I wake every night at about 3.30 am and I don’t know why.
My mind is often so clear I feel I could sky dive without a parachute and land safely. Or I’m worrying: did I do my job well enough today? Did I say the right thing? What happens when you die?
At other times I wake, with the next section of my book fully formed in my mind: I hear the dialogue and see the characters, I live the action, I’m part of the scene. These moments are breathtaking for their clarity and immediacy. I lie there unable to move, watching the story unscroll before me; replaying it over and over until I’m conscious enough to hop out of bed and type what I’ve observed into the computer so I don’t forget. (Pity my long suffering husband.)
Sometimes I get stuck with the plot – I don’t know what happens next – so I ask my unconscious to solve it for me and 3.30am is invariably the time it picks to deliver my answers. Like falling in love, it happens when I’m looking the other way.
I used to see insomnia as a curse, draining me of energy and befuddling my brain, but over the years, I’ve made it my sometime friend. It comforts me to know that it has afflicted many famous writers, from Wordsworth and the Bronte sisters, to Franz Kafka and Charles Dickens; maybe it’ll give me the edge.
I know that insomnia and depression have a close link; when you think about it, the sort of person who is drawn to sitting alone for hours pushing a comma around a page, is probably melancholic. Or maybe it’s just that, once you’ve trained yourself to patrol your thoughts for quirky ideas, your mind keeps on doing it, even while you sleep.
I kept a dream diary once, and after my unconscious cottoned on to what I was doing, I used to wake up automatically straight after the dream; it was amazing what I recalled. As soon as I stopped the observation, that particular bout of insomnia stopped also.
For me, writing like insomnia, is closely linked to my fear of death. Whether I’m awake or asleep, that fear travels with me and writing is my immortality project, binding fleeting moments of terror into a coherent narrative which is comforting and safe; some of my best ideas come in the dark, when my children are gone and there are no phones ringing; when I’m observing the breath of my life.