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I went to the Anti Austerity Protest today and took my sketchbook.
The march started at Bank. Here are some people assembling and wondering if they are in the right place.
Here they worked out that they are in the right place.
Still at Bank. The streets are closed. The athmosphere is friendly. Drumming, chanting, leafletting. Every few minutes a sudden cheer goes through the crowd, not sure why.
Lots of families here. The crowd is starting to move.
There's not much police, surprisingly. Much less than I expected. A lot more protesters than I expected... really a lot.
Some surreptitious tagging going on at Bank. There's the first helicopter.
The chap in the background is inviting people to join the Socialist Party, I think.
Moving into Fleet Street.
There's an overwhelming amount of groups. Goths against austerity, Chefs against austerity (here in the foreground). The blimp is tethered to a fire engine crewed by the Fire Fighter's Union. Lots of local groups turned up to protest about hospitals, council housing and assorted public services (there's Haringey).
Here's a cluster of artists, mostly.
And some music.
Someone was asking "why don't they chant back?" Because they are the National Union of Sign Language Interpreters. They are chanting, look.
The Strand is packed. There's a tired child with a CUTS KILL paper hat, she perked up afetr a few minutes of being carried.
Sisters Uncut had an impressive presence, their crowd spanned the width of the road.
Some masked people. Most wore their masks on the back of their heads, like this girl with the princess backpack and the YOUTH FIGHT AUSTERITY placard, and her mum.
That dragon statue is quite alarming from the back.
I've never seen so many people marching together, and I didn't see anyone being aggressive to anyone else. I just watched the news, they did get some footage of "fireworks" (smoke bombs, the colourful sort, I stepped over a pretty bright purple one in passing) and people dressed in black with masks trying to block a road. They didn't try very hard. No point anyway, the city was full of people peacefully protesting.
(This is all scanned with my handheld scanner, excuse any wobbles.)
Here are some of the sketches I've recently been doing.
I do a lot of observational drawing using a fountain pen and a portable watercolour set.
I tend to draw people as cats.
|Icons of Elegance performing at Jamboree|
|Hot Dogs in Shoreditch|
|Posh birthday party at the World's End Pub|
|Piccadilly Line from Heathrow|
|Wapping, a cold Spring day|
|Board game testing|
Today, February 4, 2015, is the ten-year anniversary of Brooklyn Arden!
This blog took its current form one Friday night when I was home alone and lonely, and consequently decided to talk out loud to the Internet
. The years I've spent talking out loud here since led directly to writers' conference appearances, new publishing projects, my website, my book, and many, many great conversations and connections. (As well as much enjoyable silliness: See here
.) The Internet and my life have changed enormously since I started writing in this space, and I'm a little sad I don't chatter as much here anymore. But I am also enormously grateful to this blog for the chance to "know what I think when I see what I say" for the past ten years, and to all of you for coming here, seeing it, and sometimes saying back. Thank you.
My first picture book was "Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea Adventure", I think it came out in 2001.
I started working on it in 1996 when I was still in school in Germany.
|Early picture book script, 1996|
We had a leak in the studio above my storage boxes, that's why I am going through all my old scraps and notes and artwork. Lots of fun stuff.
|Childhood photo of me working on a travel journal.|
|Me as a student, 2003 or so|
you may have been told that life is a game
and that you can win it or lose it, in some way you probably almost understand but not quite
(which is worrying)
and that love is a reward
I would like you to know that a mistake has been made there
life is not a game
love is not a reward
love is a tidal thing
and if you don’t know this you will be like a child crying on the beach because the sea went away
because the sea didn’t like you
we often don’t know what strange moons are dragging
at the reservoirs of love held by those we wish to rely on
cancer moons and money moons and that big old sky-smothering satellite that drives your parents mad
it is probably not about you
most of the time
it would be a strange world in which it is all about you
and where everyone carefully checks how much love you deserve before handing it over
sometimes we try because we are silly and we have been told lies about life and love, too
but frankly we are far too self-involved to keep track
unconditional love is so much easier
Father Christmas doesn’t keep a list
you are loved
not by everyone all the time
but this world is full of decent people with hearts that have been broken enough to be quite elastic
and they will not let you go without a fight
they will write stories for you and give birth to you and carefully do your dental work
they may notice that you are sad and maybe not even say anything and maybe kick you in the shin because they think it might help or they may do the right thing and one of them might be your dog and some of them are probably imaginary but it’s a strong team working shifts
and they won’t let you go without a fight
even though they are scared
you can help not let them go either
once you got some rest
you are welcome
From notes for the Anxiety comic
I am working on, which should be a book before long. More drawings soon!
