Shh… I can’t hear you!

In my personal life, as in my professional life as an author, I can’t help wondering when our culture became so… well… shouty.

Until a few years ago, I always used to follow a soap – The Archers and Eastenders in my twenties, Neighbours in my thirties and forties, Doctors in my fifties. I liked getting to know the characters over a long period of time, and sharing the minutiae of their everyday lives.

I lost interest when the minutiae got squeezed out, and each of these soaps became a continuous onslaught of extraordinary events.   Arson, beatings, kidnappings, murder… black and white characters, dastardly villains with no redeeming features… The third time the coffee shop got burned down, that’s when Neighbours got boring for me.

I stopped watching the News too, as it gradually began to feel more like clips from an action movie, or a disaster movie. Even the weather reports seem to be plagued by the same need to sensationalise everything. This week, for example, we have apparently been hit by a ‘weather bomb.’

I find it frustrating because for me, ordinary people and ordinary life are endlessly fascinating. I relate to real life stories; I want to read and to tell the stories of ordinary people like me.

Professionally, this is a problem, because it means I’m ‘too quiet for the market.’ If you want to get a publisher to take on a book these days it has to have a ‘strong hook,’ which generally means be out-of-the-ordinary in some striking way.

I wrote my YA novel, ‘Drift,’ because I wanted to help other survivors of sibling suicide feel less alone in that already extraordinary grief. The whole point of my book was that it should feel real; it should feel like any young person’s life, suddenly disrupted by something that could happen to anyone.

‘Drift’ was deemed ‘too quiet for the market’ although all the editors were very positive about it. One suggested I read a current best-seller about teen suicide, which had a great hook. This book was built around a series of suicide notes the dead person had left in which he blamed various family members and friends for what he was about to do.

Interesting, maybe. A hook, certainly. But a real story that could be your story or mine?

Another MS of mine that has been rejected on grounds that it’s ‘too quiet’ is about a child who has been home-educated, starting mainstream school for the first time at the age of twelve.

The current bestseller on that theme is about a boy who has been home-educated because he is hideously disfigured. ‘My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.’

The book has masses of enthusiastic reviews, and I’m sure it’s wonderful, but I personally was put off by the big hook of his disfigurement. Home-schoolers entering regular school – that’s interesting enough for me. I don’t want the added distraction.

I really relate to a recent post in Authors Electric by Catherine Czerkawska, The unexpectedly long life of an eBook, where she says

I always used to wonder what ‘too quiet’ meant – none of my agents ever seemed able to explain it satisfactorily. Then a writer friend said ‘they’re looking for a stonking great story.’ I could see what she meant – and could understand why that was what publishers wanted since they are always on the hunt for the next blockbuster, even though they have no idea what that might be – but it struck me that I don’t always want to read a stonking great story. Sometimes – quite often really – I want some Barbara Pym or similar.

When I’m looking for something new to read or watch or write, I sometimes feel like someone in a crowded room full of people shouting at the top of their voices; I wish they would quieten down and talk to me properly.

Dreaming, daydreaming and telepathy

Talking to a friend on the phone yesterday, I asked if she’d heard from a mutual friend who had just got back from a trip up-country to visit her family.

‘I dreamt about her while she was away,’ she said. ‘It was just a glimpse, but she was really happy and smiling. I rang her to say welcome home and how did it go, and she said she’d had a wonderful time.’

Last week, I had a similarly short, vivid dream about one of my children, only he wasn’t happy and smiling, so I phoned the next day to touch base with him.

If you dream about close family or friends, it’s always good to follow up that dream with a phone call, visit or email. You don’t have to say why, but just that you’ve been thinking about them. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find your dream has exactly conveyed to you their emotional frame of mind.

Experienced dreamers know that there’s a telepathic connection on the unconscious level, but it doesn’t only work with dreams. Daydreams and random thoughts that pop into your head come from the same source in the self, and can carry the same information.

So if you have a vivid thought about somebody close to you during the daytime, follow it up with a quick call. Something will be happening that means this person wants to make a connection.

Telepathy works on the instinctual level; it isn’t logical, but emotional. It’s a natural ability in all of us which, especially in the developed world, is virtually unused.

The more you use it, the stronger it gets, in the same way that training your rational thinking processes increases your ability to reason.

You aren’t creating connections but simply becoming aware of them, because on the unconscious level we are all connected to our loved ones, swimming in the same streams of consciousness and emotions.

These connections are most obvious and easy to find between family members and close friends, but everything is connected, and being sensitive to the connections makes for a much more joined-up way of living.

Are you aware of telepathic connections between yourself and the people close to you? I’d love to hear your stories.


Live dangerously – do some writing!

A few weeks ago, I received a lovely email from someone who had been here for my Autumn workshop day. Its subject line was ‘Poem inspired by your tablecloth.’

The email was a kind of goodbye, because the writer was about to leave the area and move to Spain. In it, she said,  ‘I think I mightn’t have done all this life changing stuff if it wasn’t for the experiences I’ve shared over the years on your courses and workshops.’

Much as I’d like to think that discovering a new sense of adventure is a particular benefit of my workshops, I imagine it’s a common side-effect of doing lots of writing.

When we write stories, instead of focusing on what is, we’re adjusting our focus to consider ‘what if?’

Any habit of thought creates pathways in the brain; old ways of thinking fall into disuse like overgrown tracks as we favour and carve out new ones.

As well as changing the way we think, writing can change the way we  feel, because when we put our protagonists through trials and troubles which mean they have to be brave and bold, we are experiencing that courage and mastery in our self.

