To dream the impossible dream – An Irishwoman’s Diary on sleep and inspiration
Paul McCartney: “He woke up with a lovely melody in his head. He turned to the piano in the bedroom – sure where else would you have it? – and started to play the tune”
It was the best dream ever. Now if only I could remember it. You see, I dreamt that I had come up with the most magnificent plot for a thriller.
The twist was breathtakingly brilliant and yet so simple that I remember asking myself why no one had ever thought of it before.
When I started to wake up I immediately thought of the dream. In that state of sleepy haze, I tried to recall the detail. It felt like it was still in my head but just slightly out of reach. It was hidden in the clouds of my brain.
Well, the clouds never parted to reveal the bestseller. That was weeks ago and the dream remains lost. So, no multimillion selling bestseller for me, followed by a Hollywood movie and a sprinkling of Oscars. The denizens of Dalkey will not be troubled by a removal van unloading the contents of our lives onto Sorrento Road just yet.
That is purely my loss. But it would have been everyone’s loss if some dreams had remained in the ether. Take Johnny Cash for example. Would we have had The Man Comes Around at all, if he had instantly forgotten his dream about Queen Elizabeth? The singer had dreamt he was in Buckingham Palace and the queen and her friend were sitting on the floor knitting. Queen Elizabeth looked up at him and told him he was just like “a thorn tree in a whirlwind”. He struggled to make sense of the phrase for a long time. Then he discovered it was biblical – the Book of Job refers to a thorn tree in the whirlwind. As Cash connoisseurs will know, The Man Comes Around is littered with biblical references. But would the man have come around at all if Cash had forgotten that dream?
And then there’s Paul McCartney, who is incredibly talented and creative even when he sleeps. Life is so unfair sometimes. One morning he woke up with a lovely melody in his head. He turned to the piano in the bedroom – sure where else would you have it? – and started to play the tune. It was so good that he decided he must have heard the tune elsewhere. But after checking with his Beatles bandmates and other musicians, he concluded that he had indeed dreamed the melody for Yesterday, one of the most recorded songs of all time.
He tells another story involving a dream about his mother Mary, who had died when he was a teenager. The Beatles were going through a rough period and he dreamed his mother came to him and said, consolingly, “let it be”. When he awoke, he started to write a song around that line, and . . . you know what happened next.
But possibly the most life-changing dream ever was dreamed by Stephenie Meyer, who was a harried mother of small children in 2003 with no authorly credentials whatsoever. She had what she described as “a very vivid dream” in which a boy and girl were sitting in a meadow and both were confessing that they were falling in love with each other.
There was just one slight problem in this romantic tableau – the boy was a vampire and found the scent of her blood irresistible. Unlike some irresponsible dreamers, Stephenie Meyer remembered every glorious aspect of the dream and it spawned the four-book Twilight series which has sold more than 100 million books and been turned into five top-grossing movies.
Mary Shelley’s dream did not bring her such riches but it did result in the publication of one of the most famous books of all time, Frankenstein. She had been at a party with Byron and Shelley when Byron challenged the partygoers to begin a ghost story. I’m clearly going to the wrong parties – my party companions usually challenge each other to come up with the name of a builder for their kitchen extension, or a chiropodist for their ingrowing toenail. And there’s not a lord nor a lady among them.
Anyway, Mary Shelley had absolutely no ideas for a ghost story until she retired for the night. A vision came to her of a student kneeling beside a thing he had created. “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out and then on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life,” she later recounted. Sounds remarkably like a typical Irishman waking up after a late night.
Inspired by those lucrative dreams, I have vowed to continue wracking my brains to locate that intangible bestseller.
A notepad and pen have been installed by the bed, ready for action when inspiration strikes. Currently it only contains the words “get dog food” but I live in hope.