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The Prisoner

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Patrick McGoohan, co-writer and star of the cult 1960's TV series The Prisoner stated that its underlying theme was that "Each man is a prisoner unto himself." In the final episode, as the titular prisoner repeatedly tries to unmask "Number One" all he finds is another mask until finally he sees his own face. In my attempts to understand my own novel over the last six years I have come to understand the full significance of that.

At a climactic point in my novel the characters are all trapped in a time capsule beyond reality, potentially for the rest of their existence. Although there is nothing that they can physically do to escape they do so by drawing on facts previously mentioned in the story and reasoning that taking these into account the author must let them do so. In their minds each makes a pact with the author that they will not unnecessarily disrupt the flow of the main story by making use of anything that they have discovered in this dead end side-branch if they are allowed to leave it. As a consequence their incarceration mysteriously ends in a form of deus ex machina event which also, following the convention of ancient Greek plays, brings the author's surrogate into their midst, but from a point in the past before he wrote the story. This confused author then begins to write the story when he returns to his own time. This was actually my attempt apparently to break the "No deus ex machina" rule of writing by creating a very carefully engineered illusion of one.

This simple time loop has an added twist though, that they discover that in the "author's" notes he claimed that he was just the scribe acting for the real author, which is of course literally true as he is a surrogate for myself within my novel. Even that's not the end to it though because when I first came to WF I mentioned that the story came to me as though from some "errant muse" and I was just its scribe in my turn. In fact on my website I use the title "Scriptor", which is Latin for either "writer" or "scribe", so ambiguous in its precise meaning.

Various facts within and around the story strongly suggest that it arose from collaboration between two minds separated by six years in time, this being a major theme in the story. It is now six years since I started writing it and I have now completed the bulk of the research needed to do so, none of which I'd done six years ago. At this point in time I must assume that this present version of myself is finally the "real" author, but only time will tell. Just like McGoohan's prisoner I have no idea how many masks I need to remove before I know whether I am truly the master of my own fate.

I am currently reading The No Rules Handbook for Writers by Lisa Goldman. The first rule that she tackles in her book is "Write what you know," and suggests as an alternative "Write to discover what you don't know yet." Maybe, having just read that in her book here in 2017, my collaborating alter ego back in 2011 is taking that too literally. Evidently he, or rather I, didn't entirely take the advice of the script-writer whom I approached with my story idea then. He told me that in his experience collaborative works are seldom completely successful, so I'd have to work alone despite having no previous experience. By coincidence McGoohan and his co-writer fell out before The Prisoner was completed and that final episode based on McGoohan's premise that "Each man is a prisoner unto himself," was entirely his creation.

I never knew that fiction writing could be so interesting, but maybe for some it isn't quite so immersive.

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  1. escorial's Avatar
    come in number six....
  2. JustRob's Avatar
    Number nine, are you having trouble? (Very old boating lake joke)
  3. escorial's Avatar
    sounds like one of them posh jokes.....
  4. JustRob's Avatar
    Don't you have boating lakes up there then?
  5. JustRob's Avatar
    I am still noticing the strange sequence of coincidences associated with my novel, something that I have remarked about ever since joining WF some two years ago. While the first part of the novel tells a story closely related to the TV series Person of Interest, the second part is about two people whose minds are connected across a timespan of six years. I wrote the novel in 2011, long before I knew about that TV series and anyone had watched it, but even then I found the monotonous regular opening sequence annoying without ever having seen it.

    Exactly six years ago I was well into writing the novel and, by yet another coincidence, our satellite receiver is currently recording the final season of Person of Interest, so we will have finished watching it by the time I will have completed my novel six years ago this summer.

    These are events over which I have no control. I could hardly have contrived that that UK TV company would air that final season just now. I identified Person of Interest as the basis for my novel some time ago, well before I could have known anything about the planned TV schedules, so this coincidence is quite genuine. In fact I was disappointed that we didn't seem to start watching the series at any significant time in relation to writing the novel, but of course it is now evident that the significant time would be when we finished watching it.

    As with so many of the other coincidences it isn't covered by any of the stock explanations for unusual coincidences, being too specifically connected with the subject matter. Many people think that they have encountered strange coincidences and many may well have conventional explanations, but my collection of coincidences is something else, just as my novel stated that it was really "about something else" back in 2011. Once 2017 is over I think I will definitely have a different sort of book to write.

    The theme of The Prisoner was that every person creates their own prison in their mind, but maybe the opposite is also true, that we can create freedoms in our own minds, breaking down barriers which should be impenetrable. In The Prisoner the other inhabitants of "The Village" seemed unconcerned about not being able to leave it and equally the majority of the human race seem unconcerned that they have been told that they can't escape from "now" in time. When I retired I stopped wearing a wristwatch for most of the time and nowadays only wear one when I need to synchronise my activities with the rest of the world while on the move. Maybe that wasn't just a symbolic act but a fundamental change in my outlook on life that goes deep into my psyche. Very interesting ... but possibly nonsense of course ... but then again ...
  6. JustRob's Avatar
    I now understand how the concept of publication applies to my novel. As I was evidently the only one meant to read it parts of it become "published" when I discover the reality within my own life upon which they were impossibly based. 2017 is apparently due to be a significant year in that respect.

