The first time I offered my ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ workshop series I was slightly concerned that several of the people who signed up were therapists who had worked in an interpretative way with clients’ dreams in their professional life.
I wasn’t sure how they would feel about coming at dreams from a completely new angle, as pure imaginative substance, so you can imagine how relieved I was when, at the end of the first session, one of them told me, ‘I feel excited about looking at my dreams is a different way.’
Dreams can be an invaluable source of insight into waking life, but if you only focus on that you can miss the greater opportunity they offer, to enter and engage with the dreamworld on its own terms and experience it as a completely different kind of reality.
In order to do this, in workshops, we share dreams as simply things we have experienced, and don’t try to interpret them any more than we would try to interpret the events of waking life. It’s a discipline, because in Western culture we are so centred in the material life and our first instinct is to try to analyse and make sense of things. A train going into a tunnel? We know what that means!
But what if it’s just a train going into a tunnel? Then the experience of dreaming is fundamentally changed. Dream-working in this way gradually expands the mind to inhabit wider realities, instead of just shedding light into some of the corners of this one.
When I’m mixing dreaming with writing in workshops, we begin by sharing a dream; we take material from the dream to spark a piece of creative writing, and then we share the writing. The dream-sharing and the writing-sharing feel exactly the same, as in neither case do we try to analyse any connection between the dreamer/writer’s personal life and the stories they bring.
There is a connection, of course. A writer shows the tones and colours of their own personality, experience and ways of being in the world in all their writing, but as with dreams, if we try to extrapolate more than that, we are likely to make mistakes based upon our own experiences and assumptions.
Writing and dreams are creative processes, and that’s both the value and the joy of them. They don’t literally tell our story; they don’t all refer to the narrow facts of our life. They can take us anywhere, if we are ready for the adventure.
I was delighted to discover this review by Susan Price on her ‘Nennius’ blog recently, because she totally gets what I was trying to do in the book that relates to the workshops, Writing in the House of Dreams. Actually, she describes it better than I managed to myself and, with her permission, I’ve changed my amazon book description accordingly!
I loved Abi Burlingham’s post Diary of 2014 so I’m shamelessly nicking the idea for the House of Dreams.
At the turning of the New Year, I always look back and take stock of the old, as well as focusing my goals for the year to come. In day-to-day life, it can sometimes feel like work is the most important thing, but when I look back, I can clearly see it isn’t.
So here are my highlights of 2014.
I started the year with a new experiment – two Saturday workshops, ‘Writing the New Year In’ and ‘Under the Ice: Writing in the Chilly Heart of Winter.’ I always enjoy bringing people round my kitchen table to write, and eating together in the middle of a whole day’s writing turned out to be icing on the cake.
I met up with lots of writing friends at the Scattered Authors Conference in Peterborough. Peterborough’s a long way from Cornwall but the drive took me within a hop skip and a jump of Oxford, so I stopped off on the way home to spend the afternoon with my younger daughter.
We had the most delightful evening walk on Wittenham Clumps and supper in a riverside pub.
My birthday is in March, and I love my birthdays, however many I have. All my kids came down to Cornwall, plus their partners, and we had a really fun few days just messing around.
In April, I finally decided enough was enough with trying to get permissions for all the quotations I wanted to use in Writing in the House of Dreams, which was a great relief.
I substituted the ones I hadn’t been able to get permission for with some quotes from older books which were out of copyright. I will never write another book with lots of quotations – I’ve blogged about it here.
I joyfully embarked upon the actual publishing process, finding an editor and a designer for the covers and layouts.
A trip up to London to visit my sons was definitely the highlight of May, and while I was there I stayed one night with some great friends who years ago were my editors, and had lunch the next day with writing friend, Jennie Walters.
Time to shake out the tent for the first camping trip of the year! I met up with some friends down at the far end of Cornwall in Treen. The last time we camped together was a couple of years ago at Scourie, on the North West coast of Scotland.
Fabulous campsite, fabulous beaches, fabulous night at the Minack, just a short walk across Porthcurno beach from the site. I also felt comparatively efficient for a change, because they forgot their tent poles!
