Friday, 11 May 2012


Scribble City Central's eleventh Fantabulous Friday comes from the marvellous Marcus Sedgwick - and as an added bonus, there's a GIVEAWAY of 5 copies of his newest book Midwinterblood (details of how to enter at bottom of post).

I first met Marcus two years ago at a SCBWI conference.  Coincidentally, he was there to talk about the process of writing that very book.  What struck me immediately was that here was someone who could unravel the inner workings of his writer's mind in a way which would make sense to a non-writer (so often it doesn't).  I was also struck by his neat, meticulous notebooks, which put the chaotic, coffee-stained, ripped out scribbles in my own Moleskines (as well as on things as various as supermarket receipts and cheque book stubs) to shame.  It was then that I suffered my very first episode of 'notebook envy'.

Now that I've read Midwinterblood, I reckon it's one of the best things Marcus has ever written.  Structurally complex, its interwoven stories link the far future with the distant past, and it's a dark, thought-provoking examination of love and sacrifice. Although I'm not usually a big fan of books set in the present tense, this absolutely works. Marcus is what I call a brave writer.  He doesn't go for 'safe' or 'easy' - and I love that he's a player and an explorer with his writing.  His books range over a diverse number of subjects, but doppelgangers have never yet featured.  So why did I ask him to write about them here?  I'll hand you over to Marcus himself for a little EXCLUSIVE information on the subject!

D for Doppelganger
Walking Mirror Image

MS: D is for Doppelganger.

Or to give them their more accurate, German spelling, Doppelgänger, literally meaning, “double walker”

Although such figures can be found in various mythologies from around the world, from Ancient Egypt through Classical Greece to the fiction of the present day, the word Doppelgänger was invented by Jean Paul for his romantic novel of the late 18th century, Siebenkäs. However, whatever their provenance, almost universally the Doppelgänger is a symbol of evil or ill omen. In many cases to see one’s double meant a presage of death.

I can’t remember where I first heard of the phenomenon, but it always struck me as a creepy idea, and one I love for its subtlety. This is no brash creature of folklore or mythology, no fire-spouting beast, or blood-sucking fiend, and yet its quiet menace is therefore, to me, more potent. The Doppelgänger appears in many fictional works, but there are also apparently real cases, most notably the report that Shelley’s double appeared shortly before his death. In some cases, the double sends the victim mad, or undermines his reputation and morality. It’s insidious stuff, and I love it.

I have myself seen my double on three occasions. Once when I was in Edinburgh, in my twenties, once just a couple of summers ago, in Gothenburg. It’s an uneasy feeling. You see someone and stare at them for some reason, you can’t work out quite why, but something draws you to them. Which of us is so narcissistic that we know our own image instantly? And yet, then there is that moment when you work out who you’re looking at: yourself. To say it’s disturbing is to say the least.

I’ve never written about the phenomenon, but it’s going to feature in a novel I’m currently working on. What can I tell you about that? Nothing. Like many authors I’m too suspicious to talk about work as yet unfinished.

My personal favourite doubles are the ones unwillingly produced by The Great Danton, a Victorian stage magician, in Christopher Priest’s wonderful novel, The Prestige, and which provide the creepiest end to any book I’ve ever read.

So I have seen my double, and yet I am not yet dead. Despite the fact my sister once phoned me up to say she’s seen me in Trafalgar Square on the TV. Fine, I said, except I was hundreds of miles away at the time….

SCC: Thank you, Marcus, and I can't wait to see how you use Doppelgängers in the new book - that's a very tantalising hint, and hooray for a Scribble City Central exclusive!  I've never seen a live Doppelgänger of myself, but I found it entirely creepy to be shown a Victorian oil painting of a girl who was my own mirror image.  I've always wondered who she was.


Next week: Jackie Morris flies into the realms of fantasy with D for Dragon.  Join us then! 


catdownunder said...

