Monday, June 18, 2007

A new dream

This has been sitting scribbled on a piece of paper in my dressing gown for ages. The dream was set in the world of Sapphire & Steel, one of the TV shows I absolutely loved as a teenager.

In it, I was playing darts with a man, a cricketer, who was about to die...

Then he was dead. And we were left in a sort of morass of light... fields of corn glowing with a low golden light, rather sinister. We're trying to push through it all.

Steel said, "He's left all his questions behind. He knew what he was doing."

The man had escaped the usual route of death by managing to leave behind all his questions about it. But this was very dangerous for those left in life. His questions has become a sort of stultifying force that you had to try to push your way through, like dense corn...

It's been a while

...But the book to date has been through the presentation mill, and will hopefully appear in the London Design Festival this year. Meanwhile, I want very much to finish it. And I've realised another vital plot point. Death is a bit of a theme in the book, and I wanted some way to presage it before we get into the mortal danger to Danny's Mum.

I remember reading something Ramsey Campbell said about plot difficulties, which was that often, when he hit an impasse, he would go back through what he'd already written and there, suddenly, would be a clue to what should happen next. It's that very peculiar quality of fiction writing, that your subconscious always seems several steps ahead, and only when you re-read what you've written do you see how many connections and layers you've created without even realising.

In this case, I suddenly realised that I had the perfect way to bring death into the story without overwhelming the plot early on. In the early stuff I've written, I describe a painting on the wall given to Danny's parents by a friend from art school who stayed with them when his marriage broke down. This friend, Tony, has gone on to be a well-known artist, and the gifted painting is 'worth a bob or two', as Danny's dad says.

Tony is going to die. It seems so obvious once you realise it. Tony will die, and it will upset Danny's parents, getting Danny thinking about deathy and what it means. In dreamland, there is now a reasion for him to encounter death - the empty chair - and his own fear of it.

Sorry, Tony.

Friday, February 2, 2007

New dreams

Just a couple of snatches that I think might be useful. Last night I dreamt of a girl I used to work with many years ago, completely out of the blue. It's peculiar how people from long ago, who weren't even necessarily that important to your life, suddenly pop up in dreams. Perhaps that says something about how important they really were.

The same dream involved me driving a Mini Cooper, trying to follow someone else in another car. I made a number of ludicrously stupid moves and almost crashed the car. It reminded me that I often used to dream of driving before I could drive. I'd usually get into trouble somehow, and would at least be anxious and panicky about trying this task when I had no idea how to do it. It's like the classic 'exam you haven't studied for' dream.

Also, I recently dreamt about a pub in a dark, gloomy, almost Dickensian backwater of London. It's not a real pub, but I'm certain I've dreamt of it before. In fact, it also reminds me of a whole dream town that I occasionally find myself in, where there are three pubs including one that's so tiny it's little more than a flight of stairs with a wider base.

Anyway, the former pub is in a street so dingy and dark that it feels like there's a roof over the whole city. It's almost more of a tunnel than a street. Anyone who's been to Edinburgh's underground city will have a feel for what I mean. The dream itself wasn't gloomy – I seem to remember having a good time with friends in this pub. It was just a very grotty location. (Now I think of it, it also reminds me of the feel of David Lynch's Eraserhead.

In the book, I think it makes sense to reflect the recurring element of dreams - there will be locations Danny comes to more than once - but they won't always be in the same place.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Coma II

Bit of a breakthrough yesterday. I realised it's not Danny who is hit by the car and sent into a coma. It's his mother. She's the rather cool, cerebral one that he finds hard to get along with (more than his exuberant, physical Dad), but of course he loves her very much and this sends him into a spin.

It sends the whole family into a spin, especially as Geoff, his Dad, is pretty hopeless at running a home. Clara, the annoyingly practical elder sister, comes into her own and keeps the boat afloat. But it is Danny, who has discovered the Room of Strange Doorways, who must enter his mother's dream - her coma - and rescue her. Entering a coma is surely very dangerous. He could never come back.

Entering his mother's dreams requires a huge act of imagination and empathy. He has to think himself into her mind, put himself in her shoes. Only then will the door open and admit him. His mother is lost in there, deep in coma, swallowed by the dark. And he must get her out.

Dream 27/12/06

I was running full-tilt down a hill in the pitch dark with a friend. We ran smack into a low wooden house in the middle of the forest. A sort of woodsman's home, but very long, made up of one long series of rooms.

We went through the front door almost through sheer momentum, but once inside, the house proved so fascinating we had to explore. Although rustically built, it was packed with gleaming technology, as well as all sorts of arcane collections – I remember gramophones and old theatrical posters. It was like an exhibition. In one room, a sort of window showed my friend's face – I thought he was looking through it. The face spoke, and shouted, but then he appeared for real behind the face, and said it was this amazing device that could copy people.

Then the owner returned - we saw light down the corridor of rooms. He found us, but we explained that we'd stumbled over his house and found it too fascinating to resist. he was annoyed, but forgave us. He was around 35 or 40, and looked a bit like a country singer, with long hair and a short-cropped beard. He was somehow involved in technology for the PR industry.

Then we were all sitting around his table, a whole group of us, and he was talking about how one of us was destined for a great career. We assumed he meant in the marketing/PR world, or technology.

