The children of an idle brain

A night of weird dreams. I know, I know – boring. No one likes hearing about other people’s dreams. But it was a night of weird dreams to round off a week that’s felt very out-of-time. I know by the dull ache of my jaw that I probably ground my teeth a lot. I suspect Ragnarok happened in my head, even if not out in the world.

A couple of weeks ago friends were visiting and halfway round the supermarket, getting food after I did my first poetry reading, I was struck by a very strong sense of déjà vu, and the clear pre-memory that shortly after we finished shopping the world went dark and ended. Very freaky feeling, and possibly brought on by huge amounts of adrenalin pumping through me at that point. Obviously the world didn’t end (we sort of planned our movements for the evening in case I turned out to be psychic, but eventually concluded the world going dark might have been just the supermarket lights turning off). As fun as it is to half-believe some sort of dream premonition idea, though, I am aware that last night’s strange head-world was rooted in some fairly basic every day stuff.

1-      My dad spending the bulk of the week in hospital after a small stroke. I think most of the community knows about this now, so I don’t think he’ll mind me mentioning it here. He’s fine now, recovered and back home after undergoing all the tests they could fling at him. Details aside, even when the person who’s in hospital is on the phone chattering away to you and clearly doing ok, that doesn’t stop a strong undercurrent of anxiety making itself right at home, and making you (me) something of a snappy bitch in every-day life because who CARES if that apostrophe is in the right place?! My dad is in hospital! I want to go home and see my dad! That’s not something you can actually say to a workmate though, because professionalism. Still, I couldn’t tell you precisely who said what to me in person this week, because fully three-quarters of my mind was off in the land of worry and family, and resentful of being brought to bear on matters right under my nose that I was actually supposed to be focusing on.

2-      Our upstairs neighbours locked themselves out last night. They got through the house door via me, but their flat door was a bit more difficult. There was amateur lock-picking, phone calls and, eventually, the foundation-shaking noise of them kicking in the door. ‘Snot like a film, people, where they fly open with one kick. It took a few goes and even though I knew exactly what was going on, I associate the kicking in noise with Bad Things (films again), and I think that got stuck in my head.

Goya's The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters illustrates last night's head space quite well. Except my birds and bats weren't metaphors for Spanish society, because I'm simply not that deep.

Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters illustrates last night’s head space quite well. Except my dreams weren’t metaphors for Spanish society.

3-      Last night was Word Factory #20, and I went back because I enjoyed #19 so much. Inadvertently (I believe) last night’s stories by Toby Litt, Alex Preston and Holly Dawson were all very dark, gruesome and unnerving. It was a spectacularly gothic evening. I’m trying not to fall into the clichéd ‘spine chilling!’ sort of description here, but that’s what they were and it was great. Again, I have to profess my love for storytelling here. Not just the writing, but the reading out. In the way that watching a film at the cinema with a good audience can enhance the experience, so, too, can hearing a story for the first time with a good audience. It’s very different from reading it alone. You listen intently in case you miss clues and cues, and can feel, rather than see, someone’s face twitch with sort of delighted disgust at particularly bloody moment in a tale. It all adds to it. I love reading as a lone activity, but I love being part of story-telling back in its original form as listening, not reading. ANYWAY, those stories obviously got into my head, because they re-emerged in my dreams last night.

4-      Wine. And watching too much Gossip Girl, where people are endlessly horrible to each other. If aliens ever debate whether humans deserve to survive as a species, it won’t be our actual history that ends us. It’ll be because they watched an episode of Gossip Girl – except they won’t be able to watch just one episode, they’ll have to watch all the seasons because it’s addictive and glittery and horrible and turning my brain to mush but I just. Can’t. Turn. Away.

So I’ve woken up looking at everything with suspicion and mild horror, and this vague sense that I’m surrounded by emotional and literal vampires in the form of television AND people, and there’s not much time left and I need to do everything. All the things. Write everything, see everything, quick, quick, quick, before it’s too late. Which is why I’ve very deliberately sat down to get the blogging done early – nothing like a cup of tea and a dose of realism (smelly dogs, snoring CM) to chase away the demons.

Back to Word Factory, because I barely touched on it in the above list:

There were, also, again, good discussions about the short story form – Toby Litt is intimidatingly smart, funny and well-read (which is not to say that Dawson and Preston aren’t also these things, as they clearly are, but they didn’t get to talk for as long as Litt) and his theories on Literature v Literary Fiction, the changing shape of the novel (19th century symphony writing v. today’s pop hits), the short story reader as the most daring kind of reader, able to take leaps with the writing and stay in the air, and the writers’ duty to make sure they have somewhere to land, his comments about his love-affair with Charlotte Bronte (‘She would have held me in contempt’) were fascinating. I’d like to see him speak again somewhere, for longer. I’m also looking forward to reading more of Preston and Dawson’s work. Or hearing them read again, because all three of them were great.

I also got talking to Catherine McNamara – a short story writer with a book currently out (see HERE for blogging and links to buy), who I was sat next to. She gave me some good advice about online resources for writers and short story collections to check out, and we actually started discussing the short story reader as a type just before it came up in conversation between Litt and Cathy Galvin. It was a great, if short, chat, and encouraging, and I hope to see her again in a couple of months, having read her collection.

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