Do you sometimes wonder who you really are, and what other people think of you?
Four years ago, after an exhausting day at work, I was sharing some wine with a colleague. As we relaxed in comfortable chairs I thought we were enjoying some light-hearted banter. I suddenly realised something was troubling him. I asked him how he felt about work, if the job was getting too much for him, but he shook his head.
Now Stephen was a burly, red-haired man with a beard like Henry VIII. He was not the kind of person you would expect to have doubts about his identity. As we talked, I was surprised to find myself asking him that same question I asked you: “Do you sometimes wonder who you really are, and what other people think of you?” Stephen stared at me for a long time. I thought he was angry, but then he began to explain.
He told me about a strange experience. It was a recurring, powerful feeling, a kind of conviction. His anxiety was affecting his relationship with Sarah. What he wanted to know was, how could he check out the truth behind this belief he had? Would it be possible to find out whether it could have any foundation, to lay the ghosts to rest?
We started to discuss possibilities. He said he felt an enormous sense of relief just to talk about it. For the first time he felt that someone was taking him seriously. What he needed to know now was, how could he go about exploring the issues and checking the facts? The beginnings of a story formed in my mind. It became The Man Who Thought He Was Hitler.
In the book, at bottom, the question Philip is asking is, “Who am I really?” The novel is a form of psychology fiction, a kind of psychological thriller, in that it explores our insecurities about who we really are, our sense of identity. We are different people at different times and at different places, so who are we really?
I found myself wondering, “What does the reader get from this kind of book?” Well, you can explore the issues from the psychological safety of a novel. That is one side of the story, where it began. The other parts lie in the nested structure of the narrative and also the years of research into the psychology of Hitler, which in another way is psychology fiction. Nevertheless, the starting point in the story my colleague told me that day is still at the heart of the novel.
If you are interested in issues of identity and enjoy psychology fiction, then you could
For reasons I’ll explain in another post, when I published an eBook version I dropped the pseudonym, Jo Hawk, and changed the title to Shelburne.