Award-winning writer Julia Blackburn recalls the summer she spent writing dictionary definitions for 'H' and 'L'.
Now she sees an autobiographical thread in her apparently objective definitions.
Winner of the Penn-Ackerley biography prize 2009, Julia Blackburn lived for two years in Majorca as a young woman.
Trying to become a writer, she found herself too afraid of words to write.
They were 'all so fickle and prone to exaggeration or misinterpretation'.
A summer job compiling a dictionary came along via a friend of her father's and so she took charge of two letters, with instructions to define her words according to English 'as it is spoken today', including new words and colloquialisms.
Her definitions had to be original, and where a word was difficult to understand or ambiguous in meaning it needed to be illustrated with a short phrase.
These phrases reveal Julia's preoccupations and passions at the time: her love of animals; a love affair just ended; her bohemian lifestyle.
Writing definitions changed Julia's relationship with words.
She began to 'forgive their shiftiness, their lack of absolute clarity' and especially loved 'the more simple ones which carried a complex responsibility of meaning...
the strange poetry that jumped from 'hazardous' to 'haze', from 'long-winded' to 'loofah', from 'lop-sided' to 'loquacious'.
The second in a series of talks for the Proms.
Award-winning writer Julia Blackburn recalls a summer job as a lexicographer.