When your best friend is fictional

THE WRITER’S LIFE

While I remain in the government’s social cleansing machine, now in my sixth month of battling to win back my personal independence (a ‘benefit’ which some might call a human right), I’m not normally expecting anyone to visit me unexpectedly, so I was surprised when my doorbell rang earlier. Then I remembered I’d replaced the batteries.

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Whoever was there (it could have been anyone, given I was expecting no-one), I was always going to be surprised when I opened the door, but I hadn’t imagined I’d be as surprised as I was to see who it was, which was surprising in itself, seeing as I’m a writer who’s meant to be able to see these things. But I write best when everyone else is asleep.

It was Doctor Hannah Jones, a character I created originally for Cyrus Song, and who’s appeared in various short stories, where she’s met Simon Fry many times. He’s been over before (first when he suggested we meet, when we had Pi, then when we made flans), but I’d never met her, until now. She was just as I’d imagined (I wrote her): attractive, smart, and disarming.

β€œHi,” she said. β€œWhat happened to your face?”

β€œHello Hannah,” I replied, β€œnice to see you too. What about it?”

β€œWell, I’m used to seeing you in character. Now I can see what’s beneath the words.” Which was odd, as I was at pains to explain.

β€œThat’s odd,” I replied, β€œbecause I knew what you looked like before you ever started talking, but when you did, the way you looked changed.”

β€œWell, you wrote me.” Which was true, but Hannah had actually written herself, which I could never really explain. She sat at my desk. β€œWhy did you ask me round?”

She’d brought her own drink, which was handy. And Hannah swigs from the bottle, because she’s a thug. So we drank, with her at the desk and me on the couch, like it was her office and I was her psychiatric patient (she’s a vet).

β€œTell me about your childhood,” Hannah said. β€œCould no-one else be bothered to come over?”

β€œPeople visit,” I replied, β€œbut I can’t really engage with them at any depth.”

β€œAnd you find me deep?”

β€œI thought I might see if I could do what you do, and write myself.”

β€œBut you’re you; why would you need me to do that?”

β€œBecause I don’t feel like I know myself lately, and I need a way to do that.”

β€œAnd that’s me?”

β€œI suppose it is.”

β€œBut who am I? Aren’t I a part of you?”

β€œOnly a small part. Each of us is partly everyone else we know. Not just because we’re all connected to the universe anyway, but none of us is truly ourselves. We’re all a montage of other people and their stories.”

β€œBut we each have our own lives and history, which surely makes us what we are?”

β€œYes, but what if there was no-one else around to know that? See? We’re all made of the people we know, including ourselves. Most of us are afraid of that if we’re honest.”

β€œThat’s deep, Simon.”

β€œSteve.”

β€œOh yeah.”

β€œI don’t get many visitors, and little conversation. I can talk to myself and to my blog, but I find it easier if I’m talking to a person, even if I don’t have anyone to do that with. And I can be more open like this, writing fiction which isn’t really that, but real life told as such.”

β€œIs that you ducking the issues?”

β€œFar from it. I spend too much time wrapped up in myself and getting confused. This is my way of clearing my mind, getting things off my chest, confronting myself.”

β€œSo you don’t really need me.”

β€œI need someone to talk to.”

β€œYou need someone to write for. This is an outlet for you, a means to write.”

β€œIt’s my coping mechanism. Even when I do see real people, I can’t open up. They’d have to have immense patience, I wouldn’t get everything out, I’d feel I’d burdened them, and I’d be in their debt.”

β€œSo you invited me round to be a captive audience.”

β€œI wasn’t even sure you’d turn up.”

β€œIs that why you’ve not cooked tonight?”

β€œYeah, I normally do that when I’m on my own.”

β€œBut you’re not.”

β€œOther than you, I am.”

β€œBut when you’re here talking with me, you feel like a writer?”

β€œYes, because I’m writing this.”

β€œThis is quite surreal.”

β€œI’m a surrealist.”

β€œDo I have free will?”

β€œOf course you do. Even though I wrote you. In fact, I wrote you with more freedom than I’ve ever known.”

β€œI need to eat, so you’d better get some food in. But never forget, I don’t really exist.”

Doctor Jones decided to hang around for a while to help me, but she’d sleep on the couch.

Maybe I can keep writing, despite outer influences intent on stopping me. Only if I let them. To be continued (again).

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Doctor Hannah Jones first appeared in Two Little Things, the short story which spawned Cyrus Song. She’s also cropped up in various related prequel (A Story Tied by Strawberry String), sequel (Quantum Entanglement in Hamsters) and sideline stories (The Invention of the Pencil Case).

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