P.S. The other file I found is this - I have no idea what that was for.
This episode actually doesn't have any Anxiety in it.
It seems like time to give you an update on this comic about Anxiety I am doing.
In short: it's still going on, tehre weren't many updates because I am working on a picture book, but I have planned and written and collated and thought. There will be more soon, and there will be a book eventually.
Life is good, I have a great studio now, and I'm really enjoying my projects. Inbetween drawings and writings I am building kites.
|From The Penguin Book of Kites|
|Kite made from pigeon feathers, staws and string|
Earlier in this week of awful news out of Ferguson, in my home state of Missouri, my friend and colleague Rebecca Sherman commented on Twitter:
I do too. That speech remains the best speech I've ever heard a politician give in my lifetime, both honest and inspiring, both personal and national in its implications. It acknowledged the complexities of Mr. Obama's candidacy, of his relationship with the Reverend Wright, and indeed of the whole history of race in America after slavery. Rereading it now
, I was astonished to see these lines:
We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students. Legalized discrimination — where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments — meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families — a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods — parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement — all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.
. . . What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them. But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it — those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations — those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways.
This anticipates nearly everything in Ta-Nehisi Coates's brilliant article "The Case for Reparations"
in The Atlantic
earlier this summer -- except, of course, Mr. Coates's conclusion, which is that Congress should investigate the idea of reparations for African-Americans. Rather, Mr. Obama describes this legacy of pain as an opportunity for all Americans to come together, first to listen to and acknowledge each other's sufferings across racial lines, and then to work to address that suffering: the lost jobs, the lack of health care, the poverty and poor education that afflicts the 99% (to draw on another political metaphor). The speech received near-universal acclaim
, and while politics, being politics, quickly reverted to the usual game of sound bites and wins and losses, it did create a quiet moment in the hullaballoo of that 2008 campaign, a moment when most people heard what Mr. Obama said, and glimpsed that opportunity, even if we did not take it . . .
Like Rebecca, I wish very much that Mr. Obama had the time and courage and clarity and political daring to make another speech like this in the wake of events in Ferguson -- to be our storyteller-in-chief of sorts, to help one part of America listen to and understand the anger and fear of another, and to point the way toward dialogue among and a shared mission for all our citizens. I am sorry that he doesn't make this a priority, because I think perhaps he could do some good. But in his absence, we have to do that work.
I am moderating a panel this Tuesday for Scholastic's Teacher Week
-- a conversation with Varian Johnson (The Great Greene Heist
), Lisa Yee (Millicent Min, Girl Genius
), Sonia Manzano (The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano
), and Sharon Robinson (Under the Same Sun
) about diversity in children's literature and the need for all children to see themselves in books. There are a lot of dimensions to the diversity conversation, but the moral use of such books (and the moral necessity of publishing them) is fairly straightforward: More than any other media, a book allows a creator to control and tell their own story, to reveal the world they see in all its joys and sorrows, complexities and nuances, and to have that story be heard. For readers, books provide that opportunity to step into someone else's story and hear it -- to be affirmed by the story if some part of it speaks to your own experiences, emotionally or racially or religiously or emotionally, to know that you are not the first to go through this; to learn from it, both intellectually and emotionally, if it does not match your experience; to be challenged by and grow from it all around. (I wrote more about this, and the moral and sociological necessity for diverse books, in the opening of this talk
And I can't help thinking: How different might Ferguson have been if all the policemen had read Walter Dean Myers's Monster
? Or Fallen Angels
or Sunrise Over Fallujah,
for something closer to their own quasi-military experience? Or Ta-Nehisi Coates's article, or The Beautiful Struggle
? Or even listened to the "This American Life" stories on Harper High School
-- about a very different place than suburban St. Louis, certainly, but unforgettable in showing some of the pressures on young black men? Or best of all, if the policemen had heard the stories of the people of Ferguson as individuals? If they had shared their own?
