first things

June 29th, 2010 | Category: news, titles

‘Six Impossible Things’ is the title of my YA book which comes out in August, and it’s from this exchange between Alice and the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’:

‘I’m seven and a half exactly.’
‘You needn’t say “exactually”,’ the Queen remarked: ‘I can believe it without that. Now I’ll give you something to believe. I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.’
‘I can’t believe that!’ said Alice.
‘Can’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes…’
Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. …’

As well as being deliciously absurd – and it stands alone and sufficient in that regard – an annotated edition will tell you that Lewis Carroll is also taking a concise swipe at the idea of religious faith.

My use of these words as a book title is entirely more literal. Protagonist Dan Cereill’s life is in a mess – he articulates his problems by sorting the mess into a more containable six impossible things.

Whereas the White Queen’s ‘impossible’ refers to that which is unbelievable, or inconceivable, Dan’s six things are, to him, simply unachievable.

But I like the loose link to ‘Through the Looking Glass’, because Dan, too, finds himself in a new world – a place where he doesn’t quite know how to behave, a place in which he has to discover – and sometimes construct – rules and solutions as he goes along.

And I love titles that contain numbers. ‘Six Impossible Things’, ‘Five Easy Pieces’, ‘Seven Little Australians’, ‘10 Things I Hate About You’, ‘The Hundred and One Dalmatians’…

Is it my inner control freak? Once it’s quantified, then I can start figuring it out? Or is it just that it flips the curiosity switch so well – which seven?, what ten things?…

I also love titles that promise to tell me a secret – The Dawn Shops, Everything Beautiful, Come To Me, What I Loved, A Gate at the Stairs…

What are your favourite book titles? Do you ever read a book just based on its title?

Five Easy Pieces – screenplay by Carole Eastman, Seven Little Australian – Ethel Turner, Ten Things I Hate About You – screenplay by Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith, The Hundred and One Dalmatians – Dodie Smith, The Dawn Shops – Joyce Lankester Brisley, Everything Beautiful – Simmone Howell, Come To Me – Amy Bloom, What I Loved – Siri Hustvedt, A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore

17 responses to “first things”

  1. Cath Crowley says:

    I often read books just for their names. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Princess Bride, Possession, The Lovely Bones…

    Love your new website. Can’t wait for your book.

    • fiona says:

      Thanks Cath – I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Graffiti Moon, too! – and you’ve reminded me of another category I love, the wonderful-one-word title.

  2. Joel says:

    I totally agree! My favourite book is Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, closely followed by Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I’d never thought that this may be a reflection of control freakiness. I’m now anxiously checking out the other books on my shelf for beloved titles with numbers in them – the cat is out of the bag now!

    • fiona says:

      I don’t think control freak applies to you, Joel, or if it does, you hide it well (maybe you’re a super-secret-control-freak-with-chill-demeanor) but either way I really like your books and their titles.

  3. Lizzy says:

    Absolutely – title and/or cover design, although unfortunately no guarantee for how much I’ll like the book. Consolations of Philosophy – Alain de Botton. Gravel – Peter Goldsworthy. What is the What? – Dave Eggers. Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald. Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut. Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game – but is such a delicious mouthful when said in the German) – Herman Hesse.

    • fiona says:

      Lizzie, thanks for dropping by, another great one-word title, Gravel, and I’m with you on the Herman Hesse title, gorgeous, I need to read it. The cover design is big for me, too, and as you say no guarantee of what’s in store for you, either way. I waited a whole year after having Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass IN THE HOUSE until I read them. They’re three of my favourite books, but it took me all that time to get past the ug covers. Alain de Botton borrowed from Boethius for his title, and I think that needs to win some sort of title longevity prize – from around AD520.

  4. fiona – your website looks great!
    I am a title person – I have lists and lists of titles I want to use … I like name titles (if the name is unusual) : Morvern Callar is one that springs to mind …

    • fiona says:

      Thanks, Simmone – I haven’t read Movern Callar, but it sounds good. George Eliot was great on the unusual name titles – Romola, Daniel Deronda, Silas Marner, etc.

  5. Sally Rippin says:

    Hey, love the website and the book looks fabulous! I can’t wait to read it. Great title, great cover, love the character and voice – it’s got everything going for it. I won’t have to have it IN THE HOUSE for long at all before it’s gobbled up by me and my teenage sons, I’m sure. xxx

  6. Diem says:

    I don’t really care what the title is, I’m more into front covers and blurbs. I love really cute front covers that are really, really cute. If the cover is cute then I’m reading it.
    Fiona, my mum said you look beautiful and how did you get baby pictures of yourself. Probably because she doesn’t have pictures of herself when she was small and is jealous. Anyways, she made me use my ‘fluent’ Vietnamese and tell her what you wrote. Then she told me off for not knowing the words. I need a rest, the translating has made me tired. BYE! I can’t wait until August. I truly can’t.

  7. kate.o.d says:

    an abundance of katherines, john green (mostly for the reference to katherine, which is me me me!)

    the knife of never letting go, patrick ness
    and
    tomorrow, when the war began, john marsden (for the way the don’t make sense, sort of, to the ear)

    i too try to believe many impossible things every day. can’t wait for your book!

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