'We write to taste life twice:in the moment and in retrospect.' Anaïs Nin
Monday, 23 February 2015
The Insomniac and the Writer’s Nightbox
Slipping into sleep is a useful process for a writer.
gives her a rest from the familiar exigencies of a day dealing with writing the
next paragraph or the next chapter; with the inevitabilities of the domestic
cycle and nature of professional existence. On top of this the compulsion to
dash around the physical and cyber world to prove her presence.
So it’s very good to switch off, drop off to sleep and
restore her calm physical and intellectual default position ready to start work
the next day.
But sometimes the sleep switch doesn’t click and into our
writer’s fertile mind drifts those annoying worries and concerns, those feelings
of self-doubt, the emergence of hopelessness and futility.
One of my own weapons against this deadly process is my DAB radio, mostly
tuned into Radio 4 Extra, occasionally switching to the World Service – a pot-pourri of radio past and present - crossing
genres and mixing comedy and drama in a
surprisingly relaxing way.
In fact there are some broadcast gems here that make it very worthwhile
for a writer to stay awake. In the last few weeks I have had some treats.
There was the
dramatization of Susan Hill’s The Beacon.
I had read this book before without being thrilled. But somehow the midnight
listening made me properly understand that this novel, like her Woman in Black,
is a very clever dark novel of place rather than (as I had thought) some
pick-up of the theme of misery memoirs.
Then there was the archive Desert Island Discs programme when
Sue Lawley interviewed the anarchic Sue Townshend (RIP). There in the midnight hour I
thought Sue Lawley came over as somewhat confused. She sounded vaguely patronising
when she asked Sue Townshend whether she had ambitions to write ‘proper’ grown
up books. ST answered her very sweetly, sending her up with guile.
Then another night there was Brian Friel’s Translations. Set in 18th
Century rural Ireland, it is a brilliantly comic, highly conceptual take on the
potency and nature of language. I was fascinated by Friel’s character ‘Jimmy’,
who only speaks Irish, Latin and Greek. English doesn’t interest him at all. So when I get up next day I want to buy the
play and read it in daylight hours.
this interesting stuff, of course, prevents me from getting - or staying
- asleep. So I get up, come downstairs, make
myself tea and toast and settle down to watch a saved episode of Midsummer Murders or Bones: suchperfect lullabies. Then I go back to bed, fall into a dreamless
sleep and wake refreshed to start another day in my writer’s life.
Of course this doesn’t happen every night or I
would be a daytime zombie. But, when it is needed, it is a perfect
antidote to this writer’s night-time terrors.wx