" Memory is continually created, a story told and retold, using jigsaw pieces of experience. It's utterly unreliable in some ways, because who can say whether the feeling or emotion that seems to belong to the recollection actually belongs to it rather than being available from the general store of likely emotions we have learned? Memory is not false in the sense that it is willfully bad, but it is excitingly corrupt in its inclination to make a proper story of the past."
Born: July 8, 1947, London
Died: April 28, 2016, Cambridge
Jenny was born in 1947 in London, where she lived most of her life. She was the author of 10 novels, 5 books of travel and memoir, 2 volumes of essays and a collection of short stories. Her journalism appeared in the Mail on Sunday, the Observer and the London Review of Books, amongst other publications.
For the last sixteen years of her life, Jenny lived in Cambridge with Ian Patterson, aka The Poet, author of Time to Get Here: Selected Poems 1969-2002 , Guernica and Total War, The Glass Bell, and translator of Proust's In Search of Lost Time Vol 6: Finding Time Again. His most recent books are Time Dust (Equipage) and Still Life (Oystercatcher Press).
London Review Bookshop
London Review Bookshop
10 June 2015
Here's a profile of me in the New York Times Magazine, by Giles Harvey.http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/magazine/jenny-diskis-end-notes.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fmagazine
27 May 2915
I jumped out of my bedroom window so I wouldn't have to speak to anyone downstairs having breakfast. New Installment of my memoir in the LRB. Leaving Doris. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n11/jenny-diski/what-was-wrong-with-everything-was-people
25 March 2015
Like A Lullaby. Some thoughts on non-existence. The next instalment of my cancer diary in the new issue of the LRB online. Subscription
25 February 2015
Why didn't I just do what I was told? The next instalment of my memoir in the new LRB. Free access. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n05/jenny-diski/why-didnt-you-just-do-Why didn't I just do what I was told?
28 January 2015
Radiotherapy Days. Next instalment of memoir/diary #LRB: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n03/jenny-diski/was-that-when-it-was-beaming-me via @LRB 24 hrs free access to this and the whole archive if you registe
Happy new year.
20 December 2014
1963 - the first few months at Doris Lessing's house. The next instalment of my cancer diary/memoir is in the new LRB online. Read it for free and get 24 hours free access to the whole paper.
Have a very good Christmas and holiday, and a good New Year. Thanks for reading.
12 December 2014
Depp and Desire: a new post on my blog This and That Continued.
27 November 2014
The 4th instalment of my cancer diary/Lessing memoir is online in the new LRB. Subs only
31 October 2014
The desire to look away. A new post from my Swedish column in Gotesborg-Posten up on my blog, This and That continued.
29 October 2014
Schrödinger's Tumour - the next instalment of my memoir-in-essays, number 3, is in the latest LRB: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n21/jenny-diski/schrodingers-tumour (subscription only)
8 October 2014
Cats, not having one. A new post up on my blog, This and That Continued.
1 October 2014
The second instalment of my ongoing memoir and diary in the LRB is online in the new issue. 'What to Call Her' http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n19/jenny-diski/what-to-call-her
24 September 2014
Dear very kind Everybody: thank you so much for your messages and good will. The goodwill I'll conserve to keep me warm as Autumn comes on. It's very warming indeed. Jenny
16 September 2014
Wasting Our Time. A new post on my blog, This and That Continued.
3 September 2014
A Diagnosis. The first instalment of a memoir by me to be published in parts by the LRB.
20 August 2014
Orange is the New Black? Or the same old same old. A review by me in the LRB. Is it racist? I think it is.
24 July 2014
The Stationery Cupboard. Oh the stationery cupboard! New review by me of Cubed, a history of the office, in the LRB.
19 July 2014
The Present Breath - there's a new post by me on my blog, This and That Continued.
25 June 2014
Thrive: a review by me in The Guardian questioning a well-meaning crusade to improve mental health by New Labour's 'Happiness Tzar'.
I'm all over the place today. In the LRB, this time,on the sofa, not entirely happy about Happy Valley.
28 May 2014
Fairy Dust on the Pavement. An article by me on glamour on my blog, This and That Continued.
26 May 2014
'I know all this because everyone knows about the Geldofs.' New post by me on my blog. This and That Continued. http://jennydiski.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/the-gossip/
13 May 2014
Blackness ever blackening. A piece by me (with illustrations by Martin Rowson) on the experience and the science of depression in Mosaic the Wellcome's online magazine.
30 April 2014
'The single piece of wisdom I've learned from my past – the fact that the world is immune to benign liberal longings.' Here's a new piece by me in the LRB on ageing. Happy May Day.
