Her husband’s dreams are her family’s nightmare…
When Olivia’s husband Carlos begins having violent nightmares in which he leaps, fighting, from his bed and rampages through the house, her family’s idyllic life in Lisbon is shattered. Things escalate when Carlos unwittingly injures Olivia and Leo, their seven-year-old son, and they can no longer hide the purple bruises staining their skin.
But what is causing the warm-hearted, gentle Carlos to have such explosive nightmares? While Leo retreats further into an imaginary world, it’s a question that sends Olivia – desperate to protect her son and rescue her floundering family – into the depths of her husband’s childhood, where she uncovers a secret so shocking it has held Carlos in its powerful grip for almost thirty years.
Dreamrunner by Clare Jay was published in November 2010 by Piatkus, Little, Brown (Exclusive in UK; Ire; Cw; EU)
Canadian Rights: Jane Conway-Gordon
Translation: Jane Conway-Gordon
‘An unconventional “can’t put it down” mystery’ – Marie Claire (NZ)
‘Emotional and evocative’ – Bookseller
‘well-written and compelling… wonderful characters and a fascinating premise… I eagerly await more books from this talented author.’ – Karen McMillan, Radiochick
‘simple, intimate, and a pleasure to read.’ – Guide to Auckland
‘Jay’s writing is excellent… Dreamrunner is a gripping and rewarding read.’ – Richard Russo, DreamTime (US)
On Writing Dreamrunner
Confessions of violence
A while back in London, I bumped into a guy I hadn’t seen since our schooldays. I remembered him as a meek boy who would blush if you so much as looked at him. He had grown into a pleasant, courteous man. Catching up on our adult lives, I told him I’d just been in San Francisco, presenting my PhD research into lucid dreaming and creative writing at an annual dream conference (IASD). This mention of dreaming hooked us into an intense conversation as he confessed he had a violent sleep disorder that was disturbing his and his girlfriend’s life: he physically enacted his nightmares while asleep.
He explained that he would actually leap right out of bed and run around his flat, fast asleep but so caught up in his nightmare that it was the only thing that was real to him. During his worst episode, while he was dreaming, he had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder and had dragged her around the room by her hair until her desperate screams finally penetrated his nightmare and woke him up. She was now frightened to sleep in the same room as him and their relationship was deteriorating.
I felt dreadfully sorry for him. I had talked with dream researchers from Germany and the US who were doing groundbreaking work on sleep disorders, so I knew there were people out there studying exactly this type of problem: If the natural paralysis we all experience during sleep is lifted, we physically act out what is happening in our dream, potentially endangering both ourselves and others. But I had never stopped to consider the psychological impact such a disorder would have on both sides of a relationship.
This man’s predicament remained lodged in my mind long after that day, replete with images. I became intrigued by the implications such a sleep disorder would have on a family: imagine if the father started to hurt them in his sleep – how would the mother cope? What would happen to their relationship? How could someone so nice display such violent tendencies while asleep? Could there be some link to past trauma…? Once the questions started coming, I knew this would be my next novel.
I was fascinated by the themes this topic would allow me to explore: a Jekyll-Hyde-type transformation, the effects of random, unconscious violence on a relationship, the nature of dreams and reality, questions of sanity and madness, and all this in the context of the deep love that the characters have for each other. I began making notes immediately, and wrote a speculative synopsis just to get the story clear in my head. Being able to email this to my agent at the moment when she was closing the deal for Breathing in Colour helped us to get a two-book deal with Little, Brown.
The dolphin connection
When I’m writing a novel, I tend to follow bursts of imagery, seeing where they go. I wait to see what these visions tell me about the characters. When I saw flashes of dolphins leaping through blue waves, I realised that the little boy in Dreamrunner sees his father as a dolphin. I freewrote off this association and quickly imagined a series of scenes about the boy following dolphins into the ocean without realising the danger he is in.
These scenes were so powerful and emotionally vivid in my mind that all I had to do at that stage was sit down and describe them. Within a day and a half, I had 4,000 words, and not just dross, but solid, useful work. The writing of these words taught me much more about the main characters, the role of dolphins in the novel, and crucially about the father’s interaction with a childhood enemy. Although this chain of scenes will be revised many times as the novel grows, it’s now sitting there, blue and real. I can build around it, add scenes in all directions, learn more about the reach of the novel every time I re-read it. It’s become a cornerstone.
I’ll do this with other major scenes and characters now – the ones that call to me with the strongest voice. There’s the poetry woman who sits on the cathedral steps and can see into people’s hearts; the pendant with its obscure magic; the little girl who can do back-flips and walk on tightropes but can’t cure her alcoholic mother. They are where the power of the narrative lies: within their imagery is the seed of new actions, psychological insights, and the complicated weaving movement of a novel. I have no idea what’s going to emerge next and this makes it so much fun. I just have to trust in my writing and dreaming mind, hope that it’ll come up with the goods.
The big white gap
There are moments when I have this big white gap and I think, oh no, the book really has just stopped in its tracks… But if I calm down and think about it, I remember that this could never be true, since there are so many tracks, not just a singular, linear one. So when panic hits, I know it’s time to walk away from the book for a day, two days, a week, and through being outside, painting, or reading, I allow my mind to fill up with newness. Since the novel is set in and around Lisbon, if I get stuck, I can always walk about in the city with my eyes open, watching the street artists, the fire-breathers with their petroleum-soaked rags. And from somewhere, more ideas will emerge – I hope.
Before long there’ll be a part of the book itching at me, pulling me back into it, and when I return, I’ll write and write without worrying about the hows and whens and whys, and I’ll see that the gap has been silently bridged; there is no frightening dead-end space, and the novel is flowing forward again with its own momentum. That’s the plan, anyway!