Dictionary Stories

Very short stories composed entirely of example sentences from the dictionary.

#6: At The Piano

Even though we just revealed the cover and began pre-orders, there's still five months before the book comes out, and if that's galling to you, spare a thought for your pal Jez, for whom it feels like waiting for a dozen Christmases at once. There's no shortage of work to be done in the meantime however, starting with this newsletter, which contains Dictionary Stories' very first audio/visual experience, so let's get to it →

I. The Book
Since last I typed and you read, several things have happened that necessitate a bulleted list, so buckle up. 

  • I received a mountain of proof pages from Harper Perennial and promptly filled them with edits and corrections in red pen. At one point I correctly identified a period that was set in Bold as opposed to Regular weight and briefly felt like some sort of extremely niche superhero. 
  • Myself, my editor, my agent, my publicist, and the team of marketing and publicity folks at Harper got together for our first call. Plots were hatched, watches were synchronised. You'll be hearing more in time.
  • Advance reader copies were sent to print and should arrive imminently. Also, that throbbing pain in my chest came back. Probably unrelated, probably nothing. 
  • Pins arrived! A reminder: pre-order the book, forward your confirmation email to hello@jezburrows.com, and one of these chaps will arrive at your door at some indistinct point in the future. They're quite handsome.

II. Premiere: Dictionary Theatre #1
Here's the thing about Paul Simon: he's a liar. 'Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover' contains, at most, five ways to leave your lover, and even those are limited to men named Jack, Stan, Roy, Gus, or Lee. 
This is unacceptable, so somewhere near the beginning of the year, I corrected this injustice by writing a list for the book using sentences generously furnished by the New Oxford American Dictionary and the Macquarie Dictionary. 

Skip ahead to July. It's a beautiful morning, and I'm shoeless in a house in Hampstead, reading this list while accompanied by some startlingly lovely piano playing. Luckily, somebody is there to film it. So here's the first in a series of short films featuring stories from the book: 'Fifty More Ways to Leave Your Lover'. Enjoy.

Also, allow me to introduce you to the gentleman at the piano. His name is Tom Rosenthal, and I've been a fan of his since 2011 when a song of his fell into my lap by way of a mix made by a friend. Years ago, the comedian Josie Long called his music "an antidote to malice," and I still can't think of a more perfect description. He's a powerfully good egg. Here's a great video of a bunch of folks listening to his latest record Fenn, and here he is on Youtube and Spotify. The internet loves him, and so will you.

III. Inspiration: Graham Rawle
A few weeks ago I was describing the concept of the book to somebody, and they asked if I was physically cutting and pasting example sentences into actual collages. "God, no," I said, "Can you imagine? What a nightmare." And that's when something shook itself loose from the depths of my memory, something I'm still amazed it took me this long to dig up: Graham Rawle's remarkable novel Woman's World.

Originally published in 2005, Woman's World is a full-length novel entirely constructed from over 40,000 paper snippets of women's magazines from the 1960s. It took Rawle five years. Not only is every page a work of art—a precarious assemblage of type and illustration—but combined, they form an astoundingly cohesive (and unexpected) thriller.

It owes a little to Dada, and something to William Burroughs and his cut-up novels, but with less importance placed on randomness and chance. Rawle supposedly wrote the entire novel in a skeleton form before he took scissors to a single page, later fleshing out the novel in paper and glue, adapting and altering at the whims of the magazines. Having spent the better part of the year attempting some version of this, albeit on a much smaller scale, I have boundless respect for Woman's World. Granted, the restraints Rawle uses are much looser than those in Dictionary Stories—being able to cut out individual words to create sentences would have saved me months of work—but it's still a total wonder. 

Underlined words are those responsible for each example sentence.