Sunday, 28 January 2018

But a dream - Clémentine Beauvais

Once again I found myself the other day in that situation where someone tells me they're writing a novel for which the idea came to them in a dream. Every single time, I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes so hard that I get little tingles in my optic nerve or something. A dream! What are you, the oracle of Delphi ? Who on Earth has ever published an interesting book from an idea that came to them in a dream?

(Apparently Stephenie Meyer did, for Twilight. Hmm.)

Maybe I get a bit annoyed out of petty jealousy, because, well, I hate to brag, but I've always considered myself to be a pretty good dreamer. I mean, everyone dreams, sure, but some of us are simply better at it than others. Yes, there are some elite dreamers out there, who rise above the mediocre norm, though our secret is generally hidden and, to be honest, worth relatively little as social capital or any other kind.

Many of us better dreamers are so partly because, of course, of strenuous practice. Not just of dreaming (the conditions of which I do enjoy very much and strive to adopt as often and for as long as possible) - but also of writing the dreams down, pinning them into place firmly for the purpose of meticulous study.

Thus when I was a teenager I dutifully noted down my dreams, and I even still do sometimes today, in my diary, when I find them intriguing.

some of those teenage notebooks
At the time I was an intensive, competitive dreamer - much more than today, for I had hormones and strong frustration against parental authority on my side, as well as a healthier diet of fantasy and science fiction.

I even kept close accounts of how many dreams I had per month, and looking back I can now tell you that no year rivalled the great annus mirabilis of 2006 (I was 17 years old):

Yeah, yeah, look at you with your novel you got the idea for in a dream! Did you have 59 dreams - fifty-nine dreams! - solely during the course of April 2006? Did you? Did you?

Clearly my philosophy was that if you're going to do something as important as this, you might as well do it seriously. The activity of noting down dreams was so time- and brainspace-consuming, and it was so important not to miss a dream (59 dreams, as the best calculators among you will have noticed, is almost 2 each night) that I got into the habit, whenever I woke up even slightly in the middle of the night, of scribbling down notes from the dream I'd just been having, so as to remember it in the morning.

The last page of each notebook was used for that purpose: the notebook would be left open all night, a pen at the ready, and in the morning I'd squint my eyes to decipher my night-time squiggles:

Yes, this page includes things such as 'Halle Berry', 'Queen of Wales', 'house with people who kill each other little by little', 'glue for organs', 'redhead', 'Pig and Pag', 'scout leader dead plane' and 'Nutella crêpe'.

So, with the help of those notes, I wrote down the dreams every morning, extensively, between 6.30 and 7, and also added elaborate drawings and maps in order to remember exactly what everything had looked like:

'View from the cliff', as the caption says, and I believe the girl on the left is me, alongside another 2 girls, waving goodbye to Father Christmas and his reindeer. In the background, horses are throwing themselves down another cliff.

Now that's vaguely interesting, because in one of my novels (Piglettes), there are indeed horses who jump off a cliff. Unfortunately, I don't think it's extremely meaningful, because I had literally hundreds of dreams so one such coincidence isn't statistically significant.

All that to say: why did you get the idea for your novel in a dream, when I, doubtlessly by far a superior dreamer - I'm sorry, you protest? May I see your dreambooks? where are your 4pm notes on your nightmare involving Halle Berry and Nutella crêpes? - when I, then, have never had a shred of a worthwhile idea for a short story, let alone a novel, in a dream?

OK; show me that idea. What? Really? A coherent one like that? With armies of well-behaved characters, dramatic irony very much in place and a narrative arc of Joseph-Campbellesque perfection? How is that possible, pray?

I'm not sure I understand. If I were to write a novel from a dream I'd had it would be probably quite inappropriate, and also boring, and probably bits of it would be considered slander, or at least an elaborate lie involving famous people, and if it was funny it would only be so to me and maybe six other people, and many parts would be sexually frustrating but not in a titillating way, more in an annoying way, and there would be very, very many toilets that don't work properly and trains that lead nowhere. Also many forgotten babies, whom I attempt in haste to gather into my arms as I flee from some danger.

