Janet Watson answers questions on her memoir Nothing Ever Happens in Wentbridge.
A. I started writing Wentbridge while studying for a psychology degree. I would spend a few days away from my family each year before exam time and I was in a cosy farm cottage just outside Edinburgh, studying child development. I would learn notes on the topic of the day, then go for a wander in the fields, come back to reproduce the perfect child development essay, and find myself writing Wentbridge. Given what it’s about â€“ growing up, first love, those intense late teen years when you believe no-one has ever felt the way you do, and when evenings are spent drinking too much and talking about the â€˜meaning-of-lifeâ€™ stuff you can’t believe anyone has ever thought or verbalised before you â€“ I guess the child development course was a bit of a trigger for me.
While walking the dog the other morning, I realised that if I had to sum the book up in one word, I’d say it was about missing. Missing people, missing feelings and opportunities â€“ a missing that never goes away but by writing it out, I have recognised and learned to live with. It’s about love and loss, but it’s not a â€˜misery memoirâ€™. A friend was reading it on the bus the other day and said she actually guffawed, out loud. Result!
Q. The scenes from 30 years ago are incredibly vivid, the use of diary extracts taking us right there. Were you a prolific diary keeper at that time and what was it like revisiting them after such a gap?
A. I was determined to use the diaries in the book as they were such a vital part in reconstructing the story, and in filling in some of the details that had wandered out of my memory somewhere along the way. My first diary was pink, and was a Princess Tina one. I think I started that in 1974 when I was just 10. Later, when I was 17 and 18, I needed at least a page a day and it was usually packed solid with tiny writing so that I could fit in as many details as possible. My diary was my confidante; somewhere I could relate all the stuff that I couldn’t tell my family and friends. It also felt important to record those rites-of-passage years. It was as though I somehow knew how I would need to look back on them one day, almost as proof of the amazing times with my friends.
Revisiting the diaries was like coming home. They were funny and sad, and ridiculous and sometimes infuriating â€“ for example when I had been a little too open and honest and then felt the need to scribble words out. I made such a good job of hiding words, and I knew some would have been useful for the book, but I couldn’t even guess them from the context. I sometimes wondered whether I should throw the diaries away as I grew older but something always made me hang on to them and I’m so glad I did.