Andreas was born in London and grew up in the seaside resort of Margate. Summers spent working in the ice-cream hut on rainy Margate Beach lead to copious amounts of time reading everything, and reading everything lead a highly driven person from finance to linguistics to travel to writing fiction. Andreas studied English Literature and Linguistics at Leeds and holds an MPhil in Modernist Literature from Cambridge. He has worked in finance and is a director of The Client Academy, an international training and coaching business. A participant on the inaugural Faber Academy Writing a Novel course in London, Andreas’s first novel, The Devil’s Deal (Pearson) has been translated into Chinese, Korean and Japanese with Thai, Malay, Turkish, Polish and Dutch to come, and more European translations to follow. Andreas will compere The Margate Bookie in August 2015.
Words and their Right Arrangement
“I’m editing my crime novel, The Stealing. The main character is a language obsessive, who uses words to manipulate his enemies. He’s like a nasty version of me, but better with girls!”
Strawberry Vincent Prices
“My dad is from Famagusta and my mum is from Zurich. All my friends are really good at nodding and smiling when they come round.
“I’ve always been interested in words and language. The seaside resort I grew up in, a lot of Cockneys would go there and I just thought they were so, so funny. They were sharp, they tipped brilliantly, and they had fun with their conversations. They taught me all these inventive puns and verbal tricks – they had their own secret language that made them so much more interesting than holiday-makers from the Midlands. The Cockney slang for a Greek person is ‘Bubble’ – it comes from Bubble and Squeak… Greek.”
Good Prose is like a Windowpane
“When I was a youngster I served ice-cream on Margate Beach. And when it rained there was nothing to do, so that’s when I really started to read. I read Animal Farm when I was twelve and I probably didn’t understand all the implications but I just thought it was a great book. My first big writer was Orwell. I then read 1984 and all the essays. I even read the terrible novels – Keep the Aspidistra Flying, A Clergyman’s Daughter, Burmese Days. I read them all.
“Politics and the English Language opened my eyes. Now it’s a big cliché – every time a blogger copies Orwell’s seven rules for writers, the very concept of individual thought dies a little. George Orwell would hate people tweeting, ‘oh here are seven things you can do with language’. The whole essay is much richer than this rubric. It has guided a lot of my ideas about structure. I really liked English and Economics at school. I thought it was more likely I could have a business career and then move into writing and academia, but I couldn’t do it the other way round. I couldn’t study medieval mystery plays and then at the age of thirty think right, now I’m going to go and sell some Euro Bonds.
“I studied English Language and Linguistics at Leeds, where I was particularly influenced by two academics: Dr Anthony Cowie and Loreto Todd. Tony is lexicographer and phraseologist, author of English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners – a History and co-author of the Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English. Loreto was director of the programme of World English Research and works on languages of the Pacific Islands, pidgin and Creoles, and examines the socio-linguistic side of language, and how words control.”
The Armoury of the Mind
“My first dissertation at Leeds was on legal language. While studying at Leeds I got into slang and ideas of linguistic inclusion/exclusion. I would go to the Law Courts and investigate how defendants reacted to legal jargon. Someone was facing the magistrate for beating his dog and the magistrate used the phrase ‘twenty eight TICs’, which means nothing to someone outside the legal world. TIC stands for ‘take into consideration’. The defendant would have been confessing to having done this crime 28 times before but rather than waste police time the court would try the person for one offense – but taking into account the many TICs. I remember this case because the person in court was scared, and the magistrate and lawyer were discussing TICS but the defendant had no idea what they were talking about.
“In many ways it was incredibly rude and absolutely highlighted the exclusiveness of language. Professionals can remove the subject from a conversation through their linguistic choices. While language can facilitate meaning it can simultaneously exclude people and sometimes destroy them.”
Most Powerful Drug
“The way business people use language has always been a fascination. A warning bell sounds when I hear certain expressions like ‘I am passionate about bringing the cost of your tires down.’ No you’re not; at best you’re mildly interested. You’re ‘passionate’ about making a 40% commission. Business discourse often has its own, sedating, rhythm – ‘strategic… resource… management.’ Speaking in set phrases limits your ability to communicate with people, and you limit their ability to respond because you anaesthetise them.
“Many other people claim this honour, but I actually invented ‘Management Bingo’. It was in my first month at my first job. I printed out bingo sheets, replacing the numbers with typical phrases and if someone used a business cliché – ‘added value’, for example, or ‘quality circle’ you crossed it out and scored a point.
“I don’t want to be too judgmental, but I do believe in ‘like vocab, like mind.’ It’s all quite funny, but if you’re actually in this… I know people who are so heavily influenced by jargon, who have picked up phrases from people senior to them and from what they hear on the news. They say, ‘we need a road map’ – what’s wrong with a plan? They don’t say something is shit – they say ‘it’s not fit for purpose’. It’s not a decision – it’s an ‘executive decision’. I thought they were taking the piss but they’re deadly serious. These are the people who can turn even a business cliché like ‘heads-up’ into a reflexive verb, ‘I’ll heads you up tomorrow.’ I once heard someone say, ‘It’s all downhill skiing from here’, and I wondered, is that easy, because you’re skiing downhill, or is that hard… because you’re skiing downhill?! It could mean anything – it’s a terrible phrase that shows the speaker is not thinking about what’s she’s saying.
