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Archive for June, 2009

Well, having finally almost caught up with myself (I can see my bum wobbling away in the distance, just need to sprint for a little while longer) I thought I might burble briefly about three jolly fine books.

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

Good grief, this book is amazing. It’s the one I chose to break my ‘fiction fast’, and if anything was going to persuade me that quitting reading fiction (just because I ought to be reading Stuff What Is Good For Me and not escaping into Other Stuff) was a bad idea, this was the book to do it.

Matthew Swift was killed two years ago. Now, he emerges from the telephone line, naked and confused. It just so happens he is a sorcerer, living in a London riddled with magic that can be used by those with the power and the knowledge. And as he tries to pick up the pieces of his old life and come to terms with his survival, he discovers that there are evil forces at work that he must fight. This is a fast-paced story, full of action and ideas and strange beings. I needed to keep my wits about me and read slowly to make sure every sentence sunk in, but it was more than worth the effort.

Kate Griffin has written several young adult fantasy novels (as Catherine Webb), and I think this is evident in the exuberance of her language. For example, I loved this line:

… the “Cave of Wonders, Mysteries and Miracles”, advertised by a small wooden sign swinging above an open door through which the overwhelming smell of cheap incense and musty carpets hit the nose like it wanted a pillow fight.

The scattering of frivolous similes and metaphors like these doesn’t detract from the atmosphere at all. The themes of the novel are very dark – betrayal, evil, selfish desires – and the violence level is quite graphic. For me, the occasional giggle served to highlight Swift’s struggle to deal with the horrors besetting him and still remain human (or nearly human).

Interestingly the reviews on Amazon aren’t great. And to some extent I agree with some of the comments – the ending is predictable, there are ideas that might be considered derivative… but I think Griffin’s wonderful writing style and the helter-skelter nature of the plot more than make up for these drawbacks. She made me think, which is all too rare these days (read that how you will!).

The text is very dense, it’s not a quick read. That is a Good Thing, it means you can stay in Swift’s world for days. I’m only sorry to have reached the end of the book… but… hallelujah… a sequel is due out later this year!

Rollback by Robert J Sawyer

I listened to this in the car – unabridged, of course. Sawyer’s style is perfect entertainment for drivers. He unfolds the story slowly, almost too slowly at some points, and lets you digest what you’re hearing before moving on to the next plot point.

The story itself is fascinating. A radio message was received from Sigma Draconis nearly 40 years before the start, this was deciphered by Sarah Halifax, a response was sent, and a second message from the Dracons has just been received. Sarah is now 87 years old, so when a rich entrepreneur offers to fund prohibitively expensive ‘rollback’ (rejuvenation) treatment so she can continue to converse with her Draconian penpals, she accepts on condition that her husband Don receives the treatment too. Unfortunately, the rollback procedure is still experimental, and it only works for Don, not for Sarah. The central theme of the novel is the effect on Don of this seeming disaster, but interwoven around that we learn about the Dracon messages.

Although the psychological implications of rollback are interesting, I did find myself getting frustrated with Don. Thinking back, I suspect I found it hard to identify with him because significant chunks of the story involved Don ruminating on how hard done by he was. Poor bloke wasn’t able to claim senior citizen discount on public transport any more… Still, for the most part I enjoyed thinking through the implications of being in such a situation.

More interesting were the philosophical discussions between Sarah and Don – basically she’s a brainbox and he’s clever but not quite that good, so she has to explain stuff to him. This is the sort of trick my writing teachers would have a fit about if I did it, but somehow Sawyer manages to pull it off. Rather than coming across as a lecture to the reader thinly disguised as a piece of dialogue, it sounded to me like a genuine discussion between two intelligent people with different sets of knowledge and different views, one that I could almost join in.

I would have been more taken with the book if I’d been able to care about Don, and also I was disappointed not to find out a bit more about the Dracons. That’s just me though. Amazon reviewers liked this book a lot. I would say yes, read it, but don’t expect it to be truly brilliant. I’ve read other books by Sawyer that I like better, for example Calculating God (which is reviewed less favourably on Amazon!).

