Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Writing Wednesday: What's in a name?
Every book needs a title.
A title draws the reader in. It expresses something of the style of the book, or its themes or scenario.
Some are blindingly obvious (Harry Potter and the... ) Some books put the series theme in such large print that it is hard to see what the actual book is called - just take a look at recent editions of Enid Blyton's Famous Five series.
I bought The Elegance of the Hedgehog for my father-in-law for Christmas based almost entirely on the title. It is quirky, enticing, intriguing. What on earth could that story be about?
Others use sub-titles to explain the book. This happens particularly with the self-help books (e.g. Business Stripped Bare (title) Adventures of a global entrepreneur (sub-title)) but can also be used to indicate a series (A discworld novel or An Hercule Poirot novel).
The problem with these is that they are already set, already known, already available in the bookshops. How do you go about getting a catchy title for your book which no-one knows?
I suspect that often it comes without thinking. Also, I imagine many novel writers write the book around the title more than the title after the book.
My book is a memoir. Everything has already happened, and in the interests of honesty I can tweak very little about the storyline! What are its themes? Motherhood. A sense of home. Poverty in sub-saharan Africa. The struggle to survive. What is its story? My transformation from misery at having to move to Zambia to my absolute love of the country and people. How can a title capture all these issues in just a few words?
Perhaps it can't. Originally I called it Singing in a Foreign Land, for I wanted to express how much I changed by living there. The problem it poses is that the story is not about singing in any way shape or form. (I do sing, but I don't write about it. Nor do it in public, given a choice!) For months I have been pondering a change - so much so that it has a new working title: In the shade of the Mulberry Tree.
There is a reasoning. We lived in a house with a large mulberry tree in the garden - so large that it cast its shadow over everything. Mulberries also have some medicinal properties, which feels apt given I was only in Africa because of my husband's medical research. And so his research cast a 'shadow' over where I lived and what I did. Not always in a bad way, I should add.
Is this title better? I don't know, although I am a lot more comfortable with it. For now it will do, but I remain open to the fact that any future editor or publisher may dismiss it out of hand.
Would that title encourage you to pick my book up and look at it? Can you think of a better title? (I'm open to suggestions!) I realise that there are a lot of other factors that also encourage someone to read a book, not least the design on the cover, but I would love to hear your views.