Sunday, 29 April 2012

"I Capture the Castle" and writer's angst

One of my favourite novels that I reread every few years is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. If you haven't read it, you are missing a treat.

This novel was part of the inspiration for Remix; my narrator is intelligent but a little naive, like ICtC's heroine, and it may have been as a nod to Dodie Smith that I called her Caz, short for Cassandra. When the offspring went off with my ancient copy, I went on Amazon to replace it. I read the introduction by Valerie Grove, and was astonished:

"Dodie finished drafting the novel shortly after the war ended, but even the longed-for peace did not rescue her from the anguish she suffered over the book... The revisions went on for two years, and tormented her. She rewrote every line, under [her husband] Alec's critical supervision, rehearsing every line of dialogue and unable to stop thinking about it, even in bed, waking each morning with a visceral dread, her mind throbbing with nerves and nagged by doubts. She felt she was disintegrating mentally and physically. But her industry was unflagging."

I Capture the Castle is such a delightful, spontaneous read, it's difficult to imagine its author fretting and toiling over it for years. As soon as it was published, it became a huge hit - at which point no doubt Dodie Smith worried that she'd never be able to repeat her success.

Writing to publish is, I think, one of the most angst-ridden things you can do. We have to try not to let it get to us, even while noting that Dodie Smith's obsessive and anxious work undoubtedly contributed to the excellence of I Capture the Castle.

Moral: do your best but Don't Fret.


  1. Just what I needed to read today, Lexi. Thanks.

  2. I had no idea but I should have guessed. On the whole, writing that reads simply, easily and naturally took huge amounts of revision to write.

    Back to my bad first drafts!

  3. JS, we all beat ourselves up too much. I remember a television programme about happy Japanese pensioners, whose catchphrase was, "Don't worry, it'll work out."

    FH, may all your froggy first drafts turn into handsome princes :o)

  4. This is really nice to know - I mean how Dodie Smith fretted and nearly had a nervous breakdown over her novel - well it can't have been good for her emotionally - but it's humbling to know how she sold her soul for her art.

    Take care

  5. Interesting post, Lexi - must remember this next time I wake in the night and reach for the notebook.

  6. Dear me, Kitty, surely you are not recommending we sell our souls for our art?

    Jo, I love it when I have to turn on the light and jot notes in the night - it shows the book is really cooking with gas.

  7. Doesn't surprise me concerning the angst and unflagging but seemingly never ending industry. Anything we want to be really, really good at requires a hell of a lot of effort. But if the final product announces "Hey! This was darned difficult, ya know!" then it probably needs even more work.

    We just got notification that we have been granted "Meet and Greet" passes for the Tommy Emmanuel concert that will be in my hometown in June. Tommy is a supreme example of someone who constantly lives his craft/art and yet when he gets on stage it all just flows. Thousands of hours of work we never see manifests itself in a couple of hours of glorious music. I'm thrilled to have the chance to have a bit of face time with one of the best musicians in the world, but I'm not going to ask "How do you do it?" because I know. Start with Talent and then Never Stop Working.

  8. I'd never come across Tommy Emmanuel so looked him up on Youtube. I like this one:

  9. I'm so ashamed I haven't read this yet. I've owned it for years. It sits there on the bookshelf patiently waiting. MUST do this! An extra layer will now be added since I know how she agonized over it.

  10. You will forget her struggles in your enjoyment of the story, I guarantee.

  11. I always think it's the mark of an expert when someone makes something look easy. It doesn't mean that it was easy though!

  12. True - and the mark of a professional is to be able to do whatever your skill is when you have flu or a hangover or don't feel like doing it.