I wonder if it made a difference that I listened to the book rather than reading it.

Dragon Slippers: This is What an Abusive Relationship Looks Like by Rosalind B Penfold

This is a graphic novel telling the story of a woman’s experience of domestic abuse. One of my teachers recommended it, so I flicked through it in Page 45, but decided it wasn’t for me, I normally avoid the ‘Tragic Life Stories’ sections of bookshops like the latest pandemic, and on a cursory reading this book seemed to belong there. However, the teacher brought it in to class last night, so I grudgingly agreed to borrow it. And discovered it’s actually rather good!

The story is very simply told, using rudimentary artwork. Despite this (probably because of it actually) the book clearly shows the stark horror of the situation and the frightening ease with which it develops. Thankfully it also shows how she escaped from her abuser – I don’t think I could have coped with that not being resolved. And it captures the heartbreak of having to leave his children behind, who she has come to love dearly, and suspects are also being abused in one way or another.

The simplicity of the format brilliantly underlines the ease with which women (and men) can get sucked into destructive relationships and be manipulated into contributing to their own subjugation. Why doesn’t she just leave him? Well, it’s not as simple as that… but in the end it has to be…

I don’t know enough about the subject of domestic abuse to be able to say whether this book is a true reflection of the way it works, but at the same time, having read it, I feel like I know a lot more about it.

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It was the last lesson on my introductory editing course today. More reinforcement of my incompetence – we covered hanging sentences (also called dangling modifiers, at which we all giggled childishly). This is the idea that as a rule, sentences should increase in dramatic power and end on a high note, and only reined in by the full stop. So, for example, I might rewrite:

He said he loved her, then touched her cheek.

like this:

He touched her cheek, then said he loved her.

or even:

He touched her cheek, then said, ‘I love you.’

These obviously increase in power. But then you look at:

He said he loved her, then winked at his friends.

which doesn’t need any mucking about with.

Now, this all makes sense to me. But give me a piece of text (mine or someone else’s) and I just can’t pick this sort of thing out. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will…

Get to the point, Pip

Sorry, got a bit side-tracked.

We had a discussion in class about when to edit, so I started thinking about the different aspects of editing and when’s the best time to do each. These are my thoughts so far.

Before you start writing

You need to know the basic story. I think you need a reasonable handle on at least two of the four central elements of the Grand Unified Theory: theme, characters, situation, journey. If you’ve got it all straight, so much the better, but if not it will emerge as you write your first draft.

How does this relate to editing? Well, if you come up with the seeds for a story and you decide it isn’t worth starting to write it, or you want to think it over some more, you’re editing.

While you’re writing the first draft

At this point it’s most important to get the words out as quickly as possible so you can see what shape the piece is taking and firm up your central elements in your own mind. You’ll come to understand the story (i.e. the whole world of the piece), and the boundaries of the plot (the part of the story the piece tells) will become clear.

I know people differ in their ability to splurge words onto the page without ongoing editing, but the secret is to do as little editing as is possible for you. Get to the end of the first draft as soon as you can.

After completing the first draft

This is where you need to check back that your four elements of theme, characters, situation and journey are represented as effectively as possible.

Are the scenes and/or paragraphs in the right order? Are some of them extraneous, or could you do with adding some? A couple of well-known maxims are to cut the first paragraph (chapter) or two from a short story (novel); and to identify the most powerful sentence in the piece and move it to the beginning. You can also get quite radical in moving chunks of text around to see what works best.

Other things to look at are variety of pace, checking the voice(s) and tense(s) used are consistent and/or appropriate throughout, and verifying your narrative distance (which person are you writing in? are you writing from an omniscient point of view?). Browne and King (reviewed in yesterday’s post) cover this sort of thing very well.

Once the overall structure is right

Now you start the donkey work. You need to go through the whole piece in detail, sentence by sentence, word by word, and make sure every single part of it is as powerful and effective as you can make it. Again, Browne and King will help.

