Exercise: Choosing Content

Main Character: He is humourless and works all his waking hours will permit. He takes no pleasure for himself and works alone having given up idle conversation and ‘amusements’.His work is slow and paperbound so reading papers, taking notes and cross-referencing occupy all of his time to the exclusion of colleagues, friends or subordinates. His dealings with people are courtious and he speaks as a well-educated man.

Main Character Appearance: Middle-aged senior police officer. In war-time London he is dressed in a dark suit and plain or subtly patterned tie; wears a tie pin. His shirt will be white with cufflinks. He wears a hat (Fedora or Trilby. Also dark and plain) and a long rain coat out doors. He moves sparingly and his eyes are still and patient, his lips are thin and pale. His face is neither thin nor wide but he carries a few extra ‘middle-aged’ pounds on his middle. There may be a single crest or symbol about his person – perhaps on the tie pin, cufflinks or the tie itself. It will denote membership of a network of some kind – Alumni of a college perhaps. His shoes are black brogues; polished and smart but not new. Closer observation will reveal tension – he does not smile because of a clenched jaw; his hands ball into fists when idle; he occasionally holds his breath unthinkingly then releases it.

Room: Contains a desk and chair. There are two plain chairs against the wall opposite the desk against the possibility that a meeting might have to take place in the room. By the door is a coat stand where the occupant’s rain coat and hat reside while he is present. A “room in a shop window” is an empty space where the customers can walk into… you can only see so far through a shop window into the room beyond as the farthest corners are out of sight. Nevertheless it is plain to see that the room is empty… this one is ’emptier’: without merchandise.

Sunshine: it is day, the sun comes in. The windows are uncurtained so the sun shines in without being diffused – it carves extruded-window-shaped beams through the room. The “parallelogram of light” suggests that the building is not directly facing the sun – it is entering from the side causing the window-shape of sunlight to be non-rectangular on the floor.

The massive shadow that “passed to and fro” is curious and unexplained. Perhaps it is the shadow of a barrage balloon tethered high between the window and the sun that drifts causing the monumental shadow.

Because “war-time London lay beneath” he is on a higher floor… a good view, unobstructed.

In my mind of war-time London I imagine these windows to be tall and narrow… the ceiling also tall, an old building. Taller than the real Scotland Yard (Old, Great or New). The height of the ceiling increases the volume of the room and hence its emptiness… even more space with nothing in it.

The floor is not plain – an old building with old ideas about what is appropriate I imagine it to be lightly decorative, perhaps white tiles in squares with much smaller diamond/rhomboid/square tiles in the cut-away corners. Perhaps these small tiles are another colour – black, red or blue, but not vivid.

The desk is not as old as the building – it is plainer. Still made of wood and with built-in drawers, hardwood with a decoratively bevelled edge but more perfunctory and chosen for its large size – to serve the need of the paperwork… the photos… papers being laid out in arrangements in order to follow the trail of an incident in a visual manner… cross-referencing several sources at once.

Some of the more poetic and metaphorical references in the text speak to an overall atmosphere:

  • derelict amusement park
  • “islanded”
  • creeping
  • “bleak and functional” (of the sunshine – implies not warm)
  • “Void and unquickened”
  • “austerity” (a curious choice of word these days… but implies a choice to be frugal)
  • “plate glass” (not just glass – plate like “armour plated”,like steel, a coldness)
  • “uncurtained” (more straightforward indication of an emptiness… takes away any idea of fabric or soft edges in the room)
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