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Thursday, 24 March 2016


You want your book to stand out from the crowd. The two things that will do that: cover and title.
Sadly, we writers spend more time worrying about commas than worrying about the titles of our books. I believe we should be thinking about our title as soon as we put our fingers on the keyboard and type ‘Chapter 1’. It is critical that we have the right title, one that is going to entice our reader in through the portals of page 1. Quite literally; titles sell books. Write that one hundred times and stick it up on your Creative Board so that you see it every day.

Here are a few ideas on how to find that winning title. First off there is no formula to creating a good title. Nor is there a copyright but it’s a good idea to check out where you’ll probably find almost all recently published books. Put your title into ‘search’ and see what comes up.

We Indie writers don’t have to worry about a publisher scrapping a beloved title and putting one of their own in its place. That happened to me with Debbie’s Story. I wanted to call it Flying on Mended Wings and had a lovely quote to go with it. (Gustav Mahler wrote; “On wings I acquired through suffering I will soar”.) The final title is pretty mundane but the sales department thought they could sell a book called Debbie’s Story whereas they couldn’t with my original title. Which they did. It was a bestseller. On the flip side, while being an Indie writer gives us the freedom to put the title of our dreams on our book it also gives us the opportunity to make a big fat boo-boo.

Your title needs zing. It needs to be intriguing. Think of Norman Mailer’s book The Naked and the Dead. How would it be sold if the title was The Nude and the Deceased? Not very well, I imagine.  
If you’re planning a series, think about the connection; think Janet Evanovich and numbers: Hot Six, Smokin’ Seventeen, Sue Grafton’s alphabet titles. I’ve just found Twenty eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank. It’s the first in her series. The next one is Twenty nine and a Half Reasons and then Thirty Four and a Half Predicaments. And so on.

So how do we get from here to there? Scour books of quotations, poetry books, your local book shop shelves, your own bookshelves. You’re a writer, right? You have books all over the place, right?
Try to think of an object or a symbol that represents the theme of your book. Metaphors also work pretty well, when the author put two things together that don’t normally go together and comes up with a brilliant title:

  • Tender is the night
  • A moveable feast
  • The catcher in the rye
  • The grapes of wrath

Ask your beta-readers to check out your list of titles (the twelve or so you have conveniently placed on your title page) and ask for a rating.

It’s hard finding the right title. I’ve known writers racked with indecision, gibbering. When all else fails remember you can always re-package.
Jenny Harrison
Thanks Jenny, our Mairangi Writers Country Correspondent and Blog Writer extraordinaire! Officer in Charge really appreciates your work. :)


Friday, 18 March 2016

Pam Laird has a Lightbulb Moment about Molehills!

An Alan Bennett’s quote in a recent English Writing Magazine: A writer has to use whatever is to hand in the way of experience. He or she is in the business of making mountains out of molehills.

Light-bulb moment! So simple, why didn’t I think of that? Mind you, Alan Bennett is knee deep in humour and there’s no denying he does it brilliantly.

Take The Lady and the Van. Most of you, if you haven’t read the book, (shame on you) will have seen the film. Such a simple, unlikely but for him, everyday experience and what has he done with it? Turned it into magic.

Molehills into mountains? Who knows? But although the behaviour of the main protagonist, Miss Shepherd, comes across as totally outlandish, even bizarre, it is all entirely possible. And that’s where Alan Bennett comes in. His masterly hand has transformed a barely endurable situation for him into a delightful world-wide money-spinner. Sigh!

Looking back at his quotation, you can only be filled with admiration for his ability to spin a pile of straw into a barrow heaped with gold.

Having said that, I shall remember his ‘molehill/mountain’ statement and will see what I can do with some everyday happening. (I suspect a retirement village is likely to be a bottomless pit of Miss Shepherd events.)
Pam Laird

Friday, 11 March 2016

Hoping to win the Pullet Surprise for Literature?

Thank heavens for those who mangle the English language. The likes of the Reverend William Archibald Spooner and Sheridan’s Mrs Malaprop bring to the language a sparkle and a sense of humour that, if it doesn’t drive you to distraction, invigorates and amuses. In A Decapitated Coffee, Please, author Des MacHale has collected a whole book of malapropisms. It should be on every writer’s bookshelf. (Quote: “General Rommel commanded Hitler’s Pansy Division...” Now, where can I use that?)

Over the years, I have created a couple of characters whose personalities are moulded by their, shall we say, unique approach to the English language.

In my book The Indigo Kid, Stella Goodstar runs the Sixty-Nine Club, a porn-slash-spiritual store (she didn’t know which end to cater for, so she combines the two). Stella has decided to dispense with posters in her store as someone has promised to ‘paint a nice Muriel on the wall’ for her. And discussing a charismatic evangelist: “That Peter Shepherd...A real fox in the penthouse, that one.”

In Rusty and Slasher and the Circus from Hell the priest, Father Shamus Appelbaum, follows in the splendid footsteps of Rev Spooner by urging his congregation to ‘hollow their fart’. Slasher is not averse to mangling the language either. “Maybe that’s because wriggle mortis had set in.” Slasher gave a theatrical shudder. “Now I know why they call them stiffs. He was like a cardboard box with legs.”

Creating such characters is fun. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? This writing lark. Having fun. Creating characters you like, that are maybe a little spark of your own inner, hidden, self. Characters you wouldn’t mind having a cuppa with. (Which says something about Nana Naills and me – she is naughty and not-so-nice and she needs adult diapers before going on a heist.)

Comparisons are odorous, I know. I will never write a spy novel, like John le Carré, about a Soviet agent who defecated to the West. I will never write a classic like Lame is Rob by Victor Hugo or Don Coyote by Servants. I may never win the Pullet Surprise with my novels but, boy, I’ve had fun.

(Malapropisms are thanks to Mr MacHale.)
Jenny Harrison

Friday, 4 March 2016

Jean Allen allows us into her writer's notebook

Jean’s World
A writer is a listener and observer. Being the youngest, by far, in a family of five children (in an era when we were taught to be seen and not heard) I learnt those two abilities early. In the 1970s I started jotting Jean’s World.
Jean’s World I have not travelled far nor risen high ~ but ah! what a life I’ve
            seen what a glorious world for Jean © 1978
Duskpines       Three pines on a hill navy ~ black ~ still ~ clear-edged ~ sharp ~
minutely stark, against the pale pink breast, of quiet sunset ~
this day’s last gentle kiss ~ a lingered sigh ~ goodbye ©Jan. 1983
Small Moment Locusts are humming and strumming their legs. They sing with the wind as it rips and it tears. In all the whole world with its wars and its crime I love God’s small moments of locusts’ song time ~ © February 1983
Moons & Clouds & Trees & Footpaths © year 2000.
The moon is a bright, white ball ~ or not at all; a squashed up circle, a flat banana or lost in the dark forever after.
Clouds can be white or black or grey ~ mostly slow and moving away. Or they can be heavy or fluffy or streaky, animals, castles, light or leaky.  
Trees in the rain are full of surprises, lifting their branches, waving their leaves. When they are drinking they swell and they breathe ~ grow as you watch ~ turn shiny- bright- green.
Footpaths lead to other places; turn on corners; stop on roads. It all depends on the way you’re going – uphill, downhill, to-ing or froing.
So these are a few of my observing minutes; those minutes when the urge to catch … is stronger than the lethargy to ignore. I have probably used all of the above in my books and my handwritten book of ‘Jean’s Small Moments’ keeps filling up …… and spilling into another!
This is Jean L Allen hoping you are enjoying your reading or writing, today.