“I put a few of the linguistic sins I’ve suffered into The Devils Deal.”
Inhabiting a Language
“If you haven’t got the word or mood you can’t capture an idea. With Spanish, for example, a language in which the subjunctive is ever present – there’s doubt. In Anglo Saxon English the subjunctive tense is not grammatically distinct from the indicative. So Brits feel that something happens or it doesn’t. That’s why they think the Spanish are ‘flaky’ and unreliable – their language suggests uncertainty.
“English is really great because it’s borrowed from every language in the world. Even in everyday usage you have Romance languages and you have Anglo Saxon – you have those two swords to pull out. With verbs, also, you have a Romance language verb, like suffer; you have an Anglo Saxon equivalent, meaning ‘to put up with’. It’s a terrible thing to say but if you look at the Romance words, like suffer, it’s always, ‘poor me’, whereas the Anglo Saxon ones are ‘I will put up with it or I die’.
“I lived in Sevilla and topped up my grammar in Guatemala. My Spanish accent is equivalent to someone who started learning English in Dublin and then lived in Mumbai for a year. These days, I’m spending quite a lot of time in Paris. I’m amazed at how quickly my daughter picks up French while playing with her mates. But I’m disappointed that my French O-Level cuts neither mustard nor ice.”
The clocks struck 13
“1984 is the most important book I ever read. The things you’re exposed to between the ages of twelve and fifteen influence you for the rest of your life. This applies to music as well as books. I’ve never been able to honestly cast a vote for any politician because of the impact of 1984. Orwell’s ideas about politics are massively relevant today – right and left join up, the political spectrum is not a line but a circle, the media and the government work together to control us. The abuse of language is so integral to 1984. The book starts off with that brilliant line about how ‘the clocks were striking thirteen’ and you know straight away that something is up with language, you know that normal order is being subverted. When you see that the whole way through – if you control the language you control people’s ability to think – and eventually it gets to where the language can’t be critical of its society’s inherent structure. You have no word for opposition so you can’t have one. I would just sit in my ice-cream kiosk, with the rain coming down… I was that guy that would look out to sea and think, ooh, that’s really brilliant. It just blew my mind.”
And the Old Words Best of All
“Language changes over time, words change over time. In Spain and France you have organisations set up to protect the language, to stop people saying, ‘Le weekend’. But it’s human instinct to look for the quickest way to communicate something. Consider the difference between it’s and its, with and without an apostrophe. You know the difference, I know the difference. In twenty years time they will be the same thing – the written form of two, too and to will disappear. I think it’s an improvement. I thought innit would take off as the all-purpose question tag in English. I was wrong, wasn’t I?”
Insult is a jargon word that doctors use between themselves. If you say an organ has had an insult, that organ has either been damaged in an accident or is infected by a virus. Usually, if you put some stress on an organ, you’ll recover i.e. you catch the flu, you have some lucozade, you feel ok. But if an organ has had an insult, then it’s probably not strong enough to fully recover. It’s a clever catch-all word to use to cover accidents and viruses but it takes the emotion out of a situation. A patient who hears that his kidney has received an insult probably won’t be too bothered because it sounds quite mild. It’s not.
Ditch of the Day
In Switzerland the linguistic divide between German and French speakers has two distinct names. The Swiss Germans call it the Röstigraben, which translates as ‘the ditch of fried potatoes’. The French Swiss nomenclature is Rideau de rösti, which keeps the fried spuds but changes ‘ditch’ to ‘curtain’.
Think about the choice of words. A ditch is hard to cross and separates territories. A curtain floats across two spaces, and can be pulled open to let people through. The stock Swiss Germans are outdoors digging, the Swiss French are inside taking tea by embroidered drapes. Rosti is a classic farmer’s dish, a heavy lump of carbs. You eat it out of the same dish you cooked it in, then walk across the valley to bale hay or plant apple trees. It’s not the refined food you associate with those slim-shouldered bureaucrats in Geneva.
This is a Greek word that comes from the Turkish merak, to be interested, to wonder. μεράκι sort-of kind-of means putting your heart, soul and enthusiasm into a task. It could be something artistic. Or it could be something quotidian that’s done with real enthusiasm and pride. The way my mum plants her vegetables, for example, or the skill with which a chef cooks for her staff once the restaurant’s customers have left. The closest I can get to a synonym is ‘a zesty mix of skill and love while you’re in the flow’ but that’s awful, innit? μεράκι is plotting a novel without googling the capital of Honduras or putting the kettle on for the ninth time this morning. It’s about being in the present. Some of the traps we lay for ourselves make μεράκι difficult. Multitasking, tweeting, searching for irrelevant shit when we could be staring out at the waves. They’re all anti-μεράκι!
(interview first published on Pieced Work – September 5th 2013)