F knocks on the door of my office (“Office”? How grandiose. “Kitchen table” more like). He sits down. He looks glum.
“Why did you call me F?” he asks.
F is a character in one of my forthcoming blockbusters. He’s mainly referred to as “F” throughout. Between you and me, “F” was just a placeholder. I had a problem coming up with a name for him.
I’m about to fob him off with some obscure reference to detective fiction…
Oh yes, you know those Sherlock Holmes stories that refer to ‘Mr F—’ to give an impression that this is a real person and the events actually happened, but that due to the potentially embarrassing nature of said events Dr Watson is far too much of a gent to reveal Mr F’s true identity.
…but that wouldn’t be good enough for our Mr F.
“Well,” I begin, “maybe I was subconsciously echoing something I read. Maybe in a Paul Auster novel.”
“Which one?” he says, quick as a flash. As if this little bollix of a cardboard cutout character has read any Auster let alone Austen. OK, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt this time.
“Why, ‘Ghosts’ of course, in The New York Trilogy,” I reply, “Mr Auster’s story with the characters called Blue, Brown, Black and White.
“You mean Reservoir Dogs,” F says. “Mr Blue, Mr Brown, Mr White, Mr Orange, Mr Blonde and Mr Pink. I like Mr Pink. Why can’t I be Mr Pink?”
“You’ve a damn good memory,” I say.
Hold on: I can’t remember giving F a good memory. Maybe time to revise my opinion of this apparently shallow character.
“Oh yes, Black, White, Orange, Green,” I continue. “Names as ciphers,
placeholders, colour-coded aliases. It’s quite a common practice you know, and absolutely essential in a heist scenario of course.”
“But I’m not in a heist,” F says.
I try to give F the runaround. I say it’s more likely I was thinking of John Berger’s “G”. Or the “O” in Story of O (the novel I mean, not the Oprah Winfrey magazine – or the biography of a chemical element with atomic number 8).
“Or perhaps I had Josef K in mind, as in Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Yeah, that’s it, the K in Kafka’s Trial.
F (or Mr Memory Man as he now fancies himself) reminds me that Kafka died before finishing his other novel The Castle, which also had a K in it. Yet in the opening chapters of the handwritten manuscript, my F continues, the protagonist is called “I”, and is in the first person. At some point later, Kafka changes “I” to a third person narrator, “K” again.
Hmm. Confusing. But Kafka could have been onto something with his “I” alright. After all, I the author of my novel am also called “I”. So are you, dear reader. We are all Is, if you know what I mean. We can all identify with an “I” (I think it’s a Descartes thing).
“I” is also a character in that novel-within-a-novel near the start of Italian writer Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. Oh sugar – “I” is everywhere.
Then there’s Withnail and I, the classic Eighties film about the fag-end of the Sixties. It has an “I” in it too. We never find out the name of this “I” onscreen (the credits list him after “Withnail…” as “…And I”) – though the Withnail screenplay refers to him as Marwood.
“Yeah,” F says, “Withnail and Marwood – that would be a right crappy title.”
OK, OK. With so many “I” characters out there already, I ask F whether he would consider becoming a J, K, L or M.
“M? Like the M in the James Bond films?” he says. “Another bloody codename.”
“Yeah, but Bond nearly speaks her name” (M is a she by now of course) “in Casino Royale, doesn’t he? The movie version I mean.”
“No,” F replies. “They cut off Bond in mid bloody sentence! The film-makers are teasing us.”
The F character in my book reminds me of all of this – and V for Vendetta and various other coded letters of the alphabet.
I in turn remind him that the main reason he’s called F is that it started off as a little bit of fun with acronyms. I called him F to milk a little joke. That’s all. (And no mention that it was really a placeholder and I was being lazy.)
F storms off in a huff, saying “F you too. That’s it, I want to be called @.”