30 stories for a 10-slot night and happily pick out a bunch of great stuff, and your night will look awesome and you won’t get that oh-shit feeling that I sometimes get when the open mic readers’ list is at 2 and we’re starting in five minutes. Then again open mic nights are glorious for their lack of control, the sheer anarchic surprise of it all, and they are much less work. Up to you.
  6. USP. Do you do badges? Do you give freebies? Do you have guest speakers? Workshops? Quizzes? Little things like this help to mark you out. They are good.
  7. Hustle. Flashers’ Club gives away free litmags to our readers. I hustle litmag publishers for these. In return, I offer as much promo as they like to our audience, via Twitter mainly, retweeting their calls for submissions, competitions and on-sale-now announcements. It’s that reciprocal thing again. They are doing me a huge favour by sending me free litmags, because running a litmag makes running Flashers’ Club look like sandpit play, and I do my best to repay them by getting them more subscribers and more submitters. Other things can be hustled: notebooks, wine, biscuits, other writer-bribery items. Try asking. You have nothing to lose. And always remember to give in return.
  8. Ticket money: yes or no? Flashers’ charges for tickets, because it’s also a charity event. Until recently all proceeds went to charity, but the realisation dawned that We Needed Money. You can run a very good straightforward event on a shoestring and have it be free, but if you want to expand and elaborate it you will need money. £3 is a good ticket price because it’s low enough not to make people think twice. You will be able to charge more for a selective night, or one featuring a special guest. For open mic it’ll need to stay pretty low, because people are taking a chance on the content. If you’re doing tickets and you have more space than you think you’ll sell, I recommend selling on the door. Advance booking sites like Eventbrite are good, but they charge a fee and in my experience the audience for live lit (open mic, at least), doesn’t book way in advance. If you’re unlikely to sell out, do tickets on the door. You’ll need a float, which the venue can often provide. It’s good to be clear about what you do with that money, whether it’s book guest writers (you will need to cover travel at the least; an opportunity to sell books to your audience may do instead of a fee) or print flyers. However, do bear in mind that:
  9. No-one really gives a shit. In the nicest possible way. If people are paying to see your event, it’s because they want to see the event. Don’t get too hung up on changing the way you use ticket money. I got myself in an ethical twist about changing the Flashers’ income from 100% charity donation to partial charity donation, partial running costs. It felt wrong. I canvassed the audience at our second event, asking for feedback. Only one person came to give feedback, which was: It’s fine. No-one else gave a shit. Do what you think’s best, and be transparent about it. It’s nice to run it past the audience if you can.

That’s not really it, but I have to go and wake my daughter up now or she’ll refuse to go to bed later and I won’t make it to my own flash fic night. In conclusion, here is the Flashers’ Club Quick Guide to Starting Your Own Live Lit Night:

  1. Find a venue
  2. Choose a format, and a USP if you can
  3. Promote
  4. Promote
  5. Hustle
  6. Promote
  7. Hustle
  8. Fear
  9. Run event
  10. Enjoy

Bon chance.

The view from up here

Just the other day, a fellow writer referred to me on their blog as ‘formidable’. I was delighted. And surprised. You see, I don’t think of myself as formidable. I set up the live lit night Flashers’ Club, but I’m running it by trial and error. I have had moderate success in finding publication for my short fiction, but I have only published three stories. I’ve won a competition, but it was a local competition. Though I was very pleased to win it, I wasn’t competing with the world. I entered the Bridport Prize and not only didn’t get longlisted, I didn’t even get the standard rejection e-mail. I’ve been rejected by Stinging Fly, Litro, Lighthouse and Shooter, and I’m pretty sure I’m about to get rejected by Unthology. I’m writing a novel, but it’s a daily slog and I have no idea whether it’s any good or not – or, rather, I veer between thinking it’s killer and thinking it’s dross.

That’s not to say I deserve sympathy. That’s the life of a writer. I’m quite proud to have been rejected by all those mags, in a badge-of-honour kind of way, and some of the rejection letters were even encouraging ones. Bonus. And there is a quiet voice underneath all the wobbling which says that the novel isn’t awful, but there is a chance it’s not good enough. While I don’t think of myself as formidable, I don’t think I’m useless either.

