Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Swing The Big-Eyed Rabbit

I'm rather enjoying this being made redundant lark. In the last few days I have finished the screenplay I was writing (sent off to lovely agent Allan Guthrie. I'm sure it's crap, but I had great fun writing it and it was great experience), and I've written two short stories, with a third on the go.

I don't know why, but when I'm writing a short story, it generally starts off (at least) with a title that's a song. One of the stories is called What Do I Get? (the Buzzcocks) and another is called Bikini Girls With Machine Guns (the Cramps), although I'm contemplating changing that one to Hens (not a song title). The third one, which I have just started, and which is a sort of homage to NIGHTMARE ALLEY (one of my favourite noir books/films) is tentatively titled Depravity Lane (Alien Sex Fiend). None of the stories have anything to do with the content of the songs, by the way, it's just the titles. (And the story Bikini Girls With Machine Guns has neither girls in bikinis nor machine guns, incidentally.)

The title of this post is another song by The Cramps. It's also the name of a book by John Pleasant McCoy. When I found this in a used bookstore in America I snapped it up. How could I resist? I haven't read it yet, but the back cover blurb says 'SWING THE BIG-EYED RABBIT is a vivid novel filled with the lusty pleasures and primitive emotions of the backwoods people. Here they are in all their earthy splendor - from the hell-fire and damnation preacher to the lush and laughing girls. This is an unforgettable novel that has won high praise from critics for its zestful humor, Rabelasian characters and abounding vitality.'

I bought it at the same time as SWAMP BRAT by Allen O'Quinn. I found this one hard to resist because of the excerpt on the back cover:

'She stepped out from behind the tree trunk, her daddy's shotgun cradled in her arms.

"What are you doing here?" I said.

"Squirm, Eddie." All that black hair curtained her eyes, but she kept the gun slanted at my face.

"Look here, Rosamay, what you aim to do with that double barrel?"

"Maybe kill dogs, Eddie, maybe you. Look over my shoulder, Eddie. She's down there waiting for you, ain't she? All soft and pink and prettied up. Eddie, I swore up and down last night when you left me that I wouldn't let her have you in one piece. It ain't easy staying awake all night, Eddie, and when you do, you get dizzy in the head so you could do most anything. Eddie, I aim to kill you."

I am really rubbish at titles, but find it difficult to start writing without one. Is that just me? For the writers out there - how do you choose your titles? And for the readers - how important is a title to you?

Anyway, I digress. On to the Scottish crime fiction news.

Several prominent Scottish authors - including Ian Rankin and Karen Campbell - talk about books they are looking forward to reading this summer. Ian Rankin sends Allan Guthrie's kindle sales sky high with his praise. Excellent stuff.

Another list of books for the summer, including Morag Joss' AMONG THE MISSING. And the Herald chooses Karen Campbell's PROOF OF LIFE as one of theirs.

An excellent review of Doug Johnstone's THE OSSIANS over at Dear Scotland.

The Vancouver Sun calls Alexander McCall Smith "an old-fashioned writer plugged into today's world."

More on the mysterious Ian Rankin sculptures. And Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith are amongst authors backing Oxfam's Bookfest.

An interview with Kate Atkinson.

Thanks to Bill Crider for this website, which has some absolute crackers.

And, finally, it really took them over 8 hours? Not just Scotland's only theme park, but Scotland's slowest theme park. What on earth were they doing all that time?


  1. Um... that's John Pleasant McCoy, not Horace. I suspect that Horace McCoy would have been horrified at being called pleasant...

  2. Here's something I wrote about a discussion of titles I had with Helen FitzGerald: http://dogobarrygraham.blogspot.com/2011/02/stories-and-titles.html

  3. LOL - thanks Barry. Obviously I was thinking of that famous book THEY SHOOT RABBITS, DON'T THEY? :O)

  4. Donna - I just love those titles! And as for your writing question? I don't start with titles, but they often come to me as I'm writing. I don't need them, though, to move along with the story.

  5. Those are great titles, and if you like those books you should hunt down Swamp Sister by Robert Edmond Alter. It's James M. Cain in the bayou.

    I like titles that play on adages or plays on words. I have one "The Forest for the Trees" that should be appearing soon. Song titles are great, but it always feels like a bit of theft, using one, unless it's an obvious homage like "Beat on the Brat" by Nigel Bird.
    If the song title has nothing to do with the story, you're trying to evoke a feeling that only people who know the song will feel, and while that's fine, sometimes it's disingenuous. I've read quite a few books or stories that nicked titles from my favorite songsmiths and felt cheated when it felt like "this writer's never listened to Warren Zevon/Tom Waits/Hare-Lipped One-Legged Cross-Eyed McGee."

  6. Margot - sometimes the titles I choose first are just placeholders, but somehow I just have to have one when I start!

    Thomas - I know what you mean about theft - I do feel bad :o) All the song titles I choose are stuff I like, but it's never about the song, just the title, and it has to fit. I've been wanting to use the title of a BRMC track for ages - Beat The Devil's Tattoo - because I love the title, but haven't written a story that fits it yet :o) I will definitely track down Swamp Sister - sounds great!

  7. I can see you are in great shape, and I agree that Swamp Brat sounds fairly irresistible :D

    I am like you; I can´t write without a title, but I also need an outline, and I have to know the names of my main characters before I can make them come alive. I may change all these things later, but without them, I can´t write a single word.

    NB: it is not that I mind in the least being called DJ (that´s what my students do), but I fear that you have not noticed my fabulous, new blog: http://djskrimiblog.wordpress.com/

  8. Dorte - I really can't outline, but need character names, like you. Blogroll updated! I am a tad behind.

  9. What draws you to those books are the pulpy covers as much as the titles. Very striking.

  10. Jennifer - I totally agree. Those covers are great.