I’ve spent a lot of time this week tinkering with the title for a new writing course that will be linked to the local archives. We’ve done the meetings and the discussion about content, structure and themes, so you might assume that the title would be the easy part. Surely not something that will involve a Ping-Pong of emails.
But how do you sum-up a seven week course in half-a-dozen words? I need something eye-catching, enticing and straight-forward that says this is a hybrid course and it will include writing, researching and ideas for ways to present family history and memoir so that it can be easily shared.
I’ve learned to be careful, ever since someone turned up to one of my ‘Creative Writing’ classes expecting to learn about Calligraphy. They stayed, to see what I meant by creative, and re-discovered an enjoyment in word-play that had lain dormant since their schooldays, but I can’t depend on such a lucky outcome.
Titles, I find, are tricky. From the readers point of view they are a promise, an enticement to take part. They can be direct, as my class titles need to be, but even then, readers might not take the same meaning from my combination of words that I think I’m providing. So, I negotiate with my WEA organizer over what we think my words suggest.
Ambiguity can be interesting and desirable in fiction. In reading groups we spend a lot of time investigating the way a title works on a text. Where does it come from? Is it directing us to read in a specific way, for instance, pushing us towards a theme? How does it fit with the content: complementary or contrarily? These are only some of the questions that have come up in relation to the James Joyce, Elizabeth Taylor and W. Somerset Maugham stories I’ve been discussing with groups over the last two weeks. They’ve been fertile questions, raising diverse opinions and re-assessments and sending me back to read again something I thought I’d already got to grips with.
So it makes a change for me to be working on making my meaning simple, instead of looking for something witty and capable of multiple meanings. But I’m glad we have now found the necessary words.