Make sure you’re showing rather than telling. Use concrete objects or actions rather than abstract concepts. Put in enough detail to allow the reader to feel connected to the story. Make sure dialogue is believable and essential to the plot or character development. Check for clumsy syntax, repetition, hanging sentences, repetition, ambiguity, repetition…

Once the overall syntax is right

This is when you run the spell checker and grammar checker (if you like such things – personally I loathe them), do a detailed proof-reading and get other people to do the same, make sure you’re happy with the layout, check punctuation… My good friend Steph calls this ‘Lynne Trussing’.

Now is a good time to get someone to read the piece aloud to you. Does it sound right? Did they stumble over any phrasing or words? What do they think of the piece?

Then put it away

Take the piece and put it in solitary confinement for at least a few days. It’s best if you do this at regular points during the process, but it’s vitally important to do it now. Coming back to it with a fresh mind will enable you to spot problems you were too close to see before. Then read it through and see what you think. Hopefully you’ll be astounded by your brilliance.

Afterthought

I had a really profound summation lurking in my head… but it seems to have emerged via my ridiculously snotty nose (hay fever, or something) and is now encased in a sodden tissue in my overflowing waste bin. Sorry about that! Maybe tomorrow… got to go to class now.

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I had a bad morning. It’s a long story, so I won’t bore you with it… it involves a slow puncture, bald tyres, a quick visit to the garage that ended up taking 4.5 hours, and another £700 worth of work that really needs doing except I can’t afford it.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

All that sitting around did give me the opportunity to finish reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This is a fantastic book. It’s full of examples and explanations, and although the material is quite dense the authors describe their techniques in an accessible way.

Chapter headings are:

  1. Show and Tell
  2. Characterization and Exposition
  3. Point of View
  4. Proportion
  5. Dialogue Mechanics
  6. See How it Sounds
  7. Interior Monologue
  8. Easy Beats
  9. Breaking Up is Easy to Do
  10. Once is Usually Enough
  11. Sophistication
  12. Voice

Each chapter has a checklist and exercises at the end, and their suggested answers are provided at the back of the book (with perhaps too little explanation).

I loved the book. I really understood (in the sense of grokked, which according to Wikipedia was coined by Heinlein, although I thought it was Delaney) possibly 25% of what the authors were saying. The rest of it appeared like the winning tape in a very long race – blurry and far-distant, but something I will reach eventually after lots of hard work. This is a Good Thing, as I will be able to re-read the book many times and continue to learn from it. At the same time, I found it intensely frustrating to have to struggle so hard to follow why, for example:

Harley switched the walkie-talkie back on and slapped it to his ear. ‘What’s going on?’
He could hear Elwood yelling above the noise of the saws. ‘Mister, I can’t be responsible for your car, you leave it there. We got branches falling all over the place.’
‘Who’s there?’ Harley said. ‘Elwood, what’s going on?’

is better than:

‘What’s going on?’ Harley switched the walkie-talkie back on.
Elwood leaned back on the belt that held him high in the tree and yelled to Ford above the noise of the saws. ‘Mister, I can’t be responsible for your car, you leave it there. We got branches falling all over the place.’
‘Who’s there?’ Harley said over the walkie-talkie. ‘Elwood, what’s going on?’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t better. But at the moment the distinction is really hard for me to grasp. While I was reading, I had to constantly remind myself that the authors have many decades of editing experience between them, and I can’t be expected to get it immediately. I have a feeling I’ll do the exercises and refer to the checklists many times over the coming years.

I was actually quite chuffed to find a couple of mistakes (at least, I think they’re mistakes) in the checklists…

Name before the noun (‘Renni said’) rather than the other way around (‘said Renni’).

That’d be name before the verb, surely?

Are you using interior monologue to show things that should be told?’

I’m not entirely sure about this one, but I reckon it should be the other way round (given their questions generally ask whether you’re doing things you shouldn’t be doing).

All in all, potential mistakes aside (they probably left those in as an exercise for the reader anyway), I would highly recommend this book to anyone who’s serious about polishing their writing to its gleaming best. And yes, unless you are also an editor with years of experience it will make you feel inferior and useless, but that’s just tough. Suffering is good for the soul, you know.

