Saturday 11 January 2020

Dear Diary - Kelly McCaughrain

If you haven’t got your 2020 diary yet, or you’re already dissatisfied with yours and want a really really good one for next year, may I recommend the Redstone Diaries. I got a whole novel out of mine.

"Dinner over, we produced a bundle of pens, a copious supply of ink, and a goodly show of writing and blotting paper. For, there was something very comfortable in having plenty of stationery." 
- Great Expectations

I’ve been using these since 2003 and they’re really beautifully put together and thought out. (My photos aren't very well lit, sorry! They're even nice in real life.)

Every year has a theme – Home, Play, Language, Daring, Simplicity, Social… and every week has a related image taken from art, literature, movies, dance, history, anything cultural really. 
My diaries become microcosms of my year. I like to scribble down poems and quotes all over them, store postcards, letters, tickets, and other random things that I’d like to come across when I’m old in the pocket at the back.

I'm a big list maker

I make a note of all the writing competitions and then enter about 2 a year
Reading lists


These were from the month I got married. Knew I'd look back and laugh someday:

That says 'Honeymoon'

But it’s the images I really love because I sometimes use them as writing prompts. Sometimes I write little stories on the pages themselves, as pictured here. (I’m not a flash fiction writer at all and I’ve never shown these to anyone so please make allowances! It's a good way to practice them though.)

“Alarm clock stopped at the time of a German shell hitting it during the bombardment of Hartlepool, UK, 1914.”

The clock would have stopped anyway. We had only that one night, and at 9 you would have risen and gone. Quietly, so I could pretend to sleep.

It was not crushed, like the chair and table, or shattered like the mirrors. Rather, it was pierced. A piece of shrapnel ruptured its face, burrowed into its guts, and gives the impression that if it could only be removed, gently, with tweezers and a steady hand, time would be set flowing again, bright and fresh as blood from a wound.

“Cross section of 1341-year-old tree, its concentric growth rings showing moments in history, USA, date unknown.” 

Beside the cross-section of a felled 1341-year-old tree, marked with the dates of the burning of the Alexandrian library, the second crusade and the discovery of America, you stand, stiff in buttoned suit and tie, looking old fashioned.

"Page from a calendar of lunar and solar eclipses compiled by the German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Muller (1436-1476) also known as Regiomontanus."

He is younger than people think; only 40, but time becomes confused around him. He is staring at the moon again. His face at the window glows with the light of eternity and of fleeting midnights lost, elsewhere in the city, to things as brief as sleep and love and dreaming. I watch him bend his head over his books to make his observations, his descending face slowly eclipsed by the shadow of our room.

In my 2003 diary I saw this picture. 

"Elsie Davis on a 50ft high wire without a net. UK 1938. Photographer unknown"

I was sitting in work, but instead of working I grabbed a scrap of paper and starting writing a little story about this high wire walker. And then I got completely obsessed with this high wire walker and her circus family. I put it away eventually but kept coming back to it over the years and changing everything, and by 2018 Elsie Davis had become Alouette Franconi, matriarch of the Flying Franconi Circus family and my book, Flying Tips for Flightless Birds, was finally finished. 

I always tell kids this story when I go out to visit schools, to make the point that ideas can come from anywhere at all. 

I always assumed Redstone Press was a big publishing house with many interns and a team of designers. But then I was given an office in the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queens University Belfast, right next door to the office of Ian Sansom, who, I noticed, had written the introductions for several of the Redstones. I mentioned this to him and he told me that actually Redstone is basically one guy, Julian Rothenstein, who’s been pretty much running things himself for all these years, with some help from Ian now that he’s getting on a bit. I told Ian about the picture and my book and he said he’d love to tell Julian, that it would make his day.

It made my day too. I wrote Julian a letter and sent him a copy of my book and it was wonderful to be able to thank a real human being for the enormous gift that that picture was for me. It’s really no exaggeration to say that it changed my life.

So I'm hoping the Redstone Diaries keep going for many years to come because I've never seen one I like better. This year’s Redstone Diary theme is ‘Europe’. I hope both are in my future. 

Kelly McCaughrain is the author of the Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year,

She is the Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland #CWFNI

She also blogs at The Blank Page



Pippa Goodhart said...

Wonderful, Kelly! Thank you so much for sharing those inspiring diaries.

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Thanks Pippa! I just love them!

Penny Dolan said...

your diaries look so interesting and imaginative. Inspired use of the Redstone diary format.

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Thanks Penny! It's as good a way to procrastinate as any, I suppose.

Alex English said...

I'd never heard of the Redstone Diary before - they look fabulous. Thank you for sharing!

Sue Purkiss said...

These look lovely, but I already have two diaries for this year! Please could you remind us before Christmas next year...?

Kelly McCaughrain said...

Thanks Alex, I really recommend them, they're nice to keep and look back on too.

Sue, put it in your diaries!!! :D