Perhaps nothing would be different. These can be seen as highly naive and facile questions, given the money and history and societal factors that went into the making of this as-yet-ongoing tragedy, and I acknowledge my highly privileged role in asking them. But I also believe that books, stories, do what not-yet-President Obama did with his "More Perfect Union" speech: They reveal the complexities, allow us to see things as both individual and universal, make other people real, open up space for dialogue -- if we'll take the time to listen and talk and learn. I wish we could find more of that time and space.
News! Later this month, on June 28, I'll be appearing in a great little mini-conference in my hometown of Belton, Mo. (about half an hour south of Kansas City). I'll give a talk on the five things editors want to see in every manuscript. Then the picture book author (and my best friend) Katy Beebe and I will discuss query letters, particularly the one that led to the publication of her lovely book Brother Hugo and the Bear. And finally, we'll do a first-pages session to round out the morning. Registration is $60, to benefit the Cass County Library Foundation (one of several library systems that made Katy and me the writers and readers we are today). For more information and to register, please click here.
In sad news, last month marked the first month in the nine-year history of this blog where I did not write a single post! Not a one! Part of it can be attributed to this fine fellow:
Mr. Bob Jacob Marley Monohan, who has come to dwell in our apartment and demand my time and attention, cat treats, things to gnaw on (currently a pair of James's cargo shorts that he unwisely left on the couch), etc. Part of it is that I have Twitter to accept all of my random thoughts. Much of it was simply work and life. But I miss writing here. I'm going to try to do a post a week for the rest of the summer, and I hope it will result in good energy all around.
- The Great Greene Challenge is still on! Have you gotten your copy yet? It's a great opportunity to support diverse books, an independent bookstore, and fantastic middle-grade in one fell swoop.
- As this blog has often served as my running results archive: My sister and I ran the Brooklyn Half-Marathon a couple weeks ago in 2:10. It was my slowest time for a half ever, but I didn't care, because I super-enjoyed running and chatting with her.
- We have a great new episode of the Narrative Breakdown up here, with Matt Bird and James and I talking character goals and philosophies. Our podcasting has fallen off a bit of late because we lost our sponsor.... If you'd be interested in donating to the cause or sponsoring an episode yourself (a great way to reach a wide audience of writers and other lovers of narrative), please contact us at narrativebreakdown at gmail dot com.
- And if you'd like to buy my book SECOND SIGHT, but not through Amazon, please e-mail me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com. I'd be happy to work out alternate means of payment and delivery with you.
- Happy summer!
This happened to me last week or so. They haven't been back.
There is all kinds of great and exciting stuff happening with diverse children's literature these days! By the time you're reading this, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign should be live on social media, May 1-3 -- follow it on Twitter and Tumblr and please share your own thoughts there. Kudos to the awesome team who put that together!
Closer to home, The Great Greene Heist
by Varian Johnson
-- a modern, middle-school, multicultural Ocean's 11
; a book I edited and am immensely proud of -- is getting a ton of awesome attention from indie booksellers and Varian's fellow authors, who are asking everyone to take the #greatgreenechallenge and help us get a diverse book on the bestseller lists. Kate Messner threw down the initial challenge
; Shannon Hale raised the bar
; and some guy named John Green sweetened the pot further
for bookstores. You can check out all the action at Varian's blog post here
. The book has received wide praise from many authors and a starred review from Kirkus,
and it was named a Publishers Weekly
Best Summer Book of 2014! If you still need more convincing, you can check out this wonderful little prequel
as a taster, or just join the challenge and preorder it now
. (I advise the latter.) Out officially on May 27, 2014.
Equally exciting: Sarwat Chadda
is going to be in New York for the PEN World Voices panel this coming weekend, and appearing at Books of Wonder
and a conversation on writing superheroes
on May 3, and a great panel on sex and violence in children's literature
on May 4. Good stuff!
