One of my favourite feelings is when you discover a book by one of your favourite authors that is no longer in print in the most unlikely of places. Once such incident happened sometime last year when I visited the local hospital and discovered a discarded ex-library copy of ‘Growing Pains – the Shaping of a Writer’ by none other than Daphne Du Maurier. It was made slightly the more joyous a find because I had no idea that this book even existed.
It is probably best to let Daphne Du Maurier explain herself what ‘Growing Pains’ is about, which fortunately she does in the author’s note at the start of the book. ‘The following pages will, I hope, give me the answer. They cover my thoughts, impressions and actions from the age of three until I was twenty five, after my first novel had been published. I was uncertain of myself, naive and immature, and readers looking for deep thoughts and words of wisdom will be disappointed.’ The last part of which I couldn’t disagree with more as this is an incredibly insightful account of her life through retrospection, and also a very honest one.
Daphne tells us of her childhood and how important stories were too her, though oddly not a fan of fairy tales (which I would have given anything to ask her more bout) she grew up with a highly over active imagination. Before she could write properly she announced to a new governess that she had written ‘an entire novel’ when in truth, and soon discovered, she couldn’t write a sentence. She always wanted more from stories and would ask when a book was finished ‘why is that the end’ or ‘why did that person live in a wood’, she wanted to inhabit and create a stories entire world. This in turn lead to worrying developments after her imagination went into overdrive as she started to believe her mother actually was the Snow Queen in the book she was reading to Daphne and her sisters. In fact Daphne never quite shook this feeling. Which made me think about the interesting relationship rumoured between Daphne and her father. It was an almost obsessive hero worship.
‘I still believed in Father Christmas and yet… How did he mange to get down everybody’s chimneys all in one night? It just couldn’t be done. And supposing he didn’t… supposing it wasn’t true… ? I remember finding a net stocking full of toys hidden under a cushion in M’s morning-room at Cumberland Terrace. Why was it there? If something was not true, why make it up in the first place? But then, here was the puzzle. Stories in books were not true. The person who wrote the book made them up. Somehow, that did not matter. Pilgrim’s Progress was a story. It did not really happen. That was all right. But if fairies were just invented to deceive children, and Father Christmas too, what about the picture in my prayer-book that my godmother Billy had given me…’
As the book goes on Daphne never stops questioning in fact she questions all the more. The way this subtle decision to write builds over the years is utterly fascinating to read. In fact I am shocked this is no longer in print as it would be the perfect text for all aspiring writers, dare I say even a few published ones. I also loved the book for the snippets and insights into the young life of one of my favourite authors directly from her. There are some great biographies and some wonderful fictional accounts but nothing is quite the same as reading the words written by the person themselves. I also loved it for the pictures, such as this…
I didn’t want ‘Growing Pains’ to end! I know some of it is written from the benefit of hindsight, some of it will shroud the darker elements or highlight the brighter memories but I just loved spending time with Daphne reminiscing. Of course, she could have written it to make herself sound a certain way, but with a girl and woman like Daphne I don’t think that’s the case. Someone please reprint this book!
UPDATE: Thank you for letting me know that this is in print but under the name ‘Myself When Young: The Shaping Of A Writer’ – oops!