Where do ideas come from? by Martin Dukes – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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Where do ideas come from?

The way in which our brain generates ideas is one thing that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, although I think animals are capable of having ideas, too. My dog, for example, relies for most of his behaviour on inbuilt urges and impulses that we call instincts. Chasing cats and squirrels, for example, is a behaviour that’s pretty much hard-wired into him. It’s not a life choice that he’s made, after careful consideration of the options available to him. That is not to say that he doesn’t sometimes have what we might classify as ‘ideas’, however. On occasion, he will get up, go and find his squeaky toy and bring it to me. He sets it down at my feet, looks up at me, and in a kind of imaginary speech bubble I see the words, ‘Go on. Play with me,’ form there.

I think a clearer division exists in terms of imagination. I don’t think my dog is much given to imaginative flights of fancy. I do not think he dreams of worlds of his own invention where he may sprout wings and chase those squirrels right up into the trees. It would doubtless be interesting to question him on this, if only it were possible!

The writer is constantly faced with the necessity (or perhaps the compulsion) of conjuring into existence purely notional worlds that have no existence in fact. Sometimes these worlds may approximate closely to our general lived experience, and sometimes they might be utterly fantastic places populated by dragons and unicorns. In either case, the writer is setting up a stage, on which the characters they create can act out their dramas. Telling stories is a fundamental part of what it is to be human. The earliest one I know of, the Epic of Gilgamesh, dates back as far as the 3rd millennium BCE, but we may surmise that passing on stories through oral tradition is as old as humanity itself. The strange world of dreams is often a starting point for such stories. We are reminded of the visionary dreams of Joseph in Egypt, that predicted the woes that would beset that country in the Old Testament and of the role that ‘God-given’ visions have had in influencing the course of history.

There is, in my opinion, a particular ‘sweet spot’ that exists between sleeping and waking. I am no scientist, but I have read that there are different stages of sleep, in which the brain is either very active or in a deeply dormant state, in which the body recovers from the day’s exertions, and the brain works to catalogue and interpret the experiences of that day. In the phase I mention, the brain is at its most creative. I can rarely remember my dreams, but sometimes when I am conscious of being in this state, I can turn my mind to resolving the issues I face in developing the plot lines of my stories. I may have spent hours during the day in worrying about how to extricate one of my characters from the predicament I have placed them in, but when I am close to waking, or close to going to sleep, the answer comes unbidden to the threshold of my mind. The challenge then is to capture it, to lure it closer until a different part of the mind can set it down and make a permanent record of it before it is too late. It is like wildlife photography. That rare and exotic bird is there, tantalisingly close, and I must creep up upon it, slowly, carefully, with my camera, so that it may not be startled, fly up and be lost to me forever. There is a tension between sleeping and waking at those times. Part of my mind urges me to shut down this tiresome and energy intensive imaginative activity and drop into deep sleep. Another part, insists that I swim up to the surface of wakefulness, take a deep breath and get it written down before it’s too late. I usually keep a pen and pad of paper at my bedside for exactly this purpose.

‘How do you even think of this stuff?’ my wife sometimes asks me, and the truth is that, like most things, practice makes perfect. Daydreams as well as night dreams are the realms from which ideas emerge. My teachers would tell you that I was a very prolific daydreamer. All those long hours gazing out of the classroom windows during lessons, whilst the teacher’s voice became a barely perceptible background drone, were hours well spent in the perfection of my craft, if less conducive to understanding of Physics, Mathematics and French etc. There too, I might tread the fertile plains that lie between waking and sleeping, and ‘see what dreams might come’, to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Alex Trueman has just turned fifteen. He’s a typical teenager, a bit spotty, a bit nerdy and he’s not exactly popular at school, not being one of the ‘cool’ kids. His tendency to day-dream doesn’t exactly help him to be cool. either! But being cool isn’t as good as the talent Alex discovers he has – stopping time.

Yes that’s right. Stopping time!

