Today we’re meeting Bev Mattocks, a successful freelance advertising copywriter and blogger from Yorkshire, whose 1975 and 1976 diaries have been published in paperback and kindle versions. She talks to us about her life in the 70s, and the infamous long hot summer of ’76, as well as what it’s like putting yourself out there and what her diary keeping over the years has meant to her.
How old were you when you started keeping a diary and what made you start?
50 years ago, at the age of 12, I began writing my teenage diary. I think I may have been inspired by Anne Frank’s diary which I read around that time. I wrote it religiously until I went away to Uni in 1977 when life got too hectic and interesting.
What was your life like at the time?
As a young teen I was increasingly lonely and isolated, and very shy. My diary became a means of letting out all the angst through a rocky adolescence. Initially I mainly wrote about boys I fancied, school drama productions, cricket (my grandfather used to take me to county cricket matches), etc. which is why I haven’t published the earlier years – they’re boring!
1975 was the year when things began to change for me, before a bit of a blip in early 1976 when I didn’t write at all due to depression, followed by the Best Time of My Life: the wonderful, long, hot summer of 1976.
How many years did you write your diaries for and how difficult was it to keep them going for that long?
I wrote virtually every day, often at length, until I went away to Uni in the September of 1977 when my social life took off and there didn’t seem any need to confide in my diary – I was having too much fun!
In the mid 1980’s I was living in London and going through a tricky phase which inspired me to return to diary writing. One day, a couple of decades later, I shredded one of these diaries for personal reasons. I wish I hadn’t in a way…
While pregnant in the early 1990s I began writing again, more as an account for my son when he grew older. I wrote for about a year before stopping – too busy being a mum!
What about your diary keeping now?
I no longer write diaries. I kept a blog between 2011 and 2019, describing my son’s recovery from anorexia which he developed in 2009. I stopped writing when I developed PTSD, as can be seen from the later blog posts.
Diary writing also inspired my career – as an advertising copywriter (latterly freelance).
How did you feel when you first began to read the diaries in adulthood?
I was surprised at how fluent I was back then – quite proud of myself! The early diaries are a bit boring as I go on at length about school drama productions and boys. But the two published diaries – 1975 and 1976 – are the most exciting years which is why I published those and not the others.
Tell us how you got to a place where you wanted to share your diaries with the world?
I always said that my diaries would be one of the things I’d rescue if the house was ever on fire! Obviously my diaries were compiled long before the digital age and are a ‘one off’. I’d been typing them up for some time, but as computer platforms, floppy discs, etc became obsolete, it was a waste of time.
However I had a need to preserve them somehow. Initially I thought about serialising them in a blog, but after venturing into self-publishing with an account of my son’s recovery from anorexia, I got the self-publishing ‘bug’. Getting my diaries into print has been a great way of preserving them. Naturally, I changed most names and places for privacy, and omitted some sections which I felt were too personal and private (or just boring or irrelevant). Other than that, the diaries are pretty much as I wrote them.
Additionally, I created fun covers for the books using Photoshop software. It’s all my own work.
What kind of challenges have you faced along the way?
Should I publish diaries for the year 1977? Okay, I stopped writing once I went to Uni in the September, but of course my 1977 diaries continue on from 1976. I decided against it as there are personal entries that I didn’t want to put out there for everyone to see. Instead, there’s a brief summary of what happened next at the end of the 1976 book.
How did it feel when you first let someone else read your diaries?
No-one close to me has read them (I don’t think!). To be honest, I didn’t mind people reading them as I’d changed the names of the main characters and places. Also, it was all so long ago. As I head into old age, it feels good to have shared them with people rather than them eventually disappearing into landfill. I just had this need to preserve them somehow as they were / are so important to me.
In this day and age of blog writing and social media, it’s become the norm to put your inner thoughts out there, on the internet, so it’s not as unsettling as it might have seemed a few decades back.
I read that you published them for your teenage son, what did he make of them?
He’s not read them yet and hasn’t asked to. But of course they’re there if he chooses to at any point.
What kind of reception have you had and how does that make you feel?
Someone put a negative review on Amazon calling my diary “Terrible”, especially when compared to more well-known teenage diaries. But my diaries are what they are, as I wrote them – true and honest accounts. It hurt, yes, and no doubt affected sales. But now there are a couple of great reviews on Amazon. I really appreciate that.