    Only yesterday I was astonished to discover the underlying idea behind the second part of the novel contained within a film that I was watching. Not only was the film premiere in 2010 but the DVD came out in December 2010 and so was generally on sale in 2011 when I was writing the novel, but I only bought it a few days ago. On top of that it was directed by the brother of the chap who wrote Person of Interest, so I seem to be directing all my time-defying plagiarism at just one family.

    The film was Inception and the idea from it that I used was that of a dream within a dream within a dream. It also provided the idea of planting an alien thought deep within a person's psyche, which was apparently how I became motivated to write my novel for no other perceptible reason.

    On the outer sleeve of the DVD is a quotation from the film, "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling." Maybe my response to that was the fact that in the film people just wake up from their dreams, whereas in my novel they can return from them with souvenirs in their handluggage. So who said that dreamers aren't allowed handluggage? What sort of an airline is this? Surely you've heard of Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
  7. JustRob's Avatar
    Last night I saw an actor in a film whom I thought had also been in Person of Interest, but I was mistaken. The actor in Person of Interest was evidently John Nolan, hardly surprising as his nephew Jonathan Nolan wrote the series.

    While reading about the Nolan family I read that Christopher Nolan, the film director in the family, is "Best known for his cerebral, often nonlinear storytelling". So maybe that's where my cerebral nonlinear experiences originated. It's strange how I keep coming back to the Nolan family. It makes me feel like Douglas Adams's character Agrajag.

    Oh well, back to reality.
  8. JustRob's Avatar
    My angel and I have just returned from our cruise on the Rhine. The quantity of similarities between it and my novel is just ridiculous and too much to mention in detail here. Given that the novel specifically mentioned a connection between two minds six years apart in time I feel obliged to accept that this cruise provided much of the inspiration for the details in the novel even though scientists and common sense would deny the possibility of this. The amount of evidence that I have accumulated to date is encouraging me to write a book specifically on this subject.

    On the specific subject of divergent futures, just as happened to the characters in my novel we were prevented from returning home when we intended to and had to sit counting the hours, in our case because our flight home was cancelled and we had to fly later that day. This implies that we possibly also had a different future in which our flight wasn't cancelled and we returned home ten hours earlier as planned. I have checked the flight history and that was the only day that that particular flight was cancelled, so there was no conventional way that we could have anticipated the event and yet the experience apparently inspired the central critical event in my novel written six years earlier. I am just as sceptical as the next person, but have to heed the weight of evidence against conventional thinking about our relationship with time.
  9. JustRob's Avatar
    I have been considering a title for my book about writing my novel. I discarded "The Time Dancer" as it is already an overworked title. I thought about using "Prescription (for my life)". This works very well as it embodies the idea of writing about something before it happens. Also pharmacists often refer to prescriptions just as "scripts" because it's shorter and they act immediately on the instructions in them. Actually I originally conceived my story as a script for a TV series but wrote it as a novel instead. Also doctors' prescriptions are traditionally notoriously difficult for a lay person to understand, which sounds much like my cryptic novel. To make the analogy complete all I needed to do was decide who the virtual time-travelling doctor was who provided my inspiration for this prescription.

    Who the virtual time-travelling doctor was? Oh, curse my deviantly humorous pantster mind! Time to think again, I think.
  10. JustRob's Avatar
    The number eleven is somehow significant to my strange experiences. Maybe it represents one, as I often refer to myself, standing beside a duplicate of one, in other words oneself in another time. I wrote my novel in 2011 and based it on a short story entitled "Re case eleven" that I wrote in 2009, itself apparently impossibly based on my overhearing on a train in 2011 a writer named Marcus on the phone to his office saying that he had to get his copy to someone by eleven that morning. In my short story my character Marcus was apparently transported back in time, just as knowledge of the real Marcus may have been for me to have written it. Evidently the real one on the train was struggling to cope with the constraints of time, whereas the one in my story struggled to cope with the lack of any.

