That Title From a Better Man I Stole

So begins an epigram by Robert Loius Stephenson, which goes on to lament that he may as well have copied the entire work. Choosing a title for your lovingly crafted book can be a problem. You make a list, cross out alternatives one by one, ask your friends, your partner and your agent  – and after all that your publisher may well decide to change it anyway.

When hunting for a title, it is common practice to lift words from a ‘better man’ (or better woman). Over a hundred film and book titles pillage Shakespeare, including Gaudy Night, The Fault in Our Stars, The Dogs of War, Where Eagles Dare and Brave New World. Other poets and great writers offer inspiration too. Scratching around for a title for my Guernsey-based historical novel I came across Glint of Light on Broken Glass, extracted from a line attributed erroneously to Chekhov. I did worry that it was rather oblique, but then The Silence of the Lambs does not immediately scream ‘cannibal serial killer’.

I am surprised when books or films come out with an identical title to one already released that is well known. Why call a 2019 film Serenity when Serenity (2005) was excellent fun? I won’t criticise fellow novelists here, but identical titles are legion even when the work is not a remake. It was once suggested I re-title Blood and Sandals, but on checking Amazon I found eight other titles the same as the new one proposed.

However, I did agree to Shadow in the Corn being renamed Darkness Rises for the e-book release despite there being a Young Adult novel with a similar name, chiefly because I was never wholly happy with my original choice. In the story, a vital clue lies in a wheat field, but the modern reader might not understand that when I was growing up we used to call them ‘cornfields’ even though strictly the crop was not corn.  

Which brings me to Lady in the Lake, the fourth Jeffrey Flint archaeological mystery. After the publication of the first book in the series I was offered a three-book deal by Severn House. Byron’s Shadow was already in draft and I gave them a synopsis for Shadesmoor but for the third of the trio I offered only a title. I had only the concept for the final page in my mind and the delivery schedule was tight, but the plot simply flowed as I wrote, using a heap of reference books on Arthurian legend as inspiration.

The Lady of the Lake is a mythical character who first appears in Arthurian tales dating to the Middle Ages and since then in numerous revisions of the myths culminating in the comic musical Spamalot. In 1810 Sir Walter Scott wrote a poem entitled The Lady of the Lake and Franz Schubert set some of it to music. Turning to crime, the Raymond Chandler thriller The Lady in the Lake was published in1943 and adapted as a movie in 1947.

Dropping ‘The’ meant that the coast was clear to choose this title. The story involves Flint and his sidekick Tyrone investigating the unlikely claim that King Arthur’s sword Excalibur has been discovered in a West Country lake…in which a body is also found. As the pair peel back the layers of mystery surrounding the suspicious death, they also discover that the Arthurian stories cannot entirely be dismissed as myth. So, with a nod to both Mallory and Chandler, I figured Lady in the Lake was apt. It is now republished as an ebook by Lume Books.

Read more about Lady in the Lake

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