The working title I had for the first Cliff Hardy book was so bad it could have killed the enterprise. Mercifully, Jim Hall, publisher at McGraw Hill, persuaded me to change it and I came up with The Dying Trade, which seemed to strike the right noir-ish ambiguous note.
Since then I’ve mostly conceived the titles myself, following a variety of impulses. Early on, literary pretension probably gave rise to the The Marvellous Boy (a reference to the tragic young forger Thomas Chatterton), but I got tougher and more on song with the likes of White Meat and Heroin Annie.
The Big Drop and The Big Score were obvious homages to Raymond Chandler. Some titles were dictated directly by the subject matter – like Aftershock, which is about the Newcastle earthquake, and Wet Graves, to do with the casualties in the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge,
I was surprised and intrigued to learn that there was a Sydney suburb named Lugarno. I mentioned it to a golfing friend who drove taxis in Sydney. ‘Nothing ever happens in Lugarno,’ he said. That remark was the trigger. I made something happen in Lugarno and gave the book that title.
Nancy Parker, mother of Jean Bedford’s second husband Rod (who died untimely), and a friend to us both, self-published a book of stories. Helen Garner, a close friend of Rod’s, wrote an elegant strapline saying that the stories were ‘from the other side of sorrow’. I lifted The Other Side of Sorrow for a novel about the death of Hardy’s wife and still think it’s one of the best titles.
I use a generic working title, Hardy 25 etc, while writing and the actual title usually comes to me somewhere along the line – from a place (The Washington Club), an incident (Beware of the Dog), a snatch of dialogue (The Undertow).
Very occasionally, the titles undergo editorial change. A forthcoming Hardy book, The Dunbar Case, originally had the title The Shipwreck. Jean suggested dropping the definite article for greater dramatic impact, which I did. The marketing people at the publishers objected to the title, saying it sounded like an historical novel. Heaven forbid! Hence the new moniker.
I was interested to learn in a pub trivia quiz that Elvis wore a ring inscribed ‘TCB’ (taking care of business). I used it as the title for a book of stories that sold much better than such things usually do. A bookseller told me that it had been placed by error in the business section and some people bought it thinking it was about money. Jean gave me the title Follow the Money for a recent Hardy novel still in the shops. Now, there is a book around with the same title about money, work and life in America. Dare I hope for mistaken spin-off sales?