Thursday, 29 March 2012

Why Do We Fear The Doppelganger?

When I was a kid, I had the same recurring nightmare that, it seems, I shared with most children. I would be in my house, where everything would seem fine. My mother and father would be there in the living room. I would leave for the kitchen...and there, standing at the sink, would be my mother. I'd know instantly that this was not her, my real mother was in the living room, this was some sort of monster or impostor, and when she turned around I could see the evil on her face. She would chase me back to my parents, or catch me and I would wake just as those hands that were not hers took hold of me.

But I wasn't alone in this. Talking to a few friends, I found that they had exactly the same type of nightmare. Even thinking about it now that dream still creeps me out, and it seems it's left its mark on my writing.

Tonight I read a post on Facebook which, summarising, said this - You hear a voice from the kitchen, your mother, asking you to come downstairs. On your way down you hear your mother calling from the bedroom, saying not to go down, she heard it too. Which do you believe?

Chills, right? Something so simple it borders on the cliché, but for some reason this really gets to me. Something which is not your mother, using her voice, screams malevolence. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Neil Gaiman's novel 'Coraline' features a young girl, the titular character, who, finding her way into a parallel world, discovers her 'Other Mother'. The main difference is that this Other Mother has buttons for eyes and means, in the end, to eat Coraline. A simplification of the plot, you understand, but there you have that old fear that one's mother is not who she says she is.

Let's widen the scope a little. In TV's 'Supernatural', there is an episode featuring the folkloric 'wendigo' - a creature into which humans could transform if they commit acts of cannibalism. The show's incarnation possesses one particular ability - the ability to mimic the voice of any human. Lying in wait in the woods, it calls out for help using the voice of one of the missing group. The group goes looking, and the creature devours them. In real-world Ethiopia, there is talk of a wolf-like creature called a 'corocotta' which has the ability to mimic the human voice, and lures its victims by calling them by name.

Sound familiar? In 'The Blair Witch Project', the antagonistic force in the woods calls out to the two remaining characters using the voice of their missing friend. It screams for help in the night, luring them into a trap. Therein, I believe, lies what is so unsettling about these dreams of the 'Other Mother'. It can also, I think, be seen in the folkloric changeling faery. A creature mimicking the voice, the appearance, or otherwise characteristic of what we know, what is familiar, what is safe. As human beings we, in our arrogance, consider ourselves to the apex of our ecosystem, so when something inhuman is able to mimic our voice, our intelligence, the thing that makes us human, it shakes us to our core.

I leave you with a personal note. In my story 'A Letter Found Amongst the Dead', a town is laid siege to by Knockers from the nearby mine. As usual it can be read on the left hand side of your screen, but I will quote a passage here:

The Knockers are on the roof again, clawing at the clay tiles, trying to get in. They call out with human voices, trying to lure us out, then cackle at their own cunning. They have learned our names, somehow, and call out to us using them, including the children.

The mimicking of the human soul - every writer has their major themes they revisit time and time again, and I think this is something that I will continue to write about. We write about both what we understand and what we hope to understand, so it is no surprise that our deepest fears creep their way into our stories too, whether they be the work of modern fiction or the whispered fears of our folkloric ancestry.

Until next time,


Monday, 19 March 2012

Why I Write (at least at the moment)

'I'll be a story in your head, but that's OK. We're all stories in the end.'
- The Eleventh Doctor, Doctor Who S31E13

Here be minor spoilers for Doctor Who. Read at your peril.

A few days ago, in the midst of ignoring my manuscript and the short stories I'm meant to be working on, I got around to watching Season 5 of the Doctor Who Reboot. In the midst of the season finale the above line stuck out like a splinter. I had chills. Sure, in many ways the line is a glaringly obvious one bordering on pop philosophy, but sometimes something is worded so simply that it shines with charm.

I'm not the only one who honed in on this line - many clearly have judging by the amount of fan videos that popped up when I googled it. But it struck a chord with me, and made me realise something about my writing for this past year.

Since the sudden death of my father in May of last year, my writing has taken on a preoccupation with death, and dying, and any facet of the last days of our lives. Everywhere I look there is a body, or bodies, from the clandestine burial in the snowy woods of 'The Keeper of Tales', to the world of the dead in my current novelette 'The Shadow of Death'. Even 'A Letter Found Amongst the Dead', which you can read in Eschatology Journal on the left hand side of this page, needs no explanation. There are many more unfinished pieces besides, little flash fiction stories and snippets of dialogue which I have collected but never completed.

The shadow of Death looms over us every day, and for a long time I wasn't dealing with my Dad's death. So it subconsciously came out in my writing; all those mixed up feelings, those nightmares I was having, became words on the page. And if that is the case then what do we become, in the end, to the ones we leave behind?

Faced with not only death but being erased from existence, the Eleventh Doctor tells Amy Pond that he will be a story in her head, the imaginary friend she had as a child. Now that my dad is gone, all I'm left with is stories; the things he did in his amazing life, the things he saw around the world when he was a merchant sailor. But even that isn't what I've focused on; I've focused on his body, on how he looked after death. I've focused on the burial, standing by his graveside as the funeral director hands me a flower to drop on top of the coffin. My dad has become a story in my head, and I've focused on this age old question, perhaps the greatest of them all - What happens after we die?

There's so much more I could write here - many of my stories come from dreams, and if that is so then some amount of analysis of the subconscious mind is in order, but I'll save that for another time. For now, what I'll say is this: I have, for months, been working out my dad's death through my writing, entirely subconsciously, and I will continue to do so. I'm going to get back to working on 'The Shadow of Death', which I think focuses mainly on my discontent with the conventional afterlife with some funereal imagery thrown in for good measure. Now that I'm more conscious of my preoccupation with death, perhaps I can improve on what I was writing before.

Until next time, readers.


Saturday, 10 March 2012

New Beginning

So, when I heard that it's a good idea for a writer to have a blog these days, I freaked a little. 'What do I know about blogging?', I said, having not had a blog in years.

But why not? Maybe, I thought, it would help me get out of this writing slump I'm in, forcing me to update and at least consider what it is I'm supposed to be doing here - this great old behemoth that is the bohemian life. Yes, readers, I am in a bit of a writing slump and I have been for a year. What a surprise - a struggling writer. In this time I've written a few flash pieces and one short story, but what I'm really supposed to be doing is writing a novel.

I have a novel in progress - it's called Lucian (working title), it's a YA Fantasy novel, and currently stands at 66,620 words. Many of these were written during one year's successful NaNoWriMo (that's National Novel Writing Month for those not in the know), but after that I completely slowed down. Now it's at a standstill, and that's really starting to get me down.

So, perhaps having a blog will help. I can get my thoughts out, ramble a little, bore you all half to death. But maybe, just maybe, I'll find a spark, and that spark will grow and grow until at last I will be thundering through the final 40,000 words of the novel and have a finished manuscript.

Those of you who know me, please, pester me to update this if I start to neglect it? And even if this doesn't help with Lucian, it will be a place to keep my ideas, even just to post the little things that I probably will never publish but which I like enough not to delete.

Signing off, then. I'll update this when I have something to say, whether it's about the novel or just something that's inspired me.