July started with the Scattered Authors’ retreat at Charney Manor in Oxfordshire and finished with a glorious couple of baking hot weeks in the tent on Coll and Tiree.
When I’m camping on my own, I find lots of people talk to me, so it can be surprisingly sociable.
On up from Coll and Tiree to Orkney to stay with my older daughter and her partner, before cramming ourselves and all our camping gear into her little car and taking the ferry to Shetland.
Baltasound in Unst, where we were camping, made the national papers for rainfall the first night we were there. But on the upside, we happened to be camping in the garden of a hostel with a warm kitchen and a big washing machine, so we had lots of tea and toast through the small hours with other campers who had also got flooded out.
I got the covers and edits for my next children’s book, The Binding and remembered how much easier it is being published when you’re not doing everything yourself!
My book launch! Three of my children made it, coming down from Orkney and London, and so did my ex husband, from Brighton. Our youngest had just started a new job and unfortunately couldn’t get any time off.
I was really grateful to have them there because launching my child-of-the-heart book into the world turned out to be really emotional.
Some very enjoyable promotional events for Writing in the House of Dreams, including a day in Totnes Library and an evening at View the Gallery, two of my favourite places, run by two of my favourite people.
Then there was a weekend at Daymer Bay with a dozen friends, which was brilliant, and a weekend of sacred and spiritual singing at Cullacott Manor with ace singing teacher Abbie Lathe, where we chanted by candle light for an hour or more between workshops. Magical.
Well, December’s all about Christmas, isn’t it? Family and friends. Looking back over my year I guess it’s pretty clear that those are, as they always have been, my most important things.
When I started this post, I was intending to tell you about the highs and lows of my working year, but you already know about that if you’ve been following my blog.
I’m not sorry I put so much time and effort into learning about self-publishing. I think it will free up and enable my writing from here on in, because I won’t have to be so tied to trying to please the market. I can be more adventurous.
But I feel very frustrated that I’ve only had a few months in the whole of the year when I was able to fully immerse myself in new writing.
I can’t wait to get back to it in 2015.
Thank you for visiting the House of Dreams this year. May 2015 bring you lots of happiness and new creative adventures.
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,
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?
A friend emailed me this week about a series of workshops I’m doing in March-April called ‘Writing your Life.’ She said, ‘I suppose some people might have had lots of exciting adventures they want to tell other people about. For me it’s more about my internal life…’
This reminded me of a dream I had just after the New Year, when I was planning my writing and other work projects for 2014. Specifically, I was thinking I should probably stop messing about with self-publishing my dream book before I actually started spending money on it, and concentrate on writing some proposals for books that might find a publisher and bring some money in.
In my dream, I was walking briskly along a tarmac path towards the station, in a stream of other people who were all wearing suits. I noticed the person in front of me was Deborah Meaden, the millionaire businesswoman from Dragon’s Den.
The path rose to the left over a long wide bridge, but I saw a little dirt track dipping away just before it, and made a diversion. Several people rushing by onto the bridge called me and told me I was going the wrong way and I would miss the train, but by then I could see that the path led down to a long sandy beach.
The sea was coming in and the space under the bridge was under water, but I could paddle along the very edge, and as I did so, I suddenly saw hundreds of brightly-coloured fish swimming around. Stopping to watch them, I noticed there were other creatures swimming in the shallow water too – little crocodiles and lizards, hippos and tiny elephants.
I stood there transfixed, overwhelmed by feelings of wonder and gratitude.
Everyone’s life is particularly lit up by different areas of experience. For me, like my friend, it’s the inner world that feels most exciting. In dreams and imagination I’ve been to wonderful places and seen amazing things, and those travels are as vivid in my memory as other people’s memories of travels in the outer world.
One of the memoirs I’ve found most gripping is Jung’s ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ and the memoir strand in my own ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ is very much the story of my dreaming, which is the great adventure of my life.
Inner or outer, the adventure’s the thing. Writing is a way of seeing, and understanding where the power that drives your life is, and the joy. I love that some people will bring ‘lots of exciting adventures’ they’ve had in the outer world to these workshops, and others the thoughts and imaginings that have lit up their life from within.
