‘The Ragged Weave of Yesterday’ is an exploration by writer, Andy Christopher Miller, into past diaries, why we write them and how they affect us. He is looking forward to launching and talking about his new book as part of the forthcoming Wirksworth Book Festival.
I wrote this book after an old mountaineering friend fell gravely ill a few years ago. When his wife wrote from the USA asking friends to send any memories or anecdotes from the past, I found myself searching through the oldest of a set of personal diaries that I have now been writing for fifty years. Would our youthful adventures be recorded? What shared memories had I forgotten? Was there an anecdote or two that might help lift my stricken friend?
Long-forgotten rock climbs and hitchhiking adventures tumbled out from the pages as I found myself immersed in the experimentation and freedom of our 1960s youth. I emailed my friend various extracts and, when he became a little stronger after treatment, he replied to let me know how much these had cheered him.
But as it dawned on me that the shelves of dusty notebooks literally contained the story of my life, questions started to crowd my mind.
Why do people write personal diaries?
What do they put in them?
Who, if anybody, do they think will be interested in them?
Do people who keep diaries form a different view of their personal history from people who don’t?
Jolted by my friend’s condition I decided it was time to face my own past; time at last to read and edit them all.
There was no recourse to lazy electronic search mechanisms. The thousands of hand-written pages had to be leafed through manually. As I lingered over certain periods or became caught up in crazed cross-referencing over years, my feelings were anything but jubilant or celebratory. Instead, these pages seemed to have an oppressive effect, the weight of the routines and incidental details pressing down on remembered highlights.
Once the thought came to me my mood lifted. I would embark on the task of editing down these diaries into something of a more manageable size. But as I began to entertain this prospect, one dilemma after another sprang to mind. Do I just extract the same number of pieces from each year? Say, three or five or whatever, to give a flavour of that year? And what does ‘flavour’ mean? If one year contains far more ‘events’, – either personal or world-shattering political and cultural phenomena – then shouldn’t that year merit more extracts than a humdrum, keeping-one’s-head-down and cracking-on sort of year?
I thought that organising my material as a sequence of chapters might prove more workable. There could be one on family, possibly, another on career. I could include one on politics or news items more generally. Hobbies, especially climbing and walking, would have their own, major section but so too would friends and probably, especially more latterly, the books I had read.
My book tells the story of this journey into not only the role of diaries in our lives but, ultimately, into the very nature of human memory and our sense of ‘self’.
‘The Ragged Weave of Yesterday’ by Andy Christopher Miller (price £6.99) is now available from Amazon and selected bookshops and will be formally launched at Northern Light Cinema, North End, Wirksworth on Sunday 2nd April at 4.45pm (admission free).