Well, for everyone except Alex, that is, who finds that whilst everyone else is caught in a moment in time, he is able to carry on as normal. Maybe not quite ‘normal’, after all, he’s able to stop time, and whilst that’s not exactly as good as a certain ‘boy wizard’, it’s pretty close!
The only trouble is that reality for Alex isn’t always what is seems, and being plunged into an alternative can be a bit tricky, not to mention the fact that he makes an enemy almost as soon as he arrives, which tends to cause a problem.

Will Alex Trueman, nerdy daydreamer, be able to return to reality or will he be stuck forever in his alternative? Is a moment in time enough for Alex to discover the superhero he needs is probably himself?

A Moment in Time is the debut novel of author Martin Dukes, and is the first in a series of Alex Trueman Chronicles, which take the reader, along with Alex, into a bedazzling world of time travel, alternative reality and flying sea creatures. His further adventures include the past, possibly the future and definitely a fight to save reality itself.

Enjoy an Excerpt

Alex returned home to find a most unwelcome development, which had arrived through the letterbox in the superficially innocent form of a brown envelope. It might as well have been a letter bomb for its explosive impact on Alex’s day. It contained his school report. His mother’s set jaw and the glint of steel in her eyes when Alex walked into the kitchen signalled danger ahead. Alarm bells were dinning away insistently by the time the brown envelope was brandished in his face.

“This,” she said, tapping him on the head with it for emphasis, “Is your report.” She paused to let Alex dwell on this prospect. “It does not make good reading. Let me see,” she pondered as she snatched up her glasses and whipped the report out to read. “Mathematics… 3C… English… 2C… Design Technology, get this… 4D.” She read through the whole list in a voice trembling with outrage. “And here’s the grand finale,” she said, shaking the page. “The considered opinion of your form teacher. Do you want to hear what Mr Burbage has to say about you?”

Alex had absolutely no desire to hear this now, or indeed ever, but he recognised there was no point in saying so. A display of submissive behaviour seemed in order. He hung his head. “Alex is undoubtedly an intelligent pupil with a bright future, should he choose to exert himself,” she read. “Get that? Should he choose to exert himself.”

Her face came worryingly close to Alex’s as she stressed this last part. He was conscious of a little drop of her saliva on his chin, at first warm, now suddenly cold.

About the Author: I’ve always been a writer. It’s not a choice. It’s a compulsion, and I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Lots of childish scribbles in notebooks, lots of rejection slips from publishers and agents testify to a craft long in the making. In addition, it has proved necessary to earn a living by other means whilst those vital skills mature. For thirty-eight years I taught Art and Graphic Design, thirty-seven of them in a wonderful independent girls’ school in Birmingham, UK. For much of the latter part of this career I was Head of Department, which gave me the opportunity to place my own stamp on Art education there, sharing with the pupils there my own love of Art and the History of Art. Over a decade I was able to lead annual visits to Florence, Venice and Rome (some of my favourite places on the planet) as destinations on my Renaissance Tour. These visits created memories that I shall cherish for the rest of my life.

I love history in general, reading history as much as I read fiction. I have a particular interest in the ancient world but I am also fascinated with medieval times and with European history in general. This interest informs my own writing to the extent that human relationships and motivations are a constant throughout the millennia, and there is scarcely a story that could be conceived of that has not already played itself out in some historical context. There is much to learn from observing and understanding such things, much that can be usefully applied to my own work.

Teaching tends to be a rather time-consuming activity. Since retiring, I have been able to devote much more of my time to writing, and being taken on by the brilliant Jane Murray of Provoco Publishing has meant that I am finally able to bring my work to the reading public’s attention. I like to think that my ideas are original and that they do not readily fall into existing tropes and categories.

I am not a particularly physical being. I was always terrible at sport and have rather poor physical coordination (as though my body were organised by a committee rather than a single guiding intelligence!). I tend to treat my body as a conveyance for my head, which is where I really dwell. My writing typically derives from dreams. There is a sweet spot between sleeping and waking which is where my ideas originate. I always develop my stories there. When I am writing it feels as though the content of my dreams becomes real through the agency of my fingers on the keyboard. I love the English language, the rich majesty of its vocabulary and its rhythmic possibilities. My arrival at this stage could hardly be describes as precocious. However, at the age of sixty-two, I feel that I have arrived at a place where I can create work of value that others may appreciate and enjoy.

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