Today I’m handing over the reins at CTG HQ to author Sam Blake who is going to talk about the trouble with titles. Over to Sam …
Book titles and with that covers, are strange things – you spend months, often years, writing a book – ideas forming, sentences taking shape, then reshaping, then reshaping again through the editorial process, but it’s not until you see your title on a cover, that it feels like a real thing. To get to this stage there are far more people involved than just the writer, and it can take months for everyone to be happy that what is on the outside of a book reflects what is on the inside.
For many years this book was called The Dressmaker, and this is why:
Stephen King talks about story being the collision of two unrelated ideas – the ideas behind Little Bones weren’t entirely unrelated but they collided one sunny Sunday afternoon as I was driving back from a Readers Day that author Sarah Webb and I had programmed at a hotel in Dublin Airport. It was about five o’clock in the afternoon and pre M50 so a LONG drive home (I once counted 35 sets of traffic lights) but as I put on the radio and pulled out of the carpark a documentary was starting on RTÉ about Kerry born playwright George Fitzmaurice. Fitzmaurice is best remembered for his play The Country Dressmaker that he submitted to the Abbey Theatre in 1907. It was such a success that it rescued the theatre after all the problems of John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World that same year. Fitzmaurice enlisted in the British army in 1916 and returned from the front with neurasthenia, rendering him fearful of crowds. He became more introverted and isolated as he grew older and eventually died in 1963, in a rented upstairs room in No.3 Harcourt Street, Dublin. He was aged 86 years and left no will and few personal belongings – apart from a copy of every play he had ever published and a few in draft form, which were in a suitcase under his bed.
For me, it was Fitzmaurice’s suitcase that caused the collision of ideas.
Several years previously I’d watched an RTÉ TV documentary about a twenty-three year old girl from Boyle, Belinda Agnes Regan who in 1947 was living in lodgings in Manchester. She had left Ireland knowing she was pregnant, but terrified of the disgrace of the pregnancy, had concealed it. She went into labour in the middle of the night and delivered the baby herself, incredibly, in a room she shared with a younger girl who apparently slept through her ordeal. Covering the baby with a blanket “so Shirley would not see it,” she crept to the bathroom. When she returned, the baby wasn’t breathing. Wrapping the body in brown paper and a ‘blue frock’ she hid it in her suitcase, which she concealed under her bed, leaving it there when she returned home for Christmas. While she was in Ireland the body was discovered, and on her return she was arrested for infanticide.
These two stories, heard many years apart, came together in my head, and on the drive home I started wondering about suitcases and dresses and dress makers and what would happen if the bones of the baby had ended up in a dress – a wedding dress – the crucial thing that Belinda Regan had perhaps yearned for, for nine long months. At that point I had no idea who owned the dress, or how the bones got there or WHY…but I knew the story was called The Dressmaker.
When my agent, Simon Trewin mentioned my book to Bonnier’s Mark Smith over lunch, it was The Dressmaker, when Twenty7 Books snapped it up the next day, it was still The Dressmaker. All through the edits it was The Dressmaker.
Then ‘The Dressmaker’ movie came out.
Much discussion was had – the book and the movie would get confused, if you Googled ‘The Dressmaker’ how many hundreds of pages would it take to get to my book? My agent was almost mown down by a bus on Tottenham Court Road that had an ad for ‘The Dressmaker’ plastered down the side. Someone was telling us that this WASN’T the title of the book.
But coming up with a title for a book isn’t easy. Here are just some of the ideas I came up with (suitably in the bar at Waterford Writers Weekend when you’d think the atmosphere would be conducive to creativity), with Alex Barclay who was one of the few people who had read the book at that stage. It took us almost three hours and we still didn’t have it.
I brainstormed it with Simon, my agent, and the team at Bonnier sweated at it too. Then a very lovely lady called Kate Parkin, Executive Director of Adult Publishing at Bonnier had a flash of inspiration. Joel Richardson, my editor at Twenty7 Books emailed me to say, “What do you think of Little Bones? We like it.
And so did I. A lot.
© Sam Blake
Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, the founder of The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and the national writing resources website Writing.ie. She is Ireland’s leading literary scout who has assisted many award winning and bestselling authors to publication. Vanessa has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book.
Little Bones is the first in the Cat Connolly Dublin based detective thriller trilogy. When a baby’s bones are discovered in the hem of a wedding dress, Detective Garda Cathy Connolly is face with a challenge that is personal as well as professional – a challenge that has explosive consequences.
Follow Sam Blake on Twitter @writersamblake or Vanessa @inkwellhq – be warned, they get tetchy with each other!