Saturday, 18 February 2012

It might have been Catch-18

I'm just going through the agony of coming up with a title for the new book. It's such an important part of the overall packaging and having the right title is crucial. Occasionally, I get it right after much deliberation. Other times the title jumps instantly to mind and fits the book immediately. I have an unpublished novel called The Dysfunctional Strippers Club and it's the perfect title for the story within. I wish this new book was as inspired.

As you may know, I don't believe we got it right with my first book, Joined-Up Thinking. When I wrote it, it was actually called The Six Degrees of Rick Wakeman, which nicely brought in the idea of 'six degrees of separation' and echoes the title of one of Rick's best-known solo albums, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Why Rick Wakeman? Simply because he is the most connectible human on the planet (apart from Kevin Bacon) and he kept turning up with alarming regularity as I researched various topics. Quite apart from his digital virtuosity with bands like Yes and The Strawbs, he was a prolific session man and, famously, is the piano on many hit songs such as David Bowie's Life on Mars and Cat Stevens' Morning has broken. Plus he does TV and endless charity work, owns comedy clubs and was a notorious hellraiser before alcoholism and several heart-attacks set him on the path to a better lifestyle.

However, the marketing people - mostly in their 20s - felt that it was 'too obscure' a reference and would affect sales within the demographic that they were aiming at. Given that my cover quotes were by Stephen Fry and John Mitchinson - one of the creators and writers of QI - I was pretty sure my potential readership were smart-enough and well-informed enough to get the gag. But it all turned out to be academic anyway as Rick was launching the first volume of his memoirs around the same time as me and his management people wouldn't allow me to use it. And so, at the 11th hour and with no better title in the bag, we went with the wholly inaccurate Joined-Up Thinking.

I wrote a sequel last year and, once again, started going through the motions of finding the right title. I did consider using the original title and contacted Rick who was up for it and even agreed to write a foreword. But then his management people pointed out that the latest volume of his memoirs was due out ... and history repeated itself. Eventually, and after much deliberation, I settled on the title Thought Circuits: Circular strolls through a world of connectible trivia. I found a publisher, work began to prep the book for a Christmas 2011 release but then, extraordinarily, I was kind-of gazumped.

In November Icon Books released The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth (also known as The Inky Fool) which went flying up the non-fiction book charts and was made BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. The Etymologicon's strapline was 'A circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language' and the format was almost identical to that of Thought Circuits and 2008's Joined-Up Thinking; a chain of facts, each connected to the fact before and the fact after, and with the final fact looping around to connect to the first. It's just a coincidence of course but it kiboshed my release and we were forced back to the drawing board to think about re-packaging. So that's what's going on at the moment. We're hoping to get the book out in the next month or so.

But all this talk of book titles and how important they are did make me remember a list I saw once of the provisional titles for now famous books and I thought I'd share some of them with you.

H G Wells The Time Machine was originally titled The Chronic Argonauts and D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover might have been called Tenderness. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was once called Something that Happened and Gone with the Wind might have been called Tote the Weary Load had Margaret Mitchell not reconsidered. Peter Benchley's Jaws was first called The Terror of the Monster and The Summer of the Shark, and F Scott Fitzgerald had a flurry of ideas before settling on The Great Gatsby. They included Incident at West Egg, Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires, The High-Bounding Lover and Trimalchio in West Egg. Jane Austen's masterwork Pride and Prejudice is all the better for not being called First Impressions, and if Joseph Heller had stuck to his guns we'd now be using the phrase 'Catch-18 Situation' instead of Catch-22.

I'm pleased they all found their perfect title. I hope I can too.

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