About This Person
(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from My Name Is Not Sir)
This session involves a bit of old fashioned detective work. You could imagine Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, you could be more daring and think of someone like Anthony Horowitz’s Tim Diamond, or you could fall back on someone like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and think about how she might have pieced the clues together.
In the poem, About His Person, Simon Armitage creates a sense of melancholic mystery using the contents of a man’s pockets listed almost matter-of-factly, giving the reader tantalising insights into the life and even character of this man.
Not only this, but Armitage also invites us to imagine the context in which this man’s possessions are being listed.
Here is Simon Armitage’s poem:
About His Person
Five pounds fifty in change, exactly,
a library card on its date of expiry.
A postcard stamped,
unwritten, but franked,
a pocket size diary slashed with a pencil
from March twenty-fourth to the first of April.
A brace of keys for a mortise lock,
an analogue watch, self winding, stopped.
A final demand
in his own hand,
a rolled up note of explanation
planted there like a spray carnation
but beheaded, in his fist.
A shopping list.
A givaway photograph stashed in his wallet,
a keepsake banked in the heart of a locket,
no gold or silver,
but crowning one finger
a ring of white unweathered skin.
That was everything.
He is surely dead, isn’t he? The title, with its play on the official crime jargon used to introduce a description of items found on a dead body, gives the reader that much. But how did he die? Who is making the list? Is it a policeman? The coroner? A forensic criminologist just out of university with the task of piecing together the man’s world in order to assist in discovering the truth about his death?
We, the reader, don’t know. We have plenty of clues, but can they tell us anything for certain?
Fact or fiction? Who knows.
Write a paragraph speculating on the significance of objects found on a dead body.
The poem and the objects described are the stimulus for this piece of writing.
Armitage presents a number of everyday objects for his readers to ‘use’ to piece together the story of the dead man. For example, there is ‘five pounds fifty in change’, a ‘library card on its date of expiry’, a postcard. All of these things give us clues about who the man was. A rich man? An avid reader? Who was the postcard for? Similarly, Armitage describes the man’s diary which had a number of dates ‘slashed with a pencil’. What happened between March 24th and April 1st? What was the note? Who wrote it? Why has it been ‘beheaded’? We, the reader, don’t know but we can make guesses, we can speculate. There are many more ‘clues’ until finally we are made aware of something that is different because it is not there. What could be the significance of the ‘ring of white unweathered skin’?
In this session, you are invited to take some or all of the objects listed in the poem and write a paragraph describing what you think they tell us about the man.
It’s a paragraph so, unless you want to emulate the incredible Roberto Bolaño and write sentences that are longer than some other writers’ chapters, this won’t be too long. 250 words? 500 max., we reckon.
As in all of The Safe House Flash Fiction Writing Sessions, the length of time you spend is entirely up to you. We would think, though, that you might want to spend about an hour on this to make it into a complete paragraph with carefully constructed sentences and accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Well, the stimulus is a poem but you could fit this to all sorts of genre. Crime fiction comes to mind, obviously, or even crime reporting. You, the writer should choose.
Point of View
Pretty sure this would usually be third person, but you might want to write it from the point of view of the detective who is trying to piece together the clues about the dead man. You, the writer, should choose.
Of course, you will need to read the poem. And probably read it again.
Then, it might be good to make a list of the items you are going to focus on in your paragraph and link them to notes from your ‘detective-like’ thinking. This list, and the notes that go with them, will form the research and planning stage of your writing. There is no need to worry about sentences or accuracy yet.
Next, you could take each of the objects and the notes in turn and construct a sentence which explains the significance of the object. You could then join these together using linking words to form longer sentences and, eventually, a whole paragraph.
When you have a first draft of the paragraph, take a short break and then come back to it and read what you have written. Think about the meaning of the sentences you have written and, if there is any confusion, edit your writing so that your meaning is clear to your reader.
The next stage involves reading again, carefully and checking for spelling, punctuation and grammar problems. These need to be sorted out so that you are not embarrassed at a later stage and so that your reader doesn’t get distracted from the points you are making.