Stranger than Fiction - Twisting Fate's Arm
Twisting Fate’s Arm is partially a discussion of history and memory. Some of the characters have different ways of remembering: one of them stores each of his memories in a literal filing cabinet, for other characters it’s about memory and mis-remembering. And there’s also the difficulty if memories that are not your own, but at the same time they belong to you and help form the person who you are: the difficulty of remembering past lives. Sometimes the main characters have difficulty distinguishing their own feelings from those of their alter egos.
There are a few similarities between me and Colin Jones, my protagonist. For me, one of the earliest catalysts that started to generate this story was remembering, and dealing with, the loss of a loved one. In Twisting Fate’s Arm, one of the sub-characters died of an overdose some twenty years before the story starts. It’s a story that affects Colin’s outlook on life as well as his judgment. Like Colin, I was told of the death of a friend from college. I look back on some of the writing I did at the time, the poetry and the imagery I was using, and I see that it’s a catharsis of dealing with such a tragedy: one so young, one of my peers. This was one of the moments when I realised that I wasn’t immortal!
I did learn something when studying drama and that was Stanislavski’s method of reliving personal experiences to become your characters. I undoubtedly drew on the feelings I experienced to give voice to characters’ grief.
The truth, however, is stranger than fiction.
Fast forward around fifteen years to the dawn of social networking and a new site called “Friends Reunited”. When I logged onto this website, there were a whole series of names of people I’d once known. I was scouring through the names, reading the brief biographies and thinking “I don’t remember growing this old. When did they have time to do it?”
To my astonishment, amid all these names was the name of my “dead” friend. I thought I’d mis-remembered the name, but I dropped her a brief note – not the kind that starts “aren’t you dead?” but “Weren’t you in X’s drama group? Didn’t you have a best friend called Y?” She replied that she was and had just been in touch with a couple of others from this group, wondering who I was. Evidently I didn’t make much of an impression! It transpired that, for whatever reason, one of our group had said that she’d died. When I’d originally been told, the person who’d told me was sincere. I lived at the other end of the country so I didn’t return to familiar haunts, and these were in the days before mobile phones and the Internet. You trust someone who tells you this when they believe it themselves.
It was a totally weird sensation – inverse loss: someone you thought was dead and had spent time mourning was actually still alive. It wasn’t “joy” because we we’re not likely to cross paths again – I think she lives in Spain now – but I guess the sense of bewilderment of “loss” was replaced by an equal sense of bewilderment of “found”.
Sometime I wonder if there was any element of the original story that was true – she’d been taken to hospital or something – or whether the whole thing was fabricated because in those days there was no easy way of checking.
Memory is a strange thing, but even stranger when someone else alters your facts. As for this person’s reasons … I imagine the truth will be a lot stranger.