Insomnia – a mixed blessing for a writer
People ask me when I write, as I have a demanding day job (I work in aviation safety and security, so pretty busy these days). I tell them I get a lot of insomnia, that I write in the dead of night, as there are no distractions, no one to email at that time of night, nothing on TV. Wow, they say, that must be cool, you can do two jobs!
Er… not that cool, actually.
Sometimes it is. I wake up at 3am, and after twenty minutes trying to get back to sleep, I realise sleep has left the building, so I get out of bed and fire up the laptop, bash the keyboard until six am, and then start getting ready for work. Usually in that time I can write half a chapter. There are no distractions, and the mind is lucid at that time of day, so new ideas flow. Not a good time for editing, when you need a cold rational eye, but for new stuff, it rocks.
However, sometimes insomnia is hell: you are desperately tired and just cannot sleep. People give me useless advice: just go to sleep, what is the problem, count your breaths, relax man! If only it were that easy. Most people never experience bad insomnia. Good for them. And I have to admit, that without it, I would never have written so much. Still, insomnia and I are not exactly friends, even if occasional bedfellows. So, I wrote about it once, based on a particularly bad night. This is what it feels like:
I crack open a crusty eye towards the offending instrument. 2:15. Fuck, an hour since I woke up, two hours since I went to bed, having taken the usual potions guaranteed to make me sleep eight hours. I change sides again, left side of my face on the pillow this time, flat on my stomach.
I could count my breaths again. What did I reach earlier? 237? What’s my record? Read, the books say – what else would they say, they’re books for Christ’s sake. But I’m tired, too exhausted to read. Anyway, light wakes you up, they also say.
It’s dark outside. I’m a chronic insomniac, I can pretty much tell the time by the shades of black, the depths of night. And the sounds. The cars usually stop after 1:30, pizza moto’s – those mechanised mosquitoes I’d like to swat – give up around half-past midnight. Of course an ambulance can happen anytime, or some asshole driving home fast, drunk, heading towards their own bed, probably after ‘sleeping’ in someone else’s first, racing towards Morpheus’ embrace, that cool balm that evades me.
I turn back onto my right side, that’s the best one for sleep, or for relaxing without sleeping. I let my mind drift. The office starts up: what I should have said to my boss, but of course didn’t. Great, that’s really going to help. Someone else at the office. Marna, her breasts in my hands, her lips hard against mine, me shoving her up against the back of my office door that won’t lock… I sigh. That’s not exactly going to help me sleep, either. I sneak another pointless time-check, hoping my brain will recognise the figures and suddenly shout, ‘Oh shit, sorry man, I thought it was only 10:30, here you go, sleep time!’
I get up. No need to turn the light on, I know the layout of my bedroom like a blind man. I walk over to the window and open it a crack; it’s cold outside, but quiet enough now to allow in some fresh air without the attendant noises that might wake me. Except the foxes of course, haven’t heard them yet tonight. I really should buy an air rifle. Just kidding. Probably. Maybe. I peel back the curtain. Ice-white stars puncture the darkness. No moon, though, that old insomniac’s nemesis. Nope, no excuse this time.
I try some yoga, a shoulder stand, feet stretching up in the air, balancing on my shoulders and elbows. My neck feels tight; I shouldn’t really go up into it just like that. But then ‘should’ has no rights here does it? I should be asleep after all. I come down, lie flat on my back, knees up. I can feel there’s more oxygen now the window’s open. Before it was like a deluxe coffin. I wonder if I’ll sleep when I’m dead, or just lie there for eternity listening to the worms munching rotting flesh. I shudder, get up, collapse back into bed.
I ram the pillow vertical up against the headboard, sit cross-legged, back against it, and meditate. Try to anyway; it’s difficult to meditate when you’re so fucking tired. Desperate; tortured. Scenes flash through my mind; it’s like channel hopping on TV. I wait. The TV goes off. I see an empty universe. I move the current one aside so there’s nothing there, really nothing, not even distant stars. I imagine it’s two hundred years in the future, so I’m dead and long forgotten, and concentrate on the space, the sound it doesn’t make, the texture it doesn’t have. I focus really hard, stretching my mind out in all directions, surfing nothing. My back relaxes, tension dissolves, cool rain drizzles down my spine like pebbles tumbling down an up-ended rainstick. Now, it has to be now. I lie down. One last glance. 3:03. I close my eyes; right side; breathing calm. I can feel it coming. Shhh. Don’t scare it off. Sleep. God’s design error. The little death.
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A murder… a new planet mankind desperately needs… a thousand-year old conspiracy… What really awaits us on Eden? In a world beset by political turmoil, environmental collapse, and a predatory new religion, a recently discovered planet, Eden, is our last hope. But two missions have failed to return. Blake Alexander and his crew lead the final attempt to bring back good news. Meanwhile back on Earth, Micah Sanderson evades assassins, and tries to work out who he can trust as he struggles in a race against time to unravel the Eden Paradox.
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Author bio: Barry (J F) Kirwan is a split personality. He writes science fiction under the name Barry Kirwan, and thrillers under his pen name J F Kirwan. In his day job, he travels worldwide, working on aviation safety. He lives in Paris, where he first joined a fiction class – and became hooked! This led to an acclaimed four-book series called the Eden Paradox. But when a back injury stopped him scuba diving for two years, he wrote a thriller about a young Russian woman, Nadia, where a lot of the action occurred in dangerously deep waters.Two of these thrillers are now out and he’s working on the third, as well as a new science fiction novel called ‘When the children come.’