My name is Pippa, and I am consciously incompetent

<pause for round of applause from other twelve-steppers*>

The absolute worst stage of the four stages of competence model is the second – conscious incompetence. I hate being here. I’ve emerged from my blissful ignorance of how much my writing needs to improve to the sure and certain** knowledge that I’m not very good and I need to work very hard to get better. I am definitely not a ‘starter-completer’ personality type, more a ‘drifting-around-waiting-to-see-what-happens’ type.

*I feel a blog post that enumerates 12 steps coming on…

**I’ve always wondered about ‘sure and certain hope of the resurrection’ – how can it be sure and certain if it’s a hope? Poor editing of the Book of Common Prayer***, methinks.

***Or whatever work of fiction it appears in.

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If I said the words ‘Social Networking’ (with or without the capitals, I’m not fussy), what would your reaction be? I’m guessing one of the following:

  • Internet? what’s that?
  • It’s something young people do, not really my thing.
  • I tried it once, didn’t see the point.
  • I’ve got a Facebook page, but I don’t have any friends.
  • It’s good fun, I keep in touch with a few friends and family, maybe log in once or twice a week.
  • I write five blogs, tweet from my mobile phone, check Myspace and Facebook hourly, and got my last 3 jobs through LinkedIn.

Or maybe not. There seem to be as many different ways of using the internet as there are people with email addresses.

How I use Social Networking
I’ve been using email since the internet started, more or less. Since 1987, anyway. And I used to subscribe to and post on several Usenet groups (very much old hat by today’s standards. anyone remember alt.fan.pratchett? or rec.arts.books.sf?).

As far as Social Networking (with the capitals) goes, I’m very much a newcomer. I’ve had a few brief flirtations with blogging over the years, mostly coming to nothing (unlike the current attempt, which is likely to run and run, sorry folks!). I started up a Facebook page a couple of years ago, then deactivated it when lots of people I never want to see again found me and asked if they could be my friends.

Then Mitch Benn sang a song on The Now Show about Twitter, asking people to follow him so he could catch up with Stephen Fry. So I gave that a go (@battypip if you’re interested), and now I follow 56 people and have 25 followers (most of whom I don’t actually know). I don’t use it as it was intended though, I mainly follow people who post interesting links, and use my favourites as a collection of Things I Might Want To Look At Again (blog posts, videos, photo collections, etc). I very rarely post anything myself – I don’t think my life is interesting enough to inflict on other people.

Writing this blog has been an exercise in self-discipline, trying out my ideas, hoping to get myself noticed, and building up a respectable-looking archive of potentially useful bits and bobs. It has also led me to search out other people’s blogs, which I now feed through Google Reader and spend rather too much time reading each day (but I call it research so it’s OK).

And recently someone’s badgered me into trying Facebook again, so I’ve set up a new profile and have spent a few hours playing. I’m still not quite sure what the point of it is.

Blessings

Email has been a real blessing over the years. It’s enabled me to stay in touch with so many people. And it’s such a wonderful form of communication – it doesn’t interrupt the recipient, it just sits there and coughs politely every now and then to let them know it’s there.

This blog has been brilliant. It forces me to put my thoughts in order, and has led to some real epiphanies to boost my fledgling writing abilities. I’m hoping it’ll be interesting to other people too, but even if not it’s worthwhile.

Reading other blogs has been even better. Jane Smith’s pitch party has brightened up my Sunday no end (although I haven’t got ANY writing done as I’m so busy reading and commenting on other people’s blogs). Vulpes Libris are sending me a free book ‘cos I won a prize draw by commenting on a review of said book. And so many people are writing such amazing stuff, I could easily spend all day every day with Google Reader on the screen and do nothing else. I must update my blogroll… following other people’s links has led to some real gems.

And although Twitter hasn’t increased my social network any, it’s pointed me towards some wonderful websites, such as Oddee.com which has plenty of inspiration for anyone with writer’s block, and BibliOdyssey – an amazing collection of scanned in images from historical book and manuscript collections. And many many more.