21 April 2014
Me and Her. Here's a new piece by me on my blog This and That Continued.
12 April 2014
My time as a teenager living with Doris Lessing, and what I learned. My address at her memorial service this week. Reprinted in The Guardian. http://t.co/UkaZtSeknR
Here's a long piece by me on the Noah story in the Guardian. The biblical version, not the movie.
26 March 2014
Books for prisoners. A new post by me on the LRB Blog. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2014/03/26/jenny-diski/reading-and-rehabilitation/ …
19 February 2014
The Apothecary Shoppe '...it's a funny world that executes people for their crimes and then tries its best to execute them nicely...' A new post by me on the LRB blog.
31 January 2014
'Madness is childish' My interloping and crooked reading of Barbara Taylor's The Last Asylum. A new piece in the LRB.
21 January 2014
What happened when I hanged the cat. (OK, Rennard and apologies) new post by me on the LRB blog.
14 January 2014
Here's a new post - The Time of the Comedians - on my blog This and That Continued.
31 December 2013
Happy Last New Year Here's a new/old blog post by me on This and That Continued.
16 December 2013
Clown Time, Again. And again and again. New post by me on my blog This and That Continued.
And a Happy New Year
26 November 2013
On the subject of death A new post by me on my blog This and That Continued.
14 November 2013
13 November 2013
A new diary piece by me in the LRB. On knitting.
21 October 2013
The mind of The Poet. Patterson Shelved. A new post on my blog.
11 October 2013
A rant about tourism. A new post on my blog.
6 October 2013
Hacked off with Feminism. A new post by me on my website/blog This and That Continued.
1 October 2013
On Knickers. And other underthings. A new piece by me in the LRB
25 September 2013
5 September 2013
A review by me of Liz Jones's autobiography in the LRB
30 August 2013
If you are what you do, what are you when you stop doing it and you still are? Article on retirement and politics by me in The New Statesman.
2 August 2013
Losing Your Normal A new piece by me up on my blog This and That Continued.
30 June 2013
Here's a very generous assessment of what I've done.
28 June 2012
There's an article, cheerily entitled 'When It's Spring Again' on my blog. And here's a link to my most recent review, for the Guardian, on Joshua Cohen's long essay Attention! Montaigne, digression, smartassery, all that kind of thing. I've also posted three mesmerising (if you're me) videos of pigeons battling inslowmo outside my study window on YouTube. That'll keep you busy.
28 June 2012
The site has been hacked. I only have updates from before October 2012, so for anything I've done since (quite a lot, really, all things considered) I'm afraid you'll have to check on my blog This and That Continued. Most of what I've published is mentioned there along with selected articles I've written. I'm also on Twitter as @diski, and info is on Facebook. Isn't the cyberlife exciting?
1 October 2012
I've set up a new blog at Wordpress called, This and That Continued (clever, eh?) and seeded it with an essay I wrote as an introduction to a book of photographs by Lynne Cohen called Nothing Is Hidden, and published by Steidl in May 2012.
29 September 2012
Tragedy, ancient and modern. Longread by me in the New Statesman. Not free online.
19 September 2012
My tiny triumph over the bankers. LRB blog post.
14 September 2012
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog's tail..
My new hearing instrument. New LRB blog post by me: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/
27 August 2012
Some celebratory limericks and a verse for the lion said to have been 'spotted' stalking the last days of summer in Essex, and the mice climbing up men's trousers at Farringdon Station:
23 August 2012
2 August 2012
The paperback of my last book What I Don't Know About Animals is published today. Here's the Waterstone's online link.There is a good UK independent bookshop site: Hive.co.uk. Also the excellent LRB Bookshop and Toppings Books both do online and mail ordering. I know that Amazon is cheaper and easier, but maybe as a last resort?
30 July 2012
Collective Joy. My not entirely ecstatic take on the Opening Ceremony on the LRB Blog. Sorry guys.
14 July 2012 (happy Bastille day)
I've got a piece about my exiguous experience of the North in the latest Corridor8 1967 in Scotland my ex and best friend Roger and I held by police as suspected dope smuggler, 1973 in Liverpool with our gang of kids from the FreeSchool
9 July 2012
Although I've been warned that my attitude to Andy Murray would lose me Twitter 'followers', recklessly, here's me telling him to dry up: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/
3 July 2012
The Under-overpaid. Prince Charles, who cares? New post by me on the LRB blog.
15 June 2012
Writers' Panic. Weird and terrible apps for writers. New post by me on LRB blog.
