Monday, 18 September 2023

What's in a title? How and why we decided on Whatever You Do, Just Don't...

A few years back, Nell from HappenStance sent me feedback on a poem. She told me “I like it, Matthew, but the title’s dead.” That phrase has stuck with me ever since. What did she mean? Well, the implicit conclusion is that the title wasn’t contributing anything extra, not drawing the reader in, not adding an extra layer, not coming alive. It was simply there as a placeholder, as if for internal use only.

And I was very much reminded of this exchange when we went through the process of deciding on a title for my second full collection. My initial suggestions were perfectly neat, summarising key themes or bringing them together, but Nell rejected them all, one by one, explaining once again that they weren’t bringing anything to the party.

She then came back to me with a list of potential alternatives. One of them leapt out at me. The one that she might not have expected me to embrace, the one that threw caution to the wind but worked perfectly: Whatever you Do, Just Don’t.

I was recalling her advice from years ago when we made the decision. This title is memorable, and that’s a good start, though it’s not enough on its own. From my perspective, the most important quality is that it intrigues and ushers you in, making you wonder exactly what you’re being told not to do. And in terms of getting to grips with the book, the implicit question is significant. Otherwise, this title could simply be seen as a gimmick.

So…what does Whatever You Do, Just Don’t actually refer to? Well, if you want to find out the answer, the best way is to get hold of a copy via this link to the HappenStance webshop…!!!

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