Blights

For someone as easily distractible as me, all this Fun Stuff To Do is a total nightmare. I went out in the rain this morning to get the shopping done as soon as Sainsbury’s opened, then did all my chores and settled down for a full day of writing. Guess how much I’ve done? Well, I didn’t know there was going to be a party…

So what next?

What I want to be able to do is link everything together in one place. It would be excellent if I could keep all my links to interesting things in one place (instead of Twitter favourites, Guardian clippings, Google Reader starred items, and various other places), have all my emails come into that place and be pre-sorted for me to deal with, and all the RSS feeds I subscribe to there as well.

It must be possible… but I’m too busy reading blogs and following links from tweets and answering emails to set it all up!

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New folder…

I’ve just created a new folder in the writing area of My Documents – specifically for writing exercises. It will contain snippets of work I produce from prompts or exercises given to us in class, which can’t really be called stories in their own right, but are likely to get lost if I leave them in my notes (I use Microsoft Office OneNote, which is beautiful in its simplicity and flexibility but not the easiest of things to flick through idly when looking for ideas).

I keep trying to maintain a One True paper notebook to record all my ideas and thoughts, but I can never find enough discipline to carry it with me at all times. Chances are fairly good, however, that I will have a laptop with me… so my One True Notebook is really a combination of OneNote, My Documents, my email folders, and my Twitter favourites. I guess this blog is now also part of it all (although I intend to copy the posts down to my OneNote notebook at some point…).

But that’s beside the point of today’s post.

Guess the Object

We were given an exercise the other week to describe an object as if it were a person. I’ve been putting it off for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t think I could do it. Secondly, one of the other students sent a brilliant piece round and then I knew I couldn’t do it…

… so I slapped myself soundly, and gave it a go. See how quickly you guess what the object was.

The Thin Man
I’ve never seen such a tall thin man. He has a wardrobe and a figure any Goth would starve himself to death for. His black overcoat is strangely cut, its diagonal creases cling tightly to his skeletal frame. The way he’s standing, quite still, legs and arms drawn into the ramrod-straight line of his body, makes it almost impossible to confirm the presence of limbs. The belt of the coat is fastened with a single button, drawn tight around his chest rather than his waist. The fabric of his coat swells out, giving the impression that his hips start to flare at about the level of his lower ribs. It’s a curiously pleasing shape, slightly feminine in its curves.
Looking down, I see he is standing on tiptoe. His silver shoes, brightly reflecting the lights from nearby shop windows, are clamped tightly together, designed to fit into one another seamlessly so it looks as if their wearer has only one foot. Rainwater streams down from his overcoat, running in tiny waterfalls over the scratched shine, creating a puddle around his toes. Perhaps there is a hole in one of his heels, and he is trying to avoid getting his feet too wet.
His face is devoid of expression. His features seem to have retreated into his tanned skin, which is the colour of deep rich oak. Reflections glint here too, as if several layers of varnish have been applied.
The crowning glory of the whole ensemble is the man’s hair, which is as burnished and wooden in appearance as his face. It’s impossible to discern individual hairs. He must have spent hours coaxing it into this shape. It’s long, but I can’t tell how long because it soars upwards and then curls back down in a perfect arc in front of him. It is amazingly thick, lacquered into a cylinder equal in circumference to his head.
Overall, he appears to be a man poised for action. I suspect that if something were to threaten the people he was assigned to protect, he would unfurl his overcoat and stretch his arms wide, ready to do his duty.

So, what do you think? It was quick and fun to write, and something I may well repeat as a get-myself-going exercise.

Newcomer to the blog

I’ve added a section to the right which lists the books I’m reading at the moment. The theory is, when I’ve finished them I’ll add them to a list on a new page I’m going to create, and add a brief review. If I forget to do this, please nag me…

Facebook

I’ve signed up for Facebook – not sure how to point you at me, but if you search for Pippa Hennessy I’m the one NOT wearing a red hat (who’d have thought there was another one in the world?) – please be my friend 🙂 – or at least point me towards any groups worth joining or whatever one is supposed to do (god, I feel old).

