A: Thanks for coming in, Pierce.
P: I’m getting through the changes, Antony. It takes time to remove a whole character. I’m having to rewrite whole chapters.
A: That’s not what I called you in about.
P: Oh? Are we going for lunch?
A: Lunch? Look at this fridge… come over here. It’s behind the desk. I’m serious. Get up. Look in there. Is it half a billy meat sandwich you’re after? Who do you think you are? Kevin Barry?
P: Right. Sorry. I know times are tough.
A: It’s the title.
P: The title? My novel’s title?
A: Say it out loud.
A: I want to know how you think it would be said.
P: It’s just a word like any other. Nothing odd about it. It’s just a title. Briars.
A: It’s just not quite there, is it?
P: Not “there”?
A: Not a title that’s going to jump off the newsprint. Nor the bookshop shelf. It’s just a boring title.
P: I don’t agree. It’s no worse than any other.
A: These are different times, Pierce. It’s a scurry for attention. We’re all rats trying to reach the last protruding timbers on a sinking ship.
P: That’s a lovely thing to say to a first-time novelist.
A: You can’t assume you’ve the attention of the man standing in Barker & Jones. He’s probably on the phone at the same time. Swiping.
P: Do you want me to think about different titles?
A: How ‘bout I throw one at you? We’ll play catch.
P: Okay. Go.
A: The Vietnamese Bicycle Repair Club.
P: Say again?
A: The Vietnamese Bicycle Repair Club.
P: But why?
A: Catchy, eh?
P: Is that a serious suggestion?
A: Why not?
P: The novel isn’t set in Vietnam. It’s set here, isn’t it? In Ireland.
A: The protagonist visits Vietnam. I’m sure he does.
P: That’s in a dream. It’s a brief allusion to a dream. And it’s not even Vietnam, it’s Korea.
A: And he rides a bike.
P: Again, briefly. He never repairs a bike, though. It’s nothing to do with the plot.
A: We’re looking for titles that grab the browser’s attention. I won’t deny we’re following a trend. You need something specific. A bit descriptive, a bit off-kilter.
P: But it’s a meaningless title! It’s got nothing to do with a detective story set in the midlands. In the Seventies. It will completely mislead the audience.
A: I’m trying to create an audience.
P: Can we try another one?
A: Okay. But wait a moment. What if you write in a flat tyre?
A: When he’s cycling from one place to another. You could have him run over a bit of glass, or something—I don’t want to put words in your head. Then he’d have to repair it.
P: Write your title into it?
A: It wouldn’t even interfere with the plot.
P: I don’t want to talk about this. Did you have any other suggestions? Something more to do with the book?
A: I had one or two more here. Scribbled down in my notepad.
P: That looks typed.
A: Figure of speech, Pierce. It’s the twenty-first century. Okay. Okay, here’s a good one.
P: It couldn’t be worse.
A: The Man Who Walked Up the Yard and Left the Gate Open Behind Him.
P: That’s a mouthful.
A: The kids upstairs will make the words look lovely. Hand-drawn letters all over the page.
P: Do we mean, like, metaphorically?
P: Like, that Flavin left himself open to the whole affair by not following procedure when working as a young Garda in Athlone? That his brother’s death could have been avoided if he’d interviewed everyone he should have after the bank robbery? He would have discovered Branigan’s involvement there and then. If only he’d “closed the gate after him”, as it were.
A: Who’s Flavin?
P: The protagonist.
A: Right. No, no. I was referring to a bit when he’s visiting his grandmother’s. He thinks he hears noises down the yard. I distinctly remember that you had him come back up to the house afterwards, through the yard gate.
A: And there was no mention of him closing it.
P: There wasn’t?
A: Definitely not. I made a note.
P: But… but that was immaterial! Nothing happens! It’s implied he closed it. We never hear about the gate again.
A: Won’t the reader be intrigued, though? Won’t wondering about that gate carry them all the way to the end of the book?
P: Look, Antony. None of these titles are about the story at all. You’re just coming up with meaningless hooks.
A: I’m doing my best to get us out of a jam, here. You could be a little more cooperative.
P: Even if this did make shoppers pick us out of a line-up, would it not confuse reviewers? Would we not get a rake of terrible reviews? “What in God’s name did they mean by the title”, et cetera?
A: Nobody reads book reviews. Is it New York City you think you’re in? Is it 1965? Will we go have a coffee in New York City and read a literary magazine? Hahaha.
P: Can’t we just go with Briars? I’ll let you do whatever you want with the cover. Whatever it takes to get people to pick it up.
A: Listen, I’ve only given you two so far. I’ve a whole page here. We’ll find something.
P: You can have one more go.
A: The Littlest Garda Station in Knockcroghery.
P: Where should I begin?
A: Start at the start, we’ll see if any of it’s insurmountable.
P: Well, the first thing is: where’s Knockcroghery? Because it’s not in the novel.
A: Small Roscommon village north of Athlone. Have you never been?
P: Why not Littlest Garda Station in Athlone, since parts of the novel are actually set there?
A: I figured “Knockcroghery” has a quirky sound to it. “Knockcroghery”. It’s quite close by. A short detour?
P: Leaving that aside, why would Flavin’s Garda station be the littlest? Or the largest, for the matter? Why would any village have more than one Garda Station?
A: Just say it out loud a few times. It’s got a lovely flow to it.
P: The Littlest Garda Station in Knockcroghery.
A: Say it again.
P: Do you’ve any more ideas?
A: The Harbourmaster’s Daughter.
A: The Busdriver’s Daughter.
A: The Bicycle Repairman’s Daughter.
A: The Chief Inspector’s Daughter.
P: At least that one has some conceivable connection to the plot. Not that the Inspector has a daughter.
A: I knew you’d like that. We’ll go with that, so.
P: I’m not adding a daughter. It’ll be June before I’ve managed to remove the character you objected to.
A: I mean, a woman publican. It’s just a bit weird, isn’t it?
P: I never should have signed that contract.
A: The Five People You’ll Meet in Knockcroghery.
P: What I don’t understand, Antony, is what you’re working towards. I can get a sense of it. I can feel a trend. But I can’t quite see the pattern.
A: You’d have to be a long time in this business before you get a nose like mine. You’d do well to accept my help.
P: I’m open to changing the title, I really am. Anything relevant.
A: Sergeant Flavin’s Sweet Potato Soup Sabbatical.