Originally published in November 2020.
While a good title is no guarantee of a good book, it can act as a guide.
Choosing a title is challenging. It is hard to find a memorable word or phrase that not only sums up a work of fiction but ideally enlarges it. The working title for my first novel, What Alice Knew was A Cornet for a Kingfisher, which referenced a memory in the book, the moment the narrator Alice as a schoolgirl hurled her cornet through a high window to liberate a trapped kingfisher. It served as a metaphor for her behaviour at the end of the book.
The publishers demurred. Not least because they had decided to publish the novel as ‘crime fiction’ and took the view that for some potential readers cornets (and possibly kingfishers) would deter rather than seduce. They suggested What Alice Knew, which worked well. It homed in on the theme of the novel while remaining true to the requirements of genre fiction. After the change in title, the cornet in the text was replaced by an altogether more probable paintbox.
My original choice reflected a preference for allusive titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye over does-what-it-says-on-the-tin titles such as Him or When I Find You, the pronoun-heavy staples of genre fiction. The former opens a novel or its central metaphor to wider interpretation, the latter applies a full stop.