I began to ask questions. ‘Who are you? Are you male or female? Where do you live? What do you do for a living? What colour hair do you have? Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Or are you one of these completely weird people who doesn't like ice cream at all? And I don't suppose, my imaginary friend, that you are going to answer any of these questions for me. So, I will have to answer them myself.’
‘You are male. You live in Egypt. You are an architect. You have black hair, of course, and your favourite ice cream is actually lemon. Really? What a coincidence! Mine is as well. We have that in common at least. I have no idea what I am doing writing to an Egyptian architect, but it seems like a nice thing to do. So, pleased to meet you Ali. That's your name. Yes, Ali, pleased to meet you.’
‘What's the weather like in Egypt at this time of year? Probably cold. People always assume that the Mediterranean is always hot. It's like Italy. Ancient Rome is a city of sand and sandals. But it's the coldest place I've ever been in February. Damp, with a cold that taught me the meaning of chilled to the bone. It’s a detail you have to include, or no-one will believe you.’
‘You are, I am assuming, a muslim. Or maybe a coptic Christian. Are there Catholics in Egypt? I don't know. If you were a character in a novel or a story of mine, I'd have to know this. I'd have to find out, or no-one would believe it. I would have to answer the questions, not pose them. In your universe, it is I who would be the creator. Like God, only less powerful, as I would be working within the constraints of the universe already created by Him.’
‘I couldn't really make you a Mormon, without explaining it. I am assuming there are few, if any, Mormons in Egypt, so I’d have to explain. Unless I decided that you were from the planet Sarcosybol, light years away from Egypt and a place of my creation completely. A place where I could have my own rules. Although, you'd still be in our universe and therefore I would have to obey the laws of physics, or no-one would believe it.’
‘What if I created my own universe. Then I would truly be the creator, omnipotent and as powerful as God. These are the choices a writer must make. To be God, or a lesser god. To create completely, or to continue God's work of creation. This is all assuming that God exists, and even if he does, that he created the Universe. For perhaps he was working within the same constraints. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Perhaps this is what the Calvinists mean, when they say we are all names in a book. Not an inventory book after all, but a novel.’
As I continued to write to the person behind the white screen, I realized that in order to read it, he would have to be in front of the white screen, occupying the position already occupied. By me. I became intensely aware of how as writers, our system of creation is a kind of reflection, a dialogue between our different selves, cast in our image, just as God created man, in his. And in that way, whether we choose to accept the confines of the real world or not, we are closer to God than we think.
How do you feel about your characters? How far do they reflect you? Do you feel free or constrained in what you can make happen to them or make them do? What constraints do you feel you are working within, if any?
Luca is currently writing a cookbook which will be available later in the year. For more information see his website at www.lucamarchiori.com.