What's in a Name? Titles and How Writers Pick Them (Part 2)

Last month I wrote a piece about book titles and how writers picked them. I asked lots of my writer friends to tell me how they did it. So many of them answered (lovely people that they are) that I have great material for a second blog – hurrah!(Some of them write for children, some write for adults, some write for both.) So how do writers pick their titles – take it away, writers:

titles what if
titles what if

Martina Murphy (Writes for adults and children)

I've picked titles myself, had titles picked by the publisher and more often than not, picked a title and then as the book evolves, I realise that the book has outgrown its name and needs a new one. I suppose I never know what a book is about, until I finish it. My last book - What If - was originally called Moments - as I had envisioned three intertwining stories that hinged on moments. However, I soon realised that all the moments in life have that 'What If' question at the heart of them. A sort of crossroads and that it is the decisions we make in those moments that determine the course of a life. And so What If? was born!

Martina Devlin (Writes for adults)

My next book, to be published in September (2014), is called The House Where It Happened and choosing the title has been like digging out all of my teeth one by one, without anaesthetic, using a blunt spoon. Endless possibilities were considered and discarded. It's a ghost story set in 1711. I finally went for something to do with the house at the centre of the mystery, rather than a more general title, because the house is the focus for all sorts of events. The house actually exists, I didn't make it up. I've stood outside and looked at it. I can't pretend I felt any sense of dread, much as I wanted to - it just looked like an old house. Anyhow, the name of the house is not easy to pronounce - the word is Scottish and sounds different to the way it looks on paper. So I decided not to use that, or I'd go round correcting people all the time, the way I'm compelled to do if they say Tyrone wrong (it's Tir not Tie, for anyone who's unsure). In the end, I thought The House Where It Happened worked, partly because of the alliteration with the two Hs. And partly because that's exactly what it's about: a house where something inexplicable happens. Unless you factor in in ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night...

The following writers all blog on the wonderful Girls Heart Books blog and write mainly for children.

titles marshmallow
titles marshmallow

Karen McCombie

Occasionally I have a title that needs a bit of thinking about, or a bit of tweaking, but loads ping fully formed into my (fuzzy) mind. Probably my longest - and most random - was 'Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge'. That parked itself in my head, and I HAD to come up with a story to go with it!

Diane Messidoro My last (and only, so far!) book started off as 'How to Keep a Man as a Pet'. It was a comedy/non-fiction idea, really, as I've always thought dealing with men was a bit like dealing with pets - not in a mean way (I adore men!) just in that they're generally far more straightforward than we think they are. When I decided to turn my random 'male human pet training' instructions into a story, however, Circe Shaw turned up in my head and as she was 15-something, I tweaked the title to 'Boy'.

Caroline Juskus

Here's how I came up with the title THE LADYBIRD CODE. I had just read Dan Brown's De Vinci Code and wanted to do something similar for kids. I decided to base the code on Morse code but instead of using dots and dashes I opted for large and small dots. Then I looked for a way to use the spots and came up with ladybirds conveying top secret messages on their backs!

Julia Golding

My book out this month is called Storm and Stone (as Joss Stirling). Why? Because I wanted to follow the Sherlock and Watson/Starsky and Hutch/Cagney and Lacey pattern of cops/detectives but add an earthy, close to paranormal feel by choosing surnames that were elemental. The story is a teen romance set in a spooky English boarding school. And it just sounded right!

Kate Maryon

I chose the title for my latest book, Invisible Girl, because it tackles the issue of child runaways/homelessness and in real life these children are known as Invisible Children. This phrased was coined because these very vulnerable children hide in the shadows to avoid being picked up by the police and being returned to wherever they've run from. What makes this so tragic is that the fear of being picked up means they don't have access to healthcare, food supplies, care, etc. My story is about 12 year-old, Gabriella, who finds herself alone and living on the streets in Manchester.

Julie Sykes

My latest book is Amber. Amber's lost her memory and took her name from the beautiful amber necklace she was found with. Once she'd walked into my life with her story there really wasn't anything else I could call the book!

Marie-Louise Jensen

My titles are chosen collaboratively with my publishers and it's very tricky. None of us are very good at coming up with them and it can take ages. My upcoming book Runaway was especially difficult. All the really exciting titles we came up with gave the whole plot away. In the end, publication had to be delayed 3 months because we still hadn't come up with anything we were all happy with. In the end, they took a suggestion of mine they had previously rejected (The Runaway) and tweaked it to Runaway which they were happier with.

Thanks for all the great insights, writers!

Yours in books, Sarah Webb

(A version of this post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books blog)