What would you write if you were writing your life?
I like to start every new year with a brand new piece of writing so every autumn I put together a short-list of ideas for my next book and then watch for synchronicities to help me decide which one to go with. This year, as usual, life has given me some prompts.
2013 got off to a cracking start for me when I tutored my first ever Arvon course on ‘Writing for Children.’ I had never previously taught children’s writing because it seemed to me that writing for children was pretty much the same as writing for adults – all the elements of fiction such as plot, settings and characters work in the same way, and whoever you’re writing for you have to target your particular reader.
But being asked to teach writing for children meant I had to really think about not only what is the same but also what is different, and teaching the course turned out to be pure pleasure. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote a new series of evening workshops on writing for children which I taught at the end of 2013.
At the first session, I dug out various books I thought people might like to read, including the very latest book on writing for children, by Linda Newbery and Yvonne Coppard.
Flicking through the back matter for more ideas, I discovered that Writing in the House of Dreams is included in the recommended writing blogs, the only one by an individual among half a dozen group blogs. That felt most affirming!
Then, at the last workshop session, one of the participants mentioned that she’d seen my children’s book, ‘How to be a Brilliant Writer’ in Maeve Binchy’s recommended reading list at the back of her book on writing.
One of the ideas I’d been mulling over for my next project was a book for adults about writing – just writing, not in relation to dreams. But although I’d wanted to do that for ages, it didn’t seem sensible because there were already so many books out there by writers about writing .
I always follow life’s promptings, however, so with a gleeful click of the heels I’ll be up, up and away writing an adult book about writing to go with my children’s one in the New Year. The various other projects I’ve been mulling over will have to wait until their time is ripe.
What new projects are you looking forward to in 2014? Have you felt prompted by life?
The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of phantasy which he takes very seriously — that is, which he invests with large amounts of emotion — while separating it sharply from reality ~ Sigmund Freud
Over the years, several people coming new to writing workshops have remarked that they feel like they’re in playschool, when they had been expecting something much more difficult and demanding. ‘It’s very enjoyable,’ they say, ‘but when are we going to get to the nitty gritty?’
The ability to be playful is the nitty gritty – it’s the key to creating the dreamlike fantasies of fiction, and it’s an ability that many of us lose as part of the natural process of growing up and engaging with the ‘real’ world.
Freud says we actually distance ourselves from the fantasies of our inner lives to the extent of feeling fearful and ashamed. The writer’s gift may be that in being able to sustain the playful attention and emotional attachment that children do to their dreams and fantasies, he or she provides an acceptable way for readers to indulge in the same activity vicariously.
And there’s more.
…our actual enjoyment of an imaginative work proceeds from a liberation of tensions in our minds. It may even be that not a little of this effect is due to the writer’s enabling us thenceforward to enjoy our own day-dreams without self-reproach or shame ~ Sigmund Freud
In overcoming their ‘grown-up’ rejection of the dreams and fantasies of their inner world, writers may also be giving a kind of permission for readers to explore and engage with their own.
One of the great things about teaching workshops is that you get to meet some very talented, interesting and likeable people. With the kind of workshops I do, such as ‘Writing the Tarot’ and ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’, most of the people who come also have a real sense of adventure.
Cue Paul Farrington, a keen traveller and talented young writer and photographer, who has done a number of courses with me now. At the last workshop before Christmas, Paul brought me a present, and here it is – a large print of a photo he took in America.
I’ve been contemplating this picture over the holidays – how we can see the outside in wonderful detail, but we can only imagine what lies inside that spacious interior. The dark windows reveal nothing; they only reflect back the world outside.
We are the House of Dreams – the outer life so clear and familiar, the inner world often caught only in glimpses, or sometimes completely ignored. Dream-recalling and creative work of every kind are keys to getting right inside, having a proper look around and making yourself at home.
That’s the great joy of writing for me. It enables you to inhabit more of your Self. Dreamworking does the same thing.
Thank-you for following, commenting, tweeting and sharing on facebook throughout 2012, and may your 2013 be rich with wonderful dreams and writing.
