For most of my travel-writing career, coming up with a book title wasn’t an issue. Here’s how it usually went.
Me: I’ve finished that book you sent me to write, on Sicily.
Rough Guide Editor: Great, thanks.
Me: So, I was thinking maybe ‘The Amazing Guide to Sicily by Jules’. You know, for the title?
Rough Guide Editor: Jules, we talked about this…
Me: Or ‘Sicilian Adventures by the Amazing Jules’, I quite like that one too.
Rough Guide Editor: [sighs] It’s going to be ‘The Rough Guide to Sicily’ by Jules Brown.
Me: By the Amazing Jules Brown?
Rough Guide Editor: [firmly] No. Oh, is that the phone/fire alarm/Armageddon, I’m afraid I have to go. [hastily looks through filing cabinet] Look, here’s another contract, don’t come back, I mean, look forward to seeing you in another two years. Bye.
Needless to say, coming up with a proper title for my new book was a little more complicated than that. For a start, it’s not a guidebook – instead, it’s a collection of stories, adventures and experiences based on my travels. Old habits die hard though and ‘The Rough Guide to Jules’ sat on top of the manuscript for a few weeks before being jettisoned.
And while it’s a travel book, it’s not a single journey, adventure or concept that I could reflect in the title. I didn’t travel ‘Across the Andes by Frog’ – sadly, because that’s just about the greatest travel title of all time (one of Michael Palin’s ‘Ripping Yarns’, as it happens). Nor did I go for a short walk in the Hindu Kush, travel the road to Oxiana, spend a year in Provence, drive over some lemons, or do any eating, praying or loving – though come to think of it, any of those would be a great title for a travel book. Note to self.
What I had instead was a collection of personal travel stories and experiences with a beginning, middle and end, and while they were drawn from my writing and travelling life, they didn’t amount to a biography or memoir – which isn’t what I wanted to write in any case. As a collection of stories, however, it did seem to hinge on two things – being given a dream start as a traveller by being accidentally born in Africa to English parents, and then dreaming of escape while growing up in small-town Yorkshire. That gave me ‘Takoradi’ and ‘Huddersfield’, and two more unlikely towns in the same sentence you will never find. Add in my career with Rough Guides, an ongoing search for heart and home in any place I visit, and the scattering of my dead father’s ashes to the stars, and I had all the right words for a title. Just not, as the great Eric Morecambe once said, necessarily in the right order.
So I spent a few days writing down titles and trying them out. All sounded like journeys (‘From…to…’) or memoirs (‘The boy from…’), and none was quite right, until a very wise friend suggested that the title should at least try to be humorous – because I think I’ve written a funny book – and that there was nothing more humorous than Huddersfield. Which, if you’ve grown up there, is a suggestion that you will either agree with instantly or take a violent objection to. I’m in the former camp.
The same friend was also of the opinion that putting something in parentheses makes it even funnier. (We’ll see about that.)
And that, in short, is how I ended up with:
Takoradi to the stars (via Huddersfield):
travels from heart and home by a Rough Guide author
A title can’t do everything. This one doesn’t alert you to the fact that I once ate a puffin or crash-landed in Tehran, though both of those stories are in the book. But I think it does enough to suggest that this might be a book worth reading, by a writer with something to say. It’s whimsical and warm, and just a little bit intriguing (and the parentheses definitely help with that, good call).
I hope there’s enough here to attract readers who don’t know me but have heard of Rough Guides; who are tantalised by exotic destinations (and Huddersfield); and who have their own travel dreams, and see something in the title that speaks to the long life journey that we all make.
The book is out now. I guess we’ll see.