A Winter by any other name

by M.J. Hearle

When I finished typing ‘The End’ on the first draft of Winter’s Shadow, the title on the front page, was not actually Winter’s Shadow – it was SHADE. This was the title I’d had in mind from the very beginning. Even before the story had fully taken shape. It was short, punchy, evocative and, even better, had more than one definition. Thirteen definitions actually. The two I was interested in were:

1. An area or a space of partial darkness.
2. A disembodied spirit; a ghost.

I actually included these definitions at the start of the book as an interesting way to preface the story and to hint at the supernatural shenanigans within. So Shade was the book I submitted to literary agents, Shade was the book that got me a publishing deal and Shade was the book I thought would have my name on it in stores. Unfortunately, for me there was another YA Paranormal novel released just before I signed on the dotted line with my publisher Pan Mac called, you guessed it – Shade. Great minds think alike.

Thus, began the hair pulling task of trying to come up with a new title. My publisher and agent helpfully contributed ideas but nothing seemed to jump out at me. Titles like Haunted and Breathless were bandied about but I felt they were a little generic. A quick glance in the YA paranormal section of your local bookstore reveals dozens of similarly themed one word titles. I didn’t want mine to be lost in the crowd.

The book had been Shade in my mind for so long that it was difficult for me to imagine it being called anything else. And then I had a brainwave – TRAVELLER.

The supernatural creatures in my book were called Travellers. They could move or Travel, if you will, through shadows, covering vast locations in the blink of an eye. Like Shade, Traveller was a one word title that was suitably evocative, yet didn’t bore me. Feeling very proud of myself, I did a quick google search just to check that this title hadn’t been preemptively stolen by another author. Of course it had. According to Wikipedia, The Traveller was a 2005 YA novel that also happened to be an international bestseller. It’s currently in preproduction to be a major Hollywood film. Reading the synopsis, The Traveller seemed more like a dystopian style novel than a paranormal but it was still YA which meant there would be a potential audience crossover. Worse still, the novel featured beings called Travellers who had the ability to move, not through shadows, but through elements like water, fire etc into other realms. This isn’t exactly the same as my book but it was close enough to make me depressed. So now I had two problems. Not only did I have to find a new name for my book but I had to find a new name for my creatures as well. AAAARGH!

So Shade was out, Traveller was out and I didn’t want to call it Torment, or Passion, or Bitter Twilight or something like that. The title needed to have some kind of emotional resonance and it also had to make sense in the context of the story. One day after sitting around staring blankly at the list I’d compiled, a list which included not only my ideas but dozens of names sourced from my agent, publisher, parents and girlfriend, I had one of those eureka moments writer’s dream about. Winter’s Shadow. The book would be called Winter’s Shadow. Immediately it felt right. Not only did the title compliment the story but it would lend itself to other potential novels in the series. The sequel could be called Winter’s Light. Other books could be called Winter’s Fall, Winter’s Heart, Winter’s Sandwich – you get the idea.

A quick sidenote before we continue:

Winter Adam’s was not the first choice for my young heroine’s name.

She was originally called Elodie Winters – a name I’m still very fond of. A few years ago I was living in London, and my girlfriend was sharing a flat with a French girl. Her name was Elodie. I can’t remember much about her, but the name ‘Elodie always struck me as being uniquely beautiful. Writers are like magpies, we pick out shiny objects and hide them away in our nests to gloat over at a later date. ‘Elodie’ was one such object. The ‘Winter’s’ part of her name came from one of my favourite shows – Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Like Buffy, I wanted Elodie to be a positive role model for young women. Buffy’s last name was Summers, so it wasn’t too taxing on my old imagination to come up with ‘Winters’. While we’re on the topic of the inspirations behind my character names, ‘Blake’ comes from the Romantic poet, William Blake.

End of sidenote.

I emailed my fancy new title off to my brilliant publisher, Alice. She loved Winter’s Shadow though foresaw a problem. If it was to refer to the lead character, then it would make more sense for ‘Winter’ to be Elodie’s first name. Initially, I balked at this suggestion. After all ‘Winter’ is a pretty damn florid name for a character. We’re edging a little into Mills and Boon territory. The more I thought about it though the more I liked it. Eventually, I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner. Elodie was Winter. Winter was Elodie. Yes. However, if her first name was going to be Winter she needed to have a plain surname. Something like Smith or…Adams.

And so Winter’s Shadow begat Winter Adams – a bit of a backwards way of working I know, but I guess I’m a backwards kind of guy. I had my title, and my lead character name locked down. There were still a few wobbly aspects of the story that needed working on – the Travellers had to be called something else – but I was in a good place to start the editing process with my publisher. I’d already been through several drafts with my agent so I was confident this process would be pretty painless.

Suffice to say, it wasn’t, but we’ll tackle that it in the next post.

P. S. A month before Winter’s Shadow hit bookstores, another novel called Winters Shadow was released. It was a Mills and Boon style romantic novel. I nearly cried.

M. J.