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Writing when asleep

I’ve been quite tired this week. The older my kids get, the harder it is to get them to bed before 9.30pm. That leaves less time in the evenings to relax (which, as all parents know, is almost impossible with children around), which means I go bed later. The problem is that the more tired I am, the harder it is to write. I can write up to 3,000 words on a day when I’m feeling awake and clear-minded, but sometimes as little as 500 if my mind’s in a fug. On day’s like that, I keep a supply of Coca Cola to hand, which perks me back up. This week has been an eight-can week.

I’m reading The Roses of No Man’s Land by Lyn MacDonald, a collection of eye witness accounts from nurses, doctors and wounded soldiers in the Great War. It’s very moving, sometimes funny, and often traumatic. One nurse tells the story of a “very young” soldier whose genitals had been entirely shot away. Her job every morning and evening was to remove the gauze from the hole that had been left, wash the puss away from the raw flesh inside, then repack it with the gauze. She describes how he would cry during the process and feel ashamed of his tears. She ends her account with the brutally honest words “I expect he was discharged from the Army, but he’d never be any good as a man after that”. A very hardy generation.


One of the most powerful works of fiction I ever read was Regeneration by Pat Barker. Strangely, novels and films set in the midst of battle often lose the sense of the awfulness of war, possibly because the audience is so emotionally invested in the characters coming through the immediate danger that there’s little time or space to dwell on the tragedy of what’s going on around them. By contrast, Regeneration was mostly set in a hospital back in Blighty, where the only shellfire and bullets were in the minds of the patients. What the book did so effectively was to show the mental and emotional effects of the Great War on the soldiers who went through it, and thereby bring the heartbreak of it all into sharp focus.

On the subject of the Great War, this Saturday – snow permitting – I’m dragging the family along to our first history event of the year: Trenches through the Ages at Park Hall Countryside Experience at Oswestry. A recreated trench with lots of reenactors. Just my thing.


4 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Fiona
    March 28, 2018 at 10:31 am #

    I’m with you on this one, Glyn – about tiredness. When I clicked on this blog, because of the title I rather thought you might be writing when asleep! As I do – which is infuriating, as there I am, composing my thoughts, coming up with additional sentences or paras that I should have added to the novel, and being annoyed that I was asleep because (anno domini being what it is) I’ll have forgotten all about it come morning!

    • Glyn Iliffe
      March 28, 2018 at 11:45 am #

      I think I’ve perfected the art of shutting writing out of my mind before bed, otherwise I might not sleep at all. That said, I still keep a notepad in my bedside drawers, just in case.

  2. S.cresswell
    March 30, 2018 at 9:36 am #

    Have just finished 2 books one is Behind the Lines by Andrew Caroll it has uncensored letters from different wars, And Never such Innocence by Martin Stephen an anthology of poetry fromm ww1.Both heartbreaking.

    • Glyn Iliffe
      March 30, 2018 at 3:27 pm #

      I’ve got a big pile of WW1 books for research – at least 80 that I haven’t read yet. The personal accounts are the best, though if they were recorded decades after the war then memories can get confused.

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