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Breakthrough! Discovering the perfect title for our speculative fiction anthology

Blog by Mahveen Syed – Leicester University, Undergraduate English with Creative Writing Student
 
The publicity for the first Black British speculative fiction anthology was the project I found myself on when first starting the Inscribe internship in January. And in order to successfully publicise this anthology, it needed a title. Capturing the ideas that a group of authors have worked on, fiddled with and slaved over for weeks, months or years and to incorporate their intricate ideas and complex thoughts together in one word was the exact task I was asked to complete. A one-word title in the same style as the previous Inscribe anthologies.

I was excited and primed to begin, going so far as to read the stories before the official start date of the internship in order to get a head start. Beginning to brainstorm these titles, I proceeded with caution. The main reasons for this lay in the genre of the anthology. 

I first needed to define speculative fiction: ‘A genre of fiction that encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements’ (Oxford Languages, 2021).

Speculative fiction offers a modified present. Parallel universes and places. It takes into account what is comfortable, what is safe and agreeable and merges this with the unknown, with the other and the mysterious. It is fluid, versatile and, at the very extreme, volatile. 

I read through the stories twice. Once to make notes on any common themes and the next to make notes on any common words. The thematic side led to words like ‘Voiceless’, ‘Insight’ and’ Void’. Common words were ‘Illuminate’, ‘Shackle’ and ‘Foliage’. Different in the extreme. 

Then I brainstormed. I wrote down title after title, filling my notebook with words that would seem unrelated and unimportant to anyone else. I discussed, challenged and debated with people, trying to find the one title that would stand out above the rest.

Imagine Ariadne in the Minotaur’s labyrinth, fingering a silver thread in the darkness. The process was exactly like this, me fingering along these elusive threads of ideas until I came across one that seemed feasible. The word ‘Cavity’ was pulled out from the sense of hopeless in one story, ‘Succession’ created from the unchanging patterns of another. And yes, the threads did get tangled along the way but what better way to find an original title than to get a little lost first. 

The list of previously rejected titles created the walls of this labyrinth. ‘Chimera’, ‘Relic’, ‘Veil’ and ‘Bloodsucker’ among others. It meant that whenever I came across a title that was a little too similar to the rejected ones, I would hit a wall and would need to backpedal quickly. And although I hit a wall several times, it led me to new pathways that were previously undiscovered. ‘Vestige’ was translated from ‘Relic’ and ‘Chimera’ was recast as ‘Illusion’. 

The list of titles was long, stretching from ‘Reign’ to ‘Cipher’. I shortlisted these using my initiative of what could possibly work. These were shortlisted again by the editors after I handed them in. And although the fear was that none would be chosen and that I would have to return to the drawing board, a handful were picked out of the mass I had acquired. The first shortlist consisted of ‘Kaleidoscope’, ‘Glitch’, ‘Beyond’, ‘Crevice’ and ‘Silhouette’. The second of just ‘Glitch’ and ‘Beyond’. Added to these were ‘Tangle’, ‘Glimpse’, ‘Pendulum’ and ‘Knot’ for the third shortlist and the final shortlist was narrowed down to ‘Tangle’, ‘Tremble’ and ‘Glimpse’. 

This rise and fall of titles, in and out like the tide was accompanied by a collection of mind maps I created in order to tip the vote either way. I used images related to these titles; pictures that could be used for cover ideas and inspiration. This had the advantage of killing two birds with one stone as the cover was also an aspect that needed to be decided on once we had the title. And we knew that eventually, the perfect title would be found.

Although the search for a title was an arduous and sometimes intimidating process, it was ultimately a rewarding one.

I wanted the title to capture the mystery, the unknown and the exciting that formed the basis of speculative fiction; a basis that each and every story abided by in their own unique way. To highlight the minuscule details easily missed in the bustling of everyday life and the quietness of picking up a good book; to just pause and think. The editors wanted to illuminate Black British writing, creating a backlight for these stories to shine, inspire and move people. To look beneath the surface and see what was only partially visible before.

I can now proudly present Glimpse: Contemporary Black British Speculative Fiction, published by Inscribe, and the first of its kind.

Through this experience, I’ve realised that there was never one path we could have taken. After walking through this labyrinth for the last eight weeks, I have no doubt that there were still plenty of paths I hadn’t seen or paths I did see, albeit briefly. The mind maps of titles that weren’t chosen still exist, as do the brainstorms I created, holding many words that never made it past being written on a page, a few of which I have included here. Would you have chosen a different path, a different branch leading to a completely alternate reality?

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