The Name Game

There’s a definite art to naming your book. Or perhaps that’s an indefinite one. On the face of it, it’s the headline for the story – pure and simple. A title can create reader expectations about the setting – 1984, Animal Farm or even Great Expectations itself. Or, perhaps, act as a teaser – Tell No One. What has always surprised me is the confidence and the artistry with which some authors (or their publishers!) name their work.

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is one example, I think, of a title that can only have come from an established writer. It’s confident, bold and stands apart.
I’ve written four novels now and the way I arrived at the title has been different each time.
In the beginning, Covenant started life as The Promise of a Rainbow. Fine for a tinkly fantasy, but it seemed mismatched with its central themes of reincarnation, death, retribution and inner worldly mysticism. The original title came from a ‘message’ I was given once, and the replacement title was suggested by a friendly editor (not friendly enough to take it on, mind), as two of my original chapter headings included the word Covenant.
Next in line was a novel born at a novel writing summer school, Standpoint. I hacked and hacked at this one, keen for the title to have a clear association with both the protagonist’s surveillance photography and the story of him making a stand against injustice. It’s still not too late for Thomas Bladen Ho Ho Ho, though.
Third in line is Line of Sight, sequel to Standpoint. Again, there’s a clear association with the plot and the central character’s ability (or inability) to understand the subtleties of what’s going on around him.
Lastly, for now anyway, there’s Scars & Stripes, my wunderkind. A no-brainer really. The comedy drama novel is set mainly in the US and tells the tale of Alex ‘s efforts, following the end of his relationship, to live out the American Dream.
Here are some titles by friends of mine:
The Making of Her by Susie Nott-Bower
The Reluctant Detective by Sinclair Macleod
The Geneva Connection by Martin Bodenham
So, dear reader, what are the best, worst and most intriguing book titles you’ve ever encountered?


  1. Chloe says:

    'A short History of Tractors in the Ukraine' is always held up as a great title, though I haven't actually read the book. It doesn't help in mkaing people pick up the book in the first place, but I like titles that are really simple but pack a punch when you've got to the end. 'The Stand' being one of them.

    PS: I hear on the Good Housekeeping grapevine that they've chosen a shortlist of books from the SIX THOUSAND entries they receieved! Good luck!

  2. Derek says:

    I've always been intrigued with that title, too, but the tractor element puts me off. I was going to say that I must get myself a decent grapevine too, but thankfully here you are! I'll keep a lookout for the GH comp from now on. Six thousand entries is a huge pile to sift through!

    So what are you writing at the moment?

  3. Chloe says:

    Apparently Orion did all the sifting!

    I am writing a novel for adults, that I also entered into GH! Though it's nowhere near finished yet. I've been finding it quite hard to stay positive about this one, not like my children's novel. I think its that I think this novel could be really good, but I'm not sure I'm good enough at writing to do it justice! I'd like to write another short story soon but I find it hard when I'm focussed on a novel!

  4. Hi Derek. I found you on Sarah's blog. I enjoyed this post, thank you. I have signed up as a 'follower' and look forward to your future posts. 🙂

  5. Derek says:

    Orion? My new favourite constellation! Now I'm all tingly.

    The positives in what you've said:
    1. You entered the competition.
    2. You think it could be really good.
    3. You recognise that you need to work on your writing to do it justice.

    Have you figured out an overall outline / plan or are you a pantser and create the book as you go along? I find it helps to see see each chapter as a separate (but interlinking) project.

  6. Derek says:

    Hi, Diane, and welcome to ATWL. I thought your email address was brilliant by the way!

  7. Chloe says:

    I've been going for that approach more this time. Editing each chapter as if it was the only thing that mattered, to avoid getting sloppy with my writing. I've got an overall outline though I am restructuring as I go along and try to let the characters change it if they want to!

  8. Derek says:

    I found, with one book, that I only fully appreciated the shape of the story once I'd completed the first draft. It was as if I'd left clues for myself – little flags in the landscape that made up a pattern when I had sufficient perspective.

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