A couple of people at events I've done recently have asked me about the titles of the books; where they come from, and which comes first, the title or the story? To which my answer is usually, "Errrrr....", because of course there is no hard-and-fast rule about it - at least, not the way I work. But here's a quick list of titles and how they came to be, in case anyone else is interested.
The title of Mortal Engines didn't arrive until long after the book was finished. One of the first things I thought of when I started the story was a title; Urbivore!, which I thought was pretty neat. Scholastic, however, didn't, so they asked me to change it prior to publication. I tried out out a lot of other names which didn't work, until I was reduced to going through the Dictionary of Quotations looking for anything that related to cities, engineers, engines... The one I eventually settled on is from Othello: "And, O you mortal engines, whose rude throats/The immortal Jove's dread clamours counterfeit,". It's strange now to think that it was ever called anything else.
Predator's Gold, on the other hand, was easy peasy; the phrase cropped up early on in the manuscript, and instantly looked like a title. Infernal Devices was trickier. I started out writing a huge book that was meant to conclude the trilogy. I planned to call it A Darkling Plain, which is a quote from Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, a bleak and beautiful poem about the importance of love in a world where religious faith has proved unsustainable 'And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept with confus'd alarms of struggle and flight/ Where ignorant armies clash by night.' I think I was drawn to it at first because it sounded cool, and suited the world of the books, what with its darkling plain and ignorant armies and all (I think I'd considered it as a title for Mortal Engines). But the elegiac tone of it appealed too, and felt more and right as I began to realise where the story of Tom and Hester was going. Unfortunately the book ended up much too huge, and kept breaking in half, so I decided to split it into two volumes. I wanted to use a phrase from TS Eliot, 'Look to Windward' as a title for the first installment, but Ian M Banks had written with a book of that name, so I changed mine to Infernal Devices; in retrospect my least favourite title in the quartet.*
With A Darkling Plain wrapped up, I left the World of Mortal Engines behind and set to work on finishing my King Arthur book, which was known for many years as My King Arthur Book. It was one of my editors at Scholastic, the excellent Katy Moran, who eventually suggested Here Lies Arthur, a neat double meaning and a reference to Malory into the bargain. And it was while I was working on that that I thought of the name Fever Crumb, and decided I'd have to go back to the WoME, find out who she was, and write a novel about her; a novel whose title would be the main character's name, in the tradition of Jane Eyre and David Copperfield (for a while I even called it The Life and Adventures of Fever Crumb).
Meanwhile, Larklight was a name that I'd had kicking around for decades, ever since it came to me in a dream (it might have been suggested by Fairlight, a place in East Sussex). Starcross is a railway station which I pass on the way to Exeter (and was coincidentally one of the stops on Isambard Kingdom Brunel's atmospheric railway), while a Mothstorm was what faced us when we moved into our present house - the previous owner had stored un-cured wool in the cupboards. And No Such Thing As Dragons was another book with no name for a long while, until in desperation I thought, What would Geraldine McCaughreancall it?
A Web of Air is based on another quotation, this time from Charlotte Bronte - 'We wove a web in childhood/ A web of summer air' - which seemed to sum up both the conquest-of-the-air theme of the story and the lighter, slighter, sunnier tone that I was aiming for. And the new book has proved another tough one: for a long time it was just called Fever 3 while I dithered about with long lists of possible titles, some rejected by Scholastic because 'They don't have child appeal**', others which seemed like a good idea for a time but then lost their relevance as the story developed. (For a few months it was called Nomad's Land, but that came to seem too light and punning for what turned out to be quite a tragic and bloody tale). In the end I found the title lurking in the text itself; Scrivener's Moon; the season in which the action takes place, and a hint that Fever will be discovering more about her Scriven heritage...
* There's no copyright on titles, but it seems to me to be a good idea to try to avoid using one that someone else has used, especially if their book is recent or well known. Since writing Infernal Devices I've found that there's a book of that title by KW Jeter, which is annoying. And to add to the possible confusion, Cassandra Clare has published a series called The Infernal Devices (and by some peculiar coincidence she has another called TheMortal Instruments). Nowadays, of course, the first thing I do upon thinking of a title is to google it and see if it's already taken, but I had no access to the internet while I was writing the Mortal Engines quartet - if I had, it wouldn't be called the Mortal Engines quartet, since a quick visit to Amazon would have told me that there were already two other books with that title: one a collection of stories by Stanislaw Lem and the other a book on sports medicine.
**This is also the reason why my World Book day story Traction City Blues has had its title changed to plain ol' Traction City.
Sam's Warhammer craze has faded away for the time being, and he has gone back to his first love, which was tractors. When he was little he played with anything tractor-like that he could get his hands on, and we grew used to being woken at 6am each day by the brrrrm brrrrrm brrrm as they were propelled around his bedroom floor. Then he decided that they were babyish, and they were replaced by Space Marines and their unlikely tanks. But come hay-making time, when the fields across the valley were busy with tractors and swath-turners, balers and trailers, all the old farm toys came out of the loft, and an entire fictional farm has grown up around them, with grass clippings brought in from the garden to be turned and baled, and gravel from the drive appropriated to build little dry-stone walls.
