Inspirations for the Dreamers in 'Shadow Town'
Author of 'Wolf Road' explains his inspirations for the Dreamers in his new book 'Shadow Town'.
My review of 'Shadow Town' is here.
My novel Shadow Town is set in the land of Balthasar where some young people, the Dreamers, have the power to turn their dreams into reality. Generally this power remains unfocused but with years of training, by the time students are in their late teens, some are able to direct their dreaming power by their conscious will. In my novel, there is a Dreaming School, and the ruler of the land, the wicked Regent, decides what the fully-fledged Dreamers should dream into reality. Generally, the products of the dreams are things that the Regent wants – luxury items, oversized animals to feed his courtiers, a sea-monster in place of a navy. But this dreaming has a consequence – it is causing damage to the land of Balthasar, with natural disasters such as forest fires, floods, and great storms, and holes in the fabric of the universe.
The idea of the Dreamers and Dreaming seemed a good conceit for the story I wanted to tell. But there were broader themes that I wanted to suggest through the idea of dreaming and the Dreamers. I was not trying to have an exact allegorical meaning for the Dreamers, there was more a loose set of associations I had in mind. The Dreamers have several sources.
One of the inspirations for the Dreamers came from going into lots of schools over the last few years to deliver creative-writing workshops and to do poetry and fiction readings (which I love to do – contact me if you’d like me to come in to your school!). I noticed how much academic pressure and stress that children are placed under, and from a surprisingly young age. I found it disquieting, even disturbing, and I’ve been wondering why we have set up our society to put our most vulnerable under pressure and stress, and to apply this pressure constantly from such a young age. So that was there at the back of my mind when writing about the Dreamers.
I taught history part-time for nearly ten years at university. And one of the things I noticed was that even during that decade, there seemed a shift away from a university being a place of learning for its own sake towards being a business. And there were hints that some students were becoming less learners and more customers, and from their point of view consuming education solely to improve their earning power later in life. I think that’s different from what a university was even fifty years ago. So with the Dreamers I was taking that idea to ridiculous extremes, imagining a world where the sole function of education is to teach people how to produce colossal amounts of junk for a tyrannical ruler.
And of course, there’s climate change. Our pursuit of economic growth, and producing more and more, is damaging our world. So that’s at the back of my idea about the Dreamers dreaming pointless luxuries for the Regent.
But there’s another inspiration for the Dreamers, one that’s more personal. And that comes from my experience of creative work. Both how much fun it is, and how exhausting it is. And noticing how, now that I’m getting older, that I no longer have the resources of energy and power to create what I want. In Balthasar, the Dreamers only have a finite period of their dreaming abilities. Their powers dwindle. So for that element of Dreaming, I’ve drawn on my own experiences.
Those are some of the sources and inspirations for the Dreamers – but mainly I hope that readers enjoy the silliness of the children’s and teenagers’ not-always targeted magical powers.