I am delighted to announce, as they say, that the novel formerly known as The New Novel, My Current Novel, The Work-in-Progress, The Beast or, on a really bad day, This Bloody Novel, has finally been christened. On Monday we settled on A Secret Alchemy, and today I delivered the final draft to my editor. I've been rolling the title round my tongue ever since and it just gets better and better. But after all the fretting and brain-storming and digging in books, I'm thinking, 'Of course. That was always what it should have been called. Why on earth didn't we think of it before?'
I suspect it's the sign of having found the right title: the feeling that it's been there all along. It's almost like a mini-version of the sense that many (most?) writers have: that the book exists, and all you have to do is chip away - or struggle through the fog - until you can see it. Once you have seen it and written it you forget about the mistakes, the changes of mind, the struggles to make plot and characters fit together. Unless the literary equivalent of the art restorer's x-ray machine is trained on it, revealing the pentimenti under the paint, that wholeness is how you, as the writer, come to experience the book too.
I've been aware of this recently because I've been thinking more about The Mathematics of Love than I have for a while. I had a dig through it to find passages to read for my talk at Goldsmiths, and I've had a run of nice emails from readers. And in the same week, I heard that not only is the US chain Target (apparently roughly equivalent to our Marks & Spencer or John Lewis) putting the new US paperback in its promotions in the new year, but Borders over here is doing the same with the UK paperback. I've even been stacking copies of the book in my own bag, to sell to friends and colleagues who've asked for it. The Mathematics of Love is an object, as well as an idea: an autonomous entity.
I don't usually bother this blog with book trade-y stuff, but what I'm trying to explore is the way that thinking of The Mathematics of Love ranked on the bookshop shelves, handling the fat, familiar copies, and going back to the actual words I wrote, together have made me feel hints of A Secret Alchemy as the same kind of whole, complete and independent entity. I'm still aware of all the things I've changed and developed in it, the things that have fallen away, and the last-minute additions, and no doubt I'll be reminded of them through the copy-editing and proof-reading and so on. Then there's seeing the cover, always a hugely important, even emotional, moment. And as cover and title operate together, the cover casts a new light on the title too. Hearing what others think of it is another step towards the novel's autonomy, because sometimes they see things you didn't know were there. Even being told the ISBNs for the different editions gives them more autonomy, from me and from each other.
Somehow, bit by bit, over the next year, the slow process that is publishing will condense my idea - the hazy pattern, the cloud of unknowing in my head that has become my novel A Secret Alchemy - into a real, live book.