Dodo Ink announces a new anthology

Dodo Ink will be publishing an anthology called 'TRAUMA: Art as a response to mental health' in June 2020.

Trauma will be an anthology of essays on mental health. Our essays will range from the personal to the political, from the raw to the reflective, exploring topics such as grief, insomnia, anxiety, schizophrenia, meditation, abusive relationships, work, post natal depression, and the relationship between madness and creativity. The anthology will be edited by Thom Cuell and Sam Mills.

We are also working on a series of events and workshops to tie in with the publication of Trauma, to encourage collaboration and dialogue between the worlds of art and medicine.

Our contributors include:

Tomoé Hill

Rowena Macdonald

Sophie Mackintosh

Alex Pheby

Momina Masood

Rhiannon L. Cosslett

Marina Benjamin

Tamim Sadikali

Jude Cook

Kirsty Logan

Dylan Evans

Catherine Taylor

Seraphina Madsen

Yvonne Conza

Emma Jane Unsworth

Monique Roffey

James Miller

Venetia Welby

Juliet Jacques

Christiana Spens

Nina Zivancevic

Anna Vaught

Saskia Vogel

Tom Tomaszewski

Joseph Schreiber

Neil Griffiths

Naomi Frisby

Susanna Crossman

Anna Maconochie 

Rachel Genn

Nina Ellis

Jenn Ashworth (introduction)


It's a busy time at Dodo Towers, as we get ready for the launch of our second novel, Wood Green, and make the final preparations for book #3, The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski. Sam, Thom and Alex have been working like galley slaves, staying late into the night getting books ready for post, checking manuscripts for typos and filling in prize nominations forms, before stumbling out onto the streets of Soho at 5am, bleary-eyed and unshaven. Just like the old days. 

As a reward, the Dodo has kindly allowed the team to venture out for a couple of nights of much needed relaxation. And they'll be bringing some authors with them! You can come along and help them let their hair down at the following venues:

Friday 23rd September: Wood Green book launch, at The Big Green Bookshop, 7pm

with readings by Sean Rabin, Seraphina Madsen and Tom Tomaszewski

Monday 26th September: A Night of Independent Publishers, at Burley Fisher Books, 7pm

Sean Rabin will be representing Dodo Ink, along with authors from Galley Beggar Press, Bluemoose and Repeater Books at this fantastic showcase of indie publishing. 

Tuesday 27th September: In Yer Ear, The King and Queen, Fitzrovia

Featuring readings from Sean Rabin and Seraphina Madsen

Come along and meet the team! We love meeting our readers and chatting about books, whenever the Dodo lets us off the leash. And if you're interested in hosting a Dodo event, or you'd like one of our readers to appear at your night, please email to arrange something. 

Christine Brooke-Rose Was A Scream by Tom Tomaszewski

I’m on an early morning train heading north through Kent as the sun rises on my right, contemplating another journey from over ten years ago, when I travelled to a little village near Avignon to meet the writer Christine Brooke-Rose. Since then, probably starting well before then, as I think I was jumping into some kind of a slip-stream generated by the interest of people like Stuart Kelly, Christine (I will use her first name as that’s what I ended up doing) has become rehabilitated as one of our leading experimental writers. I’m not entirely sure as I don’t really mix in the circles that would say they know; and although I think she’d be very glad to be thought of like that, to me she will always be a scream. Christine the experimenter and Christine a woman who made me laugh until it hurt. Christine Brooke-Rose.

From the start names were so very important. When I arranged to meet her during a crackling phone call in which she seemed more distant than I could imagine (it turned out later she was also trying to watch the tennis), she immediately became interested in my surname. One of her three husbands, Jerzy, from whom she had remained separated for many years, but with whom she was still occasionally in touch, was a Polish poet. The last time I saw her, Christine gave me the Polish-English dictionary covered in her notes from which she’d once gone about learning the language. So we arranged to meet and I stepped off the train in Avignon. Here’s how I started a piece I wrote for the Independent on Sunday at the time:


There's a woman standing by the exit to Avignon TGV holding up a small board with two words on it: "MADAM BONCZA". The Boncza bit I can understand; you'd need a plank for my full name. But "Madame"? In what I hope passes for French I introduce myself (6ft 2in, unshaven, shaved head) and she's understandably wary. If I was waiting for Madame Boncza, I'd be expecting a fairground fortune-teller. I tell her I'm here to visit the author Christine Brooke-Rose. The woman looks even more blank. "Une femme qui écrit?" "Ah oui!" she exclaims, "l'écrivain." The Writer.