13 June 2012
There's a new LRB piece by me on the Downton Abbey deluge and upcoming copycat books, online here
I'm on Twitter at @diski
26 April 2012
What Rupert Murdoch thinks he and I have in common: LRB blogpost
10 April 2012
Titanic, forever sinking. Piece by me in Guardian Comment.
15 March 2012
Review by me in the LRB of Dennis Hopper biography by Peter L. Winkler.
2 March 2012
Short Cuts: some thoughts in the LRB on Las Malvinas and my new hero Sean Penn.
Review by me of Clark Lawlor's From Melancholia to Prozac in The Guardian.
1 February 2012
12 December 2011
A new piece by me In the upcoming Harper's Magazine, on the unsatisfactoriness of Mad Men and its relation to films it echoes of the 1960s.
20 September 2011
Article by me on the subject of shoplifting in this week's issue of the New Yorker
Also a podcast I recorded for the New Yorker about the article here
20 September 2011
U.S. publication of What I Don't Know About Animals from Yale University Press.
Editorial Review - Publishers Weekly vol. 258 iss. 34 p (c) 08/22/2011
Don't be fooled by the title--British novelist, essayist, and memoirist Diski (Skating to Antarctica) knows quite a bit about animals. In this treatise, she tackles the unknowable: philosophical questions about animals' consciousness; what she refers to as "an abyss of knowledge that we simply can't cross"; and ethical questions about how humans treat them. Beginning with childhood memories, she examines the cartoon animals she watched in the cinema, as well as her many trips to the zoo, where she once witnessed a chimpanzees' tea party. As an adult, she visited the Kenya Tsavo wildlife reserve and studied elephants with Dr. Barbara McKnight, and a Somerset farm during the lambing season. At age 58, she overcame arachnophobia by participating in the "Friendly Spider Programme" offered by the Zoological Society of London. In addition, Diski examines animals in the abstract, discussing the ideas of Derrida, Bentham ("perhaps the founding father of the animal rights movement"), and controversial animal trainer/philosopher Vicki Hearne, among others, and reflects on passages from the Bible and other creation stories that involve animals. While her anecdotes make for engaging reading, Diski raises far graver questions than the cover image of cuddly lambs would suggest.
14 September 2011
New piece by me in the LRB. Which One of You is Christ?
Sweden: Dagens Nyheter book club are reading my newly published novel, Apology for the Woman Writing, in February. I'll be in Stockholm 21 February to discuss it - current pneumonia permitting.
30 November 2010
A generous review of What I Don't Know About Animals from Ruth Padel in The Guardian
30 November 2010
I'll be doing a talk, reading, discussion thing at the London Review Bookshop, Bury Place, London WC1. 7pm
15 November 2010
BBC Radio 4: Book of the Week, Monday to Friday, 9.45-10am and 12.30am: What I Don't Know About Animals
6 November 2010
Daily Mail running an extract from What I Don't Know About Animals. Maybe, possibly, who can say?
4 November 2010
My new book, What I Don't Know About Animals is published.
2 October 2010
Eat your savings - it's the patriotic thing to do.
19 September 2010
A new Diary piece by me in the latest London Review of Books on the pros and cons of the pursuit of happiness.
Behaved quite badly at Foyles by having a ill-tempered brief moan about the awful record of New Labour with Chris Mullin, who shut me up by saying that the most important thing a political party has to do is to get elected. Shut me up because a) it's true and b) it's the reason why there is no chance of a decent politics. See the cynical Blair and the perhaps less cynical Obama. Altogether discouraging. But probably makes perfect sense if you just want to play careerist politics. See my latest post at the LRB Blog for the full kvetch.
12 September 2010
Sunday 12th September, 1.45-2.30pm, Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Rd: Me, Me, Me - A Panel on Memoir
, Rupert Thomson and Jean Baggott and Chris Mullin
Flannery O'Connor once said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write about for the rest of their days. But surely it isn't all fodder for memoir. Our panellists look at what of our lives can be transferred to the page and what, if anything, is best left unwritten.
7 September 2010
See my LRB Blog post and Sign up for Facebook group: Subversively Move Tony Blair's Book to the Crime Shelf in Bookshops and have fun.
14 August 2010
3 July 2010
Here, from the Bookslut blog, is not just a very flattering review of The Sixties by me, just out in paperback from Profile, but a good essay on the period and what's been written about it. There's a picture of me as a hippie on the cover of the paperback: I look younger and surrounded by foliage. That's how it was then.
