Rupert Thomson on writing and nightmares

One night last summer I awoke from a nightmare at 5 a.m. Bad dreams are fairly common for me — sometimes I have them back to back, all night, for weeks — but this was one of an ongoing, especially disturbing series about Miami as a totalitarian prison state that’s been ripped away from mainland and is being propelled into the Atlantic by a host of swimming Rottweilers.

I bolted up in a sweat and got out of bed for the rest of the night. I didn’t want to risk starting the nightmare over again.

Several weeks later, I picked up Rupert Thomson‘s The Insult, a novel about a man who’s left blind after a violent accident but believes he can see clearly in the dark. The desperate mood evoked by the prose called my nightmare to mind, and I wrote then: “Rupert Thomson writes nightmares. How does he do that?”

Just last week I happened upon the answer, in Thomson’s own words, from a 2001 interview:

Whenever I start a new book I have nightmares. Night after night. For a long time I didn’t understand why. Recently I came up with a theory. To write fiction of any power and authenticity you have to draw on the deepest, most secret parts of yourself. That’s where fiction comes from, but it’s also where dreams are made. Small wonder, then, if there’s a certain amount of cross-fertilisation between the two. I often think of Louise Bourgeois in this context. She once said, “I trust my unconscious. The unconscious is my friend. . . .” You might say that I want my fiction to have that relationship to reality. I want to be able to look at reality from a standpoint that feels unpredictable, surreal, and yet, at the same time, entirely cogent. I seem to be attracted to ideas that allow me to do this, The Insult being an obvious example.

(From the Thomson entry in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 267: Twenty-First-Century British and Irish Novelists.)


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