I once knew a respected priest, who kicked the living crap out of a fourteen year old boy in front of me. There was nothing I could do as I was the same age and his parents stood by and watched, not agreeing with the punishment but complicit by their acceptance that he was entitled to pulverise their son.
His crime was to be disrespectful to the priest’s girlfriend. Did I say girlfriend? Sorry it was the 1970’s I should have said housekeeper. His name was Muh-Muh (the boy not the priest) or at least that was the only name I ever heard him being called. He had a name but even he introduced himself to me by this strange nick-name. He had a stutter and his debilitating speech impediment meant he struggled with the letter M in particular and hence the name. Today it seems impossible that this was acceptable, even the teachers called him Muh-Muh. It is inexcusable regardless, but it was a different era and definitely a different world.
Names were important for us growing up. I had another school mate who I called Peubo for ten years without ever knowing his real name or why he was called Peubo. It was in the moment when I decided to ask him, mid-sentence in fact that I glanced at the shock of curly black hair on his head that it struck me. We had lots of Mackers, a Ginko, a couple of Dimbos three Dermos and a Witchie. The latter was Richard shortened to Ritchie but he couldn’t pronounce his R’s.
There was no such thing as political correctness. We were treated with a level of cruelty and had to survive in a place of chaos in my neighbourhood. On top of that, Dublin wit is unique. It is intrinsically a cheeky, capital city cocky wit, that is cruel and insensitive to the outside ear. Words have multiple meanings depending on the relationship between the parties conversing and the context of the conversation. Insults to an outside ear are normal chit-chat between a couple of Dubliners.
Speech and written language are inseparable in my mind. I think in the voice of a character. Words are sounds and placing them on a page is not enough. A reader needs to be able to evoke the feeling that accompanies a word or phrase. They have to hear it in their head. I have seen many writers head down the path of writing accented conversations phonetically and it is a dangerous thing to do. It can be done well but some of my least favourite efforts were Roddy Doyle’s car crash attempts in books that were ultimately very successful. I include some phonetics to gain tone and cadence, but then try to stick to simplified English because in my head it works better for the reader. Overly complex, phonetic written English, can be a struggle for the reader and if not done right can be a distraction. As a writer words have an added importance for me. Picking a title, selecting the right words to use on the cover of a book can be even more problematic. I have four published titles and I have three in progress two of which already have titles. How did I choose them? Well I will try to explain.
Darkly Wood is a deliberately misleading title. The wood is in many ways, a character in the book. It is a place named not for the reputation it has developed, but rather it has its origin in a family name, landed gentry with the family name Darkly. In the case of this book the place name had to be in the title and I played with it a little but chose simple in the end and as it turns out for me at least, it is the perfect title for the book. Given the nature of this, stories within story, somewhat frightening little love story, I couldn’t have gone in any other direction. I chose the direction the book led me and it is a method that has helped me ever since.
Then along came Larry Flynn. Poor old Larry. What a character. In Dublinese, ‘what a Bollix.’ He is simply one of my favourite characters. I know he came from my pen but I loved writing him. Every horrible, confused thought he had, every twisted version of his truth, every vile intentioned sneer and smirk. I loved his voice, his thought process, his failing body and self-delusion. He was one character I rooted for, even though I knew how unpleasant he was and how the book was going to turn out. The title was once again a no-brainer for me. I teetered but when my daughter finished the cover with his face proudly on the front, I knew it had to simply be called Larry Flynn.
Bad Blood was the one I toyed most with. This is a dark thriller revolving around a serial killer with more than a hint of blood lust in the tale. I initially thought Bloodlines would be a good title as there are a couple of families involved and a feud that goes back through the generations. Then as I am a big Bram Stoker’s Dracula fan, I renamed it Bad Blood with a bracketed off, somewhat suspect to suit myself, Irish translation. I called it Bad Blood (Droch fóla). This can and I say ‘can’ be pronounced druck ula… anyone get the Dracula connection yet? I loved the idea but of course the book is not a vampire book, the version of the translation is strictly incorrect and the pronunciation depends on whether you are Donegal Irish, Galway Irish or suitin’ yourself Irish. In the end I went with the simpler Bad Blood which ultimately suits the story line, but I still have a hankerin’ for Droch Fóla. I faltered on this by trying to be too clever. Ultimately by going back to basics, I found the answer.