What do you think your diaries mean to those who read them?
I have no idea, but hopefully they will show today’s teens that their grandparents’ generation was also young once, going through similar angst. Also my diaries are ‘of their time’ – the great 1970s – long before social media and the digital era were even thought of, so I guess they’re a kind of historical record, too, or may be in the future.
Who of the people featured in the diaries have read them and what did they think?
I don’t know if any of them have.
Was there anything you didn’t feel brave enough to share?
Yes, as described above, my 1977 diaries – far too personal, not just as far as I’m concerned but as the other people featured in my diaries are concerned. A case of protecting privacy.
Do you have any favourite entries you want to highlight?
Absolutely the 1975 French holiday, described at length exactly as it happened (with some bits omitted to protect the privacy of those involved). Really, you couldn’t make it up – I love re-reading those entries.
What do you think of yourself when you look back at what you wrote?
I think I was pretty fluent in the English language – it’s the only subject I ever got a Grade A in!
More recently, my ramblings have made me realise just how lonely I was as a teen and how common issues these days like depression and school phobia weren’t recognised back then. It’s more a case of what I *didn’t* write: that gap between November 1975 and spring 1976 when I developed a deep depression and school phobia. I was also quite overweight. I feel so very sad for the lonely girl I was back then. It makes me want to give her a great big hug and tell her that it was OK to feel like that.
But it also makes me proud of that girl: how she battled to pull herself out of depression, refusing to give up and went on to completely transform herself through 1976: losing weight, getting fit, making new friends and, well, yes, just a total transformation.
If you could return to the mid seventies and give yourself any advice, what would it be?
How much time have you got?! In a nutshell I’d tell her that it’s OK to be individual and not ‘one of the sheep’ and that I would go on to achieve things that I’d be really proud of as an adult, and develop a great career. But I would say: “Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t fake it. Be genuine.” Stand up for what you believe in.
About the gap between 1975 and 1976 I’d tell her that, in 2021, depression and school phobia are real issues. There’s a ton more stuff that I’d tell her – far too much to include here.
How similar to 2021 Bev is 1976 Bev?
Older and wiser! And more true to myself rather than putting on a façade to ‘please’ people.
In 1976 I took up cycling (one of those bikes with tiny wheels that were popular back then); part of the weight loss regime. At 62 I still cycle 30+ miles at a time but on a much more modern bike! I’m still sewing and knitting, too.
The 1976 diary ends saying you’ll publish your diaries from 1977 and let us know what happens with Jeremy – what’s the latest with this?
Hmn… As I say above, I decided not to publish 1977 as there are things I’d prefer to keep private. I think 1976 finishes with Jeremy back in his hometown for the Christmas holidays. When he returned, things had changed. I don’t know if he’d met someone else, but there was definitely a shift in our relationship for the worse.
Things deteriorated in February 1977; then he just disappeared in a puff of smoke. Remember these were the days when you depended on phone boxes or the house phone, or the post, to get in touch with people. So when I phoned the payphone in his student accommodation, he was never available.
I never saw or heard from him again.
I’m angry that he never had the guts to dump me properly.
What’s next for you and Bev from the 70s?
I have no idea to be honest. The 1970s just seem so very far away!
After moving around the UK quite a bit, I now live in Yorkshire, with my husband, cat and adult son. My mum is still alive – in her 90s – but my dad passed away a number of years ago. My sister, mentioned in the diary, lives around the corner and I still keep in touch with “Veronique”, the French girl who came to stay with my penfriend in the South of France in 1975.
Which other diaries have you read and what did you like about them?
As a child I read Anne Frank’s diary. This led me, as an adult, to read other diaries written by victims of the Holocaust and other people who were living in Europe at the time. There’s an especially interesting diary by an American journalist who was living in Germany, describing Hitler’s rise to power as it unfurled and the subtle day-to-day changes. There’s also a diary by a young man incarcerated in one of the Jewish ghettos who, tragically, didn’t survive. As with Anne Frank’s diary, this makes the content particularly poignant.
You can buy Bev’s 1975 and 1976 diaries here along with her other books ‘Please eat…’, ‘When Anorexia Came To Visit’ and ‘To Weston with love…’.