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Rory Clements: The Seconds Before Sleep

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By Rory Clements

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I work late at night. Very late – often until 4am and, in summer, I’m still awake when the sun comes up. It suits me well because it’s quiet then, the phone doesn’t ring and there’s nothing to break my concentration. I don’t even need coffee at that time of day.

There’s another reason for the lateness of the hour. When I became a novelist, back in 2007, I vowed that I would never succumb to the dread writer’s block. How would I do this? I would determine to write 1,000 words a day, and the day would not end until those words were written.

However tired I was, however much red wine I had drunk, there would be no bed unless my work was done.

Simple, huh? Well, seven published books and one novella later, it has worked for me. And now I have an eighth book, Corpus, due out on January 26th.

I’m happy being a night owl. Always have been. As a young newspaper sub-editor, someone had to stay on until 5am and I didn’t mind if it was me.

But as a novelist, there is a glitch. My work pattern has a problem which is getting under my skin. And it goes like this…

When I have finished my 1,000 words – or more (it could be as many as 2,000 words on a good day) – I go upstairs to slip between the sheets. Whatever time it is, I set the alarm for seven hours sleep. After brushing my teeth I might read a few pages of a novel to settle my overactive mind. Once I’m relaxed I turn off the light, close my eyes and begin to drift off.

All’s well with the world. Except it isn’t. Because on the very edge of sleep, a thought will enter my head.

It might be just one word, one sentence, or it might be a fully formed idea for half a chapter. My body fights against my mind. It tells me this is sleep time, not work time. It tells me I have done my 1,000 words.  It tells me that the idea will still be there, in my head, when I wake up in a few hours’ time.

The thing is, though, it won’t. I’ve tried it before and when I wake up the idea has vanished, never to be retrieved.

And so, reluctantly, I stretch across to my bedside table, fumble for the lamp switch, scrabble for my notebook and pen and scrawl a few key words. I won’t even have bothered to sit up or put on my glasses.

rory-clementsMy handwriting at that time of night is so bad that even a doctor couldn’t read it, but there will be enough there to jog my memory in the morning – and it will give me a good start on the new day’s work.

I kill the light, try to get comfortable again and hope that my chances of sleep haven’t been ruined.

But while I can switch off my lamp, I can’t switch off my brain so easily. Another idea arrives and I have to go through the notebook rigmarole again. And so it starts – a whole flood of ideas.

Why didn’t these thoughts come to me when I was downstairs sitting at my desk with my laptop? Why now does my mind become hyperactive and go into overdrive just at the very moment when my body is shutting down, crying out for rest?

This is not something that happens now and then. It happens every night, to the extent that I go through four or five notebooks for every novel I write. It’s physically painful.

But is it worth it, you may ask? Are these ideas actually any good? Well, yes, they do tend to be. I almost invariably use them – often word for word.

But why, why, why do they have to arrive in the seconds before sleep?

Am I the only writer this happens to? I’ve no idea because I have never discussed it before. But I would be fascinated to find out if anyone else has a similar experience. Do let me know.


(c) Rory Clements

About Corpus:

Europe is in turmoil.
The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland.
In Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror.
Spain has erupted in civil war.

In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks, she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers.

In a London club, three senior members of the British establishment light the touch paper on a conspiracy that will threaten the very heart of government. Even the ancient colleges of Cambridge are not immune to political division. Dons and students must choose a side: right or left, where do you stand?

When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe – and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VIII and his mistress Wallis Simpson…

Set against the drumbeat of war and moving from Berlin to Cambridge, from Whitehall to the Kent countryside, and from the Fens to the Aragon Front in Spain, this big canvas international thriller marks the beginning of a major new series from bestselling author Rory Clements.

Pick up a copy online here!

About the author

RORY CLEMENTS was born on the edge of England in Dover, the son of a Royal Naval officer and a former WREN. Since 2007, Rory has been writing full-time in a quiet corner of Norfolk, England, where he lives with his family. He won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2010 for his second novel, Revenger. A TV series of the John Shakespeare novels is currently in development by the team behind POLDARK and ENDEAVOUR. Find out more at www.roryclements.co.uk




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