I’m not sure if this wavering confidence – or, perhaps, this honesty about wavering confidence – is something which is stronger in women writers. Women are socially moulded to take up less space, to be less forthright, less self-confident. Many of us still find self-promotion difficult, because we’re worried that confident words from a woman’s mouth are seen as abrasive or egotistical. Plus there’s the old, boring, but worth-restating fact that the majority of our most-lauded modern authors are white American men. They possess a particular voice, one which is bombastic and complex and artful and brutal. It is a voice which I enjoy, but it is not my voice, and nor is it the only way to write a great novel. Muriel Spark, one of my most beloved writers, does not sound like this, and it’s something I have to remind myself of. It is easy for writers to believe that we do not measure up because our voices are not brutal but subtle, not bombastic but playful.

Though women may be more susceptible to the inner critic, it’s a disease of all writers. In the business of promoting Flashers’ Club I had a conversation with a young writer who wanted to help promote the event. He read widely, he wrote, but he’d only shared his work with a handful of people close to him. He was nervous of reading to an audience. I felt his uncertainty, his fear that maybe his writing was just not good enough. I recognised it because it was my own. It was my own four years ago, and it’s still mine now – just in a different form. I know the fear that in exposing your precious work to the world’s arc-lamps, all its flaws will show.

I gave him some advice. I told him that the fear itself meant he probably wasn’t a terrible writer (most irremediable writers suffer from the Dunning-Krueger Effect), and that the best way to give himself confidence was to get his work out there amongst that of his peers. I told him that by only reading the most brilliant of brilliant writers, he was comparing his startpoint to someone else’s endpoint.

Then I got home, and started to wonder if I had been a dick. After all, who am I to give advice? I’ve had three short stories published. Three. I messaged him to apologise. ‘Honestly, it’s fine,’ he wrote back, ‘it’s always nice when someone offers some wise words.’

Wisdom. I’m not sure I have it; not across my whole life, certainly. But perhaps I have a little bit of it, in places. Perhaps I have a little wisdom for the writers around me right now, at the same stage or just that bit earlier on their writing journey. The thing is, the me from four years ago thought that being published was an impossible dream. Being published meant you had made it. I would have thought someone like me was formidable. I would have wanted to know how you did it, just as I, now, want to know from those just that bit further on that me how they did it. And I know now that they, too, will be sitting there thinking, ‘Jesus, I don’t know,’ or they’ll qualify their advice, because they don’t feel like they’ve ‘made it’ either. None of us do. Not even the most brilliant of the brilliant. There is no ‘making it’. No endpoint at which we are fully trained, incapable or learning more; at which we do not want or need to develop our art.

The view from up here, from this ledge a few feet up the infinite mountain, is this: writing is work. It involves reading, and submitting, and experiencing, and reading, and experimenting, and setbacks, and learning, and reading, and editing, and slogging, and probably some more reading (the importance of reading what you write might need another blog post). It starts as something hoarded close to the chest, something gloated over and feared for, and after that there’s a choice: keep it close and never know, or knock it into shape and send it out into the world. Then the real work starts, and the real rewards. You get knocked back. You retrench. You read. The writing grows, your mind grows. Like physical training, you need to do the thing over and over and over and over to get stronger, to develop flexibility and stamina. Your work gets better. My work has got better. And the wonderful thing about doing this is the world opening out ahead of you. It is the realisation that your ability to write is only 10% innate, and the remaining 90% is what you make it. Everyone else is just the same. No-one is born a brilliant writer. Everyone else is working for it too. You do not have to be frightened to put your work out there, because you know now that its rejection will not be a judgement on whether you can or cannot write, it is a reflection of the stage you’re at in learning your craft (or a reflection that you sent it to the wrong journal, or the wrong publisher, or your work’s wonderful but not saleable, or a reader really hates stories about divorce, or you went over the word count, or you used single-spaced Comic Sans and they threw it in the bin).

Without this exposure, this apprenticeship, my writing would have forever been a point rather than a line. I might have written, but my self-doubt would have been stronger, because I had no reference points – my own, or others’. The critic and the egotist would have loomed large, squabbling unchecked in my brain. They’re still there, but nowadays if they’re annoying me I can batter them with evidence.

Seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes is always revealing. It gives perspective. I tend to give the inner critic a bit more leash than the inner egotist, because the odds are on her side rather more. And I’ve seen what happens when writers don’t have that critic. Bad, bad things. But maybe the critic deserves a little less scope, because it turns out I’d forgotten how daunting those first steps were. How gruelling this little climb has been, and how lovely the view is when you look out, not up.

