How important is a title?

For someone, like myself, totally unknown, a good book title is probably very important, as is a striking cover. However, if a new book by say Gunter Grass was published it could be called anything at all and I would read it, I would not worry about reviews or what the cover was (by the way Grass’s book covers feature his beautiful drawings).

There has been a trend over the past 10 years or so for having long quite poetic titles to entrance the potential reader. Sometimes they are there to mask a poor product as was the case with many titles of 60’s film comedies, the longer the title the worse the film! Of course it doesn’t always work that way and I am sure you all know great books with long titles.

We don’t want to give away too much in a title but enough to make people interested. Probably my novella The Report has one of the most boring titles, maybe to entice people a title like Beware the Evil of Normality in a Fascist State would make people want to look, or, Slaying a Monster maybe even more! Perhaps I ought to try it out and see if I get more sales! It is hard to believe that there can be any new titles available, thousands of books are published, maybe millions, each year. I started writing Underpainting in 1994 and then a few years later before mine was completed a novel of that name was published. I made a film in 1978 called Home and Away (based loosely on Goethe’s Sufferings of Young Werther, but featuring football) and then came the TV soap opera! What do you do?

In a survey published today through the BBC, sociologists have reclassified class titles. These look at the new adaptability of people and movements in communities. On the radio they said that this is not just about money, but about friends, social and cultural lives, and the new jobs in the service industries. So I completed the survey (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22000973) to see what class I now fitted into, I am a Precariat – the lowest. In fact on the radio this morning Stoke-on-Trent was labelled a Precariat city. When I look at how the results are tallied, your income and housing status seem to be the main factor, my listening to jazz and opera had little value, which I thought was not the idea! My upbringing was clearly middle class, my father a Maths lecturer at a college and my mother a teacher, who owned a nice house outside the city. I am a graduate with post graduate teaching qualifications. My political allegiances come not from my upbringing, but from my experiences of working in the community. My interests are probably of an intellectual type and could be seen as rather highbrow. I certainly do not object to being a Precariat (I need a T-shirt I think to warn people!), but this is a title given due to financial factors not cultural issues, certainly my financial status places me at the very bottom of society! 

So are these titles important?

Well in writing yes, characters need to be placed somewhere, and an understanding of the capabilities and cultural values of those characters are vital in a story. When there were just the three classes this was easy, now it is harder. Is that why the past is so prevalent in writing and the media? The survey deals with the issues such as where graduates are earning very little compared to a manual worker in the service sector, a new phenomenon, and good for a more equal society, but not easy to write about. Do these graduates form a grudge against society having gone through all that work then stacking shelves in a pound shop? Does the well paid plumber dream of a higher level of learning and feel looked down on by the graduate. How does the super paid football star feel when confronted with others in the ‘Elite’ class and mocked by the middle class press for their perceived social inadequacies? These are good for plots maybe harder to actually live with.

Today’s photograph is in Tunstall near Boots Chemists on a sunny and cold windy day.


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