Man of Titles

A lot has been made, on this very blog, of writer Boris Yashmilye’s approach to titling works (see here, for example). Simply put: Yashmilye is a fairly prolific novelist, but an even more prolific titler. One of his novels, The Musala Affair, had at one point forty-one alternative titles. Others suffered less; though his new book currently has two possible names (if not, according to circulating rumours, several more).

Amongst the many questions this raises is: ‘what does he do with the spares?’ As previously hinted, the answer is that these are very much ‘up for grabs’. If you wish to pick up a title discarded by Yashmilye, you are well within your rights. Should he choose, therefore, not to call his next novel, The Fallopian Embassy of Architecture, you are most welcome to step up to the plate and make it your own. In fact, I entreat (even implore) you to do just this. For my sake…

Bits and Pieces

– Boris Yashmilye says his next novel will be called either The Fallopian Embassy of Architecture or Equilibrium of the Masses. His publishers say the title is ‘yet to be confirmed’.

– Charles (‘Roc’) Quarrét, author of Hewn, has made yet another attempt to ‘distill the world into words’. It’s called Cathedral of Bones and will be published in July. Quarrét intends publicise the novel by climbing the large glass pyramid at the Louvre dressed only in a tiger skin.

– Pyetr Turgidovsky is locked in a dispute with his local village over a piece of land he claims the ‘devil gave to him in exchange for the souls of four hundred crows’. I think you’ll agree that this can only end in tears, blood, sweat, saliva and/or skunk juice.

– I am feeling quite well, thank you (better, in any case, than last week)

The Challenge Taker Speaks

A letter sent to me reads:

Mr Riecke,
Last week
[see here] you invited writers to take up the challenge of appropriating a title from Boris Yasmilye and an idea from Luigi Narsceni and writing a book of their own. Once I have swallowed this apple, I fully intend to take up that challenge. I will be taking from Yashmilye the title ‘The Gardener’s Dilemma’ and from Narsceni the idea of the man who fled to Africa to live with the giraffes. I fully expect the resulting book to be a masterpiece of our, and all, times.
My felicitations,

Constance Fleeting.

What can I say? Obviously, I await the book in question with a level of anticipation otherwise reserved for academic studies of infant suicide during the Regency period. I must admit a little concern, however, regarding the sanity of the correspondent. One really must be cautious when it comes to people who write letters with portions of apple lodged within their mouths. They so often turn out to be unhinged lunatics. Dear Constance, I do hope that I am mistaken…

Enter the Finisher

‘I cannot say which I prefer; which I would most like to see finished’. This I wrote in reference, below, to two of Luigi Narsceni’s incompleted tales. It was, perhaps, a thoughtless observation, for Narsceni’s stories delight despite their unfinished status. Like them we may: but do we dare ask for the fatal polish? Do we dare desire completion? Wouldn’t this ruin everything?

And yet did I not suggest, hint and/or politely consider the potent possibility of someone else taking Narsceni’s reins and running with his half-chewed ideas? That I most certainly did. Playing devil’s advocate, maybe, but it’s a thought I’d like to take a stroll with, all the same. To what extent might we license the arrival of such a ‘finisher’ – and would this be all they were – a mere framer of somebody else’s picture – or would they deserve more credit than this?

More importantly, would they ever exist? Who wants to pick up someone elses scraps and turn them into something more wholesome?

Look at it another way: writers have always been scavengers, constantly grazing on the plains of other people’s stories and ideas. Creativity is not about creation out of nothing, but a series of somethings: it is about the ability to assemble, stitch and edit – to steal what looks good, and toss away what doesn’t. The best writers (and, indeed, artists of any sort) are canny vultures with a taste for good meat and absolutely no manners when it comes to taking that meat.

So what’s to stop someone waltzing along and ‘borrowing’ some of Narsceni’s starting points? Absolutely nothing. Of course, no one will ever be blatant about it. Narsceni’s tales will be transposed, I’m sure; twisted to suit someone elses needs. But we can be sure that they will, in one form or another, be stolen. The world is stolen goods. Nothing is or will ever be sacred when an artist is involved. It will only look so.

Meanwhile I challenge someone to do their theft in the open; to commit their writerly crime in full view. Why not? Here’s an idea; why don’t you steal one of Boris Yashmilye’s unwanted titles and one of Luigi Narsceni’s unfinished stories and make a go of it? Don’t be bashful or embarrassed. Step forward and show your guilty face! Steal away to your heart’s content! Take these two toys and glue them together. See what you can make of what others half-made for themselves. Be honestly creative…

The Name of the Novel (1)

Following last week’s revelation that Boris Yashmilye’s second novel, The Musala Affair, went through forty-one different working titles, I have received much correspondence (well, two postcards), querying the availability of his discarded names and pondering whether his other novels (he has written five) went through similarly torturous titling trauma.

