I make lists of possible titles as I go along. The crime ones came easily enough. Bloodless Shadow (my first crime novel) was from a book of poems, The Rooster Mask, by a friend Henry Hart and he had it from Homer or Virgil. At any rate one of those scenes when the classical hero goes down to the underworld and the bloodless shadows (the dead) cluster around him.

Poetry is a particularly good source for titles because of the way poets crack open language. They jam words together in arresting and muscular ways and that’s what you want from a title. Something that grabs the attention, unsettles , fizzes.

The title of my most recent book Far Away is the least dramatic of my titles but  it persisted and in the end I was satisfied with it.

On occasion regrettably you can come across the perfect title for your book after it’s published. This happened to me the other day when I was reading Under Siege: Literary Life in London 1939-45 by Robert Hewison. I came across this quote from Uys Krige, a South African war correspondent, captured in Africa like my father and a POW in Italy. Here’s his description of what being a POW was like:

“This is a dead world, a lost world and these are lost men, lost each in his own separate limbo, banished from his memories, exiled even from himself. Here even dreams are dead.”

From this short passage I found four titles: Dead World, Lost Men, Banished From Memory and Even Dreams are Dead.

Even Dreams are Dead is the one I like best. That is the title that got away!

Uys where were you when I needed you?

If you’re a writer how do you find the titles of your books or short stories? Does it come easily?

If you’re a reader tell me some of your favourite or least favourite titles.

7 thoughts on “THE TITLE THAT GOT AWAY

    • Thanks so much for the comment. The trouble with titles is that I feel I have to come up with something that’s an accurate reflection of the book. In my case that’s 100,000 words condensed into probably not more than about five words. It’s not surprising it does my head in!

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  1. This will lower the tone: my favourite titles are:

    How to Run a Bassoon Factory, or Business Explained
    Sideways Through Borneo
    Cram Me With Eels!
    The Stuffed Owl

    None of these are at all poetic really, though the last is an anthology of bad poetry.

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  2. I always think you are wonderful at titles, Victoria. The Sam Falconer series I found particularly visceral – ‘Skin and Blister’ being one that really got to me.
    In the 70s my sister and I used to get through Ludlum’s at a rate of knots. All his novels have 3 word titles beginning with ‘The’: The Bourne Supremacy, The Holcroft Covenant, The Osterman Weekend etc. And when it came to creating a title for my book, I found it very difficult. I wanted to convey the feel of it without becoming too woo woo – ‘Divine Colour’ had been a working title, til it was pointed out to me to convey too much religion. And so I decided on ‘The Colour Potential’ – Ludlum through and through!! Just goes to show that titles never really leave you.


    • All those titles have a sort of authority to them, don’t they? And why not steal from a master! Or a whopper bestseller at any rate. The Colour Potential is great because it makes me instantly curious – potential for what etc … I’ve just come back from the de waal exhibition at the RA on white. I thought of you going round it. You must go. It’s weird because it’s set in the library and things are sort of hidden away but I think you’d find it fascinating. I think it’s on until early January. Mind you because it’s set in the library I found myself getting a little too engrossed in the very beautiful leather bound tomes – what a surprise!

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