Wednesday 28 November 2012

Dreamscape - Behind the Scenes

So far I've posted seven tales of the Dreamscape, posted in the order in which I wrote them. They are:
•Birth Day
Sir Gallant 1 and 2
•The Dinner Party 1 and 2
Woman of his Dreams 1 and 2

But I haven't written anything about why or how I began to write this cycle. I decided that that ought to change.

Origin of the Dreamscape
I've been working on stories in this world for a long time. I distinctly remember when the first words of Gladiator came into my head as I was walking to the train station in Bristol having spent the weekend with my future wife. Suddenly the opening words coalesced in my mind, and I had to keep repeating them over and over so as not to forget them before I had a chance to write them down.

That was about 7 years ago.

The initial idea was, I believe, the science-fiction element - a dystopian London where the homeless are driven underground and forced to live in the dark and filth. There I imagined they created their own parallel reality of dream and fable, a place where no one suffered and everyone could have all they wanted. I believe that the element of the dream world was very much inspired by Neil Gaiman's Sandman (which is my favourite book of all time and if you haven't read the series, you really must).

Development of the Tales
But what made this idea better than many others I've had over the years, I think, is that this world provided a frame for far more than just science-fiction stories. In this world of dream and fable I could explore ideas of religion, fantasy, mythology and fairy-tale.

I realised that within this one world I could tell stories in every genre I love.

(more after the jump)

Birth Day
While Gladiator was the first story I wrote, it is a fantasy story in a science fiction setting. I wanted to portray the clash between reality and dream, but hadn't yet worked out how I could tell stories about myth yet.

Then Birth Day came to me, and three different elements combined together into something more interesting:
•Sleeping Beauty (the uninvited guest that curses, curse fulfilled on nearing adulthood)
•The four sights of the Buddha (Prince Siddhartha saw an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic prompting him to seek enlightenment)
•Bar Mitzvah (the age of 13 becoming an adult)

Sir Gallant
The fundamental concept was, I think, to do a Dreamscape version of the Neverending Story. I liked the idea of doing a straightforward (ish) adventure tale, with a hero you could root for, and then I wondered what darkness could threaten the Dreamscape itself.

Note that many of the challenges faced by Sir Gallant reflect common nightmares - falling, darkness, sense of being chased.

Once I had mapped out a little of how the dreamscape functioned, I wanted to tell an origin story for how it came to be, revealing more of the Real world in the process. I already had the characters of Father Hope and Brother Fearful, whose own story I haven't yet told, but realised they would be good points of view to discuss the creation from the perspective of a dreamer, through the lens of the Unreal Gods.

Having told the Dreamscape's beginning, I reflected on its end, and what could be more appropriate for inspiration than Norse mythology and Ragnarok? The poetry in this tale reflects the Nordic alliterative style, as does the setting and the theme of the end of the dreaming. In particular, Gangari is one of Odin's names, the Allfather of the Norse Pantheon who famously gave one eye for wisdom. The idea that he whispered something in the ear of his son is based on the story of Baldr, who has attributes not dissimilar to the messiah.

The refrain "Do you understand yet? Or what more?" spoken here by the Seeress comes directly from the Voluspa, the most well-known poem of the Elder Edda.

The Dinner Party
At some point, the idea came to me to tell a world based almost entirely in the real world, set in London above ground. I wanted to show the cruelty that would cause an entire people to flee to a fantasy world, and at the same time explore how the Unreal Gods affect the Real.

This was so challenging to write, with the many different characters, that I actually put them all on a spreadsheet to map out their relationships.

Of all the stories so far, this is the one I think needs the most work. As written, I think it's hard to remember which character is which and what they all believe and want. And some point I may get to revise it.

Woman of his Dreams
I started this story about a week before I began to write Radiance, and didn't complete it until just last week. It began as an homage to the impossible challenges of Celtic mythology (inspired by the Mabinogion among others). Noxus' words in describing the challenges - 'you will not be able to... nor will you...'  - is a structure taken from those stories. I wanted to work out what 'impossible' meant in the context of world where you could dream up anything you wanted.

But in between I read an annotated version of Grimm's Fairy-tales - I added Numbskull to Jack's name, and made him a rather more pathetic character, I came up with the scene in the giant's house, and the fascination with hair and gold that plays through the story.

With over a year between them, I'm honestly not sure if the two halves of this fairy-tale hang together.

What's Next?
Since putting my tales into Scrivener (an amazing program for writing novels), I've been inspired to work on a cycle of poems about the Duke of Dream's treasure house, which if all goes well will be up on the site on Monday.

Father Hope and Brother Fearful's story has yet to be told, as well as the Duchess, who does not keep a name.

I want to investigate the Seers of the eastern plane some more, what magic means to a world where anything is possible, and I might combine this with a story based on Tarot cards that I've been considering for about 10 years.

But where else? Only the Unreal Gods know.


  1. the element of the dream world was very much inspired by Neil Gaiman's Sandman

    The whole homeless angle reminded me of Neverwhere (I haven't read Sandman, sorry! Though have just spent over £20 on graphic novels...).

    Re: Tarot, have you read The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino? Basically, Calvino keeps shuffling a pack of Tarot cards and laying them out at random, then reading them to find famous mythological/archetypal stories, set into a framing story. It's interesting. It's divided into two parts with two different Tarot decks; he said the third part would have involved reading random frames of real comic strips together, set in a twentieth century US motel, but he got bored with the concept before trying it.

    1. I think you're right about Neverwhere. It's interesting that the whole Dreamscape concept is kind of a cross between Neverwhere and Sandman (I've been a bit Gaiman obsessed since I was 17).

      I've never read Calvino, but it sounds like a similar idea to the one I had. I must check it out - thanks!