Book Review

Writers Dreaming, by Naomi Epel

The Vintage paperback cover

You won’t be surprised to hear that I love this book. It consists of twenty-six interviews with high-profile authors, sharing their thoughts about dreams and the creative process.

Probably my favourite is Sue Grafton, because she talks about the edgy nature of dreams and creative work, the ‘sense of jeopardy’ that comes with handing yourself over completely to the inner world of imagination. She describes the feeling of something mystical powering the writing process. She does not believe that all dreams have psychological meaning.

I love the way Stephen King compares his writing process with dreaming. He talks about his preparations for writing being like a bedtime ritual; of entering the writing being like falling asleep to the world, and finishing like emerging from the dream state in the morning.

Maya Angelou talks about the small mind and the large mind, which is very much my experience of dreaming and writing. They both take you into worlds without limits, and add a new dimension to waking life that makes it feel feel much bigger.

There are so many fascinating insights in this book, and it’s one you can dip in and out of if you’re busy, although I have to say I was so gripped I read it over one sunny day in London, on trains and park benches and in cafes.

A five-star read for writers and dreamers.

Guest spot: A poet dreaming

Metamorphosis – By Susan Richardson

Some years ago, I was working on my first poetry collection, Creatures of the Intertidal Zone. The book’s main section, inspired by my journey through Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland in the footsteps of an intrepid eleventh century female Viking, was complete, but I didn’t yet have a clear vision for the final part of the manuscript.

Until, over a period of several weeks, prompted perhaps by my reading numerous narratives of Polar exploration to both the Arctic and Antarctic, I had a sequence of dreams featuring that most iconic of polar creatures, the penguin. In one dream, I received a penguin delivery – he was shoved and squeezed through my letterbox until he landed with a slap on the tiled hall floor. In another, I was trying to hoist a poorly penguin into a cardboard box so that I could take him to the vet, while in the most surreal dream of all, I was metamorphosing, flipper by flipper, feather by feather, into a penguin myself.

I’d never written poems from dreams before, but the penguins were impossible to ignore. As I wrote, I pondered on all the images of penguins that exist in popular culture, as well as our persistent commodification and Disneyfication of animals, a theme that seemed to fit well with the environmental strands I’d introduced in the main section of the collection. Gradually, over the next six months, my dream penguins swam and waddled their way into a series of poems that enabled the final part of my manuscript to fall into place.

Creatures of the Intertidal Zone was published by Cinnamon Press in 2007. I was delighted by Helena Nelson’s mini-review of the collection in Mslexia and the fact that she singled the penguins out for a special mention – ‘Susan Richardson’s Creatures of the Intertidal Zone offers a marvellously different blend of passion, pathos, poetry – and penguins.’ I have continued to allow my dreams to feed my poetry ever since.

METAMORPHOSIS

To begin with, nothing drastic.
the odd cold bath, air con on max,
the utter absence of shivers.

Then, the skin tingles, each pore forcing
the shaft of a feather forth, like a lid
with a push-through straw.

I go right off garlic, crisps, samosas,
bright red curtains, Gauguin prints.
If I must stay indoors, I want plain
white tiles, a single chilled white porcelain sink.

And oh, the fingers. Useless, as if mittened.
And stretched, the tips skimming the floor.
Scissors, chopsticks, forks – all binned.

Breasts blend with belly, waist, hips.
I’m lugging a two-fifty-litre rucksack
in an outsize black wetsuit and wellies.
My tears taste of fish.

Fresh fears keep me from sleeping.
The fleck throats of bull seals.
Ice melt. Oil slicks.

I make a nest from the last
strands in my hairbrush and what I once
knew as pencils, and string.

Soon I must push
this hard new truth between my legs
and hatch it.

Creatures of the Intertidal Zone is available via Susan’s website www.susanrichardsonwriter.co.uk as is her new collection, Where the Air is Rarefied

Landscapes of the soul

Years ago, I had a dream I called ‘Landscapes of the soul.’ It was one of those dreams which doesn’t have a story, but just a voice.

Moorland
Cornish moorland

The voice of the dream said, ‘The scenery your soul feels at home in never changes. The empty huge spaces of the highlands, always at the mercy of the elements, that is my soul scenery and will not change, but all the less important things have changed…’

Shetland
Burra Isle in Shetland

It was after this dream that I started to notice the consistency of my dream landscapes, which are most often moors and mountains. In the workshops I do now, I find other people’s dream landscapes also have a surprising consistency.

North of Scotland
The mountains of the far North West

I grew up in leafy Wimbledon, but immediately after university I went to Shetland for a holiday and simply couldn’t leave. It was love at first sight, for me, that wild windbeaten landscape of empty hills and wide horizons. I lived in Shetland for nearly ten years before moving to Cornwall, but I still go to the far North most years in the summer.

