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Thursday, February 21, 2013

What Dreams May Come

Fuseli's 'The Nightmare'

I have extremely vivid, detailed dreams. Sometimes they can be terrifying, sometimes hilarious... or so teasingly authentic in the moment that I wake up feeling ripped off because my finances were FINALLY in good and abundant order! Meh!

Last night involved one of the more quirkily detailed meanderings of my bizarre subconsciousness. I was visiting a friend's new flat. They'd just moved into a place overtop a defunct restaurant on the high street of some touristy English town. The building dated back a few centuries, but it couldn't have been heritage listed considering what the landlords had done to it...

The Tudor facade was barely discernable beneath a horrible layer of 'decorative' corrugated metal sheeting covering the jutting top floor. The bottom half had been thickly coated with gobs of plaster resembling toothpaste and then glossily whitewashed to death, and the boarded up windows had tacky wooden shutters that I supposed were meant to simulate a sort of cheesy Swiss Alps effect. Flanking the former restaurant's doorway were a pair of matching built-in 'planters'. They appeared to be made from old metal feeding troughs, now badly rusted and full of random bits of rubbish. As my friend seemed unmoved by the appalling state of the place, I politely asked if the landlord was planning on restoring it to its original state. 'No,' they assured me. 'The restaurant itself was such a well-known destination in the '70s that they've decided to preserve it just as it is.'

At this point, they reverently waved their hand at the fading faux-Gothic lettered sign over the restaurant door, which read: 'Ye Olde Lithuanian Pilaf Markt'.

Huh? Talk about taking the concept of fusion cuisine to a whole new level! Why does my brain DO this to me?? I think I woke myself up giggling.

Mostly, I am grateful that I possess such a fertile imagination. The only time it can be a worry is when I experience a minutely detailed nightmare... dreams that are more like a 'night terror'. The palpable sense of horror and fear is overwhelming, and my mind has conjured up imagery and situations that would make even the most ardent guts-and-gore horror movie fan throw up in their popcorn. I am grateful that such dreams are rare.

Sometimes, this can be handy. I have used dreams as a leaping off point for a short story, or as a section in my longer fiction. In 'Base Spirits', there's a segment which is more or less a blow-by-blow retelling of nightmare I had about my characters while I was writing an early draft. Having been haunted by increasingly horrific visions of Calverley Old Hall's tragic past during her stay, Clara finds she is unable to shut off her mind from the echoes of the terror left behind by the murderous former lord of the manor:

A new visitation--
Clara walks across the grounds toward Calverley Old Hall. Opening the door, she steps into the coolness of the front foyer as the door clicks shut behind her. She blinks to adjust her vision to the dim light. Two small figures slowly approach from the gloom at the base of the stairs.
  Children. The older child must be one she’d heard-- and felt-- die. He gazes up at her, his face pale, his dark eyes mutely pleading. At his side is a smaller child wearing an identical white sleeping gown. The children stand before her, holding hands and watching her expectantly. She cannot move. The boys drift forward as one, and each boy reaches out his free hand to clutch at Clara. She wants to back away, but pity for them holds her in place. Clara glances down and watches their fingers sink into the indigo silk of her gown’s voluminous skirts.
       “Mama-- ”
  A loud thud on the floorboards upstairs cause all three of them to jump. The boys’ sad eyes stare up at the ceiling.
        “It’s Papa-- ”
         The familiar voice of the eldest child echoes in the back of her skull, just as the Woman’s had in the clarity of her last dream. The children’s fingers tighten on the folds of her dress.
“Stay with us. Bear witness.”
         Heavy footsteps pound toward the top of the stairs. A voice booms out:
  “Are you there with thy bastards, whore?”
         Clara yanks her skirts free of the boys’ grasp and dives for the door. The abandoned children follow, their mouths open in silent wails. She feels sorry for them, but she does not wish to stay and face the man they call Papa. Wildly, she tugs at the door-handle, feeling the cold little hands reach for her, as the heavy boots stomp down the stone steps. The door holds fast. The children begin to scream. The man’s voice is right behind her, shouting:
           “Whore! Whore! Whore-- ”

            “Wrroof! Woof-woof-- ”
            A dog barking outside summons Clara back.

~ From 'Base Spirits'- Chapter Six

Today, after my weird mental wanderings, I'm find my waking imagination is unusually fired up. I'm currently working on 'In the Bag'-- book one of The Dead Drunks mystery series-- and this morning I could barely keep up with all of the ideas and plot twists and character revelations pouring down into my skull from wherever my Muse lives. I feverishly made notes and sketches for multiple scenes... finding new answers to resolve nagging plot puzzles and story gaps at every turn.

No, I am not going to set a scene at 'Ye Olde Lithuanian Pilaf Markt.'. Maybe I should!

What about you? Have you ever felt so inspired by dream imagery that you incorporated it into your fiction? Tell us about it!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Visiting a Lady's Box: More Downton-Era Manners

Yes, I know... it's been well over a month. But would you rather I posted just for the sake of posting when I am muddled by fever with nothing much to say, or else am in a crappy mood and venting my misery? No one wants to read that stuff!

Since Downton Abbey's new season has everyone wailing and sobbing over the unfair loss of a young life, I thought I'd attempt to bring some period cheer to those mourning Downton fans with another short excerpt from my coveted Downton era vintage guidebook:
'Encyclopaedia of Etiquette: What To Do, What To Say, What To Write, What To Wear- A Book of Manners for Everyday Use' by the intimidatingly correct Miss Emily Holt.

I previously shared a hilarious snippet in which Miss Holt provides the great unwashed with her strict guidelines regarding proper dining behaviour. I'm sure she did not intend any of it to be the least bit funny, which is why it tickled me so... and why that post received such joyful commentary by some of my blog followers. If you missed it, you can find it here: Definitely worth a giggle.

As promised, here is a bit more from Miss Holt regarding manners at the theatre or opera-- and I for one find it unintentionally filthy.

Not all the action takes place onstage!

"A gentleman invited to enjoy the hospitality of a lady's box at the opera or theatre does not leave his hostess more than once and then only during an intermission, for but a few moments. He never remains out of her box during an act or even a part of it, and if called out, he returns before the act begins; and he must not leave her box at all, unless some other gentleman drops in to take his place for the moment he is away."

I know. I'm twelve. I have a dirty imagination, and I admit I can't help but read this like an excerpt from a Victorian pornographic novel... and envisioning the non-stop rampant servicing of ladies' boxes by a rotating mob of horny gentlemen, all while the rest of the hoi polloi attempts to enjoy the Verdi.

Lady Grantham would be outraged. But then again, when is she not?

By the way, I am all up-to-date on my Downton Abbey viewing, despite my North American location-- I subscribe to an on-line service and watch British TV live. If you thought *that* episode was sad... well, just wait and see.