it is documented somewhere in the archives of the post, the basic daily routine i use to write thewashingmachinepost. there are constraints of course, but generally these are self-imposed, though often a result of external factors outwith my control. few of these constraints, if any, are other than reactionary, and most certainly not adhering to any specific formulae. however, a literary movement founded in 1960 by the late raymond queneau, seeks to combine writers and mathematicians to create works using deliberately constrained writing, known as ouvroir de litterature potentielle, or oulipo. this roughly translates as workshop of potential literature.
paul fournel wrote his master's thesis on queneau, and subsequently published the first full length study on the group. he became a full member of oulipo in 1972. in conjunction with this, he is also a regent of the college of pataphysics; i know, i know, this is supposed to be a cycling website, so i will spare you the gory details, but pataphysics is a philosophy or pseudophilosophy dedicated to investigating that which lies beyond metaphysics (and you thought index gearing was complicated).
however, back in the real world, paul fournel is a cyclist just like the rest of us, with both a need and love for the bike. the above is by way of attempting to explain the literary background that informs his writing and may help you to understand some of the references in the following interview. if you'd like to learn more about oulipo, i've popped a couple of links at the end of the interview.
now back to mr fournel...
how have you managed to combine the life of a cultural attache with that of a fairly prolific author?
Waking up early every day, writing and then going to work.
can a french cultural attache choose the country in which they serve?
You make choices among the places that are free the following year, in your preferred order, and then, usually, the Minister sends you elsewhere.
has the success of 'need for the bike' been somewhat of a surprise, or were you writing to a perceived demand?
Success is always a surprise. I knew that I had thousands of fellow cyclists in the world, I did not know that they were also eager to read. It is a real pleasure to get mail from Australia just to ask you if you had a good ride on Sunday.
is it likely that your latest cycle literature offering 'meli velo' will be translated into english?
I don't think so since it a kind of a dictionary! And for that very reason untranslatable. I hope somebody will do the same for English cycling language.
does writing feature as a large part of your life?
do you enjoy reading the written word as much as writing it?
Reading is my job and my passion. Being a writer is being a reader. This is where everything starts.
do you prefer to get your daily news online or from a good old fashioned newspaper?
can you give a brief overview of the importance of oulipo in your work?
It would take hours, even days! Oulipo is a big chunk of my life.
did the philosophy of oulipo inform the writing of 'need for the bike'?
Not directly, but Oulipo inflences me deeply, so I imagine it always colours my work.
is there any particular book presenting an overview of oulipo (in english) you would recommend to an inquisitor?
The Oulipo compendium by Harry Mathews.
is there room for pataphysics in the world of the bicycle?
Probably not, and this is the reason why I am the "Regent de bicyclettologie theorique et pratique". In the College, the Regents are those supposed to teach. I am supposed to teach the science of "bicyclettologie", which IÊnever do, of course.
what is it that you identify with in the bicycle - transport, sport, freedom or a combination of all?
A wonderful combination of all that and more.
do you have your bike with you in london?
I just bought a new one, here. A Condor with a titanium frame, beautifully made in my size that runs like a clock.
do you commute by bicycle?
has cycling kept you young in mind and spirit?
And in good physical shape on top of all that.
do you follow the tour de france (via television or web)?
Yes, yes, yes.
do you have favourable views on the development of the bicycle such as carbon this and that, electronic gears and the never ending quest for lightness, or are you more satisfied with 'just a plain ordinary bike'?
I like the this and that, provided it has a classical touch in it.
have you taken part in any of the myriad european sportive rides that are so popular nowadays?
I did once or twice but it is not my cup of tea. To many people, too many dangerous people...
are you affiliated with any organised cycle club in france, or are you a more individual cyclist?
are you handy with a spanner and allen key, or happier with a following mavic car?
Spanner, Allen key and Mavic car.
how many bikes do you currently own?
Five. The one of my twenties, the one of my thirties, the one of my forties, the one of my fifties and the brand new one of my sixties. I hope to have more: One? Two? Who knows?
is there any bicycle you've had in the past that you wish you still owned?
Ê I don't think so.
money no object, which bicycle/frame do you buy?
I have kept my precious Reynolds frame from 1965, tailor made in Saint Etienne. And a vintage Campy, heavy like lead and beautiful. I keep my old bikes and I just bought a new one. I feel OK with my technical dreams.
campagnolo/shimano/sram - any preference?
Shimano these days.
having reached 62, what's the future for paul fournel? will you retire to cycle the roads of france, or is there no limit to the years you can spend as a cultural attache?
I will stay in London till August 2011, and then start at last my life as a full-time writer and cyclist. An old dream come true.
posted on sunday 6 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................