die, dearest darling

I had to murder a very dear darling* this week – the title of my novel.

The best book titles seem to root through a work. I thought I had such a title with x y z, a novel about hidden love, that weaves together the story of Descartes’ quest for reason with my protagonist’s, Helena, struggle for literacy. When I found out that xyz is used in algebra to signify the unknown, I knew I had the PERFECT title – x y z in some way became Helena – her unknown story, in large part lost from the historical record.

x y z – it seemed not only to say something about Descartes, but something much more profound about Helena too.

Some people loved the title, but just as many were not so keen. And that, I knew, was a problem.

It was too generic, I was told, (no, I thought, no! – let me explain!). It did not say enough about the richness of the story that followed (yes, it did! – just let me explain!). Was it a book about genetics, I was asked? A crime thriller? A primer on algebra…? Had I not found the ‘proper’ title yet?


It was not easy to find a new title, but I have. I managed even to avoid the dubious charms of an online title generator.

And so, x y z is now The Words in my Hand. It’s a title that goes to the emotional heart of the novel – but you will have to read it to find out why. And, if an editor buys, The Words in my Hand will one day become a book, words in the hands of the reader. I like that. I like that a lot.

books, some with good titles

titles, titles



*attrib: Arthur Quiller-Couch



2 thoughts on “die, dearest darling

  1. It’s hard, it’s like changing your baby’s name when they’re two years’ old. But be prepared, if an editor buys your novel, the title might change again.

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