A Seven Letter Word by Kim Slater – Guest Post

a sevenSummary from Goodreads

‘My name is Finlay McIntosh. I can see OK, can hear perfectly fine and I can write really, really well. But the thing is, I can’t speak. I’m a st-st-st-stutterer. Hilarious, isn’t it? It’s like the word is there in my mouth, fully formed and then, just as it’s ready to leave my lips . . . POP! It jumps and ricochets and bounces around my gob. Except it isn’t funny at all, because there’s not a thing I can do about it.’

Finlay’s mother vanished two years ago. And ever since then his stutter has become almost unbearable. Bullied at school and ignored by his father, the only way to get out the words which are bouncing around in his head is by writing long letters to his ma which he knows she will never read, and by playing Scrabble online. But when Finlay is befriended by an online Scrabble player called Alex, everything changes. Could it be his mother secretly trying to contact him? Or is there something more sinister going on?

A Seven-Letter Word is an evocative and heartfelt story from the multi-award-winning author of Smart, Kim Slater.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 24th 2016 by Macmillan Children’s Books

TITLE STORY – by Kim Slater

The thing I’ve noticed about publishers is that they sometimes . . . alright, quite often . . . like a bit of a theme when it comes to book titles.

So after my debut YA novel Smart, it seemed only reasonable I’d be asked to come up with an equally catchy single-word title for my second book.

Except I couldn’t. Well, not a really good one, anyway.

Instead, I came up with ‘A Seven-Letter Word’ – a catchy four-word title instead. That had to be hyphenated, so I guess it was a three-word title in the end.

See, Smart was always called Smart – even in its infancy as a short story – and there was a reason for that.

I knew my main character, Kieran, wasn’t the smartest lad academically but he was very smart indeed in other ways. Like investigating murders, for instance.

He was also smart enough to discount those around him who constantly under-estimated his resourcefulness and resolve.

I think that’s what made it such a good title that everyone seemed to approve of . . . there was a reason for it.

And because it was a good title, my publisher thought it might be clever if I could think of another one quite like it for my second novel. Hmm.

My personal preference is to get a good working title as early as I can and preferably before starting the first draft.

A good title helps me frame the ideas and characters at that crucial early stage where all the fragments of the story must be first collected and then pieced carefully together. A working title sticks a label on it, makes it manageable.

But my process of getting that title? Well, it’s sort of three steps forward and one back but the important thing is, I get there in the end.

I knew how important words were to my protagonist, Finlay, from the very beginning. I knew how words tortured and delighted him in equal measure and I knew how he found them both difficult and easy, depending on their various forms.

Trouble was, after brainstorming and mulling it over for some time, the best one-word title I could come up with for my second book was ‘Wordboy’ or ‘Words’ and somehow, neither had that catchy quality I was after.

It was only when I started thinking through the story itself that the idea formed and thanks to a rule in Scrabble, I found my train of thought.

If you use all seven Scrabble tiles in one go, it’s known as a ‘Bingo’ and you qualify for an extra fifty points on the score for that turn. Someone like Finlay who wanted to win the UK School Scrabble Championships would definitely want to use all seven letters wherever possible.

The words stuck in my head; seven letters.

The thought mutated to; a word that has seven letters.

It occurred to me that the word STAMMER has seven letters. STUTTER has seven letters, too.

And they’re both seven-letter words that Finlay could do without.

Then suddenly, there it was; ‘A Seven-Letter Word’.

Catchy and interesting I thought, plus it had a kind of dual-meaning that only the reader of the book would really understand.

Perfect!

Even better, right from the off, Macmillan sort of liked it. They really liked it when I explained my reasoning behind it.

 

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