I’ve jokingly referred to writing novels as playing with my imaginary friends in various posts. Many children have imaginary friends, and I was no exception.
I had good cause to create an ally, for when I was three years old my privileged world was invaded by twin sisters. I loved them, but the attention definitely shifted from toddler me to entrancing babies. My role altered too, for suddenly I was a helper and protector.
To cope, I invented Peter—an invisible brother, who did all of the naughty things that I would never do. He stuck around for a couple of years until I went to infant school, where I suddenly had battles to fight alone.
Peter returned to me last night, as I waded through another round of editing my WIP. He came into my mind as an idea for a short story about a writer being haunted by a ghost that looks like himself.
It made me wonder if writers are prone to having kept company with imaginary friends when youngsters—an early manifestation of their creative powers, perhaps….
I’ve met my doppelgänger too, and it gave me great pause for thought. I lived in Southsea as a student in the mid-80s, which has a village feel to it and is the part of Portsmouth next to the sea. Occasionally, a passing car would beep me, and I’d think “I don’t know anyone with a white VW—who was that?”. Once someone hailed me from the other side of the road and even started to cross over before changing their mind.
I didn’t think too much of it until I went out to my neighbourhood store for some Saturday night snacks. Standing patiently in a long queue, I suddenly felt a hand creep between my legs and give my undercarriage a friendly tweak! I turned around to see a complete stranger, a woman some years younger than me who blushed furiously saying “I’m sorry, I thought you were Robert. You look just like him from behind.”
“Well, do I feel like him from behind?” I asked. It turned out she’d been picked up by this man in a club, spent the night with him, and he hadn’t contacted her since. She told me that he worked in a local wine bar, so I went along to have a look at him one lunchtime. He did indeed look like a version of me—though not as tall, handsome or sexy (tee-hee), and could have passed for my little brother.
When I told Robert about the incident in the store where I got goosed and described the girl, he replied gracelessly “Oh her, she’s a bloody nightmare.”
After meeting him, all of the cases of mistaken identity fell into place. Then I had the dreadful thought of what would happen if he robbed a bank—eyewitnesses would finger me as the culprit!
Remembering this incident, I wrote a novella called ‘A Man Out Walking His Dog’, about a man doing just that who discovers a murder victim floating in a river. The story was prompted by my experience of mistaken identity, and hearing that phrase so often on the news—dog walkers are often the first people to find a corpse—something they don’t tell you in the pet shop when you buy a puppy.
A pushy detective tries to frame him for the crime, as he resembles the real killer who’s seen by unreliable witnesses in the area at the same time. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously fickle and, all too often, shockingly inaccurate—a situation made worse if coerced by a biased policeman. My accused man escapes by the skin of his teeth, thanks to a video of the killer that his victim made on her iPhone.
We all like to think we’re unique, but we have replicants walking around somewhere—doing good and bad things without our permission!
Did any of you have friends that nobody else could see?
Are they still around?