Finally, I'm going to post this list here for anyone who might still need diverse book recommendations -- a list of books I've edited featuring diverse protagonists. Diversity has been a priority at Arthur A. Levine Books since the imprint was founded, and it's been a particular passion of mine for years, so I'm very proud of both this list and the many great books on our publishing lists to come.Books I've Edited Featuring Diverse Protagonists
- Millicent Min, Girl Genius and Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee (MG; Asian-American)
- Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) by Lisa Yee (chapter book; biracial, Asian-American)
- Eighth-Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (MG: American of Black Jamaican descent)
- If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (YA; Tuscarora Native American)
- The Path of Names by Ari Goelman (MG fantasy; Jewish)
- Marcelo in the Real World, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, and Irises by Francisco X. Stork (YA; Latin@)
- The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (YA nonfiction; Jewish)
- The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman (YA; Chinese)
- Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (YA; Gay)
- Gold Medal Winter by Donna Freitas (MG; Latina)
- The Savage Fortress and The City of Death by Sarwat Chadda (MG fantasy; British of Indian descent, Hindu(ish))
- Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (MG; Afghan, Muslim)
- The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers (MG; biracial, of British-Caribbean descent)
- Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano (YA fantasy; Asian-inspired)
- Above by Leah Bobet (YA fantasy; differently abled cast -- which is putting it mildly -- and biracial protagonist of French and Indian descent)
Yay diverse books!
People get very irate about anti-anxiety medication. Some say everyone should just get over it with exercise and positive thinking and diet. They can't have experienced the sort of panic bout that leaves you unable to eat, walk or think for most of the day.
There are risks, it can't be done without proper medical supervision, there may be very bad side effects, it might not work, and even if it does it's only a way to enable a person to take care of themselves - it's a raft, not a motorboat.
I've found medication really useful at times of great stress - for example while house-hunting in London. It keeps the panic attacks under control and gives me time to sort things out and re-settle.
Going back off it is great, but no fun at all. It's important to remember that the withdrawal is temporary, and that although it takes time to phase it out gradually it's a very bad idea to just stop cold.
Note: As always, this is about my personal experience, not an advert for medication - it really is prescribed for the wrong reasons at times, I agree. It's part of my anxiety narrative. Your mileage may vary.
An actual person I met on an actual train, not my mother who was never like this.
Here's an in-progress shot where you can see how rough my pencils are. They are pretty rough.
When I was 9 and my sister was 16, I read her diary. I found out all about her life, what she thought and how she felt about a variety to things. I didn't get caught, so I didn't get punished, but I did suffer an overwhelming guilty conscience for a long time. Consequently, I have never committed an indiscretion like that again. Even so, I have to admit that the bare honestly that can be found in a diary still holds a certain fascination for me. Maybe that is why I like reading published diaries so much. At least you don't have to worry about dealing with a guilty conscience.
Naturally I was very excited when I first heard about Home Front Girl: a Diary of Love, Literature and Growing Up in Wartime America.
It is a real diary, begun by Joan Whelan in 1937 at age 14 and runs through to 1943 when she was 20 years old. Joan was the daughter of Swedish immigrants living in Chicago who grew up to become a journalist and adjunct professor of history at the New School for Social Research, so it is not too surprising that she would have kept a diary as a teen. After Joan passed away in 2010, her daughter found her diary among her papers and decided to share it with the rest of the world.
And I am so glad she did because Home Front Girl
did not disappoint me. Throughout her diary, Joan chronicles her thoughts on the ordinary everyday events in her life. Here, then, is a sampling:
School: Tuesday, April 13, 1937 "Hello! Tests next week! Oh, boy! Have pity on me and sympathize."
boys and boys in the R.O.T.C.: Tuesday, April 20, 1937 "...there isn't any R.O.T.C. unit in Greeley [Elementary School] (they do look so handsome in uniforms!)" (pg 3)
first dates: Thursday, January 20, 1938 "Yesterday a boy asked me if I'd go to the dance on Saturday with him. I told him I'd see - I guess I'll go. His name is Jack Latimer. Imagine - my first date." (pg 29)
She also writes about first kisses, singing in the church choir, going to the movies with friends, and the opera with her mom, studying for exams in school and writing a column in the school paper. In short, Joan lives the the busy life of an intelligent, energetic teenage girl in the 1930s.
But Joan also has a very serious side that is evident when she is writing about life and current events. It is then that we really get to see how well rounded this vibrant, thoughtful girl is, and we get a glimpse of the woman she became.
