You don’t need huge amounts of material to start generating ideas for writing. Sometimes the smallest, apparently least significant item in a collection can provide a stimulus for work. It is also interesting to challenge students’ expectations of what might be found in an archive collection.
This icebreaker activity was used at the beginning of the university archive sessions with students. Students were given a facsimile copy of a scrap of paper from the Darke archive which describes finding a pair of false teeth on the beach.
Transcript of Activity (combined from 2 separate sessions)
Sarah C Jane: Were any of you surprised to see this torn scrap in the archive?
Students: Yes. Why is it in the archive? What does it mean? How did it ‘survive’? Where is it from? Students are surprised but approve of its being preserved.
SCJ: Explains provenance of fragment. It is kept because archives can document the process of writing and creativity - this fragment is part of that. Sarah then talks about Darke’s passion for ‘wrecking/beachcombing’ – this fragment acknowledges that passion. In Darke’s house there are numerous pairs of teeth, and other beach finds; the fragment can be linked speculatively to Darke’s play ‘The Wrecking Season’; finally, the speech replicates the Cornish voice, highlighting Darke’s concern to do this accurately.
SCJ: What ideas for might this fragment inspire for you?
- Reminded me of my granddad – teeth and voice
- I imagined this as overheard pub conversation between some old blokes
- Kids on a beach daring each other to try false teeth they have found
- Where had these teeth travelled from, whose were they, how were they managing without them, how did they lose them, what creatures were now living in them?
- My idea was about an eccentric couple living in a beach hut making a skeleton from beachcombing finds, and the teeth being used in that
- I found myself imagining joke teeth
- Pensioners bathing in the sea and losing teeth in waves
- Pensioners speed dating
- Surreal comedy of the fragment itself and in it The Three Stooges trying the teeth and them not fitting
- Imagining Nick Darke asking his wife what to do with the teeth/fragment, and her response
- Who lost the teeth, and how? Like the one shoe one always finds on a beach
- Mystery story – discovery of body with/out teeth
- Imagining the conversation as being between a dog and a cat
- False teeth as surreal in themselves
- If teeth, what other objects might there be?
- Imagining finding dressing gown, slippers … and reassembling Granny