I have the devil’s own luck when it comes to titles, at least as far as that there Jonathan Oliver at Solaris is concerned.
Tide was published in 2009: fast forward to 2011, when I pitched Jon a novel called Ghosts Of War. He liked the story and commissioned it, but suggested a different title, quite reasonably pointing out that Ghosts Of War gave away the plot.
Novel Number Two was closely concerned with the legacy of the First World War. I combed through volumes of war poetry – Wilfred Owen, Charles Hamilton Sorley and Isaac Rosenberg – in search of a suitable quote; soon after, I offered Jon a new title, taken from a Siegfried Sassoon poem: I Stood With The Dead.
Not quite right, Jon felt.
I drank coffee, longingly eyed the bottle of single malt in the drinks cabinet, returned to the war poetry and found In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. Not only was the poem really apt given the book’s theme, but one line jumped out: We Are The Dead.
It had a fantastic ring to it. It went to the heart of what the novel was about. It was also a line from Nineteen Eighty-Four, and a David Bowie song. Perfect!
At last, I had my title.
Until Jon gently pointed out that as my first book had been a zombie novel, anything with the word ‘Dead’ in it would be assumed to be more of the same. The book, he felt, deserved a wider audience.
He was right, of course. An annoying habit of his. I stopped banging my head against the desktop, picked splinters out of my forehead, poured a large whisky and started throwing out potential titles.
Twenty or thirty of them.
None of which seemed right.
I can’t remember why I settled on The Faceless, but sheer exhaustion may have played a part.
Jon loved it, and so do I. I now can’t imagine the book being called anything else.
Fast forward to 2014: Fantasycon in York.
Jon sat me down with a large whisky (always a good move, editors) and started talking about what he’d like to see next: something rooted in English folklore and nature. He drew comparisons to, among others, Alan Garner. (Editors, take note again: mentioning me in the same sentence as Alan Garner – even it’s only ‘Simon Bestwick is nowhere near as good as Alan Garner’ – is pretty effective as a way to gain my eternal devotion. Well, that and money.) He wanted, too, something a little less action-driven than the first two books.
I went away and thrashed out an outline called Cold Spring. There were three storylines, each in different time periods but the same location (yes, I’d been reading Red Shift.) The third storyline showed the apocalyptic consequences of the previous two, but Jon pointed out I’d already had an apocalypse in each of my previous novels. He thought I might interested in trying to get through a book without causing the collapse of human civilisation.
I took his point, picked more splinters from my forehead, added more whisky to my coffee and discarded the third storyline. The novel was becoming smaller, on a more private scale than I used to – and as it did it became more and more interesting, and the small pool of flawed, human characters began to come alive, struggling to come to terms with their grief and their impossible need to understand the world they lived in.
Cold Spring no longer fitted as a title: my next choice was The Fires Of Moloch, which didn’t work, followed by another Biblically-inspired title, The Vale Of Hinnom. Finally, I settled on Redman’s Hill.
To my astonishment, Jon loved it. I got on with the writing.
Then Jon came back to me: he’d overlooked that the book was to be sold in the US. Redman’s Hill sounded too much like a Western. Could I think of something else?
I remembered the novel was set in October, reaching its climax on Halloween. How about The Feast Of All Souls?
Jon was delighted; The Feast Of All Souls became the new title. Even though they did reschedule the publication date from October to December.
I reckon I got off lightly this time.
The Feast of All Souls is published by Solaris on December 6th, 2016. Here’s the synopsis:
Alice’s house stands at a gateway between worlds. Now something has awoken on the other side — and she’s in its way…
378 Collarmill Road looks like an ordinary house. But sometimes, the world outside the windows isn t the one you expect to see. And sometimes you ll turn around and find you re not alone.
The suburb of Crawbeck, on a hill outside the English city of Manchester, overlooks the woodlands of Browton Vale. Alice Collier was happy here, once, but following the end of her marriage and loss of her daughter, she s come back to pick up the threads of her life.
John Revell, an old flame of Alice s, reluctantly comes to her aid when the house begins to reveal its secrets. The hill on which it sits is a place of legends of Old Harry, the Beast of Crawbeck, of the Virgin of the Height and of the mysterious Red Man and home to the secrets of the shadowy Arodias Thorne.
And now Alice and John stand between him and rest of our world…