Any experienced dreamer will recognise the recurring symbols and scenes that characterise their personal dreamworld, but have you noticed how that happens in your writing life as well?
This has been an unfolding awareness for me because with writing as with dreams, we enter the unconscious world and only see the patterns as they emerge, often weeks, months or even years later.
I’d written several books before I noticed that there always seemed to be an old person who played an important role, in giving support or guidance to my young protagonist.
In my first book, Looking After Auntie, it was Great Aunt Fontaine, and in my second, Miss Fischer’s Jewels, it was the lovely old lady who lived next door. In Car-mad Jack, it’s Grannie Bright, and in Peony Pinker, another lovely neighbour, old Mr Kaminski.
I’d noticed also that my protagonists always had certain character traits in common; they often felt disempowered and had to find ways of gaining control. A lot of my stories present some kind of bullying situation, although I wasn’t thinking about bullying as such at the time of writing.
These big ticket items are easy to spot, but this week I’ve been thinking about covers for my YA novel ‘Drift’ and trying to choose an iconic image from one of the scenes or settings.
In doing so, I noticed how even very particular images recur in my writing. In Miss Fischer’s Jewels there is a run down potting shed where the protagonist goes when she feels upset. In ‘Drift’, which I wrote more than 20 years later, there is also an old potting shed. In both books, key scenes are set in the potting shed.
In ‘Drift’ there is a big scene involving a bonfire, where symbolic objects are burnt. Symbolic objects are also put on a bonfire in my upcoming children’s novel, The Binding.
I realise as I’m writing this that in my life as well, I’ve marked endings in the same way, by placing symbolic objects in the flames.
In Writing in the House of Dreams, I talk about these recurring symbols as the guiding structure rather than random ornaments in dreams, writing and our individual lives.
I knew from trying to write my autobiography, that life wasn’t a tidy line of events. It was a pattern of themes and characters, plots and subplots, twists and coincidences; of past, present and future, all interwoven.
It was a fabric with a scattering of strong images that stood out from the rest – a dusty ditch, a dead rat, a dancing ballerina. Threads and specks of pink, a jacket, a strawberry. Patches of brilliant aquamarine. An iridescent fleck of dragonfly.
Symbols are not static, but develop in the developing psyche, so uncovering and working with our guiding symbols is a life-long journey, full of new discoveries.
Have you noticed the big and little scenes and symbols that guide your life and writing?