I'll do my best to keep this brief. I know I ramble on at times but I've got exciting news. Yes, keep reading because shit’s gonna get real.
After fourteen months of full-on writing, plus a previous six-months of character creation and plot planning, I'm happy to reveal my new book has… A NAME.
Exciting times, yes? Well, keep reading because in the teeniest of moments, I'm going to share that name with you. But first, let me explain the delay.
When I wrote Carry the Beautiful, I knew the title before I’d worked out the plot. The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote* had been in my head for a while, and I liked the way I’d twisted it to give a catchy (imho!) phrase that summed up the entire theme of the novel I wanted to write. I liked that lots of people weren’t sure if 'Carry' was a character (Spoiler: She’s not!) and I enjoyed saying, ‘It’s the verb not the noun’ at regular intervals. Mainly because it showed I knew what a verb and noun were. So until book two, I found the whole process of ‘giving a book a title’ a piece of piss.**
|This is a dramatic reconstruction |
the exact way I worked out my title.
Including the fluffy pen.
Two years ago, I started to create characters for the next book. This was before Carry the Beautiful came out – in the down time between writing to agents and learning about trim sizes. At this point I should say that making up character names is one of my favourite parts of the whole shebang. Beyond a cursory Google to check main characters don't share names with famous murderers, it doesn’t really matter what names are chosen. It’s early days and as long as they sound right for the story being told, there’s a load of creative freedom. Publication is still ages away.
So, here’s what happened. I spent the following year and a bit writing, editing and shaping the thing. I had a really good backstory as to why my narrator's first name was what it was – click here if you want reminding – and I was ready to share it with people. But I still hadn’t come up with a title for the book.
I’d decided I wanted the narrator’s full name in the title somehow. I’ve worked hard at not copying other novels out there, but certain tropes seemed to exist. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and ¾... The Diary of a Wimpy Kid... Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great... Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. These were the sorts of titles my book belonged with (I know! The AUDACITY of lumping myself in with Judy Blume and Sue Townsend! But still.) I needed to use my character’s name or alias in the title. It felt right.
Around the time I was thinking all that, the Golden Globes happened. Back in January. Frances McDormand won for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I’ve written about her before, but the opening line of her speech stuck with me. She got up to the stage, accepted the applause and waited. Then she said, ‘Well...I have a few things to say.’ Bam. It was commanding in its deadpan. It was confident and purposeful. She wasn't messing around and she was here to say her piece. It reminded me of the ten-year-old protagonist from my book. She sees the world very clearly, and has started to notice when adults talk rubbish. She might not have Frances McDormand's award-winning acting chops, but she knows her own mind. I wanted to convey that idea in the title. We might as well hit the ground running from the front cover onwards. It’s better for everyone if you know what kind of narrator/main character you’ve got from the start. So Frances McDormand and her opening line stayed with me.
And with that, the title was born. Ready? Drum roll please...
Leeza McAuliffe Has Something To Say
Catchy? Something you’d want to read? The best title you’ve ever heard? I'm happy with an emphatic YES to all of those questions.
There was just one small hitch. I’d enjoyed working out the surname for my character and her family. I’d played around with a few. I knew it sounded better if it was multi-syllabic, so I shortlisted ones that began with Mc. Eventually I settled on McAuliffe. I liked how the title sang its way across my mouth as I said it. It all sounded marvellous and I was happy. Then, a few weeks ago, just as I was adding the title to the manuscript I sent to my editor, I realised something fairly obvious. 'Leeza McAuliffe' is not a million miles away from the name of a real-life friend of mine. No wonder it sounded so natural as I said it aloud. Just like every Year Four story I ever marked, I’d called the main character the name of my mate! A basic error.
The good news is, I’ve talked to the real life Leeza (who isn’t actually called Leeza.) She’s fine with it. I will put on record that no aspect of the story relates to her life. Or if it does it’s massively coincidental. I’m just putting that out there before I hear from her legal representation. If anyone needs to sue me, it should probably be my parents and siblings. I’ve nicked many a Bond family experience and ramped up the negative detail for comedic or dramatic effect. It’s fair to say my oldest brother’s childhood personality has been milked to convey the more annoying of Leeza’s brothers. But there we are. It’s done.
So for now, spread the word far and wide. Leeza McAuliffe Has Something to Say is on the way to an online store near you…soonish - hopefully by the end of the year. Watch this space. You’ll literally be the first to know.
Have a lovely week, folks.
*You know. The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that I wedged into my last book. "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not". That one!
*'Piece of piss' is a technical publishing term.