Dreams, in my experience, can be either helpful or misleading to an author. My first novel, Fishing in Foreign Seas, was inspired by a series of dreams I had while I was on holiday in Sicily. The dreams were about a beautiful, young Sicilian woman, and I was a young man who had been captivated by her. Each dream was fragmented, so that it did not really make sense, and during the following day at the beach, I found myself day dreaming in order to fit the previous night’s dream into a continuous story. This continued for three nights, after which, I felt motivated to write the story down. By the time I had written 70 pages, I thought, ‘there could be a lot more to this; in fact, there could be a novel’. So Fishing in Foreign Seas comes from a combination of dreams, day dreams and memory.
More recently, I had a dream about a particular setting in a novel I’m writing. Before I went to sleep, I was thinking about how my principal character would feel in that particular setting. It was a setting to which I have never been, although it is frequently on the evening news and I have seen dozens of pictures of the place. I was wakeful, because I wanted to be as authentic as possible in presenting the setting to my readers. I lapsed into a dream which I understood to be about the character in the setting. The principal event in that dream was of me going down a steep incline in some kind of vehicle over which I had no control, and crossing a series of busy railroad tracks. Since I had no control, I was afraid that the vehicle would cross the path of a steam train. (There were several steam locomotives puffing along at right angles on either side.) But, we made it across tha tracks and started down another steep incline, at which point I woke up. I’m convinced that the dream was prompted by my desire to find myself in the unfamiliar setting of the novel. This time, however, the dream was no help at all. The setting in my novel is a flat plain: there are no hills – not even little ones – and there is no rail service in the country!
I have actually found that between 5 and 6 am, when I’m not fully awake, but dozing, can be helpful in the creative process. I’ll be thinking, for example, about what a character would do in a particular situation, and I’ll begin to shape his response, but I’ll fall asleep for a few minutes. During that snooze, I’ll feel a different response. Awake again, I’ll think about it, refine the response and doze again. The problem is: it is not a dependable process. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the results are useful; sometimes they’re rubbish.