There would be no plot. Sometimes I would try to kill people with a gun I'd found somehow lying around for instance on the office photocopier - but bullets, made of a kind of chewing-gum-like substance, would repeatedly pepper their cheeks and foreheads without even blistering the squishy surface.

The setting would be, at best, unpredictable. There would be very limited characterisation. Friends I know quite well, as well as vague acquaintances and random people I sometimes see at the bus stop, and also legions of made-up people, would try to kiss me, which would be most of the time perplexing and scary but sometimes also furiously enjoyable.

It wouldn't be a novel for children. 

Really? It came to you in a dream? Just how tidy is your dreamscape? How much do you comb your brains into perfect little plaits before going to bed?

The other day, then, I asked, as always, 'What, like - like that? In a dream - the full idea? Or just seeds of...?'

'No, pretty much everything.'

'But did you, like, rework it or something?'

The other person: 'No, it was pretty much all there.'

Who are they, those über-competent dreamers whose unconsciouses are impeccably aligned with the demands of the fiction industry? What kind of daemon team of Hollywood scriptwriters do they host in their temporal lobe?

Are you one of them? Have you ever had an idea for a novel that came to you in a dream? Tell us in the comments. And about your whole childhood, so I can see where mine (or yours) went wrong.

I promise to get only moderately irate. You might reappear in a dream of mine at some point, but don't worry too much. As mentioned earlier, my dream rifles are inefficient.

Clémentine Beauvais is a children's and young adult author in French and English, as well as a literary translator. Her latest YA novel, Piglettes, is out with Pushkin Press. 


Catherine Butler said...

I'm impressed by your youthful assiduity! I tried keeping a dream diary for a month once, as an experiment in the spirit of J. W. Dunne, but like you I never got a novel out of it. This is the closest I ever got: It's still on my to-do list.

Sue Purkiss said...

Love this!You're a truly heroic dreamer - or at least recorder of dreams.

Susan Price said...

I agree with you, Clementine. If I wrote a novel from my dreams it would include: meeting Mel Gibson in drag (he had adopted a rather tasteful beige twin-set and pearls, kitten-heeled look); returning to my car to find that it was teetering on top of a pile of other cars, as in a scrap-yard (but in a car-park in the dream), following Alexander the Great through some kind of underground cloister with lots of pillars, and scaling the wall of a hotel to get into my room -- doors and stairs apparently not existing in this world, since climbing the wall seemed quite normal.

I've woken up with the solution to a writing problem in my head -- like RLS, to name-drop -- but I've never had anything coherent come to me 'in a dream.'

Roadside Wheeler said...

Good evening!
I bet "the pray" enjoyed Castaneda's 'Art of Dreaming' .
Or is maybe recycling shards of hopes and lacks of touches .
Do not wish to anyone the premonitory dreams i had because they fulfilled.
I prescribe Mercier, Stevenson, Egan, van_Vogt for a good night sleep or Arkadi Strugatsky,Poul_Anderson and Gerard Klein if you fancy nightmares.

Penny Dolan said...

As I hardly ever dream, I've sometimes felt that I must be missing out as a writer, and that's been a regret. However, Clementine's illustrated post - and Cathy and Sue & Sue's comments - have reassured me that I am not missing too many great riches. Thank you!

I know there are some wonderful and avid dreamers out there, but I think being a prolific/good dreamer may be related to a person's body-temperature. I'm a "cold" person physically - the feet-like-blocks-of-ice and can't-have-too-many-jumpers type - so almost the only time I do dream is when I'm ill with flu or a cold. And then I feel too rotten to care or be inspired.

I did enjoy seeing your notes and sketches, Clementine.

Rowena House said...

I dream every night, vividly & in full colour. The full filmic experience. Only briefly tried to make sense of them, to discover they were mostly obvious & anxiety-related, and certainly of no literary value whatsoever. I did once die in a dream - blown up in a van outside my parent's house. So that's another myth exploded.