There were other names that I won’t forget from my visit: Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose manuscript for Dans Le Labyrinthe lay on the desk in her study; Richard Brautigan, all of whose novels stood on a shelf in the guest room where I stayed; Hélène Cixous, who encouraged Christine to Paris from London to teach; and Tim Henman, who was losing a match at Wimbledon while we discussed her new novel: Life, End of.

Perhaps this piece will do something else to further her name. She seems, over her life, to have been very good at encouraging the work of other writers, but the one she didn’t seem keen to encourage was her own. Oh: there was also Xorandor. I can’t forget Xorandor. The title of her novel I like the most, the first time I mentioned it to her I struggled to pronounce it. I think I called it something like Exorandor, vaguely like Excalibur, only to be halted in my tracks by an arm imperiously raised and the flat of a hand suggesting I had done something desperately wrong. ‘Zorandor’, she pronounced, her voice steepling on the a, as if she were announcing the name of a character Shelley or Rider Haggard (both of whom she was fond) had somehow let ride away from them, on a thundering Arabian charger, in the middle of a dark night.

Christine was very old when I met her and confined to a wheelchair from which she watched tennis, occasional crime dramas, and the foliage on the high stone wall opposite her living room (as she describes in Life, End of). These are the things she stressed, I have to say: counterpoints, perhaps, to her dismay at being rejected, she believed (with good reason), by the English writing establishment, and what she regarded as the sad absurdity of her, she also believed, final days (in fact she lived on for another decade). She was angry, I could see; and lonely.

If you read Remake (1996), her first autobiographical novel, you’ll understand more or less exactly the situation I walked into when I visited her: Christine Brooke-Rose retired to a small French village and retreated to a very nice but cut off flat on the upper floor of an old building, the entrance shielded by a remote-controlled iron gate; tended to by a very kindly French woman; and entertained by her large TV set (there’s a passage in Remake where some locals complain about the satellite dish she has fitted to her roof). You’ll also sample the sense of comedy, so dry sparks are never far from flying, that she adored. After spending a day with her I was relieved to find Richard Brautigan’s novels in her guest room. They offered something of a decompression chamber between Christine’s living room with the wine and the Catalan folk and love songs she played me on her guitar, the hours of conversation which I recorded with various stabs at past and present literary and sporting figures, the trips to her study on my own to examine things she believed, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly were there (she couldn’t climb the stairs any more) and sleep, which came at last on the first night at about two in the morning with some very strange dreams. She wasn’t in them, but it felt as if everything else was: telepathy, perhaps, the sense of her being overlooked which had found its way to me in the discussion, her questions, often ahead of mine, her singing and our laughter. I remember something she said to me:

I've never wanted to belong to a literary group or a political group. I never liked literary life. I was part of it for a time, going to publisher's parties and so on, but I never missed that. When I went to Paris, I didn't join the French literary movements because they were even worse.

And there was Life, End of. I stayed for three nights and on the second day she mentioned to me that she had written one last book. This came as a shock because the tone of our conversations up to that point had been very much in the space of her writing days being over. She asked me if I could read it and tell her whether it was worth publishing. She wasn’t sure. I read the entire manuscript in a single sitting, under the Brautigan, and listening to Christine sometimes shuffling in the rooms above me. She was anxious, she said, that she might be publishing something ridiculous; a book that would ruin her reputation. She still had dreams of being read widely and was grateful to the various writers who sometimes referred to her work.

