Book titles: Bitter Orange

BitterOrange FINAL pb cover

Archaeology

The titles of my books have always tended to evolve, and Bitter Orange is no exception. Usually though, the early Word files are simply called, Book 1 or Book 4, or whichever it is. But my third novel had a title from the beginning: Archaeology. I thought it was going to be about people digging things up, literally and metaphorically.

I keep a writing diary and on 22nd April 2016 (the novel was started on 23rd December 2015), I thought that Archaeology was too difficult a word to write. ‘Those three bloody vowels in a row are beginning to annoy me,’ I wrote. And on 30th August of that year, I added, ‘I’m thinking of changing the title to Blood Orange’.

Blood Orange

For the rest of the time when I was writing it, the novel was called Blood Orange, and this was what it was called when I sent it to my literary agent, and when it was submitted to my publishers in the UK, the US, and Canada. And they bought it with that name. Blood Orange.

The story is about Frances, a woman who is commissioned to survey the follies in the gardens of an English country house in 1969. There she meets and becomes besotted by Cara and Peter and visits the orangery alongside the house which has (or had at the time of writing) a single blood DSCF8951orange tree, so enormous it has broken through the glass panes. Blood oranges are sweet, and the fruit are ripe at a certain time of year. Three blood oranges are picked from the tree and squeezed to make juice – a point integral to the plot.

Then, in July 2017, after the book was sold, my editor at Penguin told me that the sale of another book, a debut thriller by Harriet Tyce had just been announced in The Bookseller (the UK trade magazine for publishing), and it was called Blood Orange.

Titles of books, or albums or anything else aren’t copyrighted, but it was quickly agreed that publishing books with the same title around the same time was not a good idea, and Harriet’s had been announced, and mine hadn’t. It was mine that would have to change.

Bitter Orange

Changing a title I’d been happy with for months if not years was a difficult thing to accept. I was angry – at no one in particular – for quite a while.

I had lots of conversations with my editors and agents and lots of suggestions were bounced back and forth. I went through the novel with a highlighter and I wrote lists of word combinations. It was Sarah Lutyens, one of the founders of my literary agents, Lutyens and Rubinstein who came up with Bitter Orange. I think she just emailed it to HoAme one day – two perfect words.

Except, that a bitter orange (which is not eaten or juiced, but generally used to make marmalade), is a very different thing to a blood orange. I wrote to Patricia Oliver from Global Orange Groves who had been helping me with orange tree advice for the book. Bitter oranges fruit at different times to blood oranges, and the juice is barely drinkable. Anyone who writes will know that you make what might seem like a simple change in the text: blood to bitter, but the repercussions ripple on and on. If I needed my characters to try to drink the juice, someone needed to realise they needed sugar, then they had to get sugar, which meant someone had to go shopping, which meant someone had to leave the house when I needed them to remain there. I faced lots of niggly revising.

Bitter Orange is better

But once I’d sorted out the changes and had lived with the new title for a while, it seemed more suited than Blood Orange, which I think sounds very thriller-like, and Bitter Orange isn’t a thriller.

By the time the book was published in the UK, in the US, and Canada, I loved the title: Bitter Orange.

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What do you think about the title? Please leave a comment below.

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Bitter Orange is published in paperback in the UK on 2nd May, and is also available in the US, Canada and Germany (where it is called Bittere Orangen). Visit this page to buy a copy.

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Where next?

Read an article on my favourite book titles.

10 thoughts on “Book titles: Bitter Orange

  1. I hadn’t even considered the amount of little revisions you’d need to do with this sort of title change. Bloody hell. It’s amazing you did it! (And I do think this title is right for this book.)

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  2. I think Bitter Orange is a great title! But it must be so annoying to have to change the title and possibly some of the text to match.
    There often seem to be books with similar titles published around the same time, usually odd coincidences but with a potential for confusion.

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  3. I love the title BItter Orange. I feel you made it work (sorry you had to) and it actually lends itself to the story even better.

    A title is so important as it is the first thing that grabs you. I like to think that things happen for a reason 😉

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  4. This was so interesting to hear the evolution of your title, particularly when you have to implement a change. I recently went to a local event where Harriet Tyce was talking about her debut Blood Orange, and at the time I thought ‘what a great title.’ Bitter Orange works well too, and hopefully the covers are drastically different.

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  5. I love ALL your books and ALL your titles… What an amazing battle you fought with changing the title! As readers, we are not even aware of (all) the struggles you go through. Perhaps Bitter Blood Orange would have been an option as well. :@)

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