My guest in the House of Dreams this month is the author Alison Boyle, who attended one of my workshops a while ago. I love the idea of ‘writing in the space between sleeping and waking.’
In the space between sleeping and waking I found a way of expressing the internal voice of a main character in my latest book ‘from Pakistan to Preston’.
Most of the narrative is in the third person, and I’d been looking for a convincing internal voice for Tommy O’Reilly that exposed the indecisions whirring round his head. Tommy’s self-expressive flights, which I scribbled on scraps of paper at the moment they occurred to me and not a moment later, bring a change of tone and perspective to the story. Through this voice I hope that readers feel they understand – and feel – Tommy’s struggles in loving Sunehri Saleem.
The rest of the book is quite grounded, featuring the unusual work setting of an artificial silk factory in the North of England.
I found that the signposts in Jenny’s dream workshop allowed me to travel a little more confidently down some imaginative pathways I had only tentatively explored through my writing before. The biggest surprise was finding that her workshop didn’t activate a warning beep on my ‘Is this new age nonsense?’ monitor.
Last week, in the comments, Abi said she wished she could visit her dream house more often, and I suggested she might try incubating a dream.
Creative dreaming is all about ‘flying on the wings of intent,’ to borrow a phrase from Carlos Casteneda. Setting an intention is how we start to establish regular dream-recall, as I explain here https://jenalexanderbooks.wordpress.com/tips/
Once we have begun to experience regular recall, we can use intention in the same way, to incubate a dream on a particular topic. I sometimes do this with a group.
The first time I did it, I asked my workshop participants to intend to dream about a tree. Of the six people in that group, five reported tree dreams the following week.
Two people dreamt about saplings, and another about ‘baby trees.’ I dreamt about a tree-lined avenue. The fifth person, frustrated by a marked no-show of trees for the first few nights, wrote a poem about a tree to help set her intention, and then dreamt she was on a ranch in America, where she saw a single tree in the distance which looked like a child’s drawing of a tree.
This person thought, either in her dream or upon waking – she couldn’t tell which – ‘There was a tree!’ The same thing happened in my dream, where I thought, ‘Ooh… lots of trees!’
This is the waking ‘I’ being aware during the dream, and an interesting bonus of dream-incubation is that you’re likely to become lucid at the point where the dream meets the conscious expectation.
I incubate dreams to resolve plot problems and develop my writing ideas, as well as to gain insights into anything which might be bothering me in my everyday life.
If you want to try it, think about your dream intention at points throughout the day, affirming, ‘Tonight, I will dream about…’ Repeat your intention as you go to sleep.
You can reinforce your intention by writing it down, or drawing an image to represent it. Promise yourself that you will record any and every dream you recall when you wake up.
This last point is important. If you don’t automatically record everything, your conscious rational mind can click in too early and push your dreams away.
Besides, if you’ve asked for a dream, it would feel rude not to note down the answer. The dream will not co-operate if it thinks you’re just messing around.
As I was writing the introduction to Katherine Roberts’ guest post last week, I suddenly remembered that a workshop exercise I did with the Scattered Authors Society on another occasion had in fact previously appeared in a book*
I called that workshop ‘Busting through blocks,’ and it explored a basic collage technique I use a lot in my own writing practice. You can use it to create characters, examine relationships between your characters, develop settings, find titles, spark stories… pretty much anything.
Whatever the issue is, hold it in the back of your mind as you flick through some magazines. Don’t think about which images, colours, patterns, words you need, or how they will relate to your project; just tear out the ones that draw you, and trust they will be the right ones, the ones you need.
This works through synchronicity, like tarot or other divinatory practices; the outer world reflects what is going on in your inner world.
Limit the time you spend on tearing out pictures to 10 minutes max, because you don’t want to overthink it. The whole process should feel instinctual.
Now get a pritt stick and a piece of plain paper or card. Again, follow your instincts and don’t overthink it, as you put your collage together. Take 10 minutes max for this stage, too.
Sometimes, your collage will give you the inspiration you’re looking for straight away, but there will always be more, so put it somewhere you will see it, on your study wall, for example. Look at it often. It will gradually reveal more of itself, and its relationship with your writing project.