Broadcast: News items

Private lives and public personas under examination in Sussex diary event

The public’s fascination with diaries and their writers will come under the microscope at the University of Sussex during the latest in the School of English’s colloquium series.

On 22 February at 5:00pm, ‘The Public Life of the Private Diary’ will see authors Alexander Masters and Sally Bayley examine the pleasures of reading, writing, and working with diaries, as well as how the diary continues to evolve in the 21st century.

Masters is best known for penning the award-winning book Stuart: A Life Backwards (2005), which won critical acclaim before scooping the Guardian First Book Award and the Hawthornden Prize. Masters later adapted it for the BBC: the resulting dramatisation, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Masters and Tom Hardy as Stuart, won a Royal Television Society award for Best Single Drama.

Dr Sally Bayley is a Teaching and Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute and a Lecturer in English at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. She has published two books on Sylvia Plath, Eye Rhymes: The Art of the Visual (Oxford University Press, 2007) and Representing Sylvia Plath (Cambridge University Press, 2011), as well as a book on domesticity in American literature and culture, focusing on Emily Dickinson and Bob Dylan, titled Home on the Horizon: America’s Search for Space (Peter Lang, 2010). 

The seminar will be followed by drinks and an opportunity to meet the two authors, who will be discussing their latest projects.

In The Private Life of the Diary: From Pepys to Tweets  (Unbound, 2016), Bayley tells her own coming-of-age story through diary writing, and mixes memoir with reflections on the diaries of famous literary figures such as Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and George Orwell. She also discusses political diarists: Samuel Pepys himself, John Adams, and the more recent musings of Alan Clark and Tony Benn. 

In A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip (HarperCollins, 2016),  Masters is seduced by the unique project of writing the biography of a person he encounters only through reading a random selection of her diaries, found by a close friend, in a skip. With some reluctance he eventually uncovers the identity of the diary-writer – but what are the ethics of playing detective with a real person's life and writing?  

Both projects explore the gendered boundaries between public and private lives, our fascination with diaries, and our relationship with their writers, who in some sense become intimate friends.

The event is presented by the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research, the English Colloquium, and the Mass Observation Archive. It is free to attend and open to all.

For more information, go to

By: Patrick Reed
Last updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2017