Monday, 10 October 2016

Diaries, Letters and Journals
I'm busy planning my second novel and surprise, surprise, it's another dual narrative. The stories are set thirty years apart and the mother's is going to be told through her diary entries at the time. I wanted to see how other authors have handled the diary entries, as part of their novels. Did the entries form whole chapters or did they start the main chapters? What was the language like? Were they written in whole sentences? Note form? Was the style conversational?

One of my favourite books is 'One Last Summer' by Catrin Collier. She was inspired to write it when she learned the truth about her maternal family's history through reading her mother's and grandmother's diaries. Although the novel is a work of fiction, it is based on those diaries and spans over sixty years, from the life of grandmother Charlotte to her granddaughter, Laura, who is a journalist. It is told in modern times with the past recounted when Charlotte re-reads her diary entries. Through these, we enter her world in East Prussia in 1939 and learn of her history. I'm re-reading the book but this time noting more about the structure and the way the author has used the diary entries. 

I asked on Twitter if anyone could recommend any dual narratives with diaries or letters forming one of the stories. Carol Bevitt kindly replied almost immediately recommending that I Googled 'epistolary fiction'. I have to admit I didn't know what that was but could work it out from its link with 'epistle'.
An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used.
Here is a List of Contemporary Epistolary Novels on Wikipedia. This was useful because I recognised a number of titles and it listed the format together with any comments about each title there. So, a big thank you, Carol! 

Another helpful reply came from Beatrice Charles. She recommended looking at '84 Charing Cross Road'The book is a true story of the love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs. marks and Co. sellers of rare and secondhand books at 84, Charing Cross Road, London. It is told in a series of letters and then in diary form in the second part 'The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street'.

Susannah Bavin recommended 'The Italian House' by Teresa Crane. She explained that it wasn't exactly a dual narrative but it does contain diaries from previous generations. The heroine reads these and they feed into the heroine's own situation. She describes it as 'A superb book - full of atmosphere and a wonderful sense of place.'

How can I not be drawn to that? I've read more about it and love the atmospheric cover. Definitely on my To Read pile, I think. Thank you, Sue. 

Can you recommend any novels with diary entries included as part of the narrative? I'd love it if you commented and let me know. Thanks. :-)

Once I have my list, I shall spend an afternoon at my local library researching how the diary format was handled and which one suits my 1975 story best. 

Thank you for reading the blog.
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  1. Jan - two of my favourite books are The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (entirely letters) and Diary of a Provincial Lady (entirely diary entries ... ) The GLPPPS is set in the 40s and the Diary (and its sequels) in the 30s/40s. I love 84 Charing Cross Road too. All the best with your book.

    1. Thank you, Kate. I read 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' with my book group and enjoyed it. I'll certainly look up the 'Diary of a Provincial Lady' so thank you for your recommendations. I appreciate you popping by to leave a comment.

  2. I wrote a short story handled this way (it was in The Weekly News last month) and just used snippets from the diary. I think longer sections might work better in a novel.

    1. That's what I'm hoping, Patsy. Snippets would be more effective in a short story but I like the idea of my character reading her mother's diary to find out about a stage in her life. Thanks for commenting.:-)

  3. How lovely that you have blogged about the titles your fellow writers have suggested. I do hope you will find The Italian House useful. Even if you don't, you are guaranteed a great read. I wrote a blog about it some time ago. I will send you the link. Hope the writing goes well and you find your preferred style shortly. xxx

    1. Thanks, Sue. I'm sure I shall. Thanks for your comments and recommendations.