How do you write a biography about an unnamed person, who you’ve never met and who seems to have discarded their life’s work, in a skip?

That was the question addressed by Alexander Masters, author of A Life Discarded, at last week’s book launch. Alexander talked about the extraordinary process of writing about an ordinary – albeit prolific – diarist, whose 148 journals were thrown onto a scrap heap.

How do you write a biography about an unnamed person, who you’ve never met and who seems to have discarded their life’s work, in a skip?

A Life Discarded

Part biography, part detective story, A Life Discarded is weirdly compelling, given that the discovered diaries are a stream of consciousness: about everything from aches and pains, to buying discounted and slightly mouldy cauliflower at the Co-Op – all while lurching from one unsuitable job to another.

How do you write a biography about an unnamed person, who you’ve never met and who seems to have discarded their life’s work, in a skip?

An ordinary life: the best plot there is

The diaries document half a century of a normal, unsung, unremarkable life. They could be about any one of us. And that’s what makes them so fascinating.

The words within are poetic in their honesty; her emotions laid bare because they were never going to be exposed to the outside world. Until Alexander’s friend discovered them.

What strikes me is that they are a document of our times, a more accurate record than any blog. Afterall she doesn’t wait for something interesting or glamorous to happen. She writes for hours every day, regardless.

How many bloggers (me included) can say, hand on heart, that we are utterly authentic in our writing? I certainly hold back a little, not wanting to offend, and I spare you the details of my daily laundry, recruitment meetings and dog walks.

The secret diary of Vicki Marinker, aged 17 ¾

I used to be a regular diary writer myself. I wrote a journal during my year off travelling through Africa – which I still dip into now and again with the friends I travelled with. Apart from that, I’ve only been able to find these two from 1994 and 1995. They’re pretty boring and full of names belonging to people I have no memory of.

How do you write a biography about an unnamed person, who you’ve never met and who seems to have discarded their life’s work, in a skip?

Then there’s a gap of twenty years before I started writing again on this blog. Two decades of events and relationships and opinions and activities, most of which I have limited recall.

I spent the tube journey home from the book launch furiously scribbling random memories into my notebook: the disastrous first kiss from which I ran away crying; telling my mum I wished I’d never been born (AKA being a teenager); being chased up the hill by two boys, with my umbrella slowing me down.

I may or may not expand on some of these stories at some point.

Or perhaps I’ll just leave my diaries in a skip, in the hope they’ll be found by a talented biographer.

Did you keep a diary when you were young? Do you still keep one? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you and always respond to comments.

Much love. Vx

[Disclosure: I was sent Alexander Masters’ book and attended the event for bloggers courtesy of Fourth Estate – for which I am grateful.]

How do you write a biography about an unnamed person, who you’ve never met and who seems to have discarded their life’s work, in a skip? How do you write a biography about an unnamed person, who you’ve never met and who seems to have discarded their life’s work, in a skip?