They arrive either just after I’ve gone to bed, creeping in like a burglar so as not to wake The Builder, who does not subscribe to my Night Owl hours (mostly because he has to wake with the sun).
So I slide in next to him and lie there, waiting for sleep, watching the pattern of light on the ceiling (stripey, thanks to lovely old shutters).
My muscles relax, my breathing begins to even out, I’m standing at the top of the slippery slope into Dreamland when… wham! The world’s best idea shoots through the night air and into my mind.
My eyes fly open, my heart races. Should I get up and write it down? The Builder stirs in his sleep next to me, muttering in his dreams.
If I get out of bed, I’ll wake him and, knowing him, he’ll then lie awake for hours unable to get back to sleep. Not really fair.
Down the hall, I hear Mr6 call out in his sleep, caught on the cusp between waking and rolling over into a new phase of REM.
Mr9 is quiet. The whole house is quiet. That deep, dark quiet that can be pierced by the squeak of an office chair, the tippy-tippy of fingers across a keyboard.
I have other people to think about. My idea will wait until morning. An idea like this, sharp and clear and brilliant, will surely still be there in the morning? I entrust it to my subconscious and fall into the pit of sleep.
When I wake in the morning, it’s gone. I feel around in every corner of my mind, blowing the cobwebs out of the darkness, but no. That shining light has dimmed into a vague murmur of thought.
All I can do is to hope that when I do get a chance to sit down, with my cursor blinking at me from the glare of a white, blank screen, it will somehow slither back out of the recesses and arrive fully formed on the page.
In a recent interview with Clive James, he talked about the selfishness of the writer, who would wake in the middle of the night, thoughts and lights blazing, and blast out several hours of work.
I’m guessing that most writers who work like that are not thinking about the sleep patterns of small people and the fact that their other halves have to get up for work the next day. They’re not thinking of school lunches to be made in four hours, the squeezing pressure of editorial deadlines, the book stall at the school fete.
Saul Bellow once said: “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” I guess I will have to wait a while longer to find out if that’s true.
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