Little Big Boy was always going to be just that. In this case the story pretty much stemmed from the idea of a little boy desperate to be big but longing in his heart to cling to his safer small boy world. He is everything in this book. It is a first person narrative and though I say it myself, this book could not ever have worked with a better title. Ultimately this was an easy choice, perhaps the easiest of all of my books. It is quite a harrowing tale and filled with conflict and contradiction, as the smiling face on the cover belies a troubled soul and the terrible events that engulf him, hence the contradiction in the title.
Going forward I have a finished book called Apollo Bay to be released early next year. This is a thriller set in Australia and a lot of the action happens in a very secluded cove near a place called Apollo Bay. I wrote this book a long time ago and it is in re-editing phase at the moment but I know the title suits. Again much like the other titles I have used, I went for direct simple related to the story titles and it sort of named itself.
Finally I come to my next book to be released and this one has by far the longest title that I have used to date. This is The woman who never wore shoes (Darkly Wood II). I didn’t have a title for some time after I start writing this book and couldn’t decide where to go. It was important not to simply call it Darkly Wood II in my mind, but I was lost for once to come up with a title. Then my magical daughter did it again. She designed the cover based on my specifications and a photo of the wonderful Joan taken in 1946 a story I have blogged about before. (We fade to grey –worth a peek if you missed it) It was only when I saw the cover that I noticed Joan was barefoot. I had the sketched out story of the character on the cover who appears later in the book, and at that stage I hadn’t completed it. But in that moment I knew it was to be my title, a Eureka moment as it were. It suited the story and the cover in a moment of mental harmony.
“My first child died through ignorance. The death of my second was altogether a more planned affair. “This is the opening of one book I have in progress at the moment but it is as yet, untitled. I know the story line and I know the direction I am going but just not the title. I do have some ideas but I’m not there yet. No doubt I will apply laws of inspiration to bring it to the fore.
And there you have it, my haphazard approach to finding my titles. I probably made it sound too easy but honestly if you knew how my very strange brain works you’d realise that I already have another five more books written in my head with titles swishing around waiting for me to harpoon one. In truth it was probably the same for the ones I have written to date and when the time came the decision was already in my subconscious mind.
The as yet to be titled book I mentioned above is waiting for that flash moment where I suddenly realise I had it in my head all along. Perhaps it will take me working through the cover stage to force me to make a decision I don’t know. I am always curious how it works for others. For me, even after trying to explain it, I’m still not sure. Perhaps it is a futile exercise, like licking the belly of a pig to see if it tastes like bacon. You know it wont and even though I would never do it, the fact that the thought crossed my mind is enough for me to realise, some things will never make sense.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Larry Flynn Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : – http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
4 thoughts on “Licking the Belly of a pig to see if it tastes like bacon.”
Reblogged this on SharonBrownlie and commented:
It is always good to know what is in the mind of an author that you have read. I think it brings meaning and a familiarty to a novel. lThanks for sharing your thoughts on your books. I definitely want to read Larry Flynn next.
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I completely agree that writing a character’s dialogue too phonetically can be a major distraction, to the point of being almost painful to read. I’ve never been able to make it through Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” because it seems like every other sentence is written that way.
Regarding the way you’ve chosen the titles for your books, you do make it sound so simple. Choosing titles for my work is the one thing that I absolutely struggle with and I feel that I always fall short. Maybe I’ll take your thoughts on the matter to heart with my next work and see how it goes.
Final thought. I really do appreciate it when you share bits and pieces of your childhood in Ireland. Not only does it give us a sense of who you are, but it also gives us a sense of Ireland itself. I’ll be honest, it’s the one place in the world that I want to visit more than any other. I’m slowly saving up for that. 🙂
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Thank you for that feedback perhaps I will share more childhood memories given those lovely comments .