40,000 Not-Very-Easy Pieces

British artist-writer Graham Rawle resisted the idea of printing Woman’s World, a new novel about a possibly homicidal cross-dresser that consists entirely of phrases clipped from sixties women’s magazines, in collage form; he was concerned it might be taken for “a novelty rather than a novel.” He needn’t have been: Jean Doumanian decided to produce the movie without even knowing how the book had been constructed. Below, Rawle dissects page 209.

1. “I think the word there was originally part of a title for a feature in [the magazine] Woman’s Own. Above it was a picture, the lower part of which showed a drab wallpaper background. When cutting out the word, I decided to include a fragment of it because the scene describes such an interior.”

2. “One of the problems with using only found fragments to assemble my story was finding multiples of people’s names, which were repeated many times throughout the novel. I decided on Mr. Hands for my antagonist because the word hands is easy to come by in adverts for nail polish, soap powders, and the like. The name also describes his licentious, groping nature.

3. “Much of the material comes from romantic short stories featured in every women’s magazine at the time. Unfortunately for me, most of these are in the third person. Since my story is mainly written in the first, all of the pronouns had to be changed. Once I’d factored in punctuation marks and line breaks, there could be a dozen elements within one sentence.”

4. “Throughout the book, the word woman generally appears in some bold or decorative script or, as in this case, in color. It was probably the most commonly used word, so there were lots to choose from.”

5. “The word forty happened to be sitting on the top of my numbers file as I was pasting down the words, so I stuck it in. It also added a nice graphic element to the page.”

6. “It was fun trying to find a printed number for every page of the book. A bit of tinkering was often required. Here the 209 is intact as part of a telephone number.

7. “Little dogs can get overexcited and work themselves up into a lather, or, in this case, a ‘rich, creamy lather’—a phrase I found in an advertisement for beauty soap.

8. “The line I had in mind ended with something like, ‘…;whose resemblance to Sylvia Syms was extremely remote.’ Having previously categorized my found material into specific subjects, I searched my ‘measuring and distance’ category for the word remote but instead found the phrase ‘…could be measured in nautical miles.’ Much better.”

9. “Celebrity-endorsed beauty products were common in 1962. I think this bit came from an ad for a moisturizing cream used by British screen actress Sylvia Syms, which said something to the effect of: ‘Look over there. Isn’t that Sylvia Syms, star of stage and screen who keeps her skin so young-looking?’”

40,000 Not-Very-Easy Pieces