While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Shame of Naming

The time has come to think about a title for my short story collection. To the right you will find a poll. These are five titles that make some sense to me. The three with asterisks double as titles of stories in the collection. I'm not going to explain what each title means, or how it fits with the rest of the collection - this is just to gauge reactions on first blush. A bit of fun, that's all.

Until now, I've never had to come up with an umbrella title. When I did my MA, I wrote a novel, and I had the title from early on. Even when questions were raised about the title and I went looking for something better, I only had to think about the one story (a long, complicated one, but one story nonetheless).

But there were others in my class writing short story and poetry collections, and I remember well the time toward the end of the year when they were all furiously trying out titles for their manuscripts. In workshops, others would have their say, and I certainly offered a few potential titles, argued for and against some alternatives - but it was different then. I hadn't written the poems or stories. I wasn't clouded by parental attachments.

But now, as I play around with which stories make the cut, and the order those that make it will appear in the manuscript, I have a serious perspective problem.

I've leant towards a different title each of the last four days. Tomorrow I will think of something new, and convince myself it works with all the stories. But that's the thing: with a collection of twenty stories (with another ten sitting on the sidelines should they be a better fit with the new title...) you can usually find enough evidence of any theme.

For example, I'll just turn on the news and see what they're talking about... Golf. Okay, well there's a reference to golf in this story, and I could be smart and have eighteen stories to represent the eighteen holes of a golf course, and order the stories like a good course: opening with a straight-ahead par four (4,000 words), then a dog-leg par four (a story with a sudden change of focus or direction), a sprinkling of par threes (2,000-3,000 words) and rounding out the front nine with a massive par five (12,000 words)... I'd probably need to write a story explicitly about golf to open or close the collection, but I sit down and write every evening, I should be able to knock something decent out in a fortnight...

That's what it's like in my head at the moment. Not that you'll be seeing Love on the Links and other stories by Craig Cliff in any book store soon.

It's almost a shame to have to name the thing at all. No name will tick every box without setting of some unintended firework halfway through story and ruin the spectacle of the end. I can almost understand how bands come to release self-titled début albums.


I'm not about to do a Michael Martone, though.

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