In his younger days Sam was happy to mix up different scales of tractor, but now everything has to be 1/32nd scale, and even time is scaled down: one hour on his farm equals one day on a real one. Every now and then he gets depressed because he's 'finished everything', like Alexander the Great weeping because there are no more worlds to conquer. But then we move a bit of a furniture and expose a whole new stretch of carpet which needs to be walled, cultivated, seeded and grazed, and all is well again. If he's still keen next year we might move the whole operation into the garden and plant some actual crops.
I must confess to slightly to missing the Warhammer stuff: I enjoyed painting all those tiny figures, and I think that's what set me drawing again. But all the scenery we made has been absorbed into the farm, and no doubt the little armies will have their day again when Sam's older. Meanwhile, we still occasionally look at the website of Forgeworld, a branch of Games Workshop which sells models so exquisite and expensive that it's impossible to even imagine buying one; we can but gaze at the computer screen like urchins pressing their noses to a toyshop window. I mention it only because the Forgeworld designers sometimes seem to be drawing ideas from the same well where I dredged up the WoME. A few people have asked me what the landships that roll around Fever Crumb's world look like. Well, they look a bit like this:
Here's a snippet of thrilling news for the eager millions who have been breathlessly awaiting a Fever Crumb audiobook: I shall be heading off to London in a week or so to record one. It will be released in the US in March to tie in with the launch of the Fever Crumb paperback (the very lovely new cover of which I hope to show you soon) and will presumably become available in the UK around the same time.
Hopefully all that bedtime story work I've been doing for Sam will have prepared me to spend whole days reading my own deathless prose into a microphone, and my voice will last the course.
I imagine the end result will sound something like this. Only for NINE HOURS.
What with one thing and another I find that I've lost the urge to blog lately. Doing a drawing a day is eating into the time I used to spend updating this site, and having to produce a good chunk of the new fantasy story every two days so that I can read the next episode to Sam at bedtime is surprisingly time-consuming, too. And I just find it hard to believe that anyone's really interested in what I get up to, so while I had an interesting and enjoyable week by my standards - champagne with Sarah MacIntyre at the launch of The House of Illustration, three events at the StarLit Festival, a visit to Rokeby School in Norbiton - I haven't come back feeling that I have to write about them, and when I tried it turned out rather like those dreary 'Wot I Did On My Hollidays' essays they made me write at school every September. Also, I came home to find that my inbox had been swamped with an e-mail asking if it's true that Tomas Alfredson is to direct a movie of Larklight, as reported on that there internet - but I can't write about that either, since I know no more than the internet does (although I can confirm that Warner Brothers currently own the rights to Larklight, so I assume it's all official).
Anyway, it did make me go searching through my highly efficient filing system for the Larklight movie script which I was sent a few years back ( a script remarkable mainly for its total lack of resemblance to Larklight). I didn't find it, but while I was upending cardboard boxes onto the floor I came across a very old notebook containing what I think was the first inkling of the idea for Mortal Engines. At the time the mobile city was just going to be one element in a different story, set in an alternate Nineteenth Century where zzzzzz... Luckily the new idea was so much stronger that it soon broke free, re-established itself in the Distant Future and set about having little baby ideas of its own. At this early stage I hadn't thought of draining the North Sea so London's travels were confined to the British Isles; the plot concerned the Lord Mayor's attempts to build a channel bridge so that it could trundle off and eat Paris. There seem to have been a confusing number of protagonists, one of whom was called 'Charles Natsworthy(?)'. 'Hester a construction site rebel?' suggests the scrawl in the bottom right corner. 'Shame to lose A.C.' says a note on another page - though obviously I did lose A.C, and so completely that I now have no idea who or what he/she/it might have been. Indeed, most of the thoughts I scribbled here have been so thoroughly buried by later ideas that it's hard to believe I ever had them: was there really a time when there were no Stalkers in the WoME? When Miss Fang was Miss Xiao? (although there is a reference to another character called Septimus Fang). And I wonder who on earth Hake and Thistlebrush were?
I'm sure all this drawing is good for the soul, but it doesn't leave much time for updating the blog. Something that I mentioned on my Facebook page recently, but forgot to post here, is the interview I did for Hortorian.com, in which they asked some good questions, and allowed me to bimble on at length about my approach to writing. There's a link here.
There's also been a lot of new stuff on the Solitary Bee, including my interview with Ian Beck.
Today I'm braving Tube Strike Chaos and heading up to London, where I'll be appearing at the StarLit festival and also visiting Rokeby School. Hopefully much writing will get done on the train, though I expect I'll just end up staring out of the window as usual.