Hey, have just found this (bloody irritating and bug-ridden) gizmo – click it to find me:

Pippa Hennessy’s Profile
Pippa Hennessy's Facebook Profile

w00t! (I believe that’s the correct expression…)

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The Orange Prize

The winner of the 2009 Orange Prize was announced on Wednesday. This normally wouldn’t impinge on my consciousness – I have a horrible reverse snobbery about things like that. However, for reasons too complicated to go into, I spent the evening at an Orange Prize event at West Bridgford Library.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t read any of the books. I wasn’t the only one, and most people there had only read one or two. The format was: someone read the first couple of pages of each book, we discussed the books (getting feedback from anyone who’d read them), and then we all voted for the one we liked best. We were also given synopses and reviews of all the books to read.

The evening was absolutely fascinating. It’s not often you get to hear what a cross-section of people like and dislike about a set of books, and opinions certainly differed widely. A few people loved the lyricism of the winning book (Home by Marilynne Robinson), most of us found it a bit over the top, and I have to say it didn’t grab me at all. But then I don’t go for overly flowery writing anyway.

The most popular in West Bridgford by far was Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. I think if I was judging on the extracts alone that would have been my favourite too, I loved her style and use of language to evoke emotions. However, the synopsis really put me off – it just seems too loaded with misery. Maybe I’m doing it a disservice… but I hate books with sad endings.

Very few people liked The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey. There was general agreement that the main character isn’t very likeable, and even readers who said it had given them an insight into what it was like to have Alzheimer’s hadn’t particularly enjoyed reading the book. It certainly isn’t something I’d consider reading, the style and subject matter have no appeal for me whatsoever.

Only two people voted for The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt. From the comments made during the discussion, I suspect this was more through apathy than active dislike. Plenty of people said they would read it, I guess there must have been other books they liked the sound of more. I think I fell into this camp – I loved the metaphors (blades of sunlight cutting through gaps in the curtain) and the style, but found the extract too descriptive for my liking.

Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden was intriguing. I very much liked the sound of the plot, apart from anything else it seems to be more cheery than the others! However, I found the style of language to be slightly too stilted (although refreshingly plain in comparison to the floweriness of a couple of the others). I don’t know if that’s purely because it was being read out loud – I shall have to get hold of a copy and see how it reads in my head, because I have to say the story piqued my curiosity.

My favourite, and a book I shall probably get round to reading at some point, was Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman. Once I’ve got over the ‘…boro’ horribleness, that is. The dialect gave the reader a few problems, but I don’t think it got in the way of understanding the story. It certainly grabbed me and made me want to know what happened next, which wasn’t true for most of the other books. And although it’s based on real events, I don’t know what happened, so that wouldn’t spoil it for me!

Anyway… it was a fascinating evening. I’d strongly recommend getting involved in something like that if you ever get the opportunity. The only change to the format I might suggest is to have extracts from the middle of each book rather than (or possibly as well as) the beginning – this often gives a better idea of the style. But then you have to worry about how to select the extract, and it all gets complicated.

Now I’m going back to my sick bed – I’ve got through half a box of tissues since starting this post. Sniff sneeze.

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Only in Dreams

The strangest things happen to me in the bath…

I read Raymond Carver’ short story, ‘The Student’s Wife’, last night while in the bath. Although I wasn’t as struck with it as I have been with some of his other stories, one aspect of it hit me between the eyes and nearly knocked me out. Which could have been unfortunate, given where I was.

Anyway… what grabbed me was the passage where one of the characters tells the other about a dream she had. It was nothing unusual (apart from being superbly written, of course), pretty much the same as anyone telling someone else the weird and wonderful sequence of events that played across their mental screen while they slept. The difference was, it was written down and I was reading it. Which, as it turned out, was huge.

