For the past week, I’ve woken up every night in a cold sweat. It’s not the thought of bills, chores or work that wakes me – it’s my novel.
That’s right – my novel.
As yet, it’s unwritten. A buried acorn. A bamboo shoot. A baby in the belly.
No sentences. No words. Not even the swashbuckling slash of a single em-dash.
At this stage, my novel is just an idea – a brooding entity without clearly defined parts like a glugging pot of black beans.
It arrived last week during a hair appointment.
All that tinting and blowing and primping has a way of nailing one to the spot. Actually, that’s what I hate most about hair appointments – the inability to leave.
On this occasion, however, an idea marked me. It saw that I was vulnerable and knew it would be a good time to strike.
I submitted, of course, just as I did when the idea for my first novel found me in a car park.
If you think that was strange, it may amuse you to know that it’s not only novels who find me. The characters do too.
One time, walking through an archaeological site on Santorini, I was visited by a bodacious character called Phoebe.
She was just as I’d written her. Same smile. Same swagger. I saw her paused at the entrance, waiting for someone.
The dusty ruins of the ancient world are an appropriate place to see a ghost, but it startled me nonetheless.
On another occasion, I was visited in a Tuscan winery by a rather dashing character called Matteo.
Unabashed and playful, he had no idea that I’d written him into existence. He simply flirted, flashed his dimples and flickered his fingers like butterflies, just as I would have expected him to.
But the midnight novel that comes to me is unexpected. Unwritten.
It pulls me from dreaming and demands my attention in glitching holographs above my bed. I gear up gadgets, clamour for pens and furiously record what arrives – jotting down dot-point commandments like those on a stone tablet.
All this is well and good, but I can’t help but wonder if the idea for my novel couldn’t find a more appropriate time of day.
Wary, though, I don’t wish to offend. If it deems midnight suitable, then it’s an idea with faith in me.
There’s no use in thinking I’m not worthy in any case. Best to pretend; to fake it ’till you make it. Or, as Winston tells Ray in Ghostbusters…
‘…when someone asks you if you’re a God, you say yes!’
And so I leave a cluster of note-taking paraphernalia by the bed. Phone. Pen. Paper. An offering of artefacts at the shrine of inspiration.
Enough to placate.
Because you see, even though I’m drained, fatigued at lunch and exhausted by the afternoon, I don’t want this to end. These appointments mean something. I need them.
I need the characters to arrive as they have done so far; an alcoholic puffin conservationist, a Scotsman with candy in his Sporran. A spiky waif obsessed with poetry.
They need time to assemble, jostle, and find their places on the train-set topography of the story.
Upon reflection, perhaps my novel doesn’t arrive at midnight merely to test me. Maybe it’s coming from a different time zone. Maybe, just maybe, it’s coming from where it lives.
You see, so far, I know my novel is set on Rathlin Island. With a population of one hundred and fifty, Rathlin is the only inhabited island in Northern Ireland and a place I once spent a rather raucous New Year’s Eve.
Midnight in Hong Kong is four in the afternoon on Rathlin. See where I’m headed?
My novel, and the people who populate it, are all awake at four in the afternoon. They’re going about their business. They’re sniffling. Sauntering. Sipping.
No wonder the novel arrives when it does – that’s when it’s awake.
Now that I’ve figured it out, I feel a sense of calm. This thing is real. It’s reaching for me.
And so tonight, when I’m woken, a shimmer of sweat peppering my temple – I won’t panic. I won’t stress about tomorrow. I won’t worry about being tired. Instead, I’ll calmly reach for paper and turn on the bedside lamp. I’ll welcome my darlings with open arms and write until they leave.
I think you’ll agree, in the circumstances, it’s the least I can do.