Monday 5 February 2018

'The experience of writing a diary transformed me into a fiction writer’

I thought that when one writes, it makes no sense to be contained, to censor oneself, writes the bestselling Italian novelist behind the highly acclaimed Neapolitan series​, Elena Ferrante, in the Guardian. Read on:  

I kept a diary for several years as a girl. I was a timid adolescent; all I said was yes, and mostly I was silent. In my diary, on the other hand, I let go: I recounted in detail what happened to me every day, very secret events, bold thoughts. So I was really worried about it: I was afraid that my family, especially my mother, would find it and read it. Thus I was always inventing safe hiding places that soon seemed to me unsafe.

Why was I worried? Because if, in everyday life, I was so embarrassed, so cautious, that I scarcely breathed, the diary produced in me a craving for truth. I thought that when one writes, it makes no sense to be contained, to censor oneself, and as a result I wrote mostly – maybe only – about what I would have preferred to be silent about, resorting among other things to a vocabulary that I would never have dared to use in speaking.

This soon created a situation that exhausted me. On the one hand, I made an effort of expression every day to demonstrate to myself that I was ruthlessly honest, and that nothing would ever prevent me from being so; on the other, I was terrified that someone might set eyes on my pages.

That contradiction was with me for a long time, and in many ways it’s still alive today. If I chose to make visible in writing what, if I hadn’t written, would have remained completely hidden in my head, why then was I anxious that my diary might be discovered?

Around the age of 20, it seemed to me I’d found a solution that satisfied me. I had to stop writing my diary and channel the desire to tell the truth – my most unutterable truths – into an invented story. I took that route partly because the diary itself was starting to become fiction. Very often, for example, I didn’t have time to write every day, and as a result it seemed to me that the thread of causes and effects was broken. So I filled the voids by writing pages that I later back-dated. And in doing so I gave the facts, the reflections, a coherence that didn’t always exist in the pages that I wrote daily. So it was probably the experience of the diary and its contradictions that transformed me into a fiction writer. In the invented stories, I felt that I was – I and my truths – a little safer.

In fact, as soon as that new writing gained ground, I threw away my diaries. I did it because the writing seemed crude, without worthwhile thoughts, full of childish exaggerations and, above all, far removed from how I now remembered my adolescence. Since then, I’ve no longer felt the need to keep a diary.

No comments:

Post a Comment