There was a reason I noticed this. At one point, Carver writes about dreams being in colour. I’ve never been sure whether I dream in colour or black and white. I put the book down and lay there semi-submerged, trying to visualise one of my recent dreams. And guess what, I couldn’t. Not even to the extent of being able to recall images or feelings or sounds, let alone whether colour made an appearance. I thought back to a few dreams (mostly nightmares) that have stuck with me over the years, and although a few fleeting sensory snippets were lurking in my memory, they’re nothing like enough to explain the rich story landscape I inhabit at night and that I can often recall in quite a large amount of detail.

Then I thought about it some more, and realised that I remember my dreams as though they’re a (somewhat weird) short story I’ve read on the inside of my eyelids during REM sleep. There may be the occasional photograph to illustrate the stories, but otherwise they’re words. Just words. This has raised so many questions in my mind, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since.

Questions, questions…

Many factors have contributed to my voracious reading habits. Until I was 14, we didn’t have a TV. My parents taught me to read before I went to school. And I’m not very good at being with people. So the solitary pursuit of curling up with a book has been part of my life as long as I can remember. Now, if I’d grown up with a more predominantly visual entertainment medium, would my dreams be more pictorial? How can I ever know?

I believe dreams are simply the brain interpreting random electrical signals to make some kind of sense of them – our grey matter doing its job, in other words. Does everyone interpret those signals in the same fashion? I use mostly words. I’m guessing there are people who use mostly pictures, or sounds, or maybe even smells. Does Gordon Ramsay dream in odours and tastes?

If dreams are the attempt of the brain to connect discrete scenes into something consistent, which I think is quite likely, would it follow that the few photographs I get to illustrate my dream stories are the triggers for the words my brain comes up with to connect them? Which came first, the pictures or the words? Or did they both come at once?

When I read, I don’t tend to create a mental visual image of the scenes I’m reading about. I had no idea what Harry Potter looked like until I saw the film. Long descriptive passages whizz straight out of my ears without touching my brain. I’ve found I even read graphic novels without retaining much impression of the art (which is a real shame). Despite this, I do feel as though I’m actually physically present in the story as I read. Is this related to the way I dream?

Come to that, do I dream using my senses and then convert those images etc to words to record them in my memory? Is it my memory itself that’s working strangely? Is it strange, or is it normal?

I have a very poor memory for faces. Is this related to all the above?

I think this one is going to stay with me for a long long time…

Oh, and I do dream in colour, sort of. One of the images from last night’s dream was a road map, and some of the roads were definitely printed in red.

In other news…

Thoughts on the GUT are rattling around inside my skull desperately looking for a way to communicate with the outside world. As soon as I’ve whipped them into some sort of order I shall let them loose.

The experiment is over. Well, severely compromised anyway. I started reading A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin last night – not an epic fantasy series, but a standalone fantasy novel. What can I say, I just needed some sleep, and I’d worked so hard on my radio script all day I thought I deserved a reward… and so far I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

It was my Writing for Radio class last night – I’d been really struggling with my radio play and had ended up having to write the whole thing over the weekend (rather than just the opening and climax scenes, as required for the portfolio). Both of my initial scenes had changed dramatically since being commented on by the teacher and the class. Next week we have professional actors coming in to read a scene for each of us, which will be recorded and we’ll all get copies, which will be excellent. Yesterday we split into groups and took turns being ‘actors’ for each other, and giving feedback and comments to help polish the scripts. I was terrified, as I’d completely lost confidence in my ability to come up with a decent script. However, it was fantastic hearing my words spoken/acted by other people, and although the scene isn’t perfect yet it will be much better after the next rewrite. I can’t wait till next week…

I got my mark for one of last term’s courses in the post this morning – Reading for Writing – not too bad at all. I’m quite pleased with that as it took a while to really get the hang of the point of the course, but it obviously sank in eventually.

And finally, best of all, I also had a letter confirming I’ve got a place on the intensive poetry workshop at the university! I’m so chuffed about that, you can’t imagine… it’s going to be brilliant, spending two weeks immersed in poetry… I had to submit six poems and a statement of interest, and they still accepted me… w00t!

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