This week, I read a fascinating post by Abi Burlingham about her relationship with trees and woodland http://abiburlingham.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/21st-october/ It reminded me of my long-ago dream, and made me wonder if everyone is drawn so strongly to one kind of scenery, for pleasure, solace or inspiration.

Does every writer have a dream book?

An early version was called 'The pink jacket'
An early version of my dream book was called 'The Pink Jacket'

When I came to writing after my last child started school, I experienced a sense of homecoming, as if this was the thing I had been born to do.

My first goal was to be a jobbing writer, someone who could turn their hand to anything, and I found the ideal place to learn that in educational writing, because there the brand was the publisher rather than the author, which meant I was free to try my hand at lots of different kinds of writing, both fiction and non fiction.

The two or three years I spent writing full-time for various educational publishers felt like a brilliant apprenticeship, and I carried the things I had learnt there into the next stage of my writing career, moving back into the high street as a children’s self-help author.

My 8 children’s self-help books were a mix of stories, jokes, quizzes, activities and ideas. They have all received 5-star reviews and enthusiastic reader-feedback. However, I soon learnt that earning your living from non fiction was even harder than from fiction.

So I wrote two children’s fiction series, the 6-book ‘Car-mad Jack’ and my new series, ‘By Peony Pinker.’ I feel very lucky to have had such a long, happy and varied writing career.

But underneath it all, from way back before I was ever published, I’ve always known I wanted to write an adult book about dreams, and for a couple of months in every year, before the latest advance runs out, I have returned to this labour-of-love book, experimenting with it at different times as a novel, workbook, memoir and non-fiction.

This year, I decided to finally put everything else on hold, and actually commit to finishing my dream book. I am experiencing even more of a sense of homecoming than when I first began to write. Not only, ‘Writing is what I was born to do,’ but also, ‘This is the book I was born to write.’

I wonder, does every author have a dream book – the special one they feel they were born to write?

Guest spot: The dream that sparked the book

The dream behind ‘Buttercup Magic’ – by Abi Burlingham

Buttercup magic cover
‘A Mystery for Megan’ – the first book in the ‘Buttercup Magic’ series

I have had vivid dreams for as long as I remember, varying from dreams of flying to the truly horrid stick witch who crept out of the plughole. Some of these have sparked off ideas for stories, but generally speaking I hadn’t used them in my writing and they were quite often forgotten.

That is, until a few months ago, following a fascinating article I read in the Spring Mslexia, ‘Dreamwriting’ by Clare Jay, where Clare describes the process of being conscious in your dreams, controlling them, and using them to help your writing.

Fascinated with this idea, I decided to try being more aware in my next dream. The dream that followed was incredibly vivid. I was in a big old house, or rather, my consciousness was. My dream almost told me what was there. It told me there were mice who could tell the time – I could see these in the dream – and there was a black cat.

When I woke, I had the strongest sense of place. The setting and feelings that accompanied it were so incredibly vivid. Luckily, I keep a notebook and pen by the bed, so I quickly wrote down these ideas.

Shortly after, I started to write the book ‘Buttercup Magic’ – under the working title ‘Buttercup House’, featuring mice who could tell the time (all called Whiskers) and  black cat called Dorothy. But I knew that a dog should be in the book too, so I wrote in Buttercup, a big golden retriever.

‘Buttercup Magic’ is now to become a series, the first of which, ‘An adventure for Megan’, is due out in Spring 2012. Without the dream, and without that very important article, I have no doubt that this book wouldn’t have been written.

www.abiburlingham.talktalk.net

http://www.abiburlingham.talktalk.net/Blog.html

Daily pages vs dreams

A few of my lovely dream diaries
A few of my lovely dream diaries

One of my favourite books about writing is Dorothea Brande’s ‘Becoming a writer.’ It was published in the 1930’s and is still in print, which attests to just how good it is.

Brande says we should treat our writer self as two people, the creative, playful child and the business-like, grown-up critic. We should develop and nurture both sides of our writer self, and teach them to work in harmony.

She refers to the creative side as the unconscious, and suggests one way of opening to it through the practice of daily pages, an idea which later formed the core of another writing bestseller, ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron.

The concept of daily pages is that you write stream-of-consciousness for twenty minutes a day, ideally first thing in the morning before the concerns of the day have a chance to intrude. You keep the pen moving on the paper, even if all you can think of is along the lines of, ‘I don’t want to do this, I can’t think of anything to say, it’s a bit rainy outside…’

One effect of this is to help you let go of the idea you have to wait for inspiration before you can write anything – you can write your way in. Another is that you learn to allow unconscious products to emerge when the mind is relaxed and receptive.

Many of my writing friends have found writing daily pages really useful, but it didn’t really do anything for me. It occurred to me that the reason why was because I already wrote first thing in the morning, recording my dreams, and rather than my conscious mind idling and allowing random stuff to come up, I had been fully immersed in this amazing inner world. So, unlike daily pages, my dream diary was full of interesting incidents and images.

Check out my ‘Tips’ page for information about how to start recalling and recording your dreams

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