Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Never Name Your Baby 'Cumbernauld'

I splurged a whole load of guff yesterday about how I go about getting a novel from 'I've got an idea...' to 'I'm finished!' But I didn't really go the whole hog. See, every novel needs a tag to identify it. A title. And, for me, the process of picking that tag always brings on one of my biggest nightmares.

There are writers out there who can pluck earth-shattering titles from nowhere, and God how I envy them. They hack away for a month or three creating a masterpiece, then tag their babies with names like 'Angels and Demons', 'Deathwish' or 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Lucky ****ers.

I, on the other hand, tagged one of my works 'Pretence and Palliation'. Yup, I did. Notwithstanding the obvious limitations (one day I hoped to market this novel to the Americans, who spell it 'pretense'), it just sucks. Big time. I know it sucks because I lost count of the number of people who read my work on authonomy and said, 'Jack, this is a cracker of a page-turner, but what's palliation mean?' I had another go. 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt'. Better...but I still hear sucking.

I knew then that getting the title right was going to take a horrific few months, and I knew there would be sleepless nights, sweaty brows and much scoring with that blood-red pen. After all, I'm the man who once wrote a short article about constipation and called it 'Winnie Won't Poo'.

What the hell was I thinking?

Now, I could start a list here of all the crappy book titles I've come up with (imagine Eddie Izzard and his renaming Gerry Dorsey to Engelbert Humperdink sketch - Zingelbert Bembledack, Tringelbert Wangledack, Slut Bunwalla, Klingybun Fistelvase, Dindlebert Zindledack, Gerry Dorsey, Engelbert Humptyback, Zengelbert Bingledack, Engelbert Humperdinck, Vingelbert Wingledanck…wait, wait, wait - go back one...), I could do that, but all it would do is annihilate any self esteem I have left as a writer. Let me just say that I think I'm learning what it takes to name my babies. When I'm conversing with friends about my latest novel and they bowl the inevitable 'So what's it called?' question, I no longer mumble 'Cumbernauld' and change the subject. I beam and say 'Brogan's Crossing' - and almost instantly I see them put a name to my lead character and begin thinking about what changes must be taking place in this guy's life to make him 'cross' to some other path. (Either that or I've bored the buggers speechless.)

And that's the secret to naming your work: knowing your work. Know it inside out. Focus on your theme, the underlying message that you're trying to get across to your readers.

Look again at those titles up in paragraph two. Each one tells you exactly what the novel is about. More than that, it tells you that the writer knows how to focus on what the story is about. But 'Pretence and Palliation'? Sheesh.

I'm not saying 'Brogan's Crossing' is the best title I could come up with, and I'm sure if I ever hook an agent or publisher she'll have (I hope) a few words to say. But it's a step in the right direction.

And if you're struggling to find the perfect title for your manuscript and you're about to turn to the Scotch, try The Random Book Title Generator. It's an excellent website for getting started.

Good luck.


  1. One of my favorite titles? Spots on the Wall, by Hu Fuong Dung.

  2. Pretense and Palliation goes right alongside Sense and Sensibility, Crime and Punishment. A perfectly worthy title. Although maybe Pretentious Impalement or Pale Pretensions or Palmetto Prevention might work, depending on setting, character traits, etc. And you save the and. . .I'm really liking this Random stuff, Ramsay, and the alliteration is mesmerizing. . .

  3. But what the heck is Cumbernauld? I really want to know about Cumbernauld.That's completely alien to Who Dat Nation.

  4. Hey! Missed that spots on the wall thing. "Tiger In The Bed" by Claud Balls...Or "Incontinence and Rubber" by I.P. Knightly. Gawd, where do we stop. Or should I say, where does wee stop? heh...

    Thanks, Kazza :-)

  5. MM, I thank you. You're a lady know knows language, and I thank God for you. But you are few and far between. Sadly so. The world could do with more kindnesses.

    Cumbernauld. Heh. It's a 'new' town in Scotland, not far (enough) from Glasgow. Wiki knows it. In truth, I've only been there once. It was much like visiting Glenrothes. Both designed around the same theme...which you can asertain for yourself

    The town had a slogan - looooong time ago - and it went like this:

    Q. What's it called?
    A. Cumbernauld!

    Tacky? Well...yahuh. But it was 1980. Or thereabooots! :)

  6. OI! I was trying to be funny. Rats. That's the limitations of language, there, Jack. Thanks for putting up with me.