From a choice of archetypes in a particular scenario, I picked ‘a kleptomaniac meets her boyfriend’s parents’. We were tasked with testing our characters to see what they would do in a way which would render them believable. I chose a first person point-of-view to give me the opportunity to really explore what was going on inside the narrator’s mind.
To highlight the narrator’s outlook on life compared to her boyfriend Jon’s, I wanted to play with polarity, a technique described by James Wood, in How Fiction Works. I wanted to contrast the impulsiveness and chaotic world of the narrator and the more ordered and controlled world of Jon. The narrator’s super objective is to have order and control back in her life after the death of her mother, so that she can write again. I tried to demonstrate this with their respective appearances, actions and choices.
Slowing down a scene in order to consider and explain such details is very interesting and I can see how it adds depth of colour to a piece. I particularly enjoyed playing with the scene where Jon picks up the box of paper clips, settling finally on the way his hair is parted to give a sense of the order in his life. As my first conscious attempt at characterisation, it did involve considerable re-writing to get the piece to a place I was happy with.
Conscious of the lack of dialogue, which may have allowed characters to reveal themselves in more detail, I did consider adding some. However, in the end, I felt the actions, the first-person point-of-view and stream of consciousness provided enough scope to get to know both Jon and the narrator in such a short piece of writing. ‘Show and don’t tell’ and ‘what would that feeling look like’ are two mantras that were replaying through my subconscious when I wrote this piece.
I have just one more left to go. But this one is important.
I met John just after I stole the paper clips. He was checking out Great Legal Cases and How they Shaped the World at the university library. I was waiting for the librarian to come back. I’d barely spotted the blue cardboard box of paper clips next to a packet of tissues on her desk before they were stuffed in my bag. As my spirit took off, I turned my body to follow and make my getaway, to flee the scene. This time, though, in a flurry of books and papers and tangled in today’s scarf and maxi skirt, I’m on the floor. I heard the paperclips cry out a desperate rattle as they hit the ground. “I’m so sorry,” I hear a velvet voice above me say, “you dropped these.” I look up, gathering together the rest of my things. I noticed the neat line on the top of his head giving order to his unruly dark curls as he bent down to pick up the little blue box. We went for coffee. He ordered an espresso, I went for a skinny soy latte. He took me to see a matinee of Twelve Angry Menat the Cine Art. I took him to the Pollack exhibition at Tate Modern.
That was six months ago. We are now on our way to meet his parents. At their house.
We’ve been there once before. His parents were away. While Jon was making dinner, I had a look around. I found his father’s study, the room with the dark wood panelling and a mahogany desk. I spotted the black metal stapler on the top of a tray of papers straightaway. I held it. It wasn’t particularly beautiful, but it had a heaviness that was comforting. It snuggled down in the pocket of my cardigan.
You see, I wouldn’t take just anything. His parents had a lot of beautiful things. Antique silverware, contemporary ceramics and a collection of first editions arranged alphabetically. But there are things more important to me and my craft. Like the holepunch that punches stars in the loyalty card at Café Celeste. And the highlighter pens beaming out to me from the top of my tutor’s navy leather satchel during a seminar. And the snow-globe paperweight, which gives Big Ben and a brilliant red beefeater a dumping when you shake it. My niece, Lucy, hasn’t even noticed it missing.
And when each of these special treasures are in my hands, I’m flying, untouchable and free.
But that feeling is fleeting. And soon I am plummeting desperate for the air to whip beneath me and carry me off again.
I never used any of the things that found a new home on my desk. I just knew they needed to be there. It all needed to be there if I was ever to write again. Or so I thought.
I stopped writing when my mother died. And that’s when the stealing started. I was 15,563 words into my novel, the end of the first act, the inciting incident. The words were flowing until then, but like my tears they refused to afterwards.
But it had to stop some time.
Jon produced the celestial holepunch, holding it up like a piece of evidence to the jury. He’d found it in my bag and confronted me in the kitchen where I was making tea. I considered denying it for a moment. But what was the point. So, I told him everything. He said he couldn’t be with someone who couldn’t resist temptation like this. I said I would stop. But I couldn’t ignore the highlighters, could I? He knew. He told me if I wanted to be with him, I had to return everything and stop. He held me tight and I cried.
I left the holepunch on the basin in the toilet at the café. The highlighters turned up in my tutor’s coat pocket. And the paperclips found their way back into the librarian’s lunch bag. My niece has the snow globe she didn’t know was gone.
Each time I returned one of my collection, I felt lighter.
And I am starting to write again.
We drive into the neat gravel driveway. I see a reading light on in the top left window of the Georgian house. Two smiling figures are already standing to attention on the granite doorstep. Tulips are pushing up from terracotta pots by their feet. There is a hint of freshly cut grass in the air. I climb out of the car and smooth down my pencil skirt and straighten my blouse. I feel the weight of the stapler in my bag begin to lift.
by Nicky Van Der Bij