Disappearing Act – Chapter 1 – Feedback please.

Dear Followers.

I have started work on a novel and I would very much appreciate your feedback on Chapter 1.

The idea I am wanting to explore is what happens when a man who has tried to isolate himself late in life starts to lose track of what is real and what is recalled and where the boundaries lie in between. He doesn’t think he’s mad or demented but he feels like he is living in a personal world where ‘truth’ is becoming elusive and he wonders whether that even matters anymore. And then the Police start asking questions about him.

If you have the time, it would help me greatly if you could give me your thoughts on:

  1. Does this sound like the premise of a novel you might want to read?
  2. Does Alex sound like someone who could be a real person?
  3. How would you interact with someone like Alex if you met him?

Disappearing Act

Alex had food in the house and he had less money than he did yesterday and he remembered Annie at the shop apologising for having to give him so many coins in his change. So he reasoned he must have gone shopping and talked to a real person.

It was increasingly important to Alex to have these reference points, these anchors, when he was navigating the world. As long as he could keep saying real things to the Anchors, it wouldn’t matter what he said to the Memories, all of whom had been real once but not any more. At least not tangibly.

The problem was how to tell the Anchors from the Memories. Not that he spoke to each of them differently; his brusque personality had been cemented long ago and he grew more impatient with what he perceived as stupidity with each passing day. Although sometimes he was not really sure whether a day or even several days had passed.

It was sufficient to Alex’s purposes that he believed he was alive and could appear sufficiently coherent, if a tad absent-minded, to Anchors. As for Memories, they could suit themselves.

His soul-grinding fear was that ‘They’ would put him away in some sort of institution one day. Who ‘They’ might be amongst the Anchors shifted constantly, usually prompted by a question he found suspicious. And he wasn’t sure whether the Memories had some way of communicating with the Anchors.

He didn’t believe he was mad or demented as much as disconnected from constants and attachments, which in his more reflective moments he conceded could be seen as madness by some.  So he needed to be watchful and that seemed like a cruel and unusual punishment for a man who simply wanted to be left alone.

The postie, Brian, was an Anchor. Alex knew that because he had a new joke each day and because Brian delivered letters that Alex could touch and read again later. Tangible objects were greatly reassuring when he needed to get his bearings and to demonstrate to visitors of all sorts that he hadn’t lost the plot (whatever that might be). He would slip in a reference to his niece who lived in America and sent him postcards occasionally and say ‘The latest is on the table, have a look if you like’.

Annie at the shop was an Anchor. She was a vegetarian and gently chided him on not buying sufficient fruit and veg every time he shopped but she was kind and was never nosey about his past. Unlike Memory people.

Recently, Simone, his ex-wife, came visiting and wanted to know what the hell he was doing out here in the sticks. She hadn’t come for money; she knew he didn’t have any. She had come for what she called ‘facts’, things she needed to know to ‘resolve her feelings’, things that were stopping her from ‘being at peace with her past’.

Simone said ‘Where is she?’ Alex didn’t reply. ‘That puppy-eyed slag that you left me for. Or has she already woken up to you and buggered off?’

Alex sighed and said ‘I’ve told you before, I didn’t leave you for anyone. I simply left you because I knew you didn’t love me anymore and had stopped trying to disguise it. And what was left of the Catholic in you would never contemplate the embarrassment of divorce, so I moved on, hoping to end my days in peace.’

‘Liar’ Simone hissed. ‘I stuck with you through thick and thin and then you ran off with a piece of ego-boosting arm candy, you selfish bastard.’

‘Any other ‘facts’ I can help you with?’ Alex said drily.

Simone’s eyes narrowed. ‘Did you ever come on to my sister? She says you did one night when you were both pissed.’

‘For me to come on to that harridan, I was probably so pissed that it’s unlikely that I would remember. So perhaps you can chalk that up as a fact. Naughty Alex. Happy now?’ He paused. ‘Of course not. Because you don’t believe it either.’

