• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



Entitled to a good title – Fiona McIntosh on naming her books and series

I’ve been asked to talk about titles of books and titles of series. Are they important?

The very simple answer is yes. They are crucial, but that also goes for naming of characters and naming of worlds.

Sometimes titles come easily; my fantasy series have been easy to name. The individual book titles have been harder and I’ve probably struggled most with the current series, Valisar, in terms of what each volume’s name should be.

There are of course practicalities to consider. Firstly, the umbrella name of the series has to be easy to remember. Ask a bookseller how many times they’ve been confronted by a question along the lines of:

“I’m looking for a fantasy novel that I think has a forest or some sort of landscape on the cover. I don’t know the author and I’m not sure of the title but it might have a woman’s name in it. I think it begins with a letter near the end of the alphabet.” And from that alone a bookseller does his or her best to swing into action and help their customer.



So, as creator, it pays to use names that are snappy, rhythmic, easy to recall and as punchy as possible. And making the titles as easy to pronounce as possible pays dividends. There are times, of course, when a word is just too irresistible – as in the case of Odalisque for me. I was so in love with the word and what it meant, I couldn’t imagine a different title for my opening volume. But a lot of readers weren’t sure of its pronunciation and I imagine I put them in the situation of feeling slightly awkward about saying it out loud.

Marketing comes into it too. Once you’ve settled on an opening volume title, the subsequent book titles need to fit. For instance, once I’d named book one of Trinity, Betrayal, I had to ensure that the second and third volumes only had one word for their titles so that I didn’t compromise the styling of the cover. You do have to consider how the cover and art all works because people DO judge books by their covers. We all do it – we’re attracted to a cover, pick it up because we like the name of it or the artwork. Whether we buy it depends on other factors but the initial move to pick it up and consider it is driven by how the cover attracts us and the name, the font, the rhythm of that title are all important elements.

Rhythm is actually vital. I work hard to ensure a natural rhythm exists for all titles and that they orchestrate well together as a series. I extend that to naming people and locations as well. Naming of characters is one of the most important elements of a successful novel. Get it right and your hard work goes unnoticed. Get it wrong and it can come back and bite you.

I managed to get it wrong in The Quickening and although most readers were very forgiving, thank you all, I was aware of naming two kings, both key characters, with the letter C. How crazy of me! Although they sounded perfectly right in my mind i.e. soft c Celimus and hard c Cailech, on the page they are two Cs and the reader’s eye picks that up and the brain can be easily and totally understandably confused.

Work hard on names. It’s worth the effort to find that perfect rhythm. For me, I have never written a better name than Romen Koreldy. It just works in my head. And it suited him perfectly. Kyt Cyrus from Trinity and Kilt Faris from Valisar sit neatly in my mind too … but I see a pattern emerging! I’ll have to get off the k’s from now on.

Myrren's Gift

Myrren's Gift, featuring Fynch

Imagine your character using their name, being called it and seeing how it sits around them. Calling a really giant man Tim, for instance or a really tiny boy Godzilla only really works if you want a sense of irony achieved. Fynch in The Quickening had an aspect of this….he was a tiny, birdlike boy who ate little and flitted around. He suited his name but it had a sense of irony around it.

Beware the complex, hard to pronounce names, with symbols or apostrophes because they often serve to confuse a reader and make them feel inadequate. Readers end up making a sound in their mind that matches what they’re looking at instead, so while you’ve created the amazing name of Baron Von Schr’A-V’Arvarass, they’ll likely just hear Sharvas in their head whenever they approach that name because that approximates what their eye reads quickly. You don’t need complexity in a name to make it otherworldly. You don’t want anything in your prose that makes the reader stumble or pause because the moment that happens, the wonderful bubble of the world you’ve worked so hard to build around them bursts … and they’re back in their sitting room or on the train.

Naming anything is fun though, so enjoy it. It should be a challenging but incredibly satisfying process and you will know when a name slots neatly into place that it’s the right one for that book, or that series, or that character. It will have no rough edges and it will wrap itself around your tongue and move around your mind smoothly. Mostly it won’t let go. And then you know it’s right. But if you’re ever unsure and you can’t be assured, then change it, because if you’re hesitant, the reader will almost certainly be reluctant to hear that name as perfectly as you want.

Percheron is the name of a carpet manufacturer in Europe. I found it in a lifestyle magazine but I knew the instant I saw it that it was my exotic land in the series of the same name. I know it’s also the name of a horse breed but none of that mattered. Percheron was always right. The same occurred for Valisar. I know it sounds like a French suitcase, I really do! But I was playing with names a couple of Christmases ago and I wrote down Valize and then Velise. I figured it needed a third syllable to work. Valisar arrived in my mind like a thunderbolt and it stuck. It sounded like a grand family … it suited a royal dynasty. I wish the naming of the individual volumes would sneak into my head with such ease.

Book two has a working title of Tyrant’s Blood. We’ll see. Sometimes these working names stick!

Fiona McIntosh’s latest book, Royal Exile, Valisar Book One, is now out.

Click here to visit Fiona’s website.

4 Responses

  1. Hi
    I agree, on the whole, re: giant’s name -I really enjoy a good irony, but wouldn’t want to be one. 🙂

    Tim, medium-sized human & fantasy reader in Canberra

    PS maybe that tricky baron’s would just end up being morphed into, say, Chivas Regal? 🙂

  2. I thought you’d be tiny, Tim!

  3. Oh hardy har har. 🙂

    When I get to Conflux in October, I’ll most definitely be in my customary non-extreme dimensions.

    I’ll leave any tip-toeing through tulips to someone else. Anyone else.


  4. Sometimes names just come through from a dream. I have a few that I’m thinking of where I’d place them. I see a definite person with a nature and the name is just, well, deliciously suited to them, even if my husband says it sounds silly (he only reads literary fiction or horror).

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