 

 

 

 

 

Flashers’ Club

fc-poster

Wooooooop! Cheltenham’s newest fiction night is live! Flashers’ Club (I know) will be on the 10th November, 7:30-11:00 at Smokey Joe’s Coffee Bar, Cheltenham. The mic is open to all writers of short fiction. Stories need to be 300-1,000 words long, and can be of any genre.*

Lots and lots of lovely information on the FC website here , and you can also find it on Twitter @flashers_club (not @flashersclub, God knows who holds that handle but they’re currently wondering why people keep writing to them about short fiction). FC is on Facebook /flashersclubcheltenham. We’re also listed on the fab Short Stops site, where you can find information on live lit, litmags and competitions across the country.

The lovely people at The Fiction Desk have given me a number of copies of their short story anthology Various Authors to give out on the 10th, so we’ll be offering one to every reader. Free literature! What more could you want?

All proceeds from Flashers’ Club will go to the charity First Story. Have a look at their website here to find out more about their work.

See you there?

 

*barring porn, polemics and Quentin Tarantino rip-offs.

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary

I’m re-reading George Grossmith’s The Diary Of A Nobody: it’s one of those books that you keep on the bookshelf in the bedroom, because you know it won’t be long before you take it down again.

I first came across the Diary when I decided to read the Observer’s 100 Greatest Novels list. This was before I had a baby, so that project’s on hold at the moment, but it introduced  me to some of the writers I now most admire (and a few I now know are Not For Me, but let’s be positive here).

The comic diary of Mr Pooter, City clerk and suburban everyman, was serialised in Punch magazine, 1888-89. The book version, re-ordered and supplemented with new material, was published in 1892. Nothing very much happens: some egg and cress is sown, dominoes played, and items are painted with enamel paint. It’s this that makes it so wonderful. The Diary is a little snapshot of ordinary middle-class Victorian life, and it is startlingly familiar. Take, for example, the pony-trap which the Pooter’s son Lupin acquires when he gets a job as a stockbroker. Lupin, in his flashy new ‘box-coat’, takes his parents for a drive:

‘His conduct was shocking. When we passed Highgate Archway, he tried to pass everything and everybody. He shouted to respectable people who were walking in the road to get out of the way; he flicked at the horse of an old man who was riding, causing it to rear, and, as I had to ride backwards, I was compelled to face a gang of roughs in a donkey-cart, whom Lupin had chaffed, and who turned and followed us for nearly a mile, bellowing, indulging in coarse jokes and laughter, to say nothing of occasionally pelting us with orange peel.’

This is instantly recognisable. Substitute the pony-trap for a BMW convertible and we’re in the 21st century. Then there’s family friend Mrs James, who doesn’t believe in disciplining her son Percy:

‘Two or three times he came up to me and deliberately kicked my shins. I gently remonstrated with him, and Mrs James said: ‘Please don’t scold him; I do not believe in being too severe with young children. You spoil their character.”

We’ve all met a Mrs James. There’s something startling, and a little disconcerting, about realising that a spoof written 125 years ago could just as well apply today. Part of the reason it is so recognisable is that the world of the 1890s was a world on the edge of modernity: the patterns of peoples’ lives and thoughts was not all that different to those of the 21st century. Their motivations and their preoccupations are very like ours. By contrast, the thoughts and lives of people living in thirteenth century London would be positively alien: not just because of the differences in physical culture and beliefs, but because very fundamental concepts, such as what makes one thing recognisably similar to another, were understood differently in the Middle Ages than they are now.

The language of the Diary, too, is accessible, needing only a few footnotes to be completely comprehensible. We just need to know that ‘B. and S.’ is brandy and soda, and we’re away.

The format of the book is also one that’s still very popular today. From Adrian Mole to Bridget Jones, we know how to read a comic diary; and arguably, the reason that these books exist is because the Diary inspired them. I read Adrian Mole first as a teenager (worryingly, I found him entirely sympathetic) and all of Sue Townsend’s wonderful books later in life, and when I read the Diary of a Nobody I suddenly understood where they had come from.

Finally, it’s the warmth of the book that will keep me re-reading it. Mr Pooter is a little ridiculous, a little pompous – but only in the same way that most of us are, at times, a little ridiculous and pompous. He’s not a character who’s invented to be pilloried, but a real person: basically good, occasionally misguided, dealt his share of triumph and humiliation. Reading the Diary makes me realise that sometimes I should take myself a bit less seriously, because most of the things I fret about are universal. We all want to to be popular with a certain crowd, or worry we’ve made fools of ourselves, or get annoyed at our friends. The Diary, much like A Far Cry From Kensington, or Cold Comfort Farm, is one of those books I turn to for personal solace, because I like what it tells me about how to live. And on top of that, like the other two titles, it’s wonderfully funny.