Last night I had the privilege of launching the new book of friend and colleague Gillian Polack, The Art of Effective Dreaming. This is what I said:
It is April Fool’s Day, and this is no coincidence. As Gillian Polack’s new book so perfectly illustrates – as fairy tales are wont to do – “We shall not grow wise before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.”
Fiction and reality share one thing in common: each is only half-true. In The Art of Effective Dreaming, Gillian shows that for those who love and lose, for those who love in vain, for those who love in expectation, the sharpest truth is the half-truth, and therein dwells the realm of the fairy tale.
Carved from both our conscious world and our dream world, the fairy tale is where courtship is better than sex, where life sometimes refuses death, and where hope shines stronger than despair. As the book’s protagonist Fay says, “I’m not a big one for reality.” Fay by name and fey by nature, then.
These are some of the things Gillian’s new book teaches us about fairy tales:
- in a fairy tale people grow old in wisdom rather than years;
- in a fairy tale it is magic, not rain, that renews;
- in a fairy tale there are always answers, but the answers you need and not the answers you expect;
- in a fairy tale beauty is not beauty;
- in a fairy tale ogres live in houses not under bridges;
- in a fairy tale homes are gardens and gardens are homes;
- in a fairy tale being right is never enough;
- in a fairy tale it’s impossible to keep your balance;
- in a fairy tale love is always a burden;
- in a fairy tale love is always a curse;
- in a fairy tale love is always salvation.
Gillian knows that the fairy tale is first and foremost a folktale, and that the natural accompaniments for folktales are folksongs, folk-dancing and riddles. These are the stories and the songs, the dances and the mysteries, our forebears shared with each other when the weather closed in, the wind and the wolves howled outside the door, and summer was just a memory. They echo in that part of our brain that still sends a shiver down our spine when dark clouds bank on the horizon and the edge of the forest seems a tad too close for comfort.
Gillian also knows that in fairy tales almost everything cradles a surprise. A gentle landscape hides low-hanging branches and foot-snagging rocks. Bridges don’t always cross rivers. The rugged coast hides kelpies as well as selkies. Castles can be traps as well as sanctuaries. Friends are not always friends. Your worst enemy is sometimes yourself.
But, Gillian being Gillian, The Art of Effective Dreaming is so much more than a fairy tale. It is a novel, and like an old river, it is a novel long and deep, and the deeper we delve the darker it gets. While evil gets its due – if not its comeuppance – good also suffers. Indeed, good suffers disproportionately, but who are we to spite the one true connection to our own world?
In this book there is a genuine conversation between author and reader. If this was a play, the protagonist would be constantly breaking the fourth wall. Fay wants to take us by the hand and bring us into her dreaming universe, and as we merge ourselves with her character the border surrounding our own reality starts to blur. The colours of faery bleed into our world, making it brighter, sharper and more perilous.
And that, of course, is what all good story-telling should be about, whether it’s mimetic fiction or science fiction, swashbuckler or fairy tale: the created world must be as vivid and true as the real world.
I unhesitatingly recommend this book to all those who enjoy their stories long and deep. It has followed a sometimes torturous route from concept to publication, and I congratulate Satalyte for having the courage and foresight to publish it against all curses and contrariness. I take great pleasure in announcing that Gillian Polack’s The Art of Effective Dreaming has left the slipway and now is well and truly launched.
 Freidrich August van Hayek