There had been, it seemed, over the years, an infrequent and decreasing flow of visitors to her residence: many, perhaps, finding it hard to return when their relationship with her became strained. Christine had a way of straining relationships: it’s in her writing, pushing and pulling at the fabric of writing, propping up conflicts like megaliths and burying warmth like unfrozen soil, deep in wintry ground.

I told her what I took to be the truth: it’s an extraordinary book. It’s deeply sad and in parts, a scream. Something to accompany both unbearable pain and outrageous fun. I loved it. She had to publish it, and indeed she did (after a bizarre passage of shifting draughts and computer files between Avignon and London). If you’re interested, I was surprised to see that the piece I wrote for the Independent on Sunday is still available on-line. 

It’s mid-afternoon and the train’s moving on. Sunny and busy; somehow this piece broke and was continued; somehow I was at work. The conductor (who I should call an on-board manager, but can’t allow the phrase outside of these brackets) speaks quickly over the intercom, announcing the stations between Ashford and Margate. Somewhere between those places, between Nicola Barker’s Ashford-slum Darkmans and Margate’s version of Dreamland, Tracey Emin’s Why I never Became a Dancer, there are Christine Brooke-Rose’s novels. A strange sense of the middle of nowhere. A worrying euphoria. Something terminally dark and desolate. Something on the bright side of a muddy edge.  She was a scream.

The Making of Wood Green

With this in mind, and my thirties approaching, I made a conscious decision to radically change my writing process. I was enamoured with the structural complexity and ecstatic imagination of Jean Genet’s novels, and my ambition was to write a book that achieved something similar. I also wanted to create something beautiful. For a long time I had believed that confrontation equalled innovation, yet with the failure of my first two books I had realised that bringing a reader close and making them feel something deep was much harder than keeping them at arm’s length with shock tactics.

Read more

The Making of Dodge and Burn - by Seraphina Madsen

Dodge and Burn began as a short story I left unfinished and put away when I became heavily involved in writing a road trip novel I was tentatively calling Jornada del Muerto after the fabled desert trail from Mexico to New Mexico. The short story was a recollection of a short story I had written when I was seventeen – an attempt at magical realism with a maleficent Dr. Vargas, an attack of killer bees, and a heroine who succumbs to insanity. 

     With Jornada del Muerto I had abandoned magical realism and was aiming for a post-modern cocktail infused with Beat, most notably William S. Burroughs and Kerouac, as well as “gonzo” popularized by Hunter S. Thompson, of which Tom Wolfe’s Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test was also a pivotal work in the genre. I had experienced the nineties in the San Francisco underground psychedelic trance scene which felt like a continuation and evolution of the cultural revolution Wolfe had documented in the sixties. The warehouses these psychedelic trance “freaks” occupied were even in some of the same warehouses Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters had held their acid parties. I took up with a Swedish DJ and traveled the party circuit from South Africa to Europe where I spent two of those years in Amsterdam living in a very large squat turned art commune in the former Belgian Embassy. I wanted to use these experiences in creating my narrative as Wolfe, Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson had done. 

     At the time of writing Jornada del Muerto I was studying for a degree in Creative Writing at Kingston University and it had become my major project. At the end of the year I left myself little time before the final portfolio was due and panicked. I had no idea what I would submit for a module in experimental literature which demanded a short story and a critical essay. Because of my time constraints I had no choice but to revise and edit the aforementioned short story with Dr. Vargas and the killer bees because it was the most developed.

     The result of the experimental assignment was “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…”, which was later published in The White Review. Shortly after I turned in the final portfolio for my degree at Kingston I was contacted by two of my tutors who told me I had had a breakthrough with the experimental short story. I was in the process of coming to grips with the fact that the novel was a failure. My closest friend’s verdict was: “Just the kind of pretentious bullshit I hate reading”. I was trying to capture the existential, mystical, psychedelic, dramatic and comical as the Beat and “gonzo” greats had done so masterfully and found myself like Icarus, flying too close to the sun, drowning in a sea of mediocracy, sentimentality, and confusion. The first step toward improvement was realizing this, which gave me hope. It was a clue that my frame of mind had shifted and I was seeing things more clearly.   