    Why mention this now? Because last night I saw a thread created at precisely 11pm UK time by a new member named Katy. In it she mentioned screenwriting and I had originally contacted a scriptwriter early in 2011 to offer my story to him to write as I didn't feel capable of writing a TV series. The novel was all that I could manage as a substitute, being a complete novice. Still you may wonder why I attach any significance to her thread. It is just another piece in my jigsaw puzzle novel, another explanation why I chose to name the computer that controls the time capsule in it Katy. Had she posted that thread just a minute or two either side of eleven then I would have thought far less of it, but she hit the top of that so significant hour as precisely as a computer might. Just another coincidence, you might think. You go ahead and do that then. I for one won't try to stop you.
  11. JustRob's Avatar
    On Saturday evening I had a feeling that it was time to close this prison in time, so yesterday I also closed down my website containing the chronicle of events over the past six years and the novel that spawned the whole thing. Recent events have made my speculation even more convincing, but I don't want to draw anyone into that. My novel was evidently only ever a means to an end and it has served that purpose. It predicted that this cycle of events would span six years and, provided that fate agrees, I think that time has passed now. I have certainly learned something valuable about our perception of reality and place within it, but don't believe that the message was meant for anyone else but me. I never intended to become a writer, so maybe I can get back to being myself now. It was an intriguing experience though, like so much of life. Never be afraid to pursue it, wherever it leads.

    This has no implications for WF of course. I am after all the mentor for beta reading, not writing.
  12. Neetu's Avatar
    Can you ever peel all the masks, truly?
  13. JustRob's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Neetu
    Can you ever peel all the masks, truly?
    As the beta reading mentor I am more interested in the psychology of reading than the techniques of writing although I urge writers to consider the former when choosing the latter.

    When our next door neighbour started to read my novel she told my angel wife that she was attempting to see inside my mind to understand what the story revealed, but my angel told her that to attempt that was madness. My angel has never read my novel herself because she knows the person behind it all too well already. Some readers are not content just to allow a story to build within their own minds but also like to seek out the writer's mind behind it. However, it is clear from my experiences that sometimes they will never discover anything behind the illusion apart from many more layers of illusion. In the end the impressions of the writer that they form will be just as fictional as the story from which they derive it and they will most likely simply remain within the prisons of their own minds. Just occasionally a story may show them a way out to a wider perception of reality though. Whether they will be bold enough to go that way was exactly what the TV series The Prisoner was all about.

    So far as peeling away all the masks goes, the answer no doubt lies in the ancient Greek maxim "Know yourself". Interestingly this was allegedly one of the three maxims written on the wall of the temple at Delphi where the oracle made predictions about the future. Maybe then there is a point where one can know oneself so well that one can sense one's own future. At my age I'd be quite content just to know that I still have one though, whatever it brings.
  14. JustRob's Avatar
    Although I have now escaped from the temporal causality loop that apparently gave rise to my novel back in 2011 I still find it entertaining and informative to analyse its contents. Today I was reviewing one particular aspect of it, the relationship between the nine hours that my angel and I were delayed in returning home from our 2017 holiday cruising the Rhine and the two weeks that the staff of the time capsule in my novel were delayed in returning home. Having the mind of a mathematician and computer software technician I would expect that relationship to be computationally consistent and I am not disappointed.

    I have noticed that, some might say unsurprisingly, many of the incidents in my writing are derived from other works and in this case I have identified the Star Trek Next Generation episode Cause and Effect as the source. In that the Enterprise is caught in a temporal causality loop and to break out of it Data has to pass the number three back in time to himself to persuade him to take the advice of Commander Riker because his uniform has three pips on it. The result is that everything that happens within the loop strangely involves the number three.

    Literally applying this idea to my experiences I get very intriguing results. We were delayed by cancellation of our original flight home for over nine hours, which is three time three hours. In my novel the red digital clock, as depicted in my avatar picture here, stuck at 999 hours, i.e. with three nines displayed, which was simply the largest number that it could show as the capsule was effectively marooned outside of time forever if the staff couldn't regain control of it. In fact they did regain control and consequently were only marooned for two weeks. (In the Star Trek episode it was seventeen days, three days longer.)

    Now, as a computer software developer I see the value "999" as being either a number or a string of characters. In the former case one third of it is 333 while in the latter case one third is "9". As 333 hours is approximately two weeks the time that the staff of the time capsule were delayed can be regarded as equivalent to the time that we were. You might think that this is somewhat of a contrivance, but it happens to be the way that my mind tends to work, no doubt subconsciously while creating the situation when I was writing the novel as well as in analysing it later.

    The bottom line to this is that two weeks isn't exactly 333 hours, so there appears to be an inaccuracy until one realises that the discrepancy is, of course, three hours. Who needs a positronic brain when one may already have a quantum mind?

    The problem with my novel is that these strange consistencies (or if you prefer it, coincidences) exist across every aspect of it, so I am always tempted to keep writing about the others connected with any that I describe, but it's Sunday, so I'll stop now.
  15. JustRob's Avatar
    I omitted at least one occurrence of the number three from my previous post. Our cruise on the Rhine was the third cruise that we went on in Europe, all with the same company. I booked the first on the Danube in 2011 while I was writing the novel, in fact around the time that I wrote the incident that appeared to relate to our experiences six years later on the Rhine. Also on all three cruises we booked a cabin on deck three.
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