Have you ever read a book and thought, ‘wow, this came at exactly the right time?’
I’d been having a bratty day, lamenting my own writing (or lack thereof) and scrolling mindlessly through Instagram (looking at other people’s highlight reels and forgetting all about the behind-the-scenes stuff that no-one dares post). It was Julie Hesmondhalgh’s words that finally knocked some sense into me. “Instead of concentrating on being true to our own vision or creativity, however small scale or insignificant, we’re constantly checking out our position against that of our peers.”
Light bulb moment. That’s me. I lose serious time feeling bad on social media. In her working diary, the TV, film and theatre actor known for roles in Coronation Street, Broadchurch and Happy Valley doesn’t shy away from these topics and frequently references feelings of jealousy, inadequacy or guilt, peppering the text with helpful notes about how to overcome these obstacles, recognising that they’re universal feelings. She urges us to plod the hell on with whatever it is we’re creating, focusing on the making of it rather than its consumption.
There’s a reference to the self-help guru Julia Cameron’s Artists’ Way. Hesmondhalgh talks about ‘filling up the well’ (a phrase from the book that means feed your inner artist with stuff – trips to the theatre, books, drawing, building stuff etc) and it’s clear that’s she’s an avid consumer, and appreciator, of theatre, radio, books and art. It is a wonderful, perhaps even necessary, thing to be inspired by art and by those who make it. It’s also an important way to keep that creative spark alive when things appear to not always be in your favour. I own a copy of Artists’ Way and never quite seem to get through it, becoming distracted by thoughts of not having enough time (and yet I still find a half hour to watch dog videos on Facebook). Now I’ve been persuaded to sit down and give it proper attention.
Hesmondhalgh is a grafter. Despite her self-flagellation (you’ve got to love a woman who calls herself a ‘dick’), it’s evident that she is extremely thankful to be working in an industry she clearly adores. My admiration for Hesmondhalgh and her work (erm, see my recent review of her performance in Mother Courage at Manchester’s Royal Exchange) is well known. At Northern Soul Towers, my little fan-girl mitts are always grabbing at the chance to see or read anything she does. Perhaps I was a little biased when I first picked up her book? Nevertheless, I found it difficult to put down.
Many people are fascinated by diaries and the confessional and, although this is a working diary rather than a personal one, Hesmondhalgh notes that the line between the two is often blurred. Her husband, writer Ian Kershaw (affectionately referred to as Kersh), daughters and goddaughter, Rosa, make regular appearances and her love for her family radiates through the pages – but that doesn’t mean Hesmondhalgh shies away from topics such as marriage and motherhood.
I love the emphasis on political engagement and art as a response to recent events. Hesmondhalgh mentions her work with the Labour Party and the theatre company, Take Back, and discusses the importance of making things, of talking and engaging with communities and simply getting out there, in combating injustice and realising the power of your own voice.
So, what happens if you don’t recognise yourself out there? If you don’t feel represented? Well, make your own art seems to be the antidote. While Hesmondhalgh despairs at the glaring inadequacies in representation in the arts, as well as other industries, she is galvanised and in awe of those who get out there anyway and make the stuff they want to see, that we all need to see.
A proper inspirational read.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
Julie Hesmondhalgh: A Working Diary is published by Bloomsbury, Methuen Drama and is available to buy now