Thursday, 29 June 2017

A sense of Entitlement

Choosing titles can be a tricky business but for me it owes as much to instinct as to careful thought. For my first novel, I went for a Biblical reference (not quite a quote), A Time For Silence, because it seemed appropriate for a story that involves a pious chapel community. And besides, the King James version, like Shakespeare’s works, sometimes seems to have been produced for no better purpose than providing really good titles. I toyed with using the correct quote: “A Time to Keep Silence”, but the rhythm was just wrong, so I adapted it and once I’d settled on it, I thought that it couldn’t be anything else.

My second book called itself Motherlove. That was its working title because motherlove, in various guises, is what it’s about. When I had finished it and sat down to think about what it should really be called, I couldn’t come up with anything more appropriate, so I stuck with it. I did discover, after publication, that there can be issues with some titles. Search issues. Search for “A Time For Silence” on Amazon, without automatically narrowing it down to “books” and you’ll get my first novel. Search for “Motherlove” and you get a nipple cream.

My third book had no title, while I was writing it, other than “the next book.” Once finished, I sat back, groaned and thought ‘now come up with a title,’ and hey presto, it appeared. It’s about a character mentally unravelling and a forgotten story unravelling, so The Unravelling presented itself and all possible competitors slithered away into the undergrowth.

My latest novel is called Shadows. Kate Lawrence is psychically sensitive – she can feel the echoes of past deaths embedded in the masonry and woodwork of old houses. She can feel death happening across many miles. She doesn’t like it. She refers to her unwanted feelings as shadows. Somehow, it seemed obvious to call the book Shadows.

However, I was aware that Shadows is a word that has had plenty of use in book titles – my brilliant fellow Honno author, Judith Barrow, claimed it before me for Pattern of Shadows and Living in the Shadows. There are other books called just Shadows, as well as Shadow Reaper, the Shadow Queen, The Shadow District, Shadow Kill, the Shadow Land… and I’m still on page one of an Amazon search. It was suggested to me that I should choose something a bit less generic, and I did struggle with alternatives. In the end I gave up, because the book is so very much about shadows that it would be absurd not to use it. There are Kate’s clearly weird shadows, which make her life a misery, but there’s also the private shadows cast on many of the characters by their own guilt at things they have or haven’t done. Later there are shadows of accusation and suspicion cast on everyone and there are shadowy secrets from the past that come to light. Lots of shadows, like the shadows physically cast by the old house, Llys y Garn.

Shadows are dark. They might make you think of death, night, threatening places. But there’s another side to them. They don’t exist in total darkness. They are cast by a source of light. The brighter the sunshine, the stronger the shadow. As innumerable people have said (I’ve given up trying to trace the original quote), “Turn to face the sun and the shadows fall behind you.” That is what Kate has to learn to do. So I have called the book Shadows and I’m sticking with it.

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