Saturday, 27 November 2010

What’s in a name?

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I discovered the Lulu Titlescorer the other day. It’s a nifty little online tool; you enter the title of your novel, along with some information about the words it’s made up of, and it tells you what chance a book with that title has of being a bestseller. Apparently the program is based on an analysis of 50 years’ worth of fiction titles that have topped the New York Times bestseller list.

The bad news is that, on the basis of their titles at least, none of the three novels I’ve completed to date is going to get me onto that list: Grown-Up People, First Time I Met The Blues and The Celebrity Next Door all scored a measly 10.2% - barely above the minimum possible score of 9%. Slightly more encouragingly, my work in progress, Going Back, scored 20.1%. I’ve been regarding that as strictly a working title, to be replaced by something better at a later stage, but maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to discard it.

Out of curiosity, I ran a few randomly chosen famous titles through the program as well, to see if the professionals are any better at naming their novels. The results were mixed: Far From The Madding Crowd scored the same as me, 10.2%, while Portnoy’s Complaint and Bridget Jones’s Diary both managed a scarcely more impressive 14.6%. Catcher In The Rye (a title I’ve always disliked – shows what I know) did better, with 26.3%, but the winner in this hugely unscientific survey was Midnight’s Children, with a whopping 44.2%.

I’m not sure any of this proves anything, of course, but it does mean I can legitimately compare myself to Thomas Hardy in one respect at least.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

In praise of e (squared)

To be frank, I’ve had a bugger of a time at work recently, and one of the few things that have kept me sane has been a novel: e squared, by one of my favourite contemporary writers, Matt Beaumont.

It’s a sort of sequel to e, which came out in 2000 and was notable for being (to my knowledge, at least) the first novel written entirely in emails. Set in an advertising agency called Miller Shanks, it skewered that world deliciously – and e squared repeats the trick, with bells on. The scene has moved to another agency, Meerkat360, which is so bleeding-edge that the Creative Director hires an in-house hairdresser, clown and busker. Some of the characters from e reappear, and as the technology has moved on, so have the narrative modes: alongside email we get text messages, blogs, instant messaging and online news reports.

I’ve always loved satire, and Beaumont is a superbly scurrilous satirist. Almost every one of the 20-odd main characters is deeply flawed, and blissfully unaware of it. It’s no accident that the nearest thing the book has to a hero is a gambling addict who alienates everyone who cares for him – but his saving grace is that he knows he’s an idiot, unlike those who surround him.

All Matt Beaumont’s half a dozen novels are excellent, but the last couple have been a shade more thoughtful. e squared, though, is unashamedly frivolous and hilarious. As someone who works in the media (though not in advertising, thankfully), I’ve enjoyed being reminded how ridiculous what I do for a living actually is.