The hardest words to write are on the front cover

Book-TitleI can’t for the life of me remember the joke. All I can remember is the punchline.

I was browsing in Waterstones in June 2012, when I happened to stop at a small section featuring joke books. Normally I wouldn’t give the section a second glance, but I had time to kill that day and lesser-known genres were being perused. I picked a book at random and flicked through. Limp limericks. Pitiful puns. Diabolical ditties. Woeful one-liners. I sighed and moved to slot the tome back amid its kin. But a particular joke caught my eye. I paused. I read. Something about tidying up the mess in Heaven. A vacuum cleaner was mentioned. Instantly forgotten. I stared at the punchline. It read: ‘Mrs God.’

It was a spark that grew and grew, from flickering flame to raging inferno. I left the bookshop with a book forming in my head. Those two words gave me an idea for a novel. My first novel. From two words to 102,000 words. It works as a title because it tells you the central character’s name – just as Artemis Fowl and Don Quixote do – but also involves some intrigue. Who is this person? What happens to her? Furthermore, the title conjures up images of other characters and other stories we know already. Do they feature?

This was the first project I named before I began the process of writing. Usually the title comes at the end; the text names the piece. Here’s a brief outline of how I named some other fictional works:

  • Fade to Black (play): The title is a screenwriting command known as a dissolve. It links with the theme of the play, which is the love of cinema.
  • 73 Seconds (play): This play is about the Challenger space shuttle disaster. The length of time between its launch and its explosion was 73 seconds.
  • Inquizition (book): A pun for a book all about quizzes! (Nobody expected it!)

On Goodreads, they asked folks to vote for their favourite book titles. “Most eye-catching or distinctive book titles.” Here are the top 10:

10) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; androids9) Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea; 8) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; 7) Eats, Shoots & Leaves; 6) The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse; 5) I Was Told There’d Be Cake; 4) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; 3) Something Wicked This Way Comes; 2) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; 1) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

If you’re struggling to name your book – or haven’t gotten round to changing the title from My Epic Novel: Volume #1 – then those might spark some enlightenment.

After all, it does hit you when you least expect it. Even in the joke section of a high-street bookshop.

Don’t agree with the list above? What’s your favourite novel title?

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