Monday, 25 August 2008

Titles And Weddings

I’ve been neglecting my blog dreadfully recently but the fact is, I’ve had my hands full. I’ve been in Ireland, Rome and Umbria, I’ve been writing a couple of chapters of a new book (Can’t say a word about it yet – top secret) and my daughter is getting married in a fortnight. So it’s been all hands on deck around here.

In the middle of everything, I’ve found myself engaged in a series of negotiations with my publishers about titles. My latest novel is being advertised everywhere in the UK as The Haunting of Nathanial Wolfe which is very annoying because there is no such name as Nathanial. It’s Nathaniel (with an e.) My UK publishers keep saying, ‘It’s nothing to do with us, Brian,’ but I remain unconvinced.

Across the water, my US publishers have decided to release the third book in my fantasy trilogy, The Promises Of Dr Sigmundus, with the title, The Resurrection Fields rather than The Mendini Canticle (as it will appear over here in the UK in September). I don’t mind, really. The Resurrection Fields is the title of one of the chapters as it is. But it is odd the way they make these judgements.

Still, life is a matter of compromise. I heard Colm Toibin talking about Henry James the other day. Now most people think that Henry James was the most uncompromising writer that the world of letters has ever produced but according to Colm Toibin, James though that the best novels often started life as pot-boilers. In other words, it’s when you loosen up and don’t act too precious about your work that you are most likely to produce a masterpiece. Of course, I’m not claiming to have produced a masterpiece in my trilogy, I’m just saying that I can live with a different title over in the US from one over here.

All of this, together with my daughter’s impending wedding puts me in mind of a story my mother once told me. It was told to her by her Uncle Dan, who was a bit of a raconteur himself. According to Dan there was an old woman, called Nora, who lived in his village who had been quite a beauty in her youth but who had never got married. Nowadays, of course, we would not think that this was anything out of the ordinary but this was rural Ireland at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and in those days women either got married or became nuns and that was all there was to it.

Anyway, one day, Dan happened to meet up with Nora and they got chatting and finally Dan came out with the question that had been puzzling him, and plenty of others, for a number of years. ‘Tell me Nora,’ he said, ‘how is it you never got married?’

Well Nora looked at Dan for a while and then she gave him a kind of a half smile. ‘It’s like this Dan,’ she said. ‘The desirables were not obtainable and the obtainables were not desirable.’

That’s what happens when you aren’t prepared to compromise. Mind you, I can’t help feeling that there’s a terrific novel lying under the surface of Nora’s answer. And perhaps I’ll write it some day. But not now. I’ve got to go and practise my wedding speech.

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