In response to the first of these wonderings, I can only say that I find it highly unlikely that Yashmilye has any sort of copyright over the forty-one unused names. Which is to say, should you wish to pen a novel yourself and give it the title The Snow in Summer Falls with Grace or, alternatively, A Tale of Toupees – you are most welcome. Raid the writer’s scrapbook, why not? (I might add that this is mere conjecture. In reality, copyright and I get on like Buddhist and a French chef, and any advice I give regarding its operations should be taken lightly, very lightly indeed).

As for the second issue, I have made some calls and come up with the following information. Yashmilye’s first novel, Flashes at Midnight had the same name from beginning to end. The same applies to his most recent offering, The Bastard. Interestingly, however, both titles have suffered greatly from translation. Flashes at Midnight, as I have long argued, ought to have been called Flashers at Midnight, whilst The Bastard would have made more sense had it been called The Mongrel.

Meanwhile, his third novel Nuts, Nuts, Nuts underwent just the single change. Right up until publication it was known as The Posthumous Experiments of Professor Neils Bohr, but – under publishing house pressure – it suffered a last minute change. Yashmilye claimed, later, that this was a deliberate move; fearing they’d never accept Nuts, Nuts, Nuts, he attempted to soften the effect by comparison. If this was the game he was playing, it worked. One suspects, however, that it was not.

Which leaves us with his fourth work, Out, Damned

(more on this later)

Burning Barn (Answer 2/9)

Question:  Boris Yasmilye’s second novel was called The Musala Affair. But what was its working title?

Answer: There were three answers given to this question, all of which were right, excepting Caspar’s, whose motion towards satire obstructed his passage towards truth.  The fact is, this novel went through no less than forty-one working titles. Thanks to funded research at the University of Krakow, we can now list them all:

The Hypocritical Rabbit; Over and Out; No One Nose and Ears; Brandishing and Buffetting; Apoplexia; The Goose and the Frog; The Gardener’s Dilemma; The Barn that Burns With Shame; A Right Royal Mess-up; The Old Affair; The New Affair; The Chicken Tikka Affair; The Club Sandwich Affair; The Affair that Speaks No Name; Serenade to Sunlight; Bitter Pills and Francy Frills; Oakspawn;  The Rock on Which My True Love Stands; Despair, A True Story; The Snow in Summer Falls With Grace; Monkey Kisses; You, Me and Your Cousin’s Handbag; When did you last brush your teeth?; The Gorge; The Ramp; The Strawberry Milkshake;  The Flea of Life; Unholy Traces; A Long Way Around the Block and Back; The Graves of Rochester County; Twelve and Counting; Stale Breath; As Was, Will Be: Forever; Potion for Emotion; One Mighty Grope; The Emerald Scarf; A Tale of Toupees; Sick and Silent; Things They Said Would Never Happen (and why they did); Dancing on Mice; Fourteen Ways to Fry an Antelope…

All of which were tossed away, in due course, in favour of  The Musala Affair.

All this effort, incidentally, didn’t help the book, which was Yashmilye’s worst – by a long way. If only he’d stuck with Potion for Emotion. You couldn’t go wrong with a title like that.

Stinkhorns, Mongrels and A Way with Words

As Domino has pointed out, with typical grace, the writer George Forthwith-James was, to all intents and purposes, ‘as slimy as a stinkhorn’. As I have countered, however, had she ever received a personal message from said scribe, she would have eaten her words pronto. For Forthwith-James had the rare gift of phenomenal charm: a magnetism that no logic could ever overcome. Face to face he was no great shakes – but when words began to spill from his pen there was no stopping him. He had a way with words – and god knows that this, much like a pretty face, makes up for all sorts of deficiencies. As waves re-sort the sand, so words strip the sinning beach clean.

Speaking of bastards, a month or so ago I devoted half a dozen posts to a loose review of Boris Yasmilye’s new novel The Bastard. The title, of course, does not refer to George Forthwith-James, or any sort of man: the bastard in question is the book itself, a bastard in the original sense (The Mongrel might have been a better translation of the title, but we’ll let it stand).

Having said this, The Bastard does deal with themes particular to Forthwith-James. Its main concern, after all, is the art of letter writing: our man’s favourite medium. And what it says about this appears to confirm the problem at the heart of this matter – that words written from one person to another have a power greater than words written to a general audience. Or should I say: words that appear to have been written from one person to another. For is this not what the best fiction does – it gives the appearance that the author has written it for us alone; that the novel is in fact a letter from them to us: a direct, personal appeal from one soul to another?

Intimacy shouldn’t be something one can ape – and yet Forthwith-James, like many a good writer, was painfully adept at doing just this. He used words to make connections; frequently false connections, or connections based on shaky foundations. But connections nonetheless…