     I toyed with the idea of continuing and expanding “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…” into a novella but hesitated because it was a bit too close to the heart, too raw and difficult. I hadn’t ever intended for anyone see it, and now it had been published. I was still trying to come to terms with this. My father read the short story online and said it was, at its heart, autobiographical. My sister and I had been taken from our father at a very young age by our mother and stepfather and hidden in another state and town so that he did not have access to us. The only communication between us was a few letters we were made to write telling our father how happy we were without him in our lives and never wanted to see him again – an act which killed us and no doubt our father, in one blow.  

     Our stepfather was a highly intelligent academic with some form of psychopathy who was determined to control every aspect of our lives, forcing us to bend to his delusions in a horror-play of violence and abuse. This was our reality, in the case of my sister, from infancy, and I from very early childhood into our late teen age years when I managed to run away. After I escaped it took me several years to find and rescue my sister. Even though “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…” contained details and plotlines that were fabricated, there were still important similarities to mine and my sister’s lives, not to mention the entire premise revolving around two sisters in captivity, kidnapped by a malevolent stepfather. If I expanded the story of the heiress I would have to bite the bullet and remain in that world, and perhaps even expose it to the public if anyone ever wanted to publish it. In the end I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It haunted me. The onslaught of ideas as to how it could be expanded and what I could do with it eclipsed all else and gave me no peace. I decided to take the bull by the horns, wherever that led me.

     William Faulkner famously said, “The best fiction is far more true than any journalism”, which allegedly inspired Hunter S. Thompson in the creation of “gonzo”. Picasso’s ideas on the matter seemed to clarify the point further: “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” And that is what I set out to do, to convey truth with the artistry of fiction. I planned on using a form of the cut-up method pioneered by Brian Gysin and William S. Burroughs and like this would pillage Jornada del Muerto, so that I could scatter its ashes all over the new material drawn from my life, the lives of others, and my imagination. 

     At the time of writing “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…” I was reading Henry James’ Turn of the Screw. The mastery – the compactness, intensity, scope, vision – astounded and inspired me. It was one of the tightest, most complex and vivid narratives I had ever read, similar in many ways to Heart of Darkness, another masterpiece that had deeply moved me. I decided I wanted to create something based on its structure and tone, to incorporate the horror, the ghost, the menace, the psychological terror, to make use of any and all tricks of James’ I could untangle. I read J.M. Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K, was reduced to tears in the hands of yet another genius, and became obsessed with writing a novella.

     I saw this novella incorporating all of the influences that had inspired my attempt at a novel – post-modernist, beat, and “gonzo” – but with the magical realism that “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…” brought, which would change everything. I wanted to create something like Guillermo del Toro had done with Pan’s Labyrinth. I had seen the film before and during the writing of  “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…” and was taken in by, among many other aspects, what I called a ‘dark magical realism’ that pervaded the film, setting childhood innocence and magic against some of the most brutal adult worlds imaginable. This was, in many respects, how childhood had felt for my sister and me. I could express the truth in the manner Picasso had explained with the aid of the magical realism, and then also push the boundaries of the magical and the real with psychology and instances of altered states of consciousness, so that very fine lines could be created between the different realities. 

     Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor, was also a great authority that played heavily on my mind. In this, one of his later novels, Nabokov captures the shift of childhood into young adulthood and old age in the context of a love affair in a way that is remarkable, using structures to mimic the subjective passing of time in a complex world of his own creation with an alternate history taking place in the late eighteen hundreds where the United States is comprised of all of the Americas with North America having been settled predominantly by the English, Russian and French. Earth is called ‘Antiterra’ or ‘Demonia’. The belief in the existence of a twin planet called ‘Terra’ has inspired a cult. At the outset of the novel one of the protagonists is a psychologist researching and working with patients who believe they are in contact with Terra. For them Terra is the true world and the people of Antitera are merely the hallucinations and dreams of those who inhabit the original. So masterful is the craftsmanship of his cosmos, the reader forgets it is a kind of science fiction. Nabokov’s solutions to the different literary problems involved in introducing ideas such as these into the text sent my mind on overdrive. I wanted to find a way to spread the manner of this wondrous novel throughout my own.

