Tricky Titles

Woman next door 2       Question Mark      Woman next door 1

By Brenda Bannister, author of The Tissue Veil

Choosing the title for a novel is almost as sensitive as naming a child. Baby names follow a fashion, but you probably wouldn’t give your child the name your best friend recently used; similarly, you’d like to think the name of your book is original. But there’s no copyright where titles are concerned, and nothing to stop anyone pinching one that’s already in use, or two authors coming up with the same idea independently.

Recently, my book group fell foul of the confusion caused by duplicate titles. We take turns to suggest our next book choice and one of our number had proposed The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, a story of feuding elderly neighbours — one white, one black — in post-apartheid South Africa. Well, we all read the right novel eventually, but not before three of the group had got some way into a psychological thriller with the same title by Cass Green. After a while, they started to think that the book they were reading didn’t seem like a typical ‘Jacky choice’, but by that time were into the story, so ended up reading both. Each author published in 2016, so the common title is likely to be coincidental.

There are at least four books titled The Woman in Black listed on Amazon, including, of course, the Susan Hill novel on which both stage play and film were based. ‘Woman’, ‘girl’ and ‘daughter’ all feature strongly in contemporary novel titles in a trend that goes back to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Recent publications feature daughters of shoemakers, elephant keepers, clockmakers, poachers, lighthouse keepers, alchemists, silk merchants and many more professions! It seems like a winning formula.

The title of my dual narrative novel, The Tissue Veil, symbolises the time barrier between two young women living in the same place but in different eras — something which prevents physical contact, but is at times flimsy enough to allow each of them a glimpse into the other’s world. Aysha finds and reads a mysterious journal; Emily gets occasional glimpses of a ‘future ghost’. The two girls explain it in their own ways. Edwardian Emily is reminded of the opaque sheets which covered illustrations in a book she once read at school — a bit like the overlays in traditional wedding albums: ‘the images were there, behind their tissue veils, but you couldn’t quite see them until you turned the leaf. Sometimes I think that’s how it is with Aysha: that she’s there all the time if only I could see. But which of us is behind the tissue, I cannot tell’. Aysha, the twenty-first century history student, thinks about archaeology and how time is layered in the ruins of an ancient city, rebuilt many times. One reviewer wrote that the title ‘can be taken by the sceptical reader as simply an image or metaphor, while others will accept without question the relationship between the Emily of 1900 and the Aysha of 2000’.

Either way, I hope my title arouses readers’ interest and expresses the time-defying link at the heart of the book.

BB

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