Book of the week: ‘Desert Duel’ – a PUNishing title

Back in 2001 my publishers of the day, Reed New Zealand, offered me something unheard of in local publishing – a multi-book contract.

Of course I was keen. The contract involved three books: two follow-ups to A Near Run Affair, telling the story of the Second New Zealand Division through its North African and Italian campaigns. And a book on the Third New Zealand Division, which fought a brief land campaign in the Pacific war during 1943-44.

The original 2002 cover.

I got cracking on the first during 2001 – the story of New Zealand’s land campaign in the North African desert. It was a remarkable tale to write about; this campaign took the Kiwis from Egypt to Libya and beyond to Tunisia – where they liberated Foum Tataouine. And if you think that word ‘Tataouine’ sounds familiar, it’s because a Certain Movie was filmed there in 1976 and the name of their location somehow got adopted.

The tricky issue for me was what to call the book, and I finally settled on a really awful pun. Desert Duel: New Zealand’s North African Land War 1940-43. Geddit? Geddit? You know: ‘jewel of the desert’ and all that? It also referenced the fact that 2 NZ Division was – according to soldier legend – in a duel with the German 90 Light Division through the campaign.

My publishers liked the title but felt it was better to drop the word ‘land’ as this might limit the audience. And so the book was published early in 2002. Wet pun and all. It sold very well. Since then, it’s come out in second edition – just last year – with a different publisher, and a slightly amended subtitle. The execrable pun, though… well, it’s still there.

This is the second edition – slightly retitled. Click to buy.

If you want to check out the book, it’s available in second revised edition right now – click to buy. Go on – you know you want to.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019