I know that a couple of weeks ago I said that the birthing/writing metaphor was about as apt as the saying ‘sleeps like a baby’. They don’t, very much, just as giving birth and writing a book have very little to do with one another. But there is one way in which I can see the connection – in choosing a name.
Fortunately What is Left Over, After isn’t a baby because it would have had about a dozen birth certificates by now; I’ve changed its name at least that many times. Which means, if books have a gender, it must be a boy book. Because naming it was about as hard as choosing a name for my baby boy. On the other hand, my second book must be a girl book. I gave it a name almost the instant I started writing it and I can’t imagine ever changing the name , just as I decided on the names for my girls quickly and easily.
So why are some books so hard to name? I’ve had this conversation with other writers and they all agree that some books are blessed with names from the moment they come into being and others are named because they have to be, and usually in a manner akin to a reality TV vote: everyone involved sits around the table with a list of names, evicting them one by one until they reach the least objectionable. At least when you’re naming a child you have some assistance – someone bought us a baby name book which professes to have 40,001 names in it. That’s more words than the first draft of What is Left Over, After even had in it.
The first name I had for my book was Instruments of False Seeing. I had just started my Masters degree at uni and obviously thought that I needed something as difficult and important sounding as possible in order for it to be viewed as a piece of literature. Thanks goodness for my supervisor who very politely wrote on my first draft: not quite the right title. Hmmm, minor understatement.
The next title was A Fresh Beginning which I never liked but I had to submit my thesis to be marked and it needed a name; it came from an epitaph in the book but I always thought it sounded like a self help book at best and at worst, a tampon ad.
Then we had Moments of Before, which I don’t mind and is also a line from the book. Come to think of it, I have no idea why I scrapped this title – is it too late to reprint the books?!
After that was Floating in the Light, another line from the book. Metaphors of light are used in the book, and photography is also important so it seemed to fit. But it was just too ethereal and otherworldly; in this time of vampire books the last thing I wanted was for people to think I’d written a ghost story.
And many more false starts until I came up with What is Left Over, After, which I love because of how well it fits with the book but I also worry about because it is long-winded and hard to say. I can see myself stuttering over it every time I have to utter it in public, which I’m hoping will be quite a lot over the coming months. I also wonder whether it’s too much of a mouthful for people to remember, but then not everything has to be Twitter-ised and miniaturised these days does it?
So I decided to do what you do when you’re naming your child. Choose the name you love, the name that you can’t let go of, the name that some people will frown at in puzzlement but also the name that many people will look at again after reading the book and say, that’s perfect.