Saturday, 15 December 2007

The trouble with titles

You shouldn’t judge a book by its title, but I still think that titles matter and I devote a lot of thought to picking the right title for my books. Probably The Devil in Disguise and The Arsenic Labyrinth are personal favourites, but I’m also pleased with Waterloo Sunset. The Harry Devlin series took its titles from 60s pop songs; the Lake District titles to date have linked in with the natural landscape.

I’ve usually found that I just know when I’ve hit the right note with the title. The moment I came across the phrase ‘the arsenic labyrinth’ – quite out of the blue – I realised that it was perfect for the book I was writing, set in the rugged landscape above Coniston Water.

When it comes to other writers’ titles, I have a weakness for humour. I love Subpoena Colada by Mark Dawson, and I Still Miss My Man, But My Aim is Getting Better by Sarah Shankman runs it a close second. One difficulty when picking a title for a Lake District Mystery is that all the obvious ones have been taken – sometimes more than once, sometimes for truly memorable novels. So I won’t be using Still Waters or Hidden Depths. Or The Lady in the Lake, come to that.

The first Lake District Mystery originally had a different title. But it had been used before, for a book published thirty years earlier. I spoke to the writer of that book and she wasn’t happy with my using the same title. Of course, there is no copyright in a title, and I wasn’t sure the objections was entirely reasonable, but she is a pleasant person, and I certainly didn’t want to upset her - and so I came up with The Coffin Trail.

No comments: