Fifteen years ago I came across a newspaper article called “Haunted by the Ghosts of Love”. It was the story of the woman who had come between two famous poets: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Her name was Assia Gutmann Wevill. I had never heard of her.
Assia’s story fascinated me, and I began to research her life. Apart from one factual biography of Assia (Lover of Unreason by Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren), all I found was a paragraph or a sometimes a mere chapter, in the weighty biographies of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Assia had virtually been written out of history. I decided her story had to be told, and to use fiction to do so.
Inspired by the ‘Capriccio’ poems by Ted Hughes, a series which relate to Ted’s relationship with Assia, the first version of my novel was very different to today’s: it was episodic in structure, and introduced each chapter with a quote from a carefully chosen poem from Hughes’s ‘Capriccio’. I took the title of my novel from a series of poems by Ted Hughes, also called ‘Capriccio’, in which Hughes reveals the ambiguity of his relationship with Assia Gutmann Wevill
Being a law-abiding citizen, I requested permission to quote from ‘Capriccio’, and wrote to Faber & Faber, Hughes’s & Plath’s publishers, fully expecting an approval (I had reduced the quotes to only 13 lines of poetry in a 90,000 word novel). I not only received a blunt refusal from the publishers, but an instruction from the Hughes Estate to change all the protagonists’ names.
After receiving the veto from the Hughes Estate, I shelved the book and considered it not publishable. I felt the poetry excerpts were an integral part of the novel, giving it shape and referencing the Capriccio poems by Hughes.
Four years later, I realised that the book into which I’d put fifteen years of research and hard work, deserved to be published. I consulted an intellectual property lawyer, and followed her advice. To avoid any future legal or copyright issues, I complied with the Estate’s requests, and completely rewrote the novel without one word of poetry. I also changed the names of people and places, so that Ted became Larry, Sylvia became Grace, and Assia became Esther (actually her second name).
After submitting this second version to some mainstream publishers, only to be told, after waits of up to eight months, “no-one wants to hear about thatMr Hughes any more”, I approached an independent publisher, Cilento, a small but highly professional press. They put my manuscript through a rigorous assessment and editing process, worked with me to choose an eye-catching cover, and provided the most professional services any writer could wish for. I cannot speak highly enough of Cilento.
The work of an author is never finished when your book is finally published; even with a mainstream publisher, there are hours of promotion, marketing, distribution, and sheer legwork. Self-promotion does not come easily to many of us who are used to the solitary life of writing. But it is necessary if you want your book to reach a wide readership.
‘Capriccio: A Novel’ will soon be appearing in bookshops in Sydney. I have been invited to address two book clubs, and am receiving heart-warming reviews from my readers. The novel is available from Amazon as a paperback or hard copy, and in Sydney from Berkelouws bookshop in Darlinghurst.