When I set up this website I included a page that I called Works in Progress. However, since everything I discuss throughout the whole site could be described as unfinished in one way or another, what this somewhat misnamed page turned into was an interactive Title Survey for one particular work in progress: my proto-Cold War spy thriller novel set in the aftermath of the German surrender in 1945.
I had two possible titles for it, one of them reminiscent of the kind of Robert Ludlum/Desmond Bagley/Anthony Price books I grew up reading (and of the Modesty Blaise novels that have provided a sizeable chunk of its inspiration), the other less generic and more suggestive of hifalutin 'literary' aspirations. For the record, these were The Borodino Sacrifice and Chasing Mercury.
But as I've indicated on the Works in Progress page, this isn't just a case of alternative titles. The two options are tonally so different that they change the whole look and feel of the book. You could, for example, use a whimsical cover design for Chasing Mercury - although it would be a bit disingenuous for a novel that begins with a sniper watching a secret handover and ends with an Alamo-style shootout - but The Borodino Sacrifice (to mix game metaphors) needs to lay its cards on the table.
There's also the question - clumsily addressed but by no means insignificant - of appealing, in an ideal world, to both male and female readers. In crude terms, I have a pair of protagonists with a mix of male and female motivations. It would be nice if the look and feel were able to reflect this in some way.
The point of the blind survey was to get an impression of which version of the book people - whoever they might be - would be more likely to pick up or click on, and to that end I mocked-up a couple of very different covers.
And now the results are in... Or rather, having taken bloody ages to get the form entries up to double figures, I've decided to call it, for the time being. Chasing Mercury got twice the votes of The Borodino Sacrifice.
However, none of these respondees (and many thanks to all of you!) have read the book. Apart from the little bit of blurb/log-line above the survey, they didn't really know what they were voting on - it was always just an instinctive thing, a snapshot of changing tastes.
But I do know the book. I know how it ends. And I've made a decision based on that. You see, it doesn't end, not completely - it opens the way for a follow-up, possibly even a trilogy.
So yes, as you preferred: Chasing Mercury is the overall title. But with The Borodino Sacrifice as the subtitle for this first volume.
I feel another blog post coming on about the titling of novel sequences. Numbered books... Colons... Franchises... But I need to go away and think about that first.
In the meantime, thanks again for the input. The chase goes on!
In the haunting words of that sadly neglected, oft-rejected film score composer, Stanley Rogers: 'Don't be a pro-cras-tin-ator'.
But it's not as easy as that.
I'm not talking here about putting off the act of writing. (Cue the clickbait lists and quotes... Yeah, thanks a bundle.)
I'm talking about when you have typed THE END, and you are reasonably happy with this latest draft. But you have another project on the back-burner and this is the perfect time to start looking again at that. So you do, even though you kind of know what's going to happen - how you're going to leave the newly finished work a little too long before re-reading it, and spend a bit too much time in another mindset, hearing another voice come through, so it'll sound a little off again when you do.
Or, rather, when I do. It's me we're talking about here. My hang-ups. My pro-cras-tin-ation.
In the past year, this is how it has gone. 12-14 months ago I was getting demoralised pulling together the short story collection. Although I was still happy with the linking concept (which this week has proved more topical than ever, dammit), individual stories weren't performing as well as I'd hoped and I was talking myself into cutting more and more of them, so I called a timeout before the whole thing disappeared up its own Aristotle. Instead, I developed an idea that had been buzzing around, a longer-form story, which became my novella, 76. I was 80% happy with the early drafts of that, but there were (and still are) nagging concerns, things that need fixing and need some inspiration if that's going to happen. So while waiting for that I decided to use my time productively (ha, ha) by getting onto some revisions that I'd been putting off making to my novel Chasing Mercury / The Borodino Sacrifice...
And that went well. That's the point. I did another draft that cut out a ton of flab and fixed some clumsy head-hopping that I'd always known would need fixing. I was happy with it at last. Still am.
Only... now I'm straight back on the novella and its problems, because deep down I know that I can't wait for inspiration to arrive and I have to grind it out myself, somehow. But the more disturbing psychological conclusions we can draw from this are these: a) yes, I'm letting my fear of rejection stop me from taking the next step, Duh, and b) nowadays, I'm not even allowing myself a brief, shining moment of optimism and illusion - instead heading straight for the next mess, the next morass.
Whereas Stanley had it right all along. 'You've got to have your Apocalypse Now, don't leave it to later...'
I've been writing for as long as I can remember (I think my first letter was a P). I got a degree writing about other people's writing and ever since then I've earned a living writing commercially, one way or another. But I never stopped writing and refining my own stuff. I just didn't do anything with it, until now.