The Elfin Diary was the creation of Caroline Heaney (1947 – 2011). Settling down in in her native Lancashire after years of world travel and casting around for something to do, she decided that publishing a diary-cum-almanac that listed things like Moon phases, Sun signs etc to sell to her many friends and contacts might be amusing. The first Diary was for 1990 and has been published every year since.*
Naming her diary after Elfin, the Afghan hound that she shared her Hothersall home with, she put the first Diary prototypes together the old-fashioned way – typewriter, paste, scissors and Tippex – before delivering them to the printer. (Somebody once said that her Diaries looked like they had been crafted in a garden shed; which was almost true – to save heating her big, draughty house she often worked in the greenhouse where her tropical plants were cosseted and kept warm.) Trained in graphic design but completely technophobic, it was only after four or five years of this that she found somebody who could use a computer and a desktop publishing program. That was how I got involved with her.
Caroline wasn’t an easy person to work with or for. She expected perfection, had a volcanic temper and could crisp your ears over twenty miles of telephone wire. She was also the most charming, warm, generous and wonderful person who always appreciated effort and delivered praise when it was due – a great bundle of contradiction. Pretty much a typical Sagittarius, in fact (she was born 10th December 1947 – no birth time known).
I helped her produce the Diary from about 1999 (I think). At first just assembling it on the computer and producing a print-ready copy for the printer, I gradually started producing more and more of the content for her – researching dates, religious festivals, historical events, astronomical data and so on. When she had a website set up, I quickly took charge of that and pretty much became her tech support as well.
She was always robustly healthy, walking her hounds daily, gardening, dragging big pots of her precious plants around, looking after elderly relatives and living a full and active life. All that ended in 2009 when her health suddenly deteriorated – she developed a blood disorder that meant her immune system couldn’t produce antibodies. Most cases of this type are curable; but Caroline’s illness defied all treatment and for nearly two years she was kept going with weekly transfusions of genetically engineered white blood cells (from rabbits). During this time, she was terribly susceptible to any infection, so had to quarrantine herself at home; weak and ill for much of the time she had to give away her beloved Afghan (named Isis, and the third hound after Elfin) and give up her gardening. Somehow, she managed to keep publishing the Diary through all this, with the help of her many friends.
She died in 2011; in her last phone call to me, she asked me to continue the Diary. By that time, I was already doing almost everything bar marketing and selling the thing. So it was an easy decision to make.
~ Val Dobson
*Except for 2019, which was a bit of an annus horriblis for me. But I’ll keep it going for as long as I can and as long as people want to buy it.