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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Behind-the-scenes: or, How the Stick Monster got into my Brain

You have no idea how much effort that picture took.

Maybe this is a bit self-indulgent* and/or self-devouring, but I wanted to do a little post on the creation of my first #TheObjects short story, ‘A Short Presentation on the Anatomy of the Stick Monster‘ (hereafter just ‘Stick monster’). I thought it might be fun to throw a little light on the creative process (#pretentious), or even just to give a bit of background on how the story came about. In any case, if you find this sort of navel-gazing really annoying, let me know in the comments and I’ll maybe cut it out in future. Or just ignore you and continue indulging myself. One of the two.

I found the stick while walking my dog, Pablo – and, if he’d had his way, I would’ve then thrown it for him to destroy. (This almost happened after I’d brought it back – my girlfriend saw it on the bookshelf and thought it was a toy I’d brought back specifically for Pablo to chew on, so she threw it on the floor for him. I squealed and scooped it up before he could get his teeth round it). I’m not sure what species of tree it comes from – I want to say Hawthorn, but that’s just because I like the name so much. (If anyone can identify what plant it hails from, please, let me know). The knobbliness of it immediately made me think of the vertebrae on a spine or insect – with that core image in mind, the rest of the ideas (eg the burrowing motion, the legs that jettison themselves, the tail-flower for attracting prey) flowed from the stick itself. The crude snap at the ‘neck’ was a bit of a gift in terms of theorising how it came to be on the ground – if it had fallen from a tree naturally, I probably wouldn’t have come up with something as entertaining (to me anyway) as decapitation-by-squirrel.

I wanted to write something properly gruesome with a real element of body horror to it – there’s a lot of Cronenberg in ‘Stick monster’ (especially with the initial academic tone), not to mention a liberal heap of Roald Dahl, though I maybe made it a bit too graphic for kiddie audiences (not something Dahl himself ever worried about, admittedly). Nonetheless, I’ll probably use the stick (which I still own – no joy to Pablo) as a visual aide when telling a slightly sanitised version of the story to my nieces and nephews.

As ever with #TheObjects, I’m happy to receive submissions – if you find something on the street you think is begging for a story, or you have an object of your own you’d like immortalised in fiction, send me a pic of it (nikiboylewrites@gmail.com) and I’ll see what I can do. This’ll become more apparent as I go on, but I’m not purely a horror writer, so don’t worry about me transforming your wedding ring into some Lovecraftian finger-devourer (although now I’ve mentioned it…)

*Hi. It’s a blog.