A Dream Goes On Forever…

I became interested in my dreams – and the phenomenon of lucid dreaming in particular – when, as a much younger man, I lost someone very close to me. At first, I was just looking for a way to escape the pain of being awake and remembering; but as I started to pay more attention to my subconscious, I became fascinated by the possibility of something more.

And then, by chance (or higher design?) I happened upon a documentary about lucid dreaming. Has it ever happened to you? You suddenly become aware that you are dreaming while you’re still inside your dream and find that you can control what happens? Lucid dreamers have this down to a fine art. In this documentary, however, the researcher – who came across as a very down-to-earth woman – clearly believed that there was more to lucid dreaming than met the eye, and that dreams were more than merely a way for the mind to process the information from your waking day.

The possibility of escape to another world.

The researcher was not especially interested in Freud’s obsession with dreaming as an outlet for the machinations of one’s repressed sexual desires, and she went beyond Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, to suggest that dreamer’s may be inventing world’s that in some strange way actually exist.

“Wow!”, was my first thought. “How?” was my second. However, it was with my third thought: “Why?” that my life changed, albeit for a short time. It happened like this.

At the crux of the lucid dreaming documentary was an experiment with three “guinea pigs” – men who all claimed they were all able to control their dreams and did so on a regular basis. Prior to the experiment, they had never met. And this is where it got weird…

The researcher introduced them to one another, then separated them and kept them in isolation in three individual bedrooms. She then gave the same task to each man. That night, while they slept, they were to meet up with one another. That was it. No further information was given, and the men were not allowed to have any further contact.

That night while they slept their brain activities were monitored and the periods of rapid eye movement (indicative of dreaming) recorded.

In the morning, the researcher interviewed each man individually and asked each to recall his dream. Man A had dreamt that he was walking through a huge, lush forest that seemed to go on without end. He wandered along aimlessly for some time before he remembered that he had to meet the two other men. Eventually he came to a large oak tree in a clearing and thought it a good meeting place, so he stopped walking and waited beneath the tree. After a while, man B appeared and came to stand beside him. They chatted and waited for man C to arrive, but man C did not appear. That was all.

Man B too had dreamt he was walking through a huge forest. He walked for a long time without meeting either of the other two men, and was just about to give up when he spied a large oak tree in a clearing in the distance. He walked towards it and there he found man A waiting peacefully. He joined man A and they talked for a while. They waited, he said, for man C to appear, but man C didn’t arrive.

Man C’s story was much simpler. He had found himself walking in a huge forest. He walked for hours and hours, but never saw another soul.

By this time the hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. But it was nothing to what happened next…

The researcher interviewed a pleasant middle-aged Englishman who had dropped out on the hippie trail in the late sixties and eventually wound up in Tibet, where he spent the next twenty years living with an arcane Buddhist sect. These particular Buddhists – some esoteric offshoot of Lamaism, a branch of the Mahayana stream of Buddhist thought – placed great emphasis on the importance of dreams. In fact, long periods were given over to teaching initiates how to dream properly, that is, how to take control of one’s dreams and fashion them.

This particular novice had spent half his life in a world where dreams were accorded equal status with waking experiences.In particular, the Lamas taught initiates how to return to a dream, how to re-enter it and how to pick up where they had left off. After fifteen years of training, most members of the sect had mastered this and experienced and enjoyed serial dreams which were internally consistent and in which they participated not as puppets, guided and moved by external forces, but as individuals, fully in charge of their thoughts, actions and movements.

By the time the disciple left Tibet, he no longer knew which of his two worlds – his dream world or his waking world – was the ‘real’ world: they were equally authentic.

For a long time, I agonised about whether I should follow in this man’s footsteps, but, in the end, what saved me from my intolerable pain was writing a novel which incorporated all of these ideas. I did create a new world from my waking dreams and, for a while, I was able to escape to it. And in so doing, I created my fourth novel, “Daniel’s Dream”…

PS The title of this post relates to the song of the same name, written and performed by the inimitable Todd Rundgren. If you’ve never heard it, search it out, for it is surely one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded.

So, Peter…where do you get your ideas?

Submerged ruined church

This is the question I’m most often asked when people find out I’m a novelist. And, as any writer will tell you, it’s a really difficult question to answer. For me it’s always been a bit of a mystery – ideas really do seem to pop-up out of nowhere. But every now and then, it’s possible to identify the exact time and place when an idea comes to you.

If you’ve read my latest novel IMPLICATED you’ll know it starts with the image of a man underwater, desperately trying to swim down to a ruined Greek church on the seabed. The man in question, Erdogan Denizli, is a crime scene cleaner in Ventura County, California, and, as you soon find out, he’s dreaming. Ah, you may wonder: why is a Californian crime-scene cleaner dreaming about a church beneath the sea?

If you’ve read the book you’ll know. But where did this opening image come from?

A few years go, I was travelling in Northern Cyprus. I stopped at a small hotel on a deserted rocky promontory, a long way from anywhere.

It wasn’t a very promising spot for a hotel – it was spread across both sides of the road and the “beach” was an uninviting rocky cove, accessed by a cement ramp: it resembled not so much a holiday resort as an abandoned quarry. And yet, there was something strangely appealing about the place. Was it the light? The remoteness of the location?

Or perhaps it was the erudite and charming Turkish Cypriot owner, Erdogan – a retired teacher from Istanbul – who made me feel so welcome.

I ended up staying for three weeks. During that time I got to know Erdogan reasonably well and one evening, asked him about how he came to build the hotel.

Years ago, he told me, he’d had a rather odd dream: he dreamt of a ruined church completely submerged beneath the sea. At the time he thought nothing of it.

On retirement, he was driving around Northern Cyprus looking for a place to build a hotel when he came to this rocky outcrop. For reasons he couldn’t explain, he knew at once that this was the place.

He built his hotel. The business thrived. Over the years he entertained visitors from all over the world including, on one occasion, a couple of Italian archaeologists.

One morning the Italians went diving and returned in a state of high excitement: just off the promontory, several metres below the surface, they had discovered the ruins of a Greek Orthodox church, completely submerged in the aquamarine sea…

Some years later I was watching a documentary about crime-scene cleaning. It was fascinating and I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of person would choose to do a job like this?

And for some strange reason the image of the church underwater came back to me, and I knew I had both a name for my protagonist and an opening scene for my new thriller…