Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Broken Road

So. The Broken Road. What do we think? Well, I know what I think, what do you think?

I'm hoping you like it, anyway, because it's the new title for my Children's Crusade book, the one that's coming out in January next year. Originally it was called The Way We Went, which I quite liked, to be honest - but my publishers said it was a little bit samey and boring and too like all the other books with I in the title, like Before I Die and If I Stay and What I Was... Pretty good company to be in, I would've thought, but apparently no, this was a bad thing. So that was out.

So, my publishers said, we know this comes as a bit of a shock, but we're thinking: 1212.

1212? I said. (Inwardly.) 1212? Are you mad?

1212, yes, my publishers said. Simple and strong. With the tagline, The year the children left.

Simple, maybe, I said. Strong...? Oh, and did I mention, absolutely not?

No. OK. I admit it. I didn't say that. I drafted a long, considered, helpful and measured email about how I wasn't quite sure 1212 was intriguing or enticing enough, and how between us I was sure we could come up with something we really loved. I spent quite a long time on it, because I didn't want to piss anyone off, and after all they do know more about marketing than I do (thank God), and getting snotty wasn't going to help anything... But 1212 - is it just me, or is the number of teenagers who're likely to say, hey, 1212, that sounds interesting, I must buy this book, I wonder what happened then? a little bit - well, minimal? It also does not sound at all literary. You might as well call it, This Is A Book About The Children's Crusade. It doesn't give any information that can't be equally well conveyed by the cover image and blurb. And - as I pointed out to my editor, in slightly less bald terms - the cover can change, the tagline can change, but I'm stuck with the title of this book for the rest of my life. I just really want it not to sound embarrassing.

So anyway, I wrote this email Very Carefully, with that terrible pit-of-my-stomach feeling that they'd do what they normally do, which is thank me for my feedback and then ignore me (I'm not bitter, by the way, that's normal and healthy, most of the time). I kept telling myself a little unsteadily that no one could force me to go with a title I hated. And then, late at night, I had a brainwave.

I googled it.

OK, I accept it's not that much of a brainwave (especially since I had to change the title of my sci-fi novel for exactly that reason). But it paid dividends. There already is a book about the Children's Crusade called - you guessed it - 1212. Hurrah.

I can't tell you what a relief that was. It meant I could write a gently regretful, philosophical email suggesting other titles. 1212 was out. (And I feel that says something about how inventive and exciting it is, as a title...) So I came up with a list of other ideas, one of which I loved (not the one they chose, by the way) - but all of which were bearable. The Broken Road isn't my favourite title ever. But at least it has words in it.

Thank you, Kathleen McDonnell. I might even read your book.

Incidentally, in the interests of fairness, I should probably point out that my agent also really liked 1212. Maybe I just really have no idea about this kind of thing...

So. The Broken Road. Tagline: well, it could be worse.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Very Sad News

I should be working right now, but I can't set my mind to it, so I gave up on the idea and thought I'd blog instead. I know I haven't written anything here for ages, and so I suppose I ought to give you an update about how the books are going - proofreading for Gamerunner, edits and new title for the Children's Crusade book, new draft of the adult thing - but it doesn't seem all that important, to be honest. This afternoon I'm going to my ex-agent's funeral, and everything seems just a little bit trivial in comparison.

My ex-agent was called Rosemary Canter. She was at PFD when she took me on, and then left when everyone else did to form United Agents. She was my agent until last year, when she took some time off to have chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer; she was hoping to come back to work afterwards, and it was only this autumn that she knew she wouldn't be able to. Of course we knew, when she said that, that things weren't going as well as she'd hoped: but it was a shock all the same to hear that she'd died so suddenly.

But that really doesn't tell you much that's worth knowing. What you should know is that she was extraordinary. It wasn't just that she was a fantastic agent - although she was, and I will always be grateful to her for believing in me, and taking me on - but that she was brilliant at the personal touch, the management/morale-building/friendship side of the job, too. I could phone her up and talk through a problem, and even if the news her end was bad and frustrating I would get off the line and feel better. Invariably. And not just better - I'd feel that I'd done exactly the right thing to call her, and that she took my problems seriously and cared about them as much as me, and everything was in the best possible hands. (I.e. hers.) I have never known anyone who was as good at that as she was - and that's not post-mortem sentimentality, it's what I used to say (with a sort of amazed admiration) after I'd hung up the phone. She was utterly charming, and yet it was mixed with a sort of brisk humorous warmth that made you feel that it wasn't calculated, it wasn't just that you were her client... I don't know how publishers managed not to give in to her every demand.

What can I say? I wish I'd known her better. I wish I could have thanked her in a Carnegie-medal-winner's speech. I hope she knew what a difference she made to my writing life.

I'll miss her.