Behind-the-scenes: The Beautiful Clarissa

‘Jesus, what the hell is that? … Is it some sort of massive tongue?’ Genuinely my first thought when I saw that streak of red on the beach at Granton Harbour. Indeed, the first draft of this instalment of #TheObjects was initially set aboard a whaling ship, where some high-minded but inept Greenpeace/PETA-style activists attempted to steal a whale’s severed tongue from the whalers and use it as an emblem of their campaign. Then I realised a whale’s tongue probably wouldn’t be red, and couldn’t get past that fact. Despite enjoying the mental image of a radicalised art student slapsticking around a boat carrying a massive tongue, I couldn’t get it to work, and let it sink.

I was actually tempted to write three stories off the one object – lead with the tongue farce, follow up with The Great Magnifico and end with something much more sombre: the drowning of a refugee wearing the shawl, told from the perspective of her young son who’s left in the boat. In the end I decided not to – I didn’t feel up to the challenge of writing something with such weight, especially given the more frivolous tone of the other #TheObjects stories so far (and in particular the ones based around this particular object).

A final word on the title: I toyed with calling the story ‘The Beautiful Clarissa’, as she’s what you’d call the hero of the story – she gets the first thoughts and the final words, after all. That said, Magnifico is the one who dies, so I felt I had to pay tribute to that somehow; it’d maybe also tip my hand too early if I put her in the title, hinting that he’s not going to be of such importance by the end of the story. In addition, ‘The Great Magnifico’ brings to mind the way he’d be marketed on the boat – giving the short story the same title as his hypothetical performance gives the non-existent show a bit more life, without going to the bother of actually depicting it (or specifically what went wrong – in my head it was the sawing-the-lady-in-half trick, though I guess a disappearing act would have more of a pleasing symmetry with the ending). In any case, I got to use both titles: Magnifico on the original, Clarissa on this post. Everyone’s a winner.

Remember, #TheObjects is my weekly short story project inspired by stuff I find in the street. If you’ve found something interesting (or own an object you’d like to see immortalised in fiction), send a pic to nikiboylewrites@gmail.com along with any info you feel is relevant and I’ll see what I can do.

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