Nige is looking pensive and I don’t think it’s about the half-empty pint of Kronenberg under his chin, on the bar counter. I order two more then say, “What are you thinking about?”
“Thinking,” he says.
“Yours or other people’s?”
His gaze snaps up. “That’s exactly it, Tel!”
“You’ve been thinking about other people’s thinking?”
He finishes his pint in one go, no doubt steadying his approaching stream of consciousness.
“Mostly,” he says, “there’s just you and the world what you interact with. In my case, that mainly means patchy, mouldy and generally drama-scarred walls what by my brickie magic turn into smooth planes of uninterrupted colour, mostly variations on beige it has to be said these days.”
“And you aren’t thinking of much other than thinning ratios and drying times while this transformation is taking place?”
“Actually, I’m usually thinking of some conspiracy or other that I’m into. Well, I say ‘conspiracy’ but most of it is out there in plain view for those what want to see; like the way politicians no longer even pretend they have any evidence for their views, they just repeat a lie over and over until we all give in to it through sheer boredom. But I digress.”
He pauses to stare into the distance above Janine, the bartender’s, head, where only little used optics and philosophical quandaries normally lie.
“I’ve spent years,” he goes on, “looking into the details behind conspiracies to prove they’re real. But, as is my wont, I was missing the bleedin’ obvious all along.”
“That everything’s a conspiracy?” I say. It’s probably my writer’s natural scepticism that prompts this.
Nige just frowns slightly impatiently before continuing. “No, what I’ve been missing is the simple fact that just about everyone believes what their thoughts are telling them. That constant nattering what goes on in our heads: we actually believe it’s telling us the truth. Hence, everything everyone thinks is unreal.”
“Didn’t I just say that?”
“You said everything’s a conspiracy. The truth is nothing is a conspiracy because everything everyone thinks is true. At least they believe it is.”
“If so, why do we bother thinking anything at all?”
“I’m not sure we do. Thoughts sort of think themselves, don’t they? Try stopping them any time and you’ll end up biting chunks out of the walls, while thinking about said walls in the process. The mistake we make is taking our thoughts seriously. That, and the opposite, which is not taking anyone else’s thoughts seriously, not that we should because they’re just as untrue as our own.”
As is my wont, I find myself thinking – or my thinking finds me – about how this relates to writing. “So, if I’m putting thoughts in the head of one of my story characters, is that the same as him or her just having the thoughts themselves?”
He frowns. “No, of course it bleedin’ isn’t. The author is God, ain’t he? That’s why we prefer stories to real life, because the author can make his characters think interesting stuff instead of the aimless crap we think in real life.”
“His characters can think the things we’d like to think we think when we think in real life?”
“Well, when I wake up in the morning, my thoughts go something like: Where the feck am I? Oh, in me lonely old bedroom again. Should get that window fixed. What’s the time? Right, have to get up, have a crap, wash, feed the cat – no, the cat died didn’t it. Must remember to buy some bog paper on the way home tonight. Bogs – reminds me, that sewage vent needs looking at. Otherwise Bill next door is going to vent his wrath at me again. That’s weird – vent means air getting in and out but is that what you do with wrath? I mean, do you have to vent it in order to prevent the build up of toxic gases. Speaking of which, I need a crap . . . But you authors can have your character waking up and thinking: It was the best of bleedin’ times; it was the worst of bleedin’ times. To be or not to be. In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit. Give peace a chance . . . etc.”
“Characters in stories are better than characters in real life, in other words.”
“Well, duh, Tel. Of course they are. Unless they’re characters in EastEnders, that is. They’re actually worse than characters in real life.”
“I thought you said the author is God.”
“He is until he’s over-ruled by the BBC’s assume the public are stupid policy.”
I do know what he means. I’ve always believed characters in stories should be better than we are in so-called real life.
“I think it’s a shame,” I say, “that so many films and books these days are directed by the fans.”
“For once, I agree with you, Tel,” he says. “I reckon fans are frightened of mental intimacy. They believe their own stupid thoughts and don’t want anything challenging them. Therefore, they want to be able to control the characters they read about. No surprises. They want their characters to have thoughts that are as equally stupid as their own.”
“Which means neither the fans nor the writers ever really inhabit their characters, then change their thoughts to be interesting and challenging. They stay on the outside, controlling them.”
“When’s the last time Doctor bleedin’ Who had a thought you couldn’t see coming from the other side of the universe?”
We’re nearly at the end of our pints. I want to think about all this some more. Or do I mean I want my thoughts to think me about it some more? For now, I say, “Authors who pander to the fans are the same as anyone who believes their own thoughts. Real authors don’t listen to their thoughts; they push past them and take a creative jump into the unknown, grab what’s there and bring it back to surprise everyone with.”
Nige raises his glass, smiles. “I’ll think to that,” he says.