Oh dear. It’s title madness time again. Nomansland, I’m told, is the sort of title that endless authors try to sneak by their editors. Apparently they always fail, due to the fact that No Man’s Land apparently sounds like a book about a football game played on Christmas Eve in 1914 near Armentieres. For those of you who don’t know this particular no man’s land story, the British and German troops in WW1 (who had been shooting at each other from their miserable foxholes for some time), began singing Christmas carols, then by mutual agreement called an unofficial Christmas truce, and met to exchange gifts and play a game of friendly football in the miserable, bullet-torn, barbed-wire strung area between the trenches. When the game was over, they retreated to their own sides once more, and restarted the war. It is a wonderful and very moving story, but sadly, not the one I’m telling.
My own personal Nomansland (now titled, at least for the moment, Salisbury Fair) begins in 1850, in a tiny village on the edge of the New Forest called — Nomansland. The village earned the name back in 1802 by virtue of a court case you can read about here. My plot features a young woman who runs away from home very early on the morning she is meant to be married, taking only her horse. She meets a rather dashing poacher, shall we say a Mr Darcy type, and naturally they hate each other on sight. Nomansland is my first shot at the (ahem) literary version of a Mills & Boon romance which — let’s face it – is all based on Pride and Prejudice anyway. But it’s not as soppy as I’ve made it sound here, or at least I hope it’s not.
ANYWAY, to make a short story very long (and for those of you who are still awake) I made a visit to the real Nomansland, loved how evocative the name was, how much it conjured up a marginal place, a marginal life…and I began to write. And two of my three editors have now officially vetoed the name. For a moment I thought of resetting the book in the north of England and calling it Scarborough Fair, which, you have to admit has a nice ring to it, but apparently the real Scarborough Fair was discontinued in the 1780s. And besides, I know nothing about that part of the world.
By the time I’ve finished a book, I’ve usually forgotten how it evolved. This one began as an update of the story of Pegasus and Bellerophon, but soon zagged off into something quite different. I blush remembering the passionate pitch I made to my wonderful new publishers at Viking Penguin NYC, about flying horses and sexual infidelity and hubris. And a year or so later I turn up with a romance featuring a female heroine and a lot of lurchers. There’s still a white horse at the centre of it, so at least it shows I tried. Ah well. Books have a way of evolving in unexpected ways. I blame it on the little man in my sub-conscious (or woman, perhaps) with an old fashioned typewriter who churns out silly plots while I’m sleeping.
What I need now is the normal blog mechanism for title suggestions to stick on the end here, but that’s what you get for choosing design over utility. If you think you’ve got a good one, I’ll be at Hay on Wye in May, and I’d be extremely grateful if you’d come introduce yourself and pass it on.
Back to work.