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Writing tips from the past

Today I thought I’d share an excerpt from a novel for teenagers that I enjoyed reading when I was in my early teens – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.  It was my favourite book then, and I read it several times. I read it again this year and hoped, unlike with some books I remembered fondly from years ago, I wouldn’t be disappointed. Not at all – it still seemed fresh and funny and, despite being first published in 1949, I felt it had hardly dated.

The Ruined Walls and Gateway of a Castle null by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851Cassandra, the seventeen year old protagonist, lives in increasing poverty in a cold and leaky castle with her sister, brother, stepmother and father. He had been a celebrated writer once, but was now suffering from long-term writer’s block.

Cassandra decides to write a diary and the book chronicles six months of her life in which she records the largely mundane, but often humorous, events of her life. These include trying to get her father writing again, getting her sister married off to their new landlord, and warding off the attentions of the love-sick Stephen.

She also discusses her attempts to become a writer, dispensing along the way quite a few tips for the aspiring author, as the excerpt below shows:


I am writing this journal partly to practise my newly acquired speed-writing skills, and partly to teach myself how to write a novel. I intend to capture all our characters and put in conversations. It ought to be good for my style to dash along without much thought, as up to now my stories have been stiff and self-conscious. The only time my father obliged me by reading one of them, he said I combined stateliness with a desperate effort to be funny. He told me to relax and let the words flow.

Good advice she (if not her father himself) follows with some success.


I Capture the Castle is available in several print versions from Amazon books. There are also a couple of audio versions on Amazon.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, and would like to read some of my novels or short stories (maybe to see if I manage to avoid being too stiff and self-conscious) you can find more information on my Published Work page, or on one of my Amazon author pages:


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