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by Douglas Lindsay - 09:09 on 25 September 2008As I wrote last week, the original title of The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson was The Barber’s Surgeon’s Hairshirt. I confess that I arrived at the title The Barber Surgeon’s Hairshirt by going through the dictionary, writing down every word that I could find that related in any way whatsoever to hair or barbershops, threw them up into the air and picked the ones that looked the most interesting when they landed. (In the end it was between The Barber Surgeon's Hairshirt and Gel Scissors Quaff Perm, and I went for the former.)
The entirely arbitrary nature of its conception aside, it’s a pretty good title, which I only ditched as I was sending the book to publishers who had already rejected it, and I wanted the manuscript to pass the initial check against a database of Rejected Mince From the Slushpile. (Actually, I don’t know if publishers keep a database of Rejected Mince From The Slushpile, but I was working on the basis that they did.)
So when the second Barney Thomson book came around I used the title again. This time it actually had some relevance, given that Barney ended up in a monastery, he was consumed by remorse, and the subject of hairshirts even came up without it being a stretch. Piatkus didn’t like it however, and asked for a new title.
The obvious title would have been A Prayer For Barney Thomson. Unfortunately I didn’t think of that as a title until the third book in the series, which was odd given that the reason I thought of it was because I had read, years earlier, A Prayer For Owen Meany and really enjoyed it.
Piatkus asked for a title that included Barney Thomson and referenced hairdressing in some way. Oh for God’s sake, I thought at the time, you don’t have to treat the audience like they’re that stupid. But I didn’t say that. I went away and thought up twenty other titles and sent them an e-mail. I can’t remember most of those titles, although I knew that they were all rubbish. Thirty-Three Murders and A Funeral I think was one of them. Genocide of the Monks, that was another. They would have been terrible titles. In the middle of all this mince, I threw in The Cutting Edge of Barney Thomson. I thought it was terrible as well, but I knew they’d take it, as it met the conditions. Which they did.
Should I ever need to publish another edition of Barney no.2, I think I'll go back to my original intention and call it The Barber Surgeon’s Hairshirt. That’s a title worth keeping.
For that second book someone at Piatkus did actually suggest the name The Final Cut. We rejected this, as The Final Cut seemed a bit premature for the second book in the series. I’m now using it for the seventh book, which makes more sense. This book, when I originally wrote it for the German market, was known as Limited Edition, as the story is set amongst marketing executives in London.
I thought of all this today when I saw in the shop just along the road from our house in the Warsaw suburb where we live, a packet of beer flavoured crisps, marked Edycja Limitowana.
Beer flavoured crisps. The culmination of thousands of years of civilisation. Must be time for First Contact.
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