2 July 2010
There's a new review by me in the latest issue of The London Review of Books on the subject of arsenic poisoning.
Also an article on a free school I helped set up in the 1970s (not exactly shades of Gove) in The Independent on 22nd June.
2 July 2010 -- About Writing
It's a bit like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope. You can look at the same scene but find it different every time you turn the viewer. Writing is what I'm talking about. Writing as a way of life. It's a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. A requirement to keep trying different ways to describe something that urgently needs describing even if you aren't entirely sure what it is. I quite understand the action painters of the mid-20th century. You chuck paint at a canvas in the hope that some accident will result that expresses just what you want to explain. What you want to explain has no words and can't be drawn. And you don't want to explain it, exactly, you just want to put it out there in the right shape, in the right order, which it never is, no matter how many times you try.
The real mystery is why the need to explain it is so great since it seems to me that it is really only to myself that I am trying to explain it; the reader is an innocent bystander who comes long after I have decided to try once more to fail better with the next book. A question comes up again and again in my head: if I were paid a living wage to write manuscripts and put them in a vault, never to be published, or to burn them once they were completed, would I be content? So, after having written eight novels, writing a non-fiction book about a journey to Antarctica and a search for my maybe-or-maybe-not-dead mother was another way of trying to get at what I'm trying to get at. Plots in fiction and stories of real-life events are simply components of the ongoing business of getting at it. Whatever it is.
Before I wrote Skating to Antarctica, which is somewhat travel and somewhat autobiography, I wrote a novel called The Dream Mistress, and both have mothers and bleak landscapes in them. My mother, of course, and bleak landscapes I either knew (back alleys in inner cities) or wanted to know (icebergs in a stony southern ocean), but I have no doubt that both, though they mean something to me, are screen memories for something bigger, deeper, larger. Everything is a layer over everything else; memory and imagination are the excavation tools. God help us if we ever got to where we thought we were going.So while the autobiographical details in Skating to Antarctica are as true as my memory and the memories of others can manage, they need not be. I mean it doesn't matter if it's all true or if I made it up. It doesn't matter, either, if I actually went to Antarctica or stayed home and invented it in my study. What matters to me is how the two strands work together in the artefact of the eventual book. It would be possible, I suppose, for a reader to corroborate the stories I tell about my childhood or to try to find the people I write about on the boat sailing around the Antarctic peninsula and discover if I was there or not. But once you had found out, say, that I had actually made the journey and had those childhood experiences, how would it change the book? How would it alter the relation between the author rocking in her bunk in the south Atlantic, and remembering the corridors of the block of flats in Tottenham Court Road?
The Dream Mistress is a novel about a woman finding a sick tramp in the street and wondering if it is her vanished mother. It is also about the days after the end of a relationship. I was interviewed on the radio just after it was published. The interviewer said that he enjoyed the book, but there was one bit that troubled him. The main character, Mimi, remembers an event in her childhood when she and a gang of friends were adopted by a stray dog. It wouldn't go away. It loved them. They loved it. But none of them was allowed to keep the dog, so they ritually killed and ate it on an old bombsite where they played. "Eating the dog was a bit far-fetched," he said. Which, of course, it was. Though that is not to say it couldn't have happened, or even that it didn't happen. The interviewer seemed to be saying that it was unreasonable that I should expect him to believe it (although he didn't complain about a scene in which a dead infant is miracled back to life). I think it is unreasonable to believe anything, and reasonable to write anything. A book is an adventure that both writer and (when it is made available) reader embark on. But each does it alone and makes of it what they can. I tell stories. Who knows if I tell the truth?
From The Guardian 2005
14 June 2010 -- Staying In
My old friend Michael, a painter, called me the other day. We've been friends since we were troubled teenagers in and out of loony bins, morosely drinking and drugging away our days, and pretty much given up on by everyone. Michael and I talk on the phone now and then to giggle with astonishment at the way we've managed to arrange our lives so that we find ourselves doing what we want — painting, writing, getting on with it quietly. "I don't speak to anyone all day long. I go for a walk every day, then work, and it's all in silence," he said, delighted with his achievement. "Same here," I said. "But I only go out once a week." Michael gasped at the level of my accomplishment.
It's not merely silence I want, but uneventfulness, and continuing uneventfulness at that. I have a rush of wellbeing if I see a blank week in my calendar. An appointment during the week darkens it, and gnaws away at me in the background of whatever I'm doing until the event (even a pleasurable one) is over and done with. You can call it neurotic, or what you will, but reclusiveness works for me.
From The Sunday Times, June 6th 2010