Once upon a time in the capital city, a young woman was raped by a dictionary. Nine months later, she gave birth to twins. They were semi-Siamese, joined by their penises, but since their mother was Jewish, a convenient circumcision was the solution that separated them. Sadly, their mother was sickened by the very sight of them; their gurgles and soft, papery hair constantly reminded her of the black tome who had forced himself on her in an alleyway on that dark, doomed night. So she gave them up for adoption, and the couple who cared for them - a pair of kindly, elderly lexicographers - decided to call the boys Will and Self.
Now some people have a very foolish idea that twins are like two halves of one consciousness. But Will and Self, I am glad to say, disproved this theory. They grew up to be as different as Julian Barnes from Jilly Cooper, and their diversity was epitomised in their attitude towards languages. Self sought relief from the pain of adolescence by burying himself in the works of Roland Barthes, Derrida and other works of modern critical literary theory. He found himself falling orgasmically in love with the theories of Saussure and most of all, the idea that language is a random tool, that word and form are unrelated ie: a rose could be called a table, or a table a rose. Words are merely meaningless, interchangeable labels.
But Will, ah, Will, was a more traditional chap. He loved ancient languages - Latin, and Greek, their strict, unforgiving rules of grammar. He spent hours memorising 90 tables of noun and verb cases; his favourite was the locative present pluperfect. He would taunt his brother by speaking in Sanskrit whenever he telephoned him; for Sanskrit, as we all know, is a purely onomatopoeic language which refutes Saussure's theories. You only need to take the first syllable of the Rik Ved - and indeed, Will spent many an hour taking it - to see this is the case. When he read the story of the Great Vowel Shift, describing the way that Old English had mutated into Modern, he wept his heart out and prayed that our beautiful language would slide back down the throat to its original, more guttural sounds.
Self was a subversive chap. He took a vindictive pleasure in seducing young girls from foreign language schools and peppering his conversation with long words they could not understand, or giving them informal lessons that only left them more confused, in order to prove what a fickle and absurd language English was. (A useful side-effect from their cross-purpose conversations was that the girls often slept with him too). When he wrote articles for The Guardian, he regularly slipped in new, made-up words in his efforts to corrupt and mutate the language like a scientist playing with genetically engineered animals in a laboratory.
And so they both spent their hours locked in their
At first nobody noticed the changes. One or two became aware that they kept forgetting names, but they put it down to old age, stress, or pollution. Then people began to realise that a verbal amnesia was slowly seeping through the city. Tourists would visit and stare at a square filled with pigeons and ask passer-bys what the square was called, but nobody could quite remember. They mmmed and mused, puffed and panted. 'It begins with T…it's just on the tip of my tongue…' The same with the Houses of P….of….P….p…p…pickle! No, no, that's not it! I simply can't remember what it's called!' Soon it became an epidemic, worse than Aids or flu with animal-inspired names; people would call up offices asking for Mr [er, I can't remember his name], introducing themselves as Mr [er, I can't remember my name], resulting in a muddle of business transactions that plunged the country into a catastrophic economic depression.
A meeting was held. The Mayor, spoke from a lectern, trying to reassure his people, but this was not easy when the malaise had shrunken his vocabulary to words of one syllable. As words failed him, the crowds jeered and threw stones.
And then, seemingly from nowhere, the most beautiful and buxom woman appeared. She was tall, with blonde tresses, her curves accentuated by a velvet scarlet dress. Instantly, the crowd fell silent.
"I am the English Language," she said in a sultry voice. "And this crisis will be solved in the following way: I will have sexual intercourse with Will, and sexual intercourse with Self, and whoever pleases me the most will dictate the future of the English language."
Will was the first to go up to the hotel suite in the Hilton and share a bed with the beautiful temptress. He was shaking with nerves. However, his innocence proved useful, as he had no idea of foreplay, and a more experienced man might have been surprised by Ms English Language's actions. First of all, she took a Will Self novel (How the Dead Live, to be precise) and ripped out a flurry of pages. They she threw them over the bed and pulled Will onto it. They made mad, wonderful and passionate love, the pages rippling and crinkling beneath like the scales of an enormous paper fish, rubbing inky phrases into their flesh. Will was so awed by the power of his orgasm, that he found himself struck dumb with love. From that day onwards, he left his books behind and wandered through the city of
Next came Self. Self was more of a cynical chap, and Ms English could tell at once that he was trouble. She was about to rip open the pages of a Will Self novel, when he grabbed her wrist and stopped her, threatening to rape her if she dared to tear out just one page. Enraged, she cast a spell on him. Self found himself starting to shrink and shrink and shrink and shrink like something out of a
"My deed is done," said Ms English Language. "The language is now stabilised. However, Self's soul will live on inside every Will Self book that is ever published, and his soul will silently cry out to every person who reads one, so that they find themselves unable to put his books down, feeling compelled to keep reading and reading and reading, driven by some invisible, insidious force…"
And so this true story explains why Will Self is one of the most successful writers around today.
Extract from 'The Will Self Club Murders' © 2010