What’s in a name?

The naming of novels is a difficult matter … no, wait, that’s cats; there’ll be none of that Jellicle shenanigans here. But, the name of a novel is a very important thing. The name goes on the front cover in big letters. It is what the customer will ask for in the bookshops. If it becomes very successful, it will be how a writer is known, as “the author of …” And fingers crossed, it will be seen on the bestseller charts in the press.

Of course, not all titles are well known. Some authors are so prolific and successful that customers will simply ask for their latest book. Oh, to have that much fame. Other times, it might be a surprise bestseller from an author no-one had heard of previously; in these cases, booksellers can be asked for all kinds of strange things before it is established what book the customer actually wants. As a bookseller, I often had to work out what the customer wanted using some very obscure clues, including the colour of the jacket or where it had been displayed the week before. I even used that as title of a novel when I wrote Have You Go That Book…? It was such a perfect title for a novel that it inspired the story.

I have used this technique several times now. No Such Cold Thing, and my latest novel, The Hawthorn Bride, started with the title; that is, I thought “Hmm, that would be a good title for a novel,” and then came up with a story to go with it. I love collecting great names for novels. It’s like a game. I used to wonder if there was any way of monetising my ability to come up with novels from a title, because I had so many ideas that I knew I would never use myself.

However, coming up with a name once the novel was underway is something I have always found much harder. I waited a long time before naming The Most Beloved Boy because I went through so many unsatisfactory alternatives. For a long time it was just Dan and David. At one point, I thought I might use a line from the song Scarborough Fair. Using a quote from a poem or song is always popular. Proverbs or bible verses also work well. Think of Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree, or Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread­ ­­– brilliant examples, but it is a technique that is so widely used now that it has become a bit of a trope. What I wanted was a name that could become a quote in itself.

The Most Beloved Boy worked for me because it almost poses a question – who is the most beloved boy? It was relevant and interesting, as well as original. I hope it stands out, and that one day, it would work as the title for a film or TV adaptation (yes, I can dream!). Coming up with that title was a moment of triumph. But I could never say the same for After the Rain.

This novel got its name some time while I was writing it. I don’t really remember the process, except that I wanted something that sounded like ‘after the war’ because that is the time period of the novel. Also, because a lot of the action takes place outside in a garden, referring to the elements seemed relevant. There are several scenes where the weather plays an important part in the narrative, including a heavy rain storm. It sort of fits, and I was happy enough with it at the time. Working in the bookshop, I was able to do a search and establish that there wasn’t already a novel with that title (this was pre-google) and I remember being pleased that there wasn’t.

But I’m not pleased with it now. Maybe this is just my perception, but it seems too much like an old fashioned romance novel. It is a love story, but I wanted it to be so much more than that, and I wouldn’t want to put male readers off by making it seem too slushy. I also don’t think it is relevant enough. It has nothing to do with the themes of the novel, which are mental health in the face of adversity, female emancipation, and the right to freedom of choice. My two protagonists go through much more than getting caught in the rain, so I wanted to give them a title worthy of that their struggle.

For a while, I have been trawling through websites of quotes and proverbs, trying all kinds of searches to come up with something that fit. I have been searching for quotes on gardens, growth, flowers, plants, trees, seasons, but couldn’t find anything. Of course, there are a multitude of quotes from war poetry, but that seemed too obvious, and a little like cheating. And I still hankered after an original name, one that could itself become a quote one day. And, then, a few days ago, something came to me. It seemed so obvious that I thought there must already be a novel with that title, but a cheeky Google confirmed that it hasn’t been done already (not as a novel, at least – there was an obscure autobiography that appears to be out of print, so that doesn’t count).

So, I present to you, Lost in Eden, a novel by M J Schofield, the novel I have just done a major rewrite of in preparation for submitting to agents and publishers. It is relevant, as this is a story about two people who have lost direction in their life. Most of the action takes place in a garden that is both beautiful and spiritual in quality. The two people meet by chance in the garden but also because of the garden, brought together when they are both looking for respite from their problems. And yet there is also a question in title – how can anyone be lost in Eden? That is the mystery in the story. I hope you can see why it works for me. But is it too clichéd? My personal focus group (ie my husband) didn’t like it. He thinks the novel should stay as After the Rain, but he has never even read it. Renaming a novel seems like a might big step to take, but it’s not as if an unpublished novel is set in stone. And now I just can’t decide. I’ve gone blind to it.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe, if a publisher ever sees some potential in it, they can be the ones to decide. They would know for sure if it should be Lost in Eden or After the Rain, or maybe even something else! Until then, I have both covers ready to go, and soon I will have to make a decision, before the new edition goes live on KDP. Watch this space.

Published by mjschofieldauthor

Writer, story teller, author, novelist, wordsmith - the only thing I cannot imagine is not writing.

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