Thursday, 5 January 2012

HOW TO WRITE A GOOD DIARY (Spectator leader Dec 31)

Over the years, many intriguing, famous and noteworthy individuals have written a Diary for the Spectator. Some good, some bad. Some exhilarating, some excruciating. But this week's Diarist offers a timely lesson in how to do it properly. The best Spectator Diaries are both personal and professional, idiosyncratic yet informative, quirky yet insightful; giving the reader a unique ringside perspective into important topical events. Ideally, it is devoid of the spin and crass self-promotion normally found in the mainstream press, and will delve not only into the mindset but also the emotional vulnerabilities of the Diarist at a decisive, reflective or simply amusing point in their lives.

Today's very special Diarist - it's his first such appearance in these pages - offers a few key pointers. Self- deprecation is to the fore. Rather than trying to flog us his book, he merely mentions it in passing and (falsely) describes it as "wretched". An Australian of extraordinary achievement, he chooses to avoid self-justification, re-writing history or the narcissistic promotion of his own ideology, preferring instead to ponder the fact that "since I retired (nobody in Australia) has asked my opinion on anything."

Wry and humorous observations, penned with neither rancour nor hubris, describing the fortuitous participation in remarkable occasions, the meeting of celebrities, media interviews, artistic highlights, speaking tours and so on are all key features of a good Diary. Describing first hand these events without big noting yourself, but capturing the flavour and excitement of the moment, is what keeps the reader enthralled. Again, today's Diarist offers some excellent examples.

Dining with two US presidents - one currently in the White House, the other a former holder of the office now retired with a bloated entourage in his Texan ranch – he finds himself fascinated by the former, and bored to tears by the boorish behavior of the latter. A few days earlier, baffled by the outpouring of grief surrounding a dead pop mogul, he drily observes that "the world has moved on, and I perhaps have not moved on with it."

Being unafraid to court controversy on the one hand, whilst confronting one's own foibles on the other, is another key skill of the good Diarist. Fully aware of the irony of his decision, today's guest shares with us his own stupidity at turning down a generous offer of an hour long interview with the affable Channel Nine only to be humiliated and snubbed in a two minute hatchet job by his implacable foe - the ABC.

Which all just goes to prove one final point. A good Diary piece is timeless. Today’s Diary – which we trust you will enjoy as much as we have - has in fact been compiled by the Spectator from a series of personal letters scribbled down over fifty years ago by an eminent Australian in the twilight of his life. Yet it is as entertaining, humourous, informative and lively as the reader could wish for – and rings as true as if every word were written today.

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