Things we might not previously have dreamt about begin to feel possible and survivable, and simply feeling that we could do something new if we wanted to can make the current status quo feel like a choice, and not a trap. Writing creatively leads to living more creatively too.

Of course, if you dare to dream, there’s always a risk you might just go and make that big life change, and change carries risk. New adventures always involve some element of difficulty, and they can go horribly wrong.

But they will also bring colour and excitement, learning and opportunity. I’m looking forward to following Lizzylarkwhistle’s adventures in Spain when she starts her new blog – all I can tell you so far is that she has met Jesus and Gabriel, and I can’t wait to hear more.

I’ll post the link when I have it but, in the meantime, here is her poem, written in the workshop, at my table. She chose a dead umbellifer from the tray of Autumn offerings I found in my garden.


The Picked Umbellifer

I hope to stay here now.
In some quiet corner, shadowed by firelight
Dreaming of my old roots.

Back on the shifting cliff in Spring,
New, eager growth will push through my old ways.
White, sea scented sprays,
Soon hardened by salty air and beaten by gales and rain,
To a brassy, brittle, bone coloured thing,
A trophy.
As delicate as the cobwebs spun between its flowers,
Flinching from dogs and booted feet
Or a gust that may toss it into the sea.

After all that has passed, I’m glad to be here,
Spun slowly by a gentle hand,
safe in a house, above a table squared
With the colours of summer.


Do you feel writing has helped you to live more creatively?

The Journey

Jenny Alexander:

Here’s a beautiful, thoughtful post on keeping a diary/journal, which I think you will enjoy.

Originally posted on VitalWrite:

Anne Frank

I have kept a diary from the age of about eight. I used to start each day with: Dear Kizzy, and write as if to a friend. Sadly most of my teenage diaries were destroyed because my older self didn’t like that previous expression of angst. And even later diaries were destroyed, but those ones in a ceremonial fire – I realised how much bitterness and anger from my divorce they contained, and wanted to let that go.

Five years ago I started referring to my diary as a journal, I don’t know if that word is a little more serious, or if I just needed a change of term for a change in the style of entry. In the past re-reading diaries was painful because the pages were filled with all the bad things that happened so this made my life seem incredibly unbalanced, although it wasn’t at all…

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Making art from a dream, by Susan Levin

Yesterday, I reviewed Susan Levin’s book, ‘Art from Dreams’ and I’m delighted to welcome  her into the House of Dreams to talk about the dream behind her artwork, ‘Home.’

HomeI am writing about the piece titled “Home” and the accompanying dream.

Dream: I am on a boat in the Detroit River headed for summer camp. I talk to someone about Detroit—how the city is out of money. We dock briefly along the city’s shore. I go for a walk, barefoot, through the muddy streets. I see little children in slum housing. I walk up the steps to the bank. I clean my feet with water so they will be less muddy.

Dream interpretation: I have to get down with uncovered feet to get close to the truth of my difficult childhood, growing up in a dysfunctional family in Detroit. The city of Detroit is bankrupt—it’s losing its libido for me. I walk barefoot, slogging through the mud of my past. With my uncovered feet, I get close to the truth. The slum of my childhood. Boats are a womb-like container that carry us on our life’s voyage. We all need a sense of security to help us navigate.

Being sent away to summer camp, where I don’t want to go, adds to my sense of being an outcast. By cleaning my feet as I go up to the bank, I am relinquishing my feeling of impoverishment. Something in me has money in the bank. I am coming to a part of myself that is substantial. I have my own resources—my own currency in the bank. I am approaching the SELF, going upstairs to a higher level of understanding.

Cleaning the feet has religious overtones, a rite of purification. I was destined to be barefoot in the mud, living in a slum, when I instead deserve to be in a bank with clean feet and access to money. My inner resources, which were never acknowledged or nurtured, are now accessible.

Have you ever been moved to create a visual image by memories, thoughts and feelings that have been stirred  up in a dream?

Book Review: ‘Art from Dreams’ by Susan Levin

Today, it’s my pleasure to review this new book by Susan Levin, ‘Art from Dreams: My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage and Poetry.’

As a seasoned traveller in the inner world myself, I love reading about other people’s dream adventures, and one of my all-time favourite books is CG Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, for that  reason.

There isn’t very much to read in Susan Levin’s book,  just a one-page introduction and ten short poems, but I really like the way the brevity of the text brings the focus strongly back to the images and makes the book, in itself, a dreamlike experience. Levin lets the pictures tell their own stories, and give an impression of the  journey overall.

The first half of the book is called ‘My Jungian Dreams.’ Here the poems expand on the images, exploring the artist’s thoughts about consciousness and experience in an open, direct way.

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In the second half of the book, ‘Nocturnes,’ there are no poems, just a set of striking images with intriguing titles such as ‘Message from horse and snake’ and ‘Ship of souls.’

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The mixed media and collage approach feels to me an exactly appropriate way of conveying the quality of a dream, this bringing together of disparate objects into a unified experience of colour, tone and feeling.

The night after I read Art from Dreams I had a very visual dream which reminded me of one of Susan’s collages. At the bottom of the picture, me with a glass of sparkling wine; above that my Writing in the House of Dreams book launch cake, and flying above that in the clear blue sky, a young woman on a brightly-coloured hang-glider.

The book is beautifully produced and bound, a lovely object which readers will return to, and take inspiration.

Tomorrow, Susan will talk about the process of one of the artworks in the book here in the House of Dreams. Don’t miss it!


Creative dreaming, creative writing

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