To begin with, even as early as 1937, the idea of war scares her: Friday, December 31, 1937 "..I dreamt a war was begun...I was a boy and I knew I would have to be a soldier. I was afraid to go to war. I kept seeing trenches, and mud, and horror and pain and things - and killing people - and I was terribly scared inside." (pg 23)
her fears about TB: "P.S. I got tested for T.B. at school today...Saturday, June 4, 1938 "I'm susceptible! Tat is , to T.B. If I meet anyone who has it, I might catch it..." (pg 50)
Current events: Tuesday, May 2, 1939 We are on daylight savings now. Germany is giving Poland two weeks to give her the Polish corridor. Otherwise war. However, England and France on side of Poland. So Russia too, maybe...`
But perhaps the most poignant entry of all is the one for Thursday, October 10, 1940, when Joan writes about life for her generation and the impact World War I, the prosperity of the early 1920s and then the depression had on their character development, and on their bodies: "Oh, you, my generation! - we were a lovely lot! Sharp minds - arguing all the time and brittle bodies and even more brittle laughter - and all the time knowing that we were growing up to die." (pg 143)
Joan Whelen's diary is by turns funny, serious, playful, patriotic, optimistic, pessimistic and moving. It is supplemented with lots of her own drawings that are part of the diary, as well as photos and newspaper clippings she saved. It turns out that Home Front Girl
is more than just a diary, it is a document of its time and a very interesting window through which to view this eventful period of era.
In truth, Home Front Girl: a Diary of Love, Literature and Growing Up in Wartime America
was so much better than my sister's diary.
|"Sunday, December 18, 1938, 3:00 It's so wonderful to be the|
Virgin Mary and almost 16 and so awfully happy on a cold
bright winter day." (pg 87)
Be sure to visit the homepage of Home Front Girl
for more information and resources a about Joan and World War II.
This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was sent to my by the publisher
Earlier this fall, I asked my Seattle-area blog readers to go out to a signing for Stephanie Trimberger's The Ruby Heart -- a book Arthur and I worked on with her as part of the Make-a-Wish program, as chronicled in this video. I'm sorry to have to report that Stephanie passed away in November. But her memory lives on with her novel, and Make-a-Wish has now made The Ruby Heart available as a free PDF download for anyone who'd like to read it. You can check it out here.
(Thank you to reader Pamela for the heads-up.)
It is time for one of my favorite events of every year -- the awesome BOOK SALE at my church, Park Slope United Methodist. There are two essential things every book-loving New Yorker can do with the sale:
1. DONATE YOUR OLD BOOKS
Now is the perfect time to clear space on your book shelves for all the treasures you're going to find at the sale. And aren't you ready to get rid of all those CDs you don't listen to anymore? We'll take 'em!
We welcome donations of books, CDs, DVDs, records & children's books. All items must be in good condition. We do not accept videos or tape cassettes, magazines, outdated textbooks or computer manuals, or any book that is moldy or falling apart. All donations are tax-deductible.
The church is located at 410 6th Avenue (at 8th Street) in Brooklyn, one block down and over from the 7th Avenue F stop. Donations will be accepted at the church on
- Monday, February 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Thursday, February 21, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- Friday, February 22, noon to 3 p.m.
To arrange a car pickup (Park Slope & vicinity), call 347.538.7604 ASAP, before all the slots fill up. All items must be boxed or bagged and ready to go.2. COME BUY MORE BOOKS!
The Book Sale is open:
- Friday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. Evening Preview Sale! $20 Admission
- Saturday, Feb. 23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (free)
- Sunday, Feb. 24, 12:30 - 5 p.m. (free)
I won't be around the sale this year, but about six boxes of books from my apartment will be, so please buy 'em up and enjoy!
It's quite simple sometimes.
There are rules and guidelines. I know drinking alcohol to suppress anxiety is a very bad idea.
Sugar can trigger anxiety. Caffeine can, too.
But one cup of coffee is definitely very good for me in the morning.
Two cups and I feel like I can see through time and can't stop talking; three cups and I have an anxiety attack.
Everyone is different.
One thing that always helps is respect. I am grateful that my therapist had it.
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By Jad Adams
Tony Benn has left as an enduring monument: one of the great diaries of the twentieth century, lasting from 1940, when he was fifteen, to 2009 when illness forced him to stop.
