Fourth Wish : Day 10

meu mundo 448Having established that Day 1 was, in fact, Day 7, that makes this Day 10 of my novel-in-progress, by my reckoning. It seems apt, then, to turn our attention to Day -96 (or thereabouts). That was when I decided on the title, The Fourth Wish.

I like to have a title in place as early as possible in the planning stage of a novel, and certainly before starting a first draft. Even with a clear idea or premise, a sense of the characters, a rough plot outline and a notebook crammed with jottings, I don’t feel right about a new book until I’ve named it. Sometimes, of course, the title of the published novel isn’t the one it started out with. That’s happened in three of my seven books, with each change made at the insistence of my publishers.

The Houdini Girl was called The Zigzag Girl until, just a few months before publication, two other books appeared with “zigzag” in the title and Penguin asked me to come up with something else. And quickly.

Swinging the Bob

Swinging the Bob

As it happens, I like the eventual title better than the original. My fourth novel, Swinging the Bob (a pendulum-dowsing term), became Black Cat because my editor said no-one would know what “swinging the bob” meant. “No-one knows what a tesseract is but you didn’t ask Alex Garland to retitle The Tesseract,” I argued. My editor’s response was subtly worded but it amounted to this: “When you sell as many books as Alex Garland you can call them what the hell you like.”

My second novel for teenagers, Never Ending – scheduled for publication in January 2014 – started life as The Fallen One but I had to ditch that because it was too similar to The Fallen series of fantasy novels, the first of which was The Fallen : 1. I came up with six alternative titles, each of which was knocked back by either my American or UK editor, or both. Never Ending was their suggestion and I was happy to go with it because: (a) I genuinely liked it, and (b) I’d lost the will to live.

Where was I? Yes, The Fourth Wish.

Having a title in place three months before I’d be ready to start writing the novel wasn’t without its problems. I had no characters, no plot – just the premise of a teenager being granted three wishes. There was no fourth wish. I didn’t even know what any of the three wishes would be at that stage – or why there might be a fourth. But I like taking something familiar and giving it a tweak. Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear was in my mind. We know Goldilocks encountered three bears but mention a fourth in the title and who wouldn’t read the book to find out its identity? Similarly, we know clocks can strike 12 but Orwell hooks us in the first sentence of 1984 when a clock strikes 13.

So, The Fourth Wish it was. And is. Unless my publishers eventually tell me otherwise. At least I know what the three wishes are now. And the fourth. I’ll say a bit more about that in my next blog.

from The Book of Ruminations, by Qi Tinh (151 – 203 AD)

Qi Tinh, ruminant

Qi Tinh, ruminant

Qi Tinh has nothing to say on the topic of titles. But, given his penchant for self-deprecation, he might have been amused to learn of the title under which his seminal work on the philosophy of creativity was first published in English. Living in a region now bisected by the border between modern-day Cambodia and China, and born to a Khmer mother and Chinese father, Qi Tinh was fluent in both languages. However, The Book of Ruminations was written in Chinese. Its original title doesn’t translate directly or easily into English and, in fact, the first English-language edition (published in London in 1805) was itself translated from a French translation of the German translation of the original Chinese version of the manuscript. Some of the meaning must have been blurred along the way because the title of this first English edition was: The Outpourings of a Ruminant.

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