What Florence Did For Me, Mr. Grimstead

Been getting a bit of positive attention on Facebook (a lot of negative on there too, but we’ll save that for another post) and Instagram since Sunday evening, where I announced I had had a little something published.

It was in the literary journal run by the MA Creative Writing students of the University of Westminster – namely, the Wells Street Journal. An example of, what we call in the business, Flash Fiction. Basically a story written in fewer than 1,000 words. Something I amazed myself at being able to do. If you’ve read The Berylford Scandals: Lust & Liberty, you may have noticed I’m not a fan of short-form.

One of the best Flash Fictions, oddly enough, was written by the guy who got me into the Wells Street Journal in the first place – an old school friend, Dale Hall. A tale depicting the final thoughts and struggles of a mentally-disturbed person who, in the end, “tried to fly”. This was in our A-Level days and I, a media student, liked the story so much I adapted it into a short film we needed to make for coursework. A shame, really, that that film doesn’t survive anymore.

That was one heck of a tangent — back to the story I contributed. It had to be thrown together within a couple of hours, since I had only found out I could submit anything literally on the deadline day.

The theme was “The Liminal”; more specifically, either how a city changed you/your character or how a city has changed in your/your character’s eyes. With no time to lose, it seemed to make sense to base it on true events, and I recalled the time I had spent in Florence when I was at college. The first night ended in drunken disaster with the lower drinking age over there – a number of sixteen-year-olds who couldn’t hold their liquor. My opinion at the time in real life was only so caustic towards a couple of the party who I felt deserved it, while I was very fond and sympathetic to the rest. Made more sense in this story to show a complete change of opinion, to fit with the theme.

It is in letter form, since that’s the only way I think I could produce something in fewer than 1,000 words. That, along with the identities of the writer and addressee is based on a joke I saw comedian Frankie Howerd tell. When entertaining troops somewhere, he read a letter as follows: “Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Naunton – if you see him – Lt. Col. Naunton… Dear Cuddlebunch. Come home – all is forgiven. Yours, Geoffrey.” Obviously told at a time when homosexuality and the legality thereof were still novel ideas, alongside Howerd’s impeccable comic timing, this received a wealth of laughs. And in my story, I thought I could extend the ambiguity of the writer’s gender, sexuality and the nature of his relationship with the addressee, Mr. Grimstead.

The other changes I needed to address were more autobiographical. It is true that I was once so unconfident and anxious I could barely leave the house to get on a bus. On planes, I was better – especially in company; I still find the build-up to a flight stressful even now, regardless of who I’m with! In the story, I thought I would make Geoffrey, the writer and narrator, also an unconfident traveller who discovers he loves it while in Italy. It dresses him up as vulnerable on the one side, while assured on the other in terms of his opinions of other people. Gives a much-needed duality to the character.

Other little autobiographical tidbits that made it in there include the Lobster and Linguine – my soon-closing food and travel blog was born in Florence – plus also a woman whom I dubbed Lady Hitler, renamed Lady Führer for this story. Actually a lovely girl named Jade.

Without delay, I suggest you take a look at Issue 11 of the Wells Street Journal. Obviously read the whole thing if you want, but my story – What Florence Did For Me, Mr. Grimstead – is on pages 82 and 83. Have a read; hopefully you’ll have a chuckle.

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