     At some point I picked up Carlos Castaneda and was blinded by the scope of his genius, even more so if parts of it were fabricated. The structure and tone of his works was very similar to how I had imagined Eugenie would communicate, scholarly, yet popular in a generally even tone. Castaneda is a master at making the mystical accessible and believable, which is no easy feat. If I could learn from him, perhaps something would rub off. 

     The idea of an heiress being one of the main protagonists came from an obsession with Edie Sedgwick. She seemed to me to be one of the last great, troubled socialites, a fawn lost in the woods, her power being in her innocence, grace, spontaneity, fragility and keenness of mind, which also made me think of Marilyn Monroe. I saw Eugenie like Edie, coming from privilege with its horseback riding and ballet, secluded on a compound throughout childhood, allegedly abused by her dominant and manipulative father, let loose on the world in a state of innocence, forever fighting, going beyond her capacity, never wanting to give in until she is devoured. Like this I envisioned the characters, the mood, taking a cue from “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…” and began a new manuscript.  

     It took nearly two years to write the novella with ideas and passages taken from the previous attempt at a novel, Jornada del Muerto. I was tentatively calling it Dodge and Burn after a conversation my father and I had had on a deserted beach in Northern California when he was telling me about Ansel Adams pioneering the process, how it had figured prominently in his work, allowing him to manipulate the exposure, to play with the light and shadows in such a way that characterized the power and magnificence of his photographs.   

     One of my tutors at Kingston, James Miller, had taken me under his wing and kept his eye out for any agents or small imprints he came across who might be interested in my work so that he could connect me with them. Like this I met the author Sam Mills who was beginning an imprint called Dodo Ink. After James directed her to “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…” she contacted me and showed great interest at taking a look at the manuscript even though it wasn’t fully formed. She and the other members of the imprint – reviewer Thom Cuell and digital marketer Alex Spears – all read the draft and offered me a contract. I could not believe my good luck. It was my wildest dreams come true. To be able to be a part of an independent imprint with an author I respected like Sam Mills, and then upon hearing the brilliant ideas and enthusiasm Thom Cuell and Alex Spears had for the project was the perfect scenario for the novella.

     Shortly after I had agreed to accept the contract James Miller fielded an email query from an agent, Jessica Craig, at the Pontas Agency who had read “Hunt for American Heiress Continues…”, loved it and wondered whether I had anything else. I explained that it wasn’t finished or polished enough, but that she could see it as I’d already sent it to Sam Mills of Dodo Ink. Once Jessica Craig had read the draft she contacted me and agreed that a lot of work needed to be done, but that she was convinced enough by the sample to offer me a contract. Again, I could not believe all of this was happening. Jessica Craig’s understanding of the novella and where it might go were perfectly in tune with my own feelings. It was the same with Sam Mills of Dodo Ink. The outpouring and exchange of ideas led to great improvements and spurred my imagination.  

     It took several more drafts to arrive at what might be called a finished novel. I had gone through several breakdowns and fallen ill with the flu three times in six months by then. I had also accidentally set my laptop on fire with a compressed air duster and a flame from a lit candle on my desk. The strict adherence to the word count of a novella was abandoned, along with other ideas, passages, bits of dialog, sex scenes, descriptions I had held on to so dearly, which now sometimes make me laugh to no end with their absolute ridiculousness. There was a lot of cutting and inserting of paragraphs in what seemed like the most random of places, but which fit perfectly perhaps due to some kind of dyslexia in logic I was experiencing. Many passages and paragraphs were deleted altogether. Quite a lot of fleshing out throughout the entire draft was necessary. The ideas and guidance Sam Mills and Jessica Craig offered after each reading aided a great deal in propelling the novel forward and I felt very fortunate to be working with them.

