Saturday, 5 June 2010

Alter egos and doppelgängers

This is a shot of my workshop balcony. Bang in the middle of that bay tree is a wood pigeon's nest, a twiggy and random affair. In the nest are two squabs, baby pigeons just out of the egg. Their mother sits tight when I water the tree, and we both pretend the other isn't there, even when our eyes meet.

Last week I heard a kerfuffle, and saw a crow after the eggs. I scared it off, twice, then hastily made the scarecrow in the picture for when I'm not there. I change my alter ego's clothes and move it about daily. So far it's worked...

My daughter remarked that it looks worryingly like me. Which got me thinking more about doppelgängers, those inexplicable and sinister harbingers of doom. (More, because the story I'm currently working on involves a young woman who is duplicated, and her inconvenient replica has to go on the run with just what she stands up in.)

In real life, people who see their doppelgänger, or someone else's, are inevitably shaken by the experience, and one can well see why. It happened to John Donne, Lincoln, and Shelley among the famous. There is something spooky about doubles - even twins, nature's clones, are a little weird - and you really, really, wouldn't want to bump into yourself; never ring your own number just in case you hear yourself answer...

If you haven't read it, take a look at Hans Christian Anderson's short story The Shadow. Now that's a strange and disturbing tale.


  1. I just finished reading The Shadow. Absolutely wonderful and yes, disturbing and utterly fascinating. A sort of Tales of the Unexpected but even more twisted.

    Thanks for the link!

    And I hope the baby pigeons survive - I love pigeons - so maligned, poor things. Crows too but they're so big and efficient they'll be fine!

    Your rather swish and stylish scarecrow is just bizarre. Scary and effective and bizarre! But if it protects the baby pigeons then I'd have a whole army of them!

    Take care

  2. Yes, I like crows too - rather more than wood pigeons, to be honest. But I feel sorry for poor Mrs Pigeon, outgunned and trying to save her eggs. There were a few grey feathers about after the first raid.

    HCA was not the jolly entertainer of children Disney would have us believe. His writing is dark...

  3. Ooh this is a theme that really sends shivers up my spine in fiction. The Double by José Saramago in particular... Doubles are *spooky*.

    (And there's Doppelganger by Marie Brennan for something not quite as dense...)

  4. Ah, another book (or two) I haven't read. I will keep an eye out for them.

    Who wrote that short story about the man who sees what he thinks is his reflection in a shop, but it moves independently? That doppelgänger turns out to be an evil twin or something seen through glass...

  5. I once had a boss who was annoyingly incompetent. After a frustrating meeting I left her office and went outside only to find that she was sitting in the waiting room. Aaarrggh! Yep, she had an identical twin. Absolutely identical. Still freaks me out thinking about it. And I wonder if the strange vibes the boss gave off was down to the fact that she had a twin, like she was only one half of a personality.

  6. Also, on the subject of doubles, I can recommend the film "Moon". I will say no more for fear of ruining things.

  7. Hi Richie, nice to see you, haven't for ages now Authonomy is a dump...I mean not as good as it might be.

    What you say about your boss interests me, as this week I've been listening with huge enjoyment to Ian Carmichael on Radio7 in Murder Must Advertise. Lord Peter poses as a dodgy copywriter, then meets one of the baddies as himself, and convinces him that his double is a black sheep cousin who happens to resemble him.

    Huh, I thought, a likely story.

  8. I've been working on my new novel. A science fiction story that, as coincidence would have it, features, well, you guessed it. . .

  9. Me too.

    Do you think we are at the cutting edge of the Zeitgeist, and will be beating publishers off with a stick, or is this what everyone is writing this year?

  10. You know, I never knew it would be bad luck to see your double! I've always been fascinated with the concept of a dual, or multiple, universe. The premise you describe sounds like a good sci-fi thriller.

  11. I hope so, Madison; and I'm not quite sure I can write it, which makes the thing more exciting.

    So often a tiny incident can shoot one's life off in a different direction; it's fascinating to speculate on what would have happened if...

    Maybe the version of me who didn't break her shoulder in January made it to the York Book Fair and secured a book deal :o)

  12. Doubles are obviously the new zombies!

  13. Yay!

    Race you to the finishing line? (I should say I've only just begun the first chapter.)

  14. I'm still outlining. The story is too complicated to wing it. Mind you, a little competition might help us both to finish our first drafts. I'll let you know when I've started. What's the prize for finishing first? How about the loser has to buy the other a book of their choice? (Within reason, of course, no Hemingway first editions!)

  15. You're on.

    I don't know most of what happens in my book yet, but I haven't had time to sort it out. Suddenly I decided to stop being precious about it and just write the darned thing.

    This may well be a recipe for disaster, but about the only advantage of not having an agent or a publisher is that my mistakes only matter to me. So I might as well go for it.

  16. I love that you change the scarecrow's clothes, I hope the crow is fashion savvy enough to notice!

    I once saw a woman the exact height, build, colouring and appearance of a friend of mine browsing in a shop in Birmingham. Was very offended that she hadn't called to tell me she'd be here. Fortunately I heard her speak before I confronted her and my confusion was cleared up. I wonder, are your fictional doubles the same in every respect, Lexi and Richie, or are there clues that would tell them apart such as accent, tattoos, being left handed rather than right?


  17. I can see why the scarecrow works. I'm always catching sight of it, and for a nanosecond think, 'Person on balcony!' And I made it.

    My doubles start identical, and diverge as their experiences differ.

    They both start off rather meek...

  18. Lexi: I think you're right to start writing when your gut tells you to. My novel requires a lot of planning because of the nature of the premise, but other novels call for a more improvised approach. Anyway, look forward to the competition. We'll have to keep each other up to date with word counts etc. Mine is currently zero, of course.

    K: How good to hear from you! How are things?

    My doubles are identical, but come into conflict with each other. Can't give details yet. Sorry.

  19. Richie, I will try to neither gloat nor sulk during this competition :o)

  20. So, I've outlined up to about halfway through the novel. . . How's your wordcount going?

  21. 5,771 - no outline, though...

  22. But you have an idea of how it all ends, right?

  23. Yes, I know the end roughly.

    I think you have to have an idea where you are heading, even if you don't know the way.