I've been thinking about titles this week, and here's the reason why. I'm planning to publish a new novel to Kindle in time for Christmas - I'm currently aiming to have it ready to go in November, but the title is giving me pause for thought. And the time is coming when I'll have to make some definite decisions, if only for the sake of the cover artist.
I know a great deal has been written about titles, and how attractive or otherwise they are. There are certainly fashions in titles. The wonderfully quirky and excellent 'Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' spawned a whole set of less than wonderfully quirky imitation titles which made me - personally - want to avoid the other books like the plague so I never found out whether they were good or not. A recent analysis revealed that best sellers often include specific words: dead, blue, girl, spring to mind, but there were others. The devil was more popular than God - in titles, anyway. But maybe he has the best books as well as the best tunes.
In my many years of experience of writing stories, plays and novels, I've come to the conclusion that you either know the title right away - probably before you have written the book.... or you have real problems. There is no happy medium. I knew that The Curiosity Cabinet could never be anything but the Curiosity Cabinet, and that was long before the novel was written, when it was in its first incarnation as a trilogy of plays for BBC Radio 4.
My story A Quiet Afternoon in the Museum of Torture had a name, even before the first draft was written. I had the idea for the story when I was wandering round a 'museum of torture' in a small Italian town on a quiet afternoon in October. My work in progress - a novel called The Physic Garden - will almost certainly stay with that title come hell or high water, because it seems so right for the book.
But sometimes, even while you love what you're working on, the title doesn't quite gel. My Polish historical novel went through almost as many titles as drafts before I finally settled on The Amber Heart. And this is also what has happened with the book known as The Summer Visitor. This is another novel with a Scottish island setting, similar to The Curiosity Cabinet, although the story is quite different. I don't know why I felt the need to explore this setting again in fiction but sometimes these things just happen.
It starts in the early 1960s when a young Irish boy, Finn O’Malley, is sent from Ireland to Scotland, to work at the potato harvest. He forms a close friendship with Cairistiona (Kirsty) Galbreath, the farmer’s grand-daughter. But later on, when Kirsty moves away from home, the threads that have bound these two friends so closely together begin to unravel, and it seems that only Kirsty’s ambitions as an artist can give her the fulfilment she seeks. Kirsty’s work is inextricably tied up with her love, not just for the island itself, but for Finn, who comes and goes like the mysterious corncrake which visits the island every summer.
Finn, however, is psychologically damaged by a childhood so traumatic that he can only recover his memories piece by piece – and slowly. What happened at the brutal Industrial School, to which he was committed while still a little boy? For the sake of his own sanity, he must try to find out why he was sent there in the first place, and what became of his mother. As he struggles to answer these questions, his ability to love and be loved in return is called into question.
So that's what it's about. Loosely. You'll have to read the book to find out more! But the title is still giving me pause for thought.
It started out as a novel called Darragh Martin. The story was completely different and has been drastically rewritten since. Somewhere along the way, the main character changed and his name changed too. Later on, it became The Corncrake, which I still quite like. I thought about The Bonny Irish Boy, but I don't think that does it, because he isn't bonny at all. The Corncrake is a mysterious bird - a summer visitor - and that's exactly what Finn is. So The Corncrake is still an option. Eventually I settled on The Summer Visitor which I still like. But then somebody suggested that The Water's Wide might be better and now I'm not sure. A quick poll on Facebook and Twitter has resulted in more confusion since nobody seems to be in agreement and yet all their reasons are valid and interesting! (Focus groups, eh?) Some kind person, however, has just messaged me on Twitter to say that he likes either The Summer Visitor - or Summer Visitor. And I'm thinking he may have hit on something. Because for some reason, Summer Visitor is better than The Summer Visitor, in my mind anyway - but I'm not sure why!
ALL SUGGESTIONS AND CONTRIBUTIONS GRATEFULLY RECEIVED!