Alex stood and said ‘I’m tired. I need to go to bed. Please leave.’

Simone laughed. ‘You’re already in bed, you idiot. That’s when I always come to you. Yes, I’ll go and leave that mess to rot in your head. Good luck sleeping.’ And then she wasn’t there. Alex knew because he couldn’t smell her perfume. Odours were Anchors too.

At least Simone was vaguely manageable, unlike Barry. Petty, vindictive, professional martyr Barry. Barry liked to come early in the evening, before he passed out drunk. When he was a purported Anchor in the hazy past, he would ring and accuse Alex of heinous sins, like leaving skidmarks in his toilet bowl when he last visited. He would then trot out a litany of good deeds he had done for Alex in the past for which he had received not an ounce of gratitude. Not one.

When Alex moved to the country he blocked Barry’s calls and he had a few years of blessed relief from Barry confessing all of Alex’s sins. But the snarky old dipsomaniac must have finally shuffled off the mortal coil and felt free to visit whenever he liked.

‘You’re a prick, Alex. You need to know that.’

‘How could I forget, Barry, when I have you to constantly remind me.’

‘Don’t come the smartarse with me, mate. When you and Simone split up, Jane and I were there for you. Listened to all your woes, fed you, let you drink our cellar dry, let you sleep for days.’

‘As I recall, I paid in full with your eternal patronising contempt and snide remarks about the shallowness of my achievements.’

‘You always were an arrogant tosser. All that talk about overseas travel and saving the world, as though Jane and I were nothing and nobodies.’

‘Well, if that’s how you saw it, then perhaps you were. And are. Good night, Barry. Don’t try to visit again. I’ve erased you. You’re no longer even a Memory.’

And Barry disintegrated in the failing evening light.

The next day (was it the next day?), Alex was in his otherwise arid garden, digging up soil and adding compost and fertiliser and thinking how pleased Annie would be, when the wheels began to fall off his always shaky wagon.

He met Brian at the letterbox and, instead of the daily joke, Brian said ‘A couple of detectives came into the Post Office looking for you yesterday. We had to tell ‘em where you lived. Naturally.’

‘Naturally, Brian.’

‘So, what do ya think that might have been about?’

‘I don’t know, Brian.’

‘Just seems a bit odd. Have they come to see you yet?’

Alex thought carefully about how he should answer the question before he replied ‘Maybe. I went fishing yesterday so they might have called when I was out. If they did, they didn’t leave a card.’

As Brian drove off, Alex thought it was Brian who was doing the fishing.

21 thoughts on “Disappearing Act – Chapter 1 – Feedback please.

  1. 1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. Carefully
    It’s sounds full of promise to me, Doug. I sometimes get slightly confused with reality and my imagination – the perils of being a writer, I guess – so I’d be quite invested in your protagonist already. Good luck with it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Does this sound like the premise of a novel you might want to read?
    Yes. I find the idea intriguing, particularly since it is a commonly perceived path to insanity.
    Does Alex sound like someone who could be a real person?
    There is definitely a reality there that resonates with me. When talking with people I have known for many years and reflecting on shared events and acquaintances I am often astounded on the differences in recall of events and people and I suspect this is so for us all.
    How would you interact with someone like Alex if you met him?
    I’ve thought about his and have to admit I’m unsure. Keeping myself in a positive frame of mind is challenging enough and I might find him overwhelming but I also could find him intriguing. It depends on the “feel” I got from him. If it was all darkness I’d avoid him and it sounds like that wouldn’t be hard. I could also see myself being intrigued by him, though, and I’ve often, in the past, continued to push until I get the meagre responses I need.