Cannot join in the competition but have to say that I have always found the idea of a doppelganger utterly spooky - very scary stuff.
Also knew someone once who was an identical twin and she said it was like having a constant doppelganger!

malrostan said...

Great post, Lucy! I've never known most of my birth family, so I'd probably pounce on any doppelganger as a potential long-lost sister or cousin.
Yes please to the competition...

kathryn evans said...

What a fascinating subject - I feel this way when I look at photographs of my mother, and even my daughter - I've had disturbing phone conversations with her when even I didn't know who was talking....yes please to competition - am a bit of a fan - who isn't?

Ian Kenworthy said...

A great post on a very interesting topic. The Prestige is a book I'm going to have to look up now.

Brigit Lowell said...

Sounds fab - has really whetted my appetite - and also made me look at faces in crowds more closely!

H.M. Castor said...

A great post and yes, please, to the competition! I too am intrigued by doppelgängers for writing-related reasons at the moment, and I too will now have to look for The Prestige! I love your description of Marcus as a 'player and an explorer with his writing'. When feeling harassed by demands & deadlines, that is something to remember - something to aim for.

Carmel Waldron said...

Yes please to the competition. I was at that talk in 2010 and will always remember Marcus's dictum 'Isolate people - shit happens!' It was one of the most revealing talks about writing I've been to so I definitely want to read the book.

Janet Foxley said...

I've come across myself several times and didn't know it was a bad omen. But actually they were people who looked enough like me for acquaintances - but not close family - to confuse us, so I guess they weren't true doppelgangers.

madwippitt said...

I'm not sure I'd recognise my own doppelganger as I rarely look in a mirror and when I do I'm shocked to see that I look nothing like I imagine - my self-image is based on a person from twenty five years ago.

But I have met a doppelganger dog though - does that count? So similar in looks and mannerisms to my Boris it was uncanny.
And yes, to the competition for me too!

Stephanie McGregor said...

Excellent post! I had the audiobook of White Crow. I didn't like it after the 1st chapter, but after Teri Terry encouraged me that he was awesome, I got the actual book, read it, and loved it! It's a shame about the audio version being a bit off putting. I think he's an amazing author & would REALLY like his new book ;)

Elli said...

How interesting that the word 'doppelganger' is so much newer than the phenomenon, and that it was coined specifically for a novel. I suppose just 'double' would do, but it doesn't have the same eerie edge to it. And yes please for the competition. I've been conscious recently of showering my younger children with picture books while not buying enough books for my teenage son - I think he'd love this. And of course I wouldn't mind reading it too.

janesharp1671 said...

What a great site, can't believe I've only just found it! The book sounds creepily good so would love a chance to win. I've never seen my doppelgänger thankfully, it must be freaky to come face to face with yourself.

Gema said...

I've always wanted to see my doppleganger! Ever since I was ten, I've been approached by strangers who call me Rachael. (My name is NOT Rachael.) They appear to know me very well and become extremely confused as to why I'm pretending to not be this Rachael.

Stroppy Author said...

The scariest movie I've ever seen was about dopelgangers and I've had a dread of them ever since.

I've never met my living dopelganger, but there is a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery which I recognised as myself when I was 16. About seven years ago, my then-partner came across the painting for the first time and called to say he'd found me in sixteenth century Italy. It is rather creepy, but I've not felt threatened as she's already very dead.

And yes please to the competition!

Book Maven said...

Yes, but when was the THIRD time Marcus met his?

And I don't think they are mirror-images, are they? If they were, then people wouldn't confuse them with the originals as they'd look very different.

Jane Stemp said...

In Icelandic mythology the doppelganger is known as a fylga - it may mean "follower" but I'm not sure. The concept moved into English as the "fetch" - also a sign of personal doom.

I have been lead to believe I have a double somewhere who shares my liking for early music... weird...

Cotham said...

Fantastic post! Very interesting.

Lucy Coats said...

The comment competition is now closed. I'll be putting those eligible into my random picker hat and doing the draw shortly - I'll flag the winners in a separate post.

Thanks for taking part!

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