One of my rules for crime fiction is to keep the titles short.
For months my latest book was provisionally titled Book #3. Practical, short and sweet. But not exactly catchy, is it? It’s almost as bad (or as sublime) as calling your debut album #1 Record.
Then I told friends it was going to be called The Official Driver Theory Test Book (5th edition), only to discover that for some strange reason this title had already been taken.
For a while I settled on Ghost Flight. Because that’s what the book is about, in a nutshell. Without giving much away, it’s about the ghost flight of three Irish businessmen in a light aircraft who disappear off the…
Hold it right there. Unfortunately that snappy two-word title also had to be ditched.
Seems a certain broadcaster bollocks with crampons and a Swiss Army knife who shall remain nameless because I can’t stand Bear Grylls has decided to become a crime writer too.
His forthcoming bestseller (which won’t be out until the middle of 2015 either, about half a year after mine) also happens to be called Ghost Flight.
I don’t want to have his readers mixed up with mine, so I had to start again.
For a few brief minutes I thought about calling it Going Up? But this sounds more like a person who works in a lift (elevator if you’re an American reader) rather than anything to do with airplanes and ghost flights.
So what else is Book #3 about? It’s the third story in my series featuring Stoneybatter detective Moss Reid. That gave me another title idea: How to Get Rid of Moss. This, too, was soon rejected due to its uncanny similarity to an existing guide to common gardening problems and other household tips.
Or how about The Batter Man – I liked that one with all its Stoneybatter connotations.
Then one of my beta readers emails me saying “Oh no, Mel. Battering sounds far too violent.” I try to explain but it’s too late. She’s having none of it. Oh well.
1. Murder mystery titles
Since then, the other possible titles I’ve been mulling over can be grouped under various headings.
The ones that would fairly obviously suggest a murder mystery include…
- Murder for Dummies
- Conversations with an Unemployed Sniper
- Don’t Call Me a Murderess
- Make Your Own Coffin in Five Easy Steps
- (And in a similar bent) Knit Your Own Murder Scene
- The Popular Handbook of Irish Hedgerow Poisons
- Not Dead But (try saying that one in a Belfast accent)
- Rose from the Dead (that would entail renaming a character Rose)
- Around An Empty Grave
- Killer Heels
- Superintendent Mullooly Inspects the Body
- Deadline With Death (save that one for a newspaper whodunnit?)
- Dust Thou Art (save for an art theft murder mystery?)
- A Grave Accent (too literary)
- Jake’s Last Ride (too much sex)
- Who Killed Fatty McGovern? (too fattist)
- Death of a Debutante (one slight snag: the book doesn’t have any debs in it)
- Death’s Little Sister (I like a lot, but don’t know what it means)
- The Obstinate Bloodstain in the Best Room (or Front Room or Parlour)
- Better Than Dead (about a poker player)
- The Deadly Girl (very Irish)
- I Could Murder A Cuppa (a bit too death-by-tea-cosy though)
2. More general detective themes
I thought one fruitful inspiration would be to watch a few old black-and-white pre-war crime movies and listen out for recurring themes, tropes and clichés that might lend themselves to a good title. Look Out, He’s Got A Gun!
This pushed me towards more general detective themes, under which I’ve filed away the following possibles:
- The Case of the Missing Case (it would have to involve a missing suitcase)
- Missing Presumed Alive
- Thou Shalt Not
- And It’s The Damage That We Do (fragment of a favourite Elvis Costello lyric)
- Interpreting Irish Crime Statistics Vol III (already taken)
- The Truffle Tragedy (nice food angle there)
- Harry Potter and the Missing Overseas Student From China (cleverly taps into potential market of JK Rowling readers – and overseas students)
3. Other titles that have eff all to do with the book but sound kinda nice anyway
Under this category I’ve lumped together the following:
- Who Moved Me Bondage Chains?
- Niamh Meets A Nazi in the Coláiste
- The Flatlanders of the North Circular
- Where’s Me Reading Glasses? (a sort of coming-of-old-age crime novel)
- Bass Playing for Girls (a bit ambiguous, that. Could sound like it’s about a bloke – or indeed a lass – who takes up a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle to make him/herself attractive for girls)
- Why Did The Russians Cross The Road? (topical anyway)
- The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion (way too long and may also have been used before)
4. Country and Irish
This heading refers to possible book titles that sound like a damn fine country ballad. For example:
- Mammy Drinks Because You’re Bad (and That’s Why She Shot Daddy)
5. Postmodern alternatives
I wouldn’t mind a self-referential title such as The Death of the Novel, though this has probably been done to death already. Besides, it’s not clear whether this title is referring to a particular death of a novel or a death in a particular novel.
Other possible slightly pomo titles are along the lines of…
- Done to Death (interesting because this title itself has been done to death – the latest is “the new mystery featuring lesbian sleuths Lil and Ada (A Lillian and Ada Mystery)”, I kid you not
- This is Not Crime Fiction (but it is! How utterly postmodern!)
- ‘A Stunning Work. Literally A Bloody Masterpiece and Wish I’d Written It’: John Banville (slightly too long, may need Banno’s permission)
- The Librarian Who is Always Being Negatively Portrayed as an Egghead Spinster With Stereotypical Bun, Glasses and Boringly Practical Clothes Yet She’s Actually a Killer (again, could be a tad shorter. And you try asking your local library for a title like that – “Have you got the librarian who is always being…”)
- The Guilty Goodreads Reader (that’s me all over – I see other people put up reviews of forty books books they’ve read in the past week when I’ve hardly managed forty pages last month)
- Buy One, Get One Free! or Three For the Price of Two! Either title isn’t great, but at least better than Click Here for Your Kindle Free Gift!
And the result?
So guess what Book #3 has ended up as?
(Cue fanfare of trumpets.)
It’s called The Body Language Of The Living And The Dead.
There must be research out there about the statistical distribution of the lengths of titles, and the optimum length of one. This one I’ve settled on is a mere nine words. A dozen syllables. Snappy or what?
But on the blog I think it will be known as The Bod for short.