They are published as nine volumes but these are perhaps ten percent of the 15 million words in the original dairy. I am one of the few people to have had access to the manuscript diary, in the course of writing my biography of Benn. For this I received every assistance from him and his staff in the jumbled, chaotic office in the basement of his Holland Park Avenue home.
The diaries of course are of historic interest because they reveal the work of a cabinet minister and member of parliament for more than fifty years. Over time the Benn charts post-war hope, the rise of the Labour militants, the battle of Orgreave, and the decline of the Left. The books also have descriptions of constituents’ experiences in his weekly surgery, an opportunity to meet the people and sample their woes, which is hated by some MPs but was embraced by Benn.
They also show the development of Benn’s family of four children, twelve grandchildren, and the suffering of the death of parents and partner. One would be hard put to it to find anywhere in literature a more poignant description of death and continuing loss than Benn’s of Caroline, his partner of more than fifty years whose illness and death was described in remorseless detail in manuscript, some of which was published in More Time for Politics (2007).
Benn had always felt he ought to be writing a diary, as a part of the non-conformist urge to account for every moment of life as a gift from God. He explained at one of our last formal conversations: ‘It’s very self obsessed. I must admit it worries me that I should spend so much time on myself, I saw it as an account, accountability to the Almighty, when I die give him 15 million words and say: there, you decide. I think there is a moral element in it, of righteousness.’
This need to see time as a precious resource to be accounted for went back to his father, William Wedgwood Benn (Later Lord Stansgate) who expected the boy Benn to fill in a time chart showing how he had made use of his days. Benn senior had read an early self-help book by Arnold Bennett called How to Live 24 Hours a Day on making the best use of time. ‘Father became obsessed with it,’ Benn said.
Tony Benn had been keeping a diary sporadically since childhood. It had always been his ambition to keep one, and early fragments of diary exist, including one during his time in the services, where diary-keeping was forbidden for security reasons so he put key words relating to places or equipment in code. In the 1950s he began keeping a political diary and wrote at least some parts of a diary for every year from 1953. The emotional shock of his father’s death in 1960 and subsequent political upsets stopped his diary writing in 1961 and 1962 but, with a return to the House of Commons in sight, he resumed it in 1963.
He started dictating the diary to a tape recorder in 1966 when he joined the cabinet because he could not dictate accounts of cabinet meetings to a secretary who was not covered by the Official Secrets Act. Benn would store the tapes, not knowing when he would transcribe them, or indeed if they would be transcribed in his lifetime. His daughter, Melissa spoke of arriving at their home late at night when she was a teenager, and hearing her father’s voice dictating the diary, followed by snoring as he fell asleep at the microphone.
Benn stopped writing the diary after he fell ill in 2009 in what was probably the first stroke he was to suffer. He explained to me:
‘You can’t not be a diarist some of the time. One day is much the same as the other and it is a lot of effort. You really do have to be very conscientious and keep it up in detail and keep up the recordings and so on and it took over my life, also I’m not sure now that I’m not in a position on the inside on anything where my reflections would be interesting. I think my reflections might be as interesting as anybody else’s but whether it constitutes a diary when I’m not at the heart of anything…
‘I never thought of it as an achievement, just something I did, it’s been a bit of a burden to have to write it all down every night. It began as a journal where I put down things that interested me during the war, I drew a little bit on that for Years of Hope (1994). You can say you’ve achieved a reasonably accurate daily account of what has happened to you and since people are always shaped by what has happened to them so if you have a diary you get three bites at your own experience: when it happens, when you write it down and when you read it later and realise you were wrong.’
Benn did not think he would publish it in his lifetime, but in about 1983 he decided to type up six months and have a look at it. He invited Ruth Winstone to help with the diary in 1985 and found they worked so well together that she stayed and edited all the diaries.
His final thought on the long labour of the Benn Diaries was: ‘I couldn’t recommend anyone to keep a diary without warning them that it does take over your life.’
Jad Adams’ Tony Benn: A Biography is published by Biteback. His next book is Women and the Vote: A World History to be published by OUP in the autumn.
Image credit: Portrait of Tony Benn. By I, Isujosh. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The post In memoriam: Tony Benn appeared first on OUPblog.