I need to name a book, and I’m completely stuck.
I’m stuck partly because it already has a name. I’m not good at titles, and this is the first book I’ve written where I’ve known right from the beginning what I want to call it – It’s a Sweet Word, Kamchatka. It’s a quote from the song ‘Kamchatka’ by Viktor Tsoy and the Russian rock group Kino. The line for me sums up the whole romantic, fantastical dream of a place that drives the characters in the book to their wild journeys. Kamchatka is a sweet word; beautiful and mysterious. Try saying it. How solid it is, how satisfying, how suggestive.
It’s a sweet word that doesn’t, of itself, mean anything. The naturalist Georg Steller, who took part in an expedition to the Russian far East in the 1740s, wrote that Russian explorers called this whole peninsular on the Pacific Kamchatka, after one of the rivers there which the indigenous Itelmens had named after someone who lived on it. It’s hardly an etymology, more an account of laziness (although perhaps slightly better than the names given to the animals Steller saw and recorded on the expedition: Steller’s eider, Steller’s sea eagle…) No one knows what the indigenous people called the land now known as Kamchatka.
Meanwhile, the Kino song isn’t even about the peninsular; it’s about a St Petersburg boiler house where Viktor Tsoy worked in the 1980s, called, for no reason that I know of, Kamchatka. Everything has to be called something.
For me, as for my book characters, Kamchatka is a word that’s weighted with promise. But if you’ve never heard it before, never had anyone sing you the song, never pored over maps of coastlines half-way across the world, then maybe it’s just obscure. That’s why my publisher feels my book needs a new title.
I’ve been listing words and phrases in an attempt to sum up what the book is about and find a new name:
Bears. Journeys. Running away and coming back. Fish. Dreams. Shamans. Exploitation. Poaching. Memories. Friendship and family. Misunderstanding. Discovery.
The power of words over the imagination.
For the book’s main character, Masha, there are two words which define her story. There’s a word which other people call her mother; a name that she knows is bad even though she doesn’t really understand what it means. And there’s the name Kamchatka. The first word sends her away from home, the second one takes her on a huge journey. That’s the power those names have over her imagination.
So you see, it’s important to name things correctly. Maybe somewhere in that thought is the title I’m looking for…
here is Viktor Tsoy and Kino singing ‘Kamchatka’: