Reading and Writing sitting in a tree, D-R-E-A-M-I-N-G by Claire McFall

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I grew up in rural Scotland. Get your mini-violin out, because this is about to get a little pitiful. I moved from England when I was ten (on my tenth birthday, in fact) and I very much had the wrong accent for the new world I was dropped into. It was a small place, everyone already had friends, and it took me a long while to find my feet and fit in. During that time, books were an absolute lifeline. The library in my village was a bus, and it used to stop at the top of my street on a Tuesday. On a Saturday, I’d go to the real library in the next village over, return the six books I’d read in the last three days, and get my next six.

On Tuesday, at the bus, we’d go round again.

In the 1990s (oh wow, that sounds like a long time ago!), the popular books were Point Horror or Point Romance, or Goosebumps. I read all of those, but I also loved the older stuff. The horsey books by the Pullein-Thompson sisters, The Saddle Club books, and Nancy Drew. My favorite was a book whose title escapes me now but was of a little girl whose parents won £2 million. They bought a big old house on a long peninsula, and she got her long-dreamed for pony-girl life. It was my absolute dream as a child, and it was my gateway into my absolute favorite thing to do with books: dream myself into them.

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was a child, and though my parents scrimped together enough money to get me riding lessons, we never could have afforded to buy me a pony of my own. And a draughty old house with back stairways and attic rooms, out on a little island by itself? Absolute dream fodder.

I read Nancy Drew and because a teen investigator.

I read The Famous Five and went on adventures, unveiling bad guys.

I read Summer Dreams, Winter Love and fell in love with Michael along with Ellen (I read this book so many times, I guess shy teenage me was a little romantic in the making lol).

I still do this as an adult. My favorite adult fantasy series is the Tairen Soul collection by C L Wilson. It’s set in another world and is about fated love, the fae and magic. The main character, Ellie, thinks she’s an ordinary girl, but she discovers that her parents hid her fae heritage to protect her, and she’s actually the fated soulmate of Rain, the king of the fae (who can also turn into a terrifying giant flying cat creature). The covers are wonderfully cheesy, and the whole five book series just makes me swoon with romantic, magical happiness.

Now, I’m quite particular about how I dream my way into stories. I can’t take the place of one of the existing characters, because they are all real to me in my imaginings and that would be a whole odd body-swapping kind of thing I’m not ready for. Instead, I shoe-horn my way in, creating a space for myself in the book’s world somewhere, and then I run the narrative again in my head, with my own character creating merry mayhem and helping save the day, maybe falling in love with one of the dashing side-characters if I’m lucky.

(Spoiler: I’m always lucky.)

As much as a fan as I was – and am – of reading and dreaming, I also loved dreaming and writing. I’d create my own stories in my head, live them out, and then write them down. We didn’t have a computer in my house (not everyone did in the 90s, honest!) but my mum bought me a typewriter and I bruised my fingertips bashing out my nascent narratives.

I also wrote some poetry, but the less said about that, the better.

When I left school and went to university and then the world of work, I stopped reading, and stopped writing, and stopped dreaming. It was… a rather sad time, actually. All drab and shades of grey. It wasn’t until a friend gave me a copy of Twilight and told me to read it, that I rediscovered stories. I devoured the series, then The Hunger Games, and it was like a flood opening. Young Adult, fantasy, science-fiction, romance. I was back to reading as much as I could, falling into worlds again.

And I started writing again.

Ferryman started with a dream – an actual one. At nighttime, in bed, all cuddled up under the duvet. I dreamed I was alone on a train that had been thronged with people. When I woke up, I wasn’t done with the story. I was an English teacher at the time, and I had a long commute to work through rural countryside. I spent weeks, living the story as I drove back and forth, inventing Tristan, creating the wasteland, and falling in love all over again. Eventually, I realized I needed to write it down.

Silence.

There should be screams, cries, something.

But there was only silence.

Those were the first words in the original manuscript, and now they make up the beginning of Chapter Three. At the beginning, I would dream the next part of the story on my commute, then feverishly write it down at night. As time went on, and I relearned the art of writing, I was able to dream as I wrote, the story unveiling behind my eyes as my fingers rocketed across the keyboard.

That, right there, is what I absolutely love about my job. I spend my days dreaming, and now I get to share my dreams with other readers. And what I really, really (really) hope, is that there is someone out there who is dreaming their way into my stories. I’ve already told my characters to make sure they make room.

Claire McFall is a former English teacher whose first book, Ferryman, won the Scottish Children’s Book Award and was long-listed for both the Branford Boase Award and the Carnegie Medal. She is also the author of Black Cairn Point (published in the US as The Last Witness), which won the inaugural Scottish Teenage Book Prize. Claire McFall is from Scotland and now lives in Colorado.

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