An arrogant man that I used to work with (in real life) stood up and held the umbrella over his head that was a sort of symbol of the chosen, or of the speaker to the group. This man said it was obviously him who would be the great success, given that this was his field.

No, said the owner of the house. He pointed to me. I hadn't said anything. But he said I was definitely destined for greatness - as a paleontologist. 'You've got it,' he said.

Then I was at my house, and had to go to the bank down the high street. I decided to make the journey interesting by going through all the buildings. I jumped into next door's front garden, but found myself surrounded by high, grey walls.

Luckily, there were also two strange black boxes, like big trunks, in the garden. I used one to vault over the wall. Then I found myself at the back of an old wooden building like a barn - one of the buildings on the high street. (But only in the dream.) I let myself in the back door into a large barn-like space. Green metal stairways and catwalks led all over. A staircase led down into a large empty pit in front of me, with a similar staircase the other side. It was all some sort of factory.

I passed a man with a clipboard, talking to someone else. He scowled suspiciously at me, then went back to his conversation. I got a bit lost in the factory, then found my way into the office building next door. I wandered about, up and down some staircases and through some double doors, and came into a room where the man from the house in the woods was holding some sort of meeting.

'You're nothing but trouble,' he told me. I grinned and carried on through the building.

Judi Dench, who was the boss of the company in the building, smiled and said cheerfully, 'Do any of you realise we have an intruder in the building?' She wasn't overly bothered, and nor was anyone else.

Through another set of doors I found myself in a huge, cavernous branch of Barclays. Through big plate-glass windows I could see out onto the high street. The journey seemed much quicker than it would have been walking along the street. I assumed it was because I'd made it much more interesting.

Dream: 23/12/06

It's very hard to capture that bizarre, real-but-not-real quality of dreams, so I thought it might be worth recording some of my actual dreams as a sort of reference. Here's the first I've written down:

I was involved in some sort of experiment, which was being run by a teacher apparently as something to do with school. (But not my school.) We were trying to discover the source of a ghost or supernatural emanation of some kind: a man in a blindfold.

We all had to gather in a sort of school hall or village hall, in a large circle of chairs. I knew some of the people there but not others.

I had a breakthrough: I found some old black-and-white film footage taken in WWII. It showed some grubby, urchin-like boys in the rubble of a bombed city, all gathered around a man in the centre of the frame. he may have been injured: he was wearing a bandage around his eyes like a blindfold. There was a rough star shape drawn (carved?) on his forehead – or it might even have been a flaw in the lens. As we were watching, the film closed in on this star, which suddenly burst with light, sending beams of bright light out from each of its 'arms'.

A homeless man arrived in the hall one night. He had nowhere to go. I was in a room off the main hall, which was visible through some windows. I said he could sit down in one of the chairs in the circle. I asked if he wanted something to eat.

'No thanks,' he said, 'We've got some sponge.' And I saw through the glass that his friend was already sitting in the circle, cutting up a sponge cake. He lifted it and grinned...

This is a good example of the way dreams can move between the almost mystical strangeness or frightening imagery into something like farce. It's a quality Alec and I have discussed for the book. You just have to be careful not to descend into complete whimsy, I think.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


I have an idea for a scene, or a sequence. Danny comes to face death. Whether because he's in a coma, or because death is otherwise a presence in the family, I'm not sure. But he is brought to the door of death: the threshold beyond which he will come face-to-face with this greatest terror of all.

Needless to say, he is terrified. The fear is a living thing, a black wing around him, a night without stars or moon. A great hollow sound, the roar of an unseen and unimaginable creature.

It takes all his courage to agree to cross the threshold. But he does it, inspired perhaps by a fear even greater: a fear for his family, his mother and/or father, perhaps a sibling.

In the scene I've imagined thus far, he passes through this terrible door and finds himself in an ordinary room. A clock ticks on the mantlepiece. A table is laid ready for tea, flanked by two or three dining chairs. (I imagine it a rather Victorian or Edwardian room, but I couldn't say why.) There is sunlight at the windows. There are bookshelves filled with books waiting to be read. There's a side table with a lamp, and a single wooden chair against the wall.

He stands, terrified, waiting for death to arrive. Surely at any moment some slavering thing will burst into the room, or a silent, black-cloaked wraith will materialise before him?

Nothing happens.

Nothing happens.

"Where is it?" he asks. "Where's death?"

"It's here," says his companion, or guide (still got to figure that one out!)

"No, it's not. I can't see it. Where is it?"

He is pointed towards the chair by the wall. A chair so ordinary and dull you wouldn't notice if it was there, or if it disappeared. Danny stares at it, trying to divine what terrible mysterious force might be held within it. Perhaps if one sits on it, death comes screaming up from the underworld to claim your soul?

No: it's just a chair. Part of the furniture. Ever-present, but utterly ordinary. So unremarkable, in fact, that it's almost laughable how people allow it to overcome so much of their lives. In the whole room, which offers so many other interesting items – books, food and drink, comfort – why on earth would anyone obsess about this small, unremarkable thing; this irrelevance?

It is not death that is terrible, but the fear of death. It's not the chair that matters, it's the room. Life is the point, not death. It's something human beings have got wrong for so long – even to the point of creating entire religions focused on death. Danny is lucky: he is shown how wrong this is early in life.