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Friday, 28 June 2019

I Emailed Liz Jones When I Was Ten


“Writers should read everything.”

So said my father, a Tanzanian columnist for their national paper The Citizen. One would wonder why an egalitarian, Labour-voting humanist would buy one of the UK’s least-loved newspapers: The Daily Mail.

Aged ten, I knew not of the low-brow, ill-favoured tabloid that makes Guardian readers recoil in horror. All I knew was that every weekend, The Mail On Sunday slipped its way into our household, cradling a copy of YOU Magazine. I spent many-an-hour pouring over the stories of women unable to have children; actresses describing their perfect date, and funny tales of marital mishaps.

But the one piece of writing I looked forward to each week, was Liz Jones’ Diary. I would sit on the toilet, arms outstretched, glossy sheets of paper in my hands, and be entertained for twenty minutes reading Liz’s moving, hilarious, and at times, sad, column.

This can’t possibly be true, remarked my youngling brain. All these awful boyfriends! One tale I recall was her stepping out of a taxi having lost all her clothes and Prada suitcase. No one seemed to care for her or wanted to talk to her; her friends were unsympathetic, her mother disappointed in her failed marriage. All she had were her adorable loving cats; being a cat-lover, I envied her these furry felines. (My mother was allergic so we never got to have pets). She lived in the countryside, surrounded by mud and horses, a world so different to my inner-city residence.

One day, I took it upon myself to send Liz an email saying how much I loved her column and I was sorry she had to go through all of that. I was sure a lot of it had to be fabricated – no one’s life could be that terrible. Why didn’t anyone care for her? Why was her ex-husband so horrible? Was she writing about real people, and did they know or care that she was writing about them?

I told her I also loved cats; I wanted to be a writer, and I was generally concerned and upset about the world’s problems including the Burmese Crisis, the terrors in Iraq, and ‘racism, war and poverty’ as I put it. Around this time, I had my first blog, encouraged by my dad; titled ‘Miss Miaow’ via Wordpress. Can’t remember what I blogged about, but I imagine it had to do with cats. (That blog is long deleted, but I made some others since, before settling on this one back in 2017.)

She replied two months later; the exact date being December 31st, 2007. I was thrilled. It was a tough age for me, so I imagine having a cool grown-up journalist to confide in (albeit briefly) was wonderful. Later in my diary I riled on about Liz Jones having emailed me back – no doubt it was an excellent start to the new year. I was sad to hear that the column was all true, and yet delighted that she had actually written back to me.

It’s funny now; looking back she must have been utterly bemused, and yet pleased, that a ten-year-old girl was reading her grown-up-column involving sex, wine, and divorce contracts. I knew nothing of relationships or this strange ‘adult world’ of broken marriages and lone sofa-boozing. I could only empathize with what Liz was going through, and how awful everything must be for her.

Although I no longer read YOU, I now feel a sense of discomfort in writing about my personal life in such depth online. In our age of instant gratification and people harbouring their secrets on social media, it’s no wonder that we all want clips of our rightest-and-nowest moments documented for the world to be immersed in.

On this blog, I do document details from my life into my posts, particularly when discussing topics like school or mental health. However, I try to do this in such a way that is within the context of my post, not just as an excuse for me to whine and complain about my unsuccessful relationships.

In short, it is great that Ms Jones was able to capitalize on her sad relationships through her column. However, shouldn’t such woes be kept for a therapist? Is it necessary to have thousands of readers across the UK – including ten-year-old girls – uncover the contents of your divorce? Was that helpful for her, or did it simply increase the difficulties of finding eligible bachelors?

As I skim through Ms Jones’ old columns, it appears that this is nothing more than a middle-aged woman indulging in her rants about how unsuccessful her dating life has been. If I were writing about my dating life online (which I wouldn’t, preferring to hide it in songs and poetry), I would certainly use a pseudonym, and ‘dress up’ the narrative a bit so no one could see who was hiding between the print.

But that’s just me. Ms Jones, if you ever read this, I want to thank you for responding to a ten-year-old aspiring writer’s candid and emotive email. If anything, the writing world is full of surprises.

End Note: I emailed this article (and another about self-publishing) to the iNews, and am curious to see if they or another news-outlet will have me re-write it for their paper. Think it's a fascinating story anyhow.

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