     The end took a long time to formulate and eventually came in a flash which I had to process, first drawing a kind of sketch, and adding to it. Throughout writing what had become a novel, I noticed I worked a bit like a painter, making sketches, then transforming them with color and other mediums to create the textures and the story, using tricks to cover things up, working all of the time to get the frame and the mood and the light just right. I thought I would never see the end of it. Thankfully, as the saying goes, it is darkest before the dawn. Suddenly I looked down at the words on the screen realized I had come to a kind of end. 

Very Disco

Dodo Ink author Tom Tomaszewski talks about the ideas and inspirations behind his novel The Eleventh Letter

I’m never sure if it’s a good idea for writers to start writing about their writing. A single sentence and I’ve already mentioned writing, in the abstract, three times. So somebody suggested to me that instead of writing about The Eleventh Letter I write something that connects with it. What a good idea: to shake the envelope and see what drops out.

To begin with: The Aspern Papers. Henry James’s story has an inward movement, the kind I found myself repeating as I wrote The Eleventh Letter. A current places the past inside, not behind. Aspern’s papers are in a palazzo, in the hands of a lover, in a drawer, in secret, in a place behind a locked door. Why does the nameless narrator want Aspern’s papers? Why does he crave them? Somebody tells him: ‘One would think you expected to find in them the answer to the riddle of the universe’.

            In The Eleventh Letter Chris is driven to expose a secret. He finds only traces of it caught up in every aspect of his life, like particles of something in his life-blood. Its closed-off heart is somewhere only ghosts can take him. It always beats just outside of him, just outside of the moment. Some secrets, the kind that draw Chris in, aren’t there to be stated. They drive the story on.

There’s always a lot about ourselves we feel we don’t know for sure. I’m as interested in this as when I began writing The Eleventh Letter – and writing it has taught me that secrets can be felt. If you follow your desire there might be no dead ends.

Secrets can do things to us. They’re there to surprise, chill, worry, seduce, lure, daze or frustrate. In the end, if you insist on knowing, you run out of people to ask. Everybody dies or gets fed up repeating the facts. Who can tell you the answer to a family secret? But we consider these things and we imagine answers. We conjure up conversations out of the past.

Ghosts: we summon them up out of our desire. We can write them. The ghosts in The Eleventh Letter all feel believable to me. Traces of selves; the halves and halves of halves of selves. There are selves, fractals, shards, opposites, entirely other selves and shattered selves in all of us.

            This leaves me thinking of Eden, a gorgeous French film I watched as soon as it was released. Paul, whose film it really is, feels less himself as his career as a DJ disintegrates. Like Chris in The Eleventh Letter he’s after something. He wants money from his mother, coke, records, not to be alone, perhaps. We see Thomas and Guy-Man from Daft Punk whisper and plot and play … they do things very differently. They’re interested in destiny. We see their satisfaction when a track does the trick and gets everyone dancing really hard. They make music. We never see them shaded by their visors – the helmets they’re famous for wearing. This is a film about exposure – maybe the perils of over-exposure to dreams of ghosts. Paul plays music as if it’s sand running through his fingers and it runs out on him. Daft Punk, they become Daft Punk. There’s nothing cryptic or melancholy about Da Funk, it makes you want to dance. But for a film, that wouldn’t be enough. Films need ghosts.  

            And then there’s Ghost Dance, the Ken McMullen film.


PASCALE OGIER [looking like Helene Cixous, speaking in French]
Do you believe in ghosts?


JACQUES DERRIDA [looking like a red rag to all kinds of bull, holding a pipe, speaking in French]

That’s a difficult question. Firstly you’re asking a ghost whether he believes in ghosts. Here the ghost is me. Since I’ve been asked to play myself … in a film which is more or less improvised … I feel as if I’m letting a ghost speak for me. Curiously, instead of playing myself … without knowing it … I let a ghost ventriloquize my words or play my role … which is even more amusing. The cinema is the art of ghosts, a battle of phantoms. That’s what I think the cinema’s about when it’s not boring. It’s the art of allowing ghosts to come back. That’s what we’re doing now.


