Some years ago I was standing outside Dobcross Brass Band club, just an hour before midnight. The dark hills rose up to touch the sky and then sky rose up forever. The sounds of brass bands faded in and out of hearing as the breeze stirred the warm June air…
I was there to watch my daughter march to the last competition of the Saddleworth Whit Friday Band contest. Around thirty children lined up in rows and, at the signal, began to march. This was their home town gig: the people of Dobcross applauded loudly as they marched away. The scene reminded me of other times that young people, not that much older then these, had marched away in uniform to the applause of villagers.
But I digress. That’s not why I wrote Dream London, although the event described above did inspire some of the final scenes in the book.
I could digress further and talk about Occupy London, of making the trip to visit the protesters camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral, back when people were still indignant about the Financial Crisis. I could talk about that but, like the brass bands, although the event inspired the plot of the book, it’s not the reason why I wrote the book.
The main reason that I wrote Dream London was that I wanted to make sense of something that had been living in my imagination for years. I had a place in my mind that was obviously inspired by my time living in London, but I didn’t understand what the place was. I’d imagined walking some of the streets, in my mind I’d spoken to some of the inhabitants. I’d even dreamed about visiting an abandoned church there, painted purple and decorated with stars. The trouble is, none of the things that I imagined made any sense,
I had a collection of scenes and impressions of another place, I had a plot of sorts and a disparate collection of characters but no story. This may sound like I’m being deliberately awkward, but I’m sure many other writers will have had the same experience: that of thinking you have a story, of trying to write a story, but for some reason not being able to. I kept abandoning drafts and turning to other projects, but I was frustrated.
And then it occurred to me that I didn’t know why I wanted to write the story. There has to be a reason for wanting to spend a year completing a novel, and I realised I didn’t know what that reason was. What was it about Dream London the made we want to write it?
And so I thought about it, and I realized that the thing that fascinated me about Dream London was Dream London itself. What fascinated me was the logic behind the place, because Dream London does have a logic, even if it is illogical. I’m a mathematician, that’s the way I think.
So I thought about the logic, I thought about what would exist in Dream London and what wouldn’t. I thought about how people would react to the city, because I believe that’s the key to a successful book: not trying to make the story fit your ideas, but rather letting the story arise from the reaction of the characters to their situation. Dream London fascinated me. Once I understood how it worked I would just have to turn the characters loose…
So I thought about how it worked and there it was, the book, ready to be written. An exercise in Dream Logic. All I needed was that last spark that would ignite the process. And then a friend told me the story that made everything crystalize, but I’ve written about that elsewhere…