Names are funny things, important things, and they fascinate me; indeed, my second novel, The Hope Fault, is at least partly about names and naming. I spend a lot of (aka too much) time mulling over character names in my writing. I love to name my chapters, too, title them rather than just giving them numbers or leaving them bareheaded. I have been known to come up with a title first, then write something to match.
I was pleased to hear that, in this, I’m in the fine company of Elizabeth McCracken. In a session at Auckland Writers Festival last month, McCracken confessed that she is ‘obsessed with titles’. I wish I’d written down more than this brief note, but it was the last session of the festival, late on Sunday, and my notes by this time were, hmmm, let’s say minimal. Cryptic, even. Also, I was busy falling in writer-love with Elizabeth McCracken, so I had ears only for the ways in which I echoed the object of my affections. EM’s obsessed with titles; I’m obsessed with titles! EM had a job shelving books at fifteen; I had a job shelving books (mine was at uni. Best. Job. Ever.)! EM said that writing is ‘about sentences, and the music of them’; yes, me too, me too, Elizabeth! A week or so later, back home in Wellington, I settled in to read McCracken’s wonderful 2014 collection of short stories, Thunderstruck. I groaned audibly, with readerly pleasure or wonder, as I read the last lines of ‘Something Amazing’, the first story in the collection. Thunderstruck‘s stories are full of dead-end streets, death and disappearance, and children missing parents (and vice versa). And humour. McCracken is funny. Read her.
Names, though; back to names. When I was clearing crap off my phone recently, I found a note from February 2013. It was a list of possible alternative titles for the novel that would be published later that year as The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. The novel was then — and had been through the whole, long editing and revision process — still called by its working title, Aetherwave.
Trouble was, whenever I talked to people about the novel, and they asked the inevitable question — ‘What’s it called?’ — and I told them ‘Aetherwave’, I’d always get a furrowed brow or blank look in response, so I’d fill the space, try to explain it:
‘Aetherwave, capital A-e-t-h-e-r-w-a-v-e, all one word. Aetherwave. Like an Etherwave theremin, but with an ‘A’. It makes sense when you read the novel. Honestly it does. It’s easier when you see it spelled out…I think…’
Nothing spoils a joke or a title like having to explain it, and because of the bewildered response I often got to it I’d always thought of Aetherwave as a provisional title, even though I loved it. But as the novel went through the process of revision, Aetherwave seemed to settle into place; it worked, and we — my publisher and I — were used to it.
I don’t know what the tipping point was (perhaps it was after yet another blank look, furrowed brow, or explanation of the title) but, not so long before the novel was due to go to print, my publisher and I got cold feet. We decided to rename the baby. Lists were made. Phone calls were had. Emails were sent. And, in the end, she became The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. No explanation required. It does what it says on the tin.
I’ll leave you with one of those lists I made back in early 2013. It’s the one I found last month on my phone, complete with my [square-bracketed] notes to self. It’s impossible now to recall which of the listed titles I was serious about. Some are dreadful. I’d already discarded Transformer as a possible title [beware: the Michael Bay film]. The novel’s eventual title doesn’t appear in this list, though I was edging towards it with Lena Gaunt: A life in sound. Too bad The Sound of Music was already taken.
- Sonic [but beware, the hedgehog]
- Art of sound
- Electrical by nature
- The organisation of sound
- Grace note/s
- Her Noise [ref Her Noise Archive, UK http://hernoise.org ]
- Lena Gaunt: Her story in sound
- Lena Gaunt: A life in sound
- Sonic life
- Wave: a novel
- Wave sound
- Wave song
- Song wave