coming up with a title
My new book, ‘Wildlife’, will be out next year.
It is the second in an extremely loosely linked trilogy.
Lou, from ‘Six Impossible Things’ is one of two point-of-view characters in ‘Wildlife’, and the other, the protagonist, is a new character, Sibylla.
During its gestation ‘Wildlife’ has had a few working titles, and here’s why they didn’t last the distance.
This was my original title idea, and the scene in which that word appears is still in the book. For: it delivers an appealing dislocation of meaning and form. It means beauty, and yet it sounds more like the noise you might make when you vomit. Beauty itself being an undoubted mixed blessing is one of the things the story looks at. Against: no one can pronounce it, and no one knows what it means – brilliant idea if you want to make buying the book, or borrowing it from a library, or even remembering the title as difficult as humanly possible.
Before it was a band and a wine label, this was a game of playground tiggy in which the kiss was punitive. The kissed party became ‘it’: they lost. This suited the ambiguity of the main love story within the narrative. It’s a first love for Sibylla, an experience she finds wonderful, completely confusing, and by no means a simple happily-ever-after. So, the title relates well to the narrative, and it’s catchy. But I could not imagine a fourteen-year-old boy choosing it from a shelf. Overall, it felt a bit young, a bit ‘bubblegum’/cute, for a story that includes content about sex and desire.
3. The Fairweather Term
This was the shortest-lived working title. It split the field – classical/simple vs boring/ho-hum. The idea with this one was that the school campus is at a place called Mt. Fairweather, and the students are there for a term of the school year – uh-huh – but it also calls to mind the ‘term’ ‘fairweather friend’, which has resonance within the story, so it would have been a double entendre, geddit?
My friend Debi suggested this one, and I think it’s a stayer. It is a story about first love, and friendship, and it’s set in an outdoor education campus in the mountains. ‘Wildlife’, with its simple connotation of creatures living according to instinct within a habitat felt perfectly suited to this group of characters dealing with life away from the support structure of family. I look at jealousy and betrayal in this story, too, and have a (female) character very loosely based on Iago, from Othello, so the outdoor education camp can also be read as a ‘Cyprus’ vs the relative civilization of the city campus, ‘Venice’; it’s a place with fewer rules and greater extremes. Wild.
My first blog post here was about why I chose ‘Six Impossible Things’ as a title.
It’s possible I spend a bit too much time obsessing over things like this.
My third book, set back at the same school’s city campus at the beginning of year 11, has a working title which I won’t divulge too early, as I did with Pulchritude-Kisschasey-The Fairweather Term-Wildlife.
* I took this photo on Mt Timbertop. That’s right – my commitment to research knows no bounds. I put on the walking boots. I huffed. I puffed. etc. Great view.
Woah, I keep forgetting that a blog needs feeding – there’s no blog fairy in there putting up posts every now and then, no, it’s me…
So last thursday Six Impossible Things was launched. We forgot to take photos, so just as well there were some people there with iPhones and cameras. Otherwise how would we know it had really happened? Literary Life blogged it On The Night – talk about organised – and you can see some photos here.
After feeling that this was a scary and way too grown up thing to be doing, I reminded myself that I am an actual grown up, at least in theory, and I really enjoyed it. Thanks to everyone who came along. There was a happy atmosphere in the room, helped very much by many extremely nice people being present, Kaz Cooke’s funny speech, Nigel Langley’s lovely reading of Dan – I thought it would be nice for Dan to have a boy voice for his first public outing – and Joel and Alexa at Readings Hawthorn, who made sure the whole event ran smoothly.
It was a very strange experience being the one sitting at the table signing a book, when you’re used to being in the queue waiting for the book to be signed. My Friday Night School student asked me the next day if my hand got tired. No, it didn’t. Even if you sign quite a few books, it’s no more than writing the equivalent of a page or two and everyone has a little chat, so there’s resting in between.
actual book in actual shop
Everyone is very welcome to come along to the launch of Six Impossible Things. It’s happening tomorrow – thursday – at Readings, Hawthorn at 6pm. You probably won’t be quite as shocked as I was to see this – but somehow there’s this book in the physical world, something that existed only in my head, on the screen, and on piles of scribbled-on paper for such a long time. And speaking of launches, I’ll be posting details of the Graffiti Moon launch tomorrow…
‘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