    It is an excellent idea and I’d encourage you to see where it takes you

    Happy New Year Doug

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s an interesting concept, but what does he get at the end of the story journey? What question raised in the beginning will be answered by the end?
    I like the start, but wonder if the tone can be maintained while ensuring clarity for the reader. Others have done similar things (there are movies about the concept), but not quite like this, so you’ve got a unique angle.
    Do you do outlines or make rough plot markers for it? I think you may need to in order to keep the story on a track that doesn’t wander too far into the woods.
    Well, that’s one.
    Two and three: yes, he could be a real character/person, and I deal with people like Alex on a regular basis. The difference with this type of person is the time we have to wait for a response while he considers everything carefully, including whether I’m really there, whether he’s awake, or whether he understands what the words mean while his mind is running away in another direction. It can be hard to maintain a straight through-line conversation, but once you understand the patterns, you wait until it comes back to the subject.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Many thanks, Cage, for your perceptive and very useful comments. I was hoping that the visit of the detectives might hint at a long term problem to be resolved but perhaps I need to make that clearer. You’re right, maintaining clarity for the reader while Alex continues to explore his unique world will be a challenge. I’ve never seriously attempted a novel before so I’ll probably need to have an outline at least for the remainder of the book. At this point I’m following some sage advice from an experienced author to test the idea outside family and close friends to get a feel for whether it might fly. And yes, I have met with several people who are more or less with it but operate on a different time frame and sense of what’s important and it’s certainly a challenge that requires patience. I just hope I don’t wear out my readers’ patience along the way. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think the detectives may have come in too late to make a mark, but, as a generality, a writer writes all the stuff they think the story needs, and then when it’s done they come back and cut a lot of the beginning so the important stuff is up front. Yep, me too. Always put in more than necessary in the first drafts, and it’s after I get others to read it that I see more clearly what is and isn’t needed for the story to be understandable to a reader.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Hey Doug, I always hate doing this as I’m not the type to mince words. Yes your premise sounds interesting, I think there’s an audience for this type of story as it’s very relatable. Alex does sound real, but there’s an awful lot of tell not show. I think that makes him a bit one dimensional, and for the first chapter there’s an awful lot thrown in. It’s a bit of an information overload. I have the same issue, you give someone too much information and it takes away the interest. Readers like to discover facts on they’re own I find. So in my opinion, and yes I’m sorry that I’m rambling, I think you need to turn off the tap a bit and drip feed.
    I would also start with perhaps Alex finding the police card and misplacing it randomly at the beginning, maybe he thinks it’s a memory. But just an idea.
    I think your idea has one great point, you are weaving between past and present, this allows you to drop in and out. If you blur the lines, then your reader will also struggle to pick between the two.
    Hopefully I haven’t offended, but I really like the concept and if you need a proof reader just let me know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, NNP. You have not offended me at all. This is precisely the honest feedback I was after and for that I am very grateful. The ‘show vs tell’ issue is one I struggle with and I vacillate about changing my style. I get the concept but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I always think movies show, short stories and novels tell. However it seems to be what a lot of readers want and I’m going to have to work on it.
      The dropping in and out of the past is going to be tricky and I’m going to have to be careful not to lose readers in the labyrinth, which is making me think that starting with the visit of the detectives and working backwards to see what has led up to this point might work better.
      I’m glad you like the concept. All the feedback so far suggests the story has real potential. When it reaches fruition, you may very well regret your proof-reading offer. 🙂
      Many thanks once again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not a problem Doug. I use flashbacks quite a lot to convey information. I find their very useful in revealing details which the reader needs to know.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The first paragraph is good as it sets the scene for Alex’s mind. Telling us who the anchors are gives us an anchor. The ‘visits’ from Barry and the ex wife give us background and the mention of the police gives us a mystery to ponder. Writing in third person is ideal as it means we can step away from Alex and see him from the point of view of others – is that the plan?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pam said what I was thinking, there’s more tell than show, especially in the earlier part. It reads better with the dialogue. This feels like a quick draft overview, which is fine, you’re getting the thing off the ground. I wonder if the reveal and the showing might come about through pov; told first person through Alex and/or even a second character who has regular contact, Brian perhaps? Then, whether Brian is an anchor or a memory can be a question and surprise for the reader.

    Liked by 1 person

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