Titles for works of fiction often cause authors a lot of soul-searching. Ideally, we want to give potential readers clues about content, theme, style, and storyline. Not easy in anything from one to, say, a dozen words. Of course, the best titles are revealed as obvious choices once a book’s been read, so this series is largely for those who’ve yet to read the books featured here.
I struggled with the title for my first published novel. The major theme of the story is the effect of corruption on innocence. But I also wanted to explore how good and evil react with each other, how easy it is for outside observers to completely misjudge the character and actions of an individual. And I wanted to dive into the vexed questions of how religion is perceived as a guide to goodness and how faith can have such a devastating hold on certain people.
My first attempt at a novel was a thriller written on lined paper, using a fountain pen. I’d begun that work with a thorough plot, written down. After writing 75,000 words, following my plot, I re-read the piece and was appalled at the poor quality of storytelling. I threw the whole sheaf into the bin, long before we understood the benefits of paper recycling!
I realised I needed a different approach and ventured into the mysterious world of the pantster. For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a type of creative ‘writing by the seat of your pants’. In other words, it’s the construction of a story without a plot to follow. I began this story with my characters, a habit I’ve continued with all my subsequent novels.
For ‘Breaking Faith’ I needed a male protagonist who could be viewed ambiguously – some would see him as a bad man, others as a man trying to be good. I also needed a young, innocent woman, raised in the tradition of faith, which was the first name I gave her. She was the child of a man who professed his love of Christianity, and I made her the eldest of three girls, with the other two inevitably named Hope and Charity. Hope was a metaphor for wishful thinking, in that she was really no more than a lump of insensible flesh; a baby born with no functioning brain but maturing to adulthood without purpose. Charity was a metaphor for hypocrisy; a wildly sexual being whose life was entirely devoted to hedonism that made her seem generous with her body when she was simply gaining as much personal pleasure as possible.
Faith, of course, was the conflicted character who would most grow with the story. Her interaction with the male protagonist, Leigh, and their developing relationship creating changes in both, would form the bulk of the story. Her appalling father, a bully and hypocrite, had raised her to believe in the Bible, refusing her proper schooling and keeping her at home, ostensibly safe from corruption, but really so she could act as domestic slave to him and unpaid carer for her vegetative sister, Hope. Her education at the start of the story rested entirely on the Bible, a book of prayer and service invented by her father, a dictionary with certain words blacked out, and a one volume encyclopaedia with similar modifications. She had no access to radio or TV.
Leigh, the local glamour photographer considered the most eligible bachelor in the region, would be the accidental catalyst, growing her from obedient servant to rounded and loving independent companion, as she would, in turn, change his superficial and mostly hedonistic lifestyle into something more meaningful. Other characters would include a misogynist darkroom assistant, photographic models, businessmen, an unknown mother and father, a housekeeper and a gardener, and an old man with a troubling secret. I set the story in 1976, a year of heat and drought, in the natural beauty of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, a place I’ve loved as a walker, and where I once lived for a while.
So, to the title: I wanted something short, something to indicate conflict for the main character but containing an element of ambiguity relating to her religious background. In the end, ‘Breaking Faith’ seemed the obvious choice. To become a whole human being, she would have to be ‘broken’ first. And her faith must be brought into question. The mistake I made with this first published novel was a failure to check out the title on Amazon (at the time, Goodreads, the obvious go-to site for book titles, didn’t exist). I only discovered after publication through a company called YouWriteOn.com, backed by the English Arts Council, there were very many books published under the same title, a lot of them entirely devoted to the Christian faith! Part of the charitable deal with the publisher was the offer of a book cover if the writer felt unable to supply one. I assumed they’d read the book and supply a suitable cover. I present that cover below, and think you’ll agree it has a very ‘religious’ appearance, which is why I then designed my own cover, as seen at the top of this post.
So, that’s the story of how my mystery romance became titled ‘Breaking Faith’. If you haven’t read it, please consider it. You’ll find conflict, love, bigotry, tension, some erotic content (all relevant to the story), jealousy, threat, some violence, courage, hatred, romance, and much more. You can read a little more about the book here. Enjoy!