In The Eleventh Letter I used a screenplay to introduce two ghosts. Forms and bodies are very important to me.  Psychotherapists talk about a process called ‘containing’, and a novel is one way of containing the forces and energies of sentences, characters and situations so that they can come together and make things happen.

            Henry James intrigues me because of the things he allows to happen in his writing in order to contain. James is a ghost-friendly writer, like Daft Punk are ghost-friendly musicians. They know how to make something happen because they are bold, clear and decisive. They know how to contain ghosts, rather than be over-run by them. In a phrase or a riff; in a piece of punctuation or a rhythm; in a nameless narrative voice or by turning on a vocoder. The Aspern Papers uses simple repetitions to carry the energy of a conversation: ‘To which I replied that that would depend upon the amount of pleasure I should get for it.’ Or parentheses to explain something, letting the same voice say more, but in confidence: ‘I remained a while longer, wandering about the bright desert (the sun was pouring in) of the old house …’.

            The screenplay parts of The Eleventh Letter let Louise and Simon speak directly. It came to me out of a dream. Dreams are the most elastic and imaginative containers for the elusive parts of my life, the parts I barely know. Contradictions are no problem. The other day I had a dream with almost everyone I have ever known in it, and with me as every age I have ever been. I was angry and I was sad. Dreams leap across time. This one followed on from two dreams a month ago. One involved my father. There was a kind of closed planet, all grey as if in a kind of a mist, and a whispering voice: absolute rage, absolute anger. The next night there was a dream of my mother, a similar planet and a similar voice: absolute sadness, absolutely gone.  In the first dream I felt so angry I could gasp, and afterwards, as I awoke I felt ashamed. In the second dream I couldn’t breathe for tears and when I woke all I wanted was my mother.

            This dream I just had, of almost everyone I have known enjoying a childish party, took place in the field-like garden of the farmhouse my aunt and uncle lived in when I was very young. Dreams are made without distinguishing between what did and what might have happened. I remember being told that I painted a line around that farmhouse, on the inside, with a spray canister of black paint. And I saw, many times, a home-made Super 8 film called Laggan Water of my parents, Fiona, the au pair, and my aunt and uncle, having a water fight in that field-garden. The film begins with somebody dipping their hand, it’s a woman’s hand, into a blue paddling pool and splashing water (at someone, I assume). All we see is the hand. I wish I had that film now but it’s lost apart from somehow being in me, and somehow reappearing in the dream I have just described. Who filmed it?

            This is what I mean by an inward movement to the past. They’re all dead – or in Fiona’s case lost. There’s nobody to ask and nothing factual for me to learn. I can, however, recognise a confused kind of pleasure playing out amongst them. Experiencing that as a child I would have been baffled. Maybe they wanted the fun to go on and on. When I painted that line inside the house (my father had to redecorate every room) it certainly looks like I didn’t want to stop either.

            But we need to stop. You can’t keep craving.

            In The Eleventh Letter Chris doesn’t know when to stop. He has his supervisor, who knows better to help him, but there are a whole host of ghosts on his trail. He has his notes and his writing. He can see how Kate’s obsession with Jack France, and Louise’s with Kate, have played out. But he can’t do anything about his obsession with Louise, any more than his father could deal with his untoward feelings towards his young niece, Maria.  Chris has seen the newspaper cuttings of his father’s trial. He follows the wolf-man story in the newspapers he reads in Pisa. But he doesn’t pay enough attention to his desire – until he writes The Eleventh Letter.        

            I hope this tells you something. I’ve been to James’s house in Rye and sat in the garden on a hot afternoon, wishing I could lie there on the grass as the sun went down. I could weave that memory together with Laggan Water.

            The Eleventh Letter helped me understand how powerful ghosts are. They can prevent us feeling things as we might, or they can let us feel things more for now.

            It makes sense, I suppose, to have also had a soundtrack.

You can read an extract from The Eleventh Letter here