If you are looking for a window into the human condition, but you do not have the time to read books, just look at a collection of book reviews. This can be done in bite-size morsels on your phone while you wait for a train. My first post on this blog is entitled ‘We are all dreaming…’ and it outlines my view that our personal experience is one long dream in which our mind creates a narrative to make sense of the constant steam of information that relentlessly washes over us. All these individual dreams weave together to form a collective dream that we call our culture, and this leads to the idea that we all live a shared life. Anyone who had read the rest of this blog, or my books, should be familiar with my outlook on this concept. So what does this have to do with book reviews?
I have received a bit of feedback suggesting that what I have written so far in this blog comes across as a bit too serious. Upon honest inspection, I have to agree that it presents me as having a touch of tunnel vision. That would not make me unique in the blogosphere, where many adhere to the philosophical position of, “I think, therefore I rant!”
My problem is that I do not want to be a ranter, and the novel I have written is not a rant, but the nature of some of my blog posts could cause potential readers to regard it as a polemic, and a long one at that. When I started this blog, I wanted it to draw attention to my novel, but without it looking like an advertisement, so I wrote posts about my take on the art of storytelling and the craft of writing, followed by a discussion of the issues contained in my story. However, re-reading my posts in sequence gives the impression that I am focusing on the concerns associated with assisted dying rather than reflecting the way the issue is presented in my novel.
The inherent value of a worthwhile story rests on the idea that a good storyteller shines a light on aspects of the human condition that most of us prefer not to discuss in our everyday lives. Yet if no one talks about such things, they do not vanish, they fester beneath the surface and affect our lives, both directly and indirectly. For example, the debilitating nature of depression hinders anyone from writing about it while smothered by its darkness. Even afterwards, when some light has returned, it may be too difficult to write down a personal memoir, partly due to the nature of the recollection and partly due to a fear of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness in a world where we should know better.
The basic tenet of writing fiction is to “show not tell”, so authors paint scenes with words instead of just explaining the next part of the story. This is solid advice that comes as close to being a golden rule as anyone can expect in the fluid realm of storytelling, where an empty page plus some words becomes a narrative that provokes a dream in the mind of a reader.
A shrewd and experienced author might have cautioned me against writing a story that falls outside the usual genres, but faced with my determination to proceed, I am sure they would almost certainly have advised me not to deviate from my task. Yet, as if to wilfully overcomplicate the process, I failed to heed that advice too.
The sign of a worthwhile story is its persistence. It stays in the back of your mind while you choose to study the market and try to ascertain the route to a high sales volume. It returns to the front of your mind at quiet moments when the noise of the day is absent. It persuades you to give voice to the ideas that lie at its heart. When confronted with such persuasive persistence, you are obliged to concede that this story is a manifestation of who you are. It is born of the interwoven strands of your life story, so you know that writing it out will be a task but not a chore.
The fictional dream starts in the mind of the author. The weaving of this narrative can take, and I would argue that it should take, a lengthy period of time. The best stories, the ones that stay with us long after the last page, require time to percolate before they are written down. The writer’s dream becomes the reader’s dream via words on a page, which seems such a bland medium of exchange in a world full of astonishing graphics supported on sophisticated hardware, yet the simplicity of the written word belies its magic. A cinematic extravaganza delivers its imagery to us as a completed and sumptuous product, thus excusing us the mental effort of creating any scene for ourselves. A page of text invites us to involve our imagination in the process of absorbing the fictional dream, so every scene and every character become partly our own, embellished with details and implicitly shaded by elements of each reader’s ongoing dream. So less gives us more, if only we give enough time and attention to allow our full immersion.
As you read this, you are dreaming, just as you are at every moment in your life. To differentiate the activity of our brains during our sleeping hours is to do our minds a disservice. The only difference is that sleep deprives us of sensory input, so instead we sort and sift the contents of our head until we wake, and we call it a dream, but our dreaming does not stop when we open our eyes. The continual process of navigating our existence requires the creation of a narrative that allows all new information to be put into context. This abstract creation of our mind is our constant dream. The mind is itself an abstract idea born of imaginative thought, which is in turn a concept of the mind, and these two things create a philosophical circle of abstraction that is certain to make you dizzy if you stare at it for too long.