I went to London last week, on a school night no less, to meet Alexander Masters, an author and biographer who has just produced the most wonderful book, ‘A Life Discarded’ – the biography of a nameless person. You may already know Masters as he was the author of the brilliant book, ‘Stuart – A Life Backwards’, which was made into a film starring Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch (I may have watched the film several (hundred) times).
The round-table event was held at the News Building, the offices of Harper Collins, who produced the book. Wow, what a building! Right next to the Shard, with views to die for:
(Slight reflection of Matt, the Marketing Director, in that photo!)
Alexander was the loveliest of people. Warm, engaging and very passionate about his new book. So, firstly, a little background.
Two of Alexander’s friends found 148 diaries in a builder’s skip in Cambridge and, after being unable to discover who the author was themselves, gave them to him. The diaries spanned several decades, from 1952-2001, and contained over 5m words. We were lucky enough to see the actual diaries, look at the tiny, cramped writing, and try to imagine the person that wrote them. They weren’t signed, and we don’t know why, or how, they ended up in the skip. Now it’s worth mentioning that I haven’t finished the book yet, and so I won’t give any spoilers here as to who that person is/was, but Alexander introduced them as ‘an ordinary person.’ Like you or I I guess.
On the surface, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but the parallels with this person and myself as a blogger, are quite similar. I write out my thoughts, just as they did, for several reasons. Because we don’t have anyone at home to listen to them. Because it’s cathartic, a release of built-up frustrations in our head and … maybe, just because we both love the art of writing. You may think, ‘Well, they could be 100% honest about what they write because no-one will see the diaries,’ and I may not be (although I am, of course, always honest) … except the author wrote:
“I know it’s inevitable I’ll be published one day.”
A sixth sense maybe? Maybe the writer knew that someone, one day, would happen across their thoughts and they would end up in the right hands. And didn’t they just?! Fate right there.
Alexander has pulled together the author’s words in the most beautiful of ways. Each volume documents the writer’s thoughts, obsessions and complaints (see, just like this blog!) One favourite chapter was devoted just to the writer’s birthday lists. Each year, they would write down what they wanted for their birthday, and how they spent the day, and to see how that changed over the years really is rather special.
The beautiful thing about this book is that this person had the same problems that a lot of us do. It helps us feel less … alone. (And I would like to hope that my writing does the same.) The author is relateable, even though some of their writing is over 60 years old, but the simple act of reporting one’s daily thoughts, and for us to ‘be in on the secret’, is remarkable isn’t it?
I don’t write about books on my blog, and maybe I should, but here’s my issue. I love books so much that I studied them as a mature student at uni when I was 36. I studied them for four years, along with the art of creative writing, and there was no place I went during that time when I didn’t have a big book by my side. (‘I love big books and I cannot lie.’) But after reading the likes of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, when I graduated, I couldn’t bring myself to read for pleasure for a long time. In fact, I didn’t read a book again for years, and it’s only something I’ve recently managed to get back into after my new man-friend lent me his favourite book, Louis de Bernieres’ Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord. (Which is wonderfully strange.)
So the timing of meeting Alexander was perfect. We sat in the most glorious of settings, drank wine and heard Alexander read excerpts from this book, and to know the diary writer’s back-story really did make you feel invested in the outcome. What happened in the end? And who is/was this mysterious author? I can’t possibly say … you’ll just have to read the book for yourself.
A big thank you to all concerned in what turned out to be my favourite blogging event of the year!