Wednesday, 29 April 2015

That which goes out the window

We met at Tony's to discuss the latest instalment of his work-in-progress, a novel provisionally titled Nothing but a Phantom, which he told us is a nod to a quote by Herman Hesse: "Was all that we called culture, spirit, soul, all that we called beautiful and sacred, nothing but a ghost long dead, which only a few fools like us took for true and living? Had it perhaps indeed never been true and living? Had all that we poor fools bothered our heads about never been anything but a phantom?" The more of the book that Tony reveals the more apt this quote appears to be. But more of this later.

In our updates: Rob mentioned that his two novels are now on sale in Phil Richard's new outlet Bewdley Emporium in Lax Lane; Linda gave news of Chris's talk during Bewdley Bike Week (details here); Annie is pleased with her Polly Poodle progress; and Tony was delighted to have received a royalty cheque for sales of a non-fiction book on mental health nursing that was published 15 years ago. Sadly, Izzie was unable to give her news because she was unable to come to the meeting. Get well soon, Izzie, from all of us.

We agreed that our next meeting on May 12th should not be a formal one since Annie and Linda are both away. The rest of us - including Chris, we hope - will get together for a chinwag over a drink somewhere.  Details to be sorted.

So to Tony's extract - Chapter 5 At the Guards Station. It's a testament to the quality of Tony's writing that there was hardly any comment about the technical side. Although Linda and Annie both thought that the pace could be improved we all agreed that Tony was building the tension well and that the totalitarian nature of the imagined kingdom of 'Angland' is becoming apparent in a controlled way.
The book's protagonist, Tilman Birchwood, is a 19 year-old university student and we all wondered whether he would be more aware of the true nature of the state and therefore less naive about his first visit to a Guards Station. We all praised the chapter's finale that introduced the concept of 'banishment'. What does this mean for Tilman? Read on!

Annie was troubled by the word 'defenestration'. (OED definition: verb [with object] rare Throw (someone) out of a window.) As she teased out why, she realised that in Angland - a parallel country to ours that retained its Anglo-Saxon nature - the Norman influence on our language wouldn't have happened and therefore French-rooted words (fenetre = window) wouldn't have happened. As Annie put it: "If 1066 and all that never happened Angland wouldn't have French words."

Whether this means that Tony is going to have to go through his final manuscript and root out all the words that have Norman roots only he can decide. If he does, his work would be worthy of inclusion in the Oulipo portfolio. It would be a nice irony if this French group were forced to admit a work on this basis.

The meeting closed with a customarily inconclusive discussion on when to use 'which' and 'that'. Next meeting informal on 12th May - venue tba. On 26th May we'll meet at Annie's and consider work by her.


  1. Rob,
    Fantastic blog post and thank you for the complimentary comments about my novel-in-progress. On a pedantic point of order, while the word defenestration is indeed related to the French word fenêtre, its origin is actually Latin, not French, (de -'down from' + Latin fenestra 'window') and it seems to have been coined in 15th century Prague. Now, while it's true the kingdom of Angland in Nothing but a Phantom is subject to an unbroken succession of Anglo-Saxon royalty, I'm sure words from other languages will have crept into usage. After all, we have Viking words in modern English, even though the Vikings did not conquer us in the way the Normans did. But I was intrigued to learn about the Oulipo portfolio, of which I'd never heard. Fascinating to learn that it was formed as a subcommittee of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique. I had to study Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi as a French student. I'm also partial to Pure Ubu, the real ale named after a dog that's presumably named after Jarry's character Père Ubu (which is also, you may be aware, the name of an 1970s underground rock band from Ohio.)
    Best regards,

  2. Trust you to trump my imperfect knowledge of the existence of Oulipo with all that stuff about Ubu! I'm conversant with the ale but not the provenance of its name nor with the band from Ohio.
    Regarding the derivation of defenestration, Val told me after I'd written the blog that the French word was derived in turn from Latin as are so many of the other words that are similar in both languages.
    My failure in this regard doesn't devalue the principle of setting yourself parameters regarding the words that exist in Angland and those that don't. (e.g. No nouns with -ion endings.) That way admittance to the hallowed halls of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique lies. Something to aim for?