Dumb puns as book titles? Yes please!

It’s hard to write book titles. They have to be snappy, they have to say what the book’s about, and you get two or three words. Ready, set, go.

Personally I think titles also have to be funny. A bit. When I’m allowed. And I have a weakness for bad wordplay. It started with my history of the RNZAF, Kiwi Air Power (Reed 1998). Obvious title, given the slang term for New Zealanders. After it appeared I realised it was a great oxymoron. Kiwis being flightless birds, (though in Soest, Netherlands, I believe ‘Kiwis’ are also what they call a variety of Chinese Gooseberry).

In 1999 I wrote a book on the battle for Crete. Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.once referred to Waterloo as a ‘near-run thing’. I appropriated that for Crete – A Near-Run Affair: New Zealanders in the battle for Crete 1941 (Reed, 2000). When it was reprinted a few years later, my publishers’ marketing department insisted on reversing title and subtitle. Battle for Crete: New Zealand’s Near-Run Affair, 1941 (Reed, 2003).

I then signed a three-book contract to cover the rest of New Zealand’s WW2 land campaigns, starting with our war in North Africa from 1940. Heard of the ‘jewel of the desert’? Well, I couldn’t resist it. I picked Desert Duel, adding a subtitle to define the content, New Zealanders versus the Deutsche Afrika Korps 1940-43 (Reed, 2002).

I got away with the pun,. But the publishers balked on the subtitle, which they changed to Desert Duel: New Zealand’s North African War. They thought it more marketable, and I had to agree. The specifics of the content were obvious from cover and jacket blurb..

The second book in this series was about the New Zealand campaign in the Italian peninsula, which took them from Taranto to Bari, Orsogna, Cassino, Rome, Florence, the Romagna, Venice and Trieste. A real odyssey. Those things are always Greek. Except my one, Italian Odyssey: New Zealanders in the battle for Italy 1943-45 (Reed, 2003). That was accepted unchanged.

The third volume was on the war with Japan. Which I titled Pacific War: New Zealand and Japan 1941-45 (Reed, 2003). Get it? Oxymoron. Pacific. War. Opposites…never mind…Nobody else noticed either.

Around 2007-08 I got into discussions with my publishers about reissuing the three titles covering 2NZ Division  in Europe as a ‘bind up’ – three books in one. It didn’t happen in the end, which was a pity because I had a title in mind for the combined set. The Division.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

6 thoughts on “Dumb puns as book titles? Yes please!

  1. “(though in Soest, Netherlands, I believe ‘Kiwis’ are also what they call a variety of Chinese Gooseberry)”

    Now now, no fair trolling the readership, Matthew.


  2. Congratulations Matthew! You have received The Versatile Blogger Award for catching my attention with your interest-grabbing headlines! My curiosity is always sated when I read on. There is some small print attached to this award, but it’s all in the name of good fun and connecting with other bloggers. Check it out here (scroll down to Update 2): http://www.zenashapter.com/blog/?p=3838


  3. Thank you – much appreciated. Glad you enjoy what I’m posting. That’s the third time I’ve received this award! I’ll post the compliance – er – post shortly. Thank you.


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