Umbrella – An introduction and ‘The Rules’

For US readers of Umbrella, here’s Will on how he researched his latest novel, which is a good introduction:

“Whenever I reach the end of a novel – and I mean the very end, when the second set of proofs have been corrected, and the button at the printers, for good or ill, has been pushed – I find myself plagued by a very particular and almost hallucinatory condition that I’ve dubbed – with exactitude if not felicity – ‘everythingitis’. The distinguishing feature of everythingitis – which it shares with certain bizarre mental states that afflict the overly zealous adepts of Zen meditation – is an obsessive need to review the content of the entire world, both physical and psychic, to check whether it has been incorporated into the text just completed. Are there puddles in the novel? Do adolescent girls flick back their hair at least once? And, if so, have the lobes of their ears – or lack of them – been described? I must stress: everythingitis covers everything, and as any novel that is genuinely ambitious tries to be a synecdoche of the world, so the malaise ramifies and ramifies: the novel may be set among disaffected teenagers in Zurich in 2006, but following its inexorably pathological logic, might there be a case for including at least a faint echo of the impact of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 on the Byzantine aristocracy?”

Visit the FT’s website here for the full article.

And for those who really want to drill down into the text, here are Donna Poppy’s copy editing rules for Umbrella:

  • Italic has been used for “ejaculatory” thought – that is, thought that seems to pop out from the ordinary narrative, either because of its figurative qualities, or because of its heightened emotional qualities, or both. Hence things that would normally be in italic – everything from titles to foreign words – appear in roman. Snatches of song and verse are also italicised, as are named individual letters.
  • Enclosing inverted commas are, for the most part, absent from the book. Dialogue is preceded by a short dash only when the rule’s presence is necessary to avoid confusion, ie when the speech in question is without a verb of saying or some other obvious indicator of speech.
  • Long dashes (em rules) indicate temporal shifts or mood shifts, and can be thought of as aspirations – that is, breaths – in the text. Shifts in point of view are deliberately without signals of any kind. Additionally, em rules also stand in for one or more omitted letters within a word, in the conventional way.
  • Short dashes (en rules) indicate new thoughts. If a new thought starts mid-sentence, so does the en dash – which accounts for why it sometimes appears after the closing comma in a clause. Short dashes also indicate that a line of dialogue has been interrupted or broken off – hence –? –. –! all appear.
  • ?No semicolons.