Today I’m in conversation with Margaret Bird, of Kingston upon Thames, England, editor of the delightful series of Mary Hardy diaries. Margaret “stumbled by chance” across my blog “Georgian Gems, Regency Reads & Victorian Voices” and found her own book under discussion!
Margaret Bird: In the small hours I found myself watching a delighted reader across the Atlantic turning the pages of one of the four weighty Diary volumes. I saw you confiding to viewers what you found appealing about the content and, just as importantly in these days of e-books, about the look and feel of the book. Within hours Kelly and I had exchanged a series of e-mails, and with permission that YouTube video was featuring as a link from the Mary Hardy websites. As the editor, designer, typesetter and photographer I instantly warmed to someone who so obviously revelled in the visual and tactile quality of the volumes.
Please fill us in on who Mary Hardy was.
MB: I need not take long to explain who Mary Hardy was, as she features on these websites:
Briefly, Mary Raven was born in 1733 into a shopkeeping and farming family in a remote village in central Norfolk, a county on England’s North Sea coast. She married an excise officer, William Hardy, in 1765. They had three children, to whom both were devoted. Her husband turned to farming, malting and brewing in 1772. She died in 1809; her husband in 1811.
None of that suggests anything out of the ordinary. What is really extraordinary is the document she left us: a 36-year daily diary recounting the world of work, of farming and manufacturing, of the drinks trade, distribution and transport, and of family and religion. It is not a literary affair. In their trademark terse style Mary Hardy and her young nephew, the brewery apprentice Henry Raven, have left us manuscripts which in word count (573,000 words) amount almost to the length of the Old Testament of the Bible.”
Will you tell “Two Teen” readers about your “25-year mission” to bring Mary Hardy to the public?
MB: In September 1988 Ronald Reagan still had some months left to him in the Oval Office. The Berlin Wall was to stand for more than another year. Margaret Thatcher had two years more to serve as Prime Minister. It was in September 1988 that I took on the task of working on these manuscripts, which were—and are—still in the hands of Mary Hardy’s descendants.
I was drawn to the texts for many reasons. Although I live well over four hours’ drive from where they are set I knew the fields and waterways of the diarists’ villages very well as all my life I have gone boating on the rivers of Norfolk. Our family boat was berthed in the same village where the Hardys had lived and where they launched their own sailing wherry to carry their produce to the port of Great Yarmouth.
In 1980 some Norfolk friends told me about the brief extracts already published by one of Mary Hardy’s descendants, and I immediately set about reading the book in a library in Norwich. Eight years later an article by a wherry skipper who drew on those extracts made me resolve to transcribe and publish the diary in full. I now know that well under 10 per cent of the text had by then reached the public domain. I had not the slightest idea it would take me 25 years of continuous research and striving to accomplish the initial part of my mission.
A daunting task under any circumstances, did you do your own transcriptions of the diaries?
MB: Yes, throughout it was the joy of feeling myself in the much-loved landscape and waterways as I transcribed the photocopied manuscripts at home that sustained me through the quarter-century.
Having the project take so many years of intensive work, was there any downside?
MB: It was not all unalloyed pleasure. Compiling the 460 pages of index was testing in the extreme. I had to do it the moment I started transcribing the text in 1988 as I needed the navigational aid of an index. This I referenced not to page numbers (the final pagination then of course being unknown), but to the fixed point of the date of the diary entry. As that method of indexing proved such a useful database in its own right I retained it in the published version, so the reader can now draw useful conclusions just from a search of the index without looking up the actual entries.
The index is very impressive – and especially useful in this age of limited indexes in books and the easy ability to “search” online texts. How has technology impacted your ongoing work with the diaries?
MB: By far the most difficult task was keeping up with changes in computing technology. The eventual 2500 printed pages were first transcribed on an Acorn Archimedes, with a dot-matrix printer.
Ten years later I transferred to a completely new system: a Dell computer with laser printer, into which I scanned the whole book from First Word Plus into Adobe PageMaker. No electronic transfer was possible. It was all from hard copy, requiring tens of thousands of corrections to the resulting corruptions.
Eleven years later I acquired an HP computer and mercifully was able to complete an electronic transfer into Adobe InDesign—which nevertheless took nearly three years.
You sound dedicated not only to the material, but to a certain presentation of that material. Can you elaborate?
MB: Much remained constant. Right from the start I vowed to set the book on A5 pages as I liked to handle small books. Coffee-table tomes I find unmanageable. This is a book which can easily be read in bed.
Also right from the start I vowed to have one or more illustrations on every double spread, to draw the readers’ eyes onto the page. The long captions are designed to entice readers so that they can keep going when the laconic style of the diary text seems difficult to fathom. At times an image can shed light more clearly than a note.
Right from the start I elected to have sidenotes (in which the editorial annotations are placed not at the foot of the page but in the outer margins). This is laborious as there is no automatic way of setting and numbering such notes. Instead they have to be “embroidered” onto the page, and I often felt I was creating a cross-stitch sampler or a gros point tapestry rather than a printed spread.
Being immersed in the life of people long dead sooner or later takes on a life of its own; you want to talk about them, share “finds”. I imagine family and friends have greatly supported your project?
MB: My wonderful family have given me enthusiastic support and help throughout and have joined me in exploring the ground in Norfolk and beyond. They consistently applauded what I was doing. But when I explained to many other interested people the principles behind the book’s layout their reactions ranged from bafflement to ill-concealed scepticism.
In this day of publication “wariness”, was it important to bring out a full diary? And you’ve plans for a 4-volume companion set!
MB: These long, long manuscripts are now published in full. The four hardbacks contain Mary Hardy’s abridged text, and her nephew Henry’s full text. Again right from the start I realised I had to abridge. The dross of the dullest entries would drive out the gold dust of the more interesting ones; and the thought of having to index the 160,000 words which I have instead consigned to a separate paperback publication The Remaining Diary of Mary Hardy was not one I relished. Some of the website pages set out my decision-making process. By publishing the dross, however, I have enabled database-compilers to access the complete text.
Lastly I always knew that bringing out the Diary was not enough. As a result four volumes of commentary and analysis will follow, explaining the background in 39 chapters and highlighting what is significant about the Diary. There is no room in the Diary volumes for graphs and tables.
You’ve published a set of four diary volumes, plus the “Remaining Diary”; have you been pleased with public reception of Mary Hardy?
MB: Yes, very. The volumes of Diary came out at the end of April 2013. The book launch in Norwich Cathedral proved a really happy evening, with nothing but smiling faces among the many who had helped me. Our thoughts that evening also strayed to those who had not lived to see the launch, but who had been steadfast and unwavering in their support.
To my delight the readers have responded warmly and very positively, and I am getting heartening feedback. This sometimes centers on the very aspects of page layout and indexing which had seemed so controversial in the preceding 25 years.
And I think that aspect of my reaction is what attracts you to the YouTube video!
MB: Yes, I was entranced. Here was someone who had sought the book from across the ocean; who delighted in the pictures, layout and index; and who wanted to share that delight with others.
May all my other readers experience something of your joy, and my own, in a project which in its physical form represents the creative force I have put into it during the past 25 years.