I've always wanted to do an author interview! And now I can, because Journal with Purpose's Helen Colebrook is an author as well as a journaler supremo. Up until now, Helen has been a pretty straightforward kind of gal, but now that she's an author maybe she's turned into someone who has taken to lying on a chaise longue wrapped in a pink fluffy feather boa and rather overdoing it on the false eyelash front. Not to mention calling everybody 'Dahling!' Might be quite fun interviewing somebody like that…
Anyway, to no avail, because Helen looks just as she always has, except maybe a little more excited than usual (it was the slightly pinker cheeks than normal that gave it away). And so she should be, because Journal with Purpose - the book - is worth getting excited about.
So why's that? Well, mainly because it's a book about journaling, and in this urgent, 'now, now now!' world we live in, journaling has become a tried and tested way of combating day-to-day stress and maintaining good mental health. But it's also because - unlike some (albeit well-meaning) books - there's no 'do it like this' or 'set aside just three hours of your day to fit this in' about it. How you do it, of course, is entirely up to you, and as Helen points out, 'One of the great things about journaling is that there are absolutely no rules.' So instead, Journal with Purpose is a catalogue of super-useful creative stuff to use in your journal, from borders, banners, corners and scrolls to faux calligraphy and fancy lettering; plus planner icons, patterns and mandalas. And Helen covers all sorts of themes as well: there are flowers and leaves, from the simple right up to the more exotic; there are musical instruments; there are planes, trains and automobiles; there are sports and culinary icons and a pic for all seasons. And all in Helen's unique style.
Scattered throughout are useful exercises, showing how you can go about drawing all these yourself. The dotgrid background - probably the most useful page layout in journaling - is used all through the book, so you can see exactly how to reproduce each icon into your own journal. (But if that's a little out of your comfort zone, you can always just trace over them!)
It's very much a case of 'here are some suggestions' and 'incorporate some, all or none of them to suit yourself'. It's so laid back it would make you cry (with relief, not frustration). And that's exactly how journaling should be: like a bubble bath after a stressful day, or a hot chocolate after a very long walk in the rain because the bus forgot to turn up. It's a chance to unwind and chill out, by getting all the stuff out of your head and onto paper where it makes so much more sense and no longer has the power to addle your brain or keep you awake at night. Just the process of laying out your journal, deciding what to include and how to present it, along with which pens and pencils to use, is incredibly mindful. It's a constructive, productive, creative way of finishing each day, and once you've established the habit, it becomes a 'want to do' rather than a 'have to do', which is what every relaxing undertaking should be. Or it wouldn’t be relaxing. And then you wouldn’t do it.
It's not just the physical act of keeping a journal that has proved so beneficial though. Collecting stationery (we at Cult Pens are very keen on people doing that!) and thinking up novel ways of storing it, has added to the appeal of journaling. There's something very soothing about sorting and cataloguing things, especially nice things! Social media - particularly Instagram - has put journalers in touch with other journalers and created a whole like-minded community: when you have a bit of an obsession it's quite exciting to meet others with a similar fixation. It's also encouraged many people to pick up a pencil again and start drawing, or a pen and start writing, and rediscover latent talents (or even no talent, just enjoyment!) And I'm sure in time that word processing applications will eventually stop underling 'journaler' with a wavy red line and start recognising it as a real word…
So why a book? And how did it become reality? 'Well, dahling,' says Helen, fluffing up her feather boa, 'I was getting a lot of queries from Instagram followers about my themes and how I drew my doodles, and I thought a book might be the way to go about answering them. So one Sunday afternoon I decided to do a little research into potential literary agents…' She ended up getting in touch with Graham Maw Christie via Instagram, who helped her put together a book proposal and then sent it out to lots of publishers. After 'tons of rejections' but encouraged by a lot of lovely feedback, Helen finally got an email from her agent while she was on holiday to say that David & Charles were interested. Meetings were followed by proposal revisions and design drafts, more meetings and more revisions, and then Helen was signed up as an author in September 2018. 'I still can't believe it!'
She then worked non-stop for the next 5 months drawing all her designs, and she's got a callus on her little finger to prove it (and it's still there - she showed us!) This was because she had to draw every design in the book, not once but twice. Firstly in pencil using dotgrid paper, and secondly in pen, tracing the designs onto plain paper using a lightbox. To keep her going, her daughter insisted on putting a whiteboard in prime position in the lounge, complete with every detail of every deadline, so that Helen couldn't help but see what she was up against every single day. That girl will go far.
Then, in February 2019, she drove to Exeter to hand-deliver all her work. 'There was no way I wanted to risk losing any of my work at that stage.' Quite so. But that wasn't all! There were more meetings, and photo shoots, and now Journal with Purpose is an actual, real book in actual, real bookshops. And Cult Pens, of course. Helen is bursting with so much pride her false eyelashes are in danger of falling off. 'The whole experience,' she says, 'has been a wonderful and unexpected whirlwind, and an opportunity that I am incredibly grateful for.'
Journal with Purpose is the perfect tool for any journaler. It doesn't pressure you or fill you with guilt because you haven't progressed beyond a certain point. It's just there, when you need it, whether you're about to embark on your journey, are already sailing happily along on it, or are a true veteran who has battled a few roadworks and has lived to tell the tale.