No Breath Left



While we’re talking about the amount of work that goes into a book, even a short small-press book that will earn you back no more than a hundred pounds or so, here’s a page of alternate titles I came up with for the novel ‘Breathe’. It’s one of ten documents I found pertaining to alternate content in the book. I can’t tell you how much I hated the final cover.

‘Breathe’ concerned a company that used smart building technology to alter the air composition in order to increase the productivity of its employers, but when the spy thriller author Phillip Kerr brought out a book on the same subject called ‘Gridiron’ (this was after I’d written mine but before it was published – it happens) I changed mine into a sort of dark- comic SF action-thriller with jokes about the workplace just to get it out there.

The odd thing is that Mr Kerr and I had been connected by a sketchy producer who had shared knowledge between us. This occurs sometimes and can’t be guarded against, but it rather knocked my plans on the head. I actually thought his book was better and deserved bigger success. Perhaps we both found that it was the wrong time for such a subject.

‘Breathe’ became a feature script that nobody ever really saw. I still think it would make a fun film, although it’s probably too expensive now. I’m pretty sure I still have a copy of the script somewhere. There are some very funny scenes in it of insane workers continuing to work as the place descends into chaos.

Scripts about offices are a hard sell because audiences don’t like stories that remind them of having to work.

Anyway, here are the alternate titles I came up with. It’s the kind of exercise I carried out on thousands of the feature films I worked on.


Bad Job




Screen Dead

The Serpent


The System


Hot Desk



High Tension

The Top Floor

Nerve Centre


Five Days

Hostile Environment

The Jitters


Bad Office

Out Of Hours

Night Work

Out Of Order


High Pressure


Fail Safe


World Of Work

Work Force



The Compound


Point Zero

The Ulysses Contract

Monday To Friday


10 comments on “No Breath Left”

  1. Wild Edric says:


  2. brooke says:

    Yes, the cover design is awful, for lots of reasons. And recommend a revised creative process for choosing final title.
    A colleague wrote a really great book and unfortunately a pop music star wrote a really bad book using the same title. The books were published at the same time and neither did well. Things are now a mess–this writing business can be a trip.

  3. Chris Webb says:

    I don’t think that, within reason, the title of a book is that important. People first notice the cover art which usually gives an instant impression of the genre and style, then turn over to read the blurb on the back.

    Sorry, but if I saw that cover in a bookshop I wouldn’t give it a second glance. It doesn’t give out any message at all to me personally, nor would it make me pick up the book out of curiosity. I can see why you hated it, and I hope you bent the publisher’s ear. Don’t authors or agents get any say in what their books look like?

  4. Helen Martin says:

    The combination of the title and the cover gave me a feeling combining the Viking blood eagle (my mind goes strange places sometimes) and a labrynth a… oh heck a maze. I definitely felt there would be stripping away of flesh in there somewhere. No, I don’t think I would even read the blurb – except for your name being on the front.
    You couldn’t have used Jitters as a title because those who know your name would remember City Jitters. There are a few others in there that don’t give away the contents but sound interesting – you don’t want anything that reminds us of the movie Nine to Five, either. (At least I don’t think you would.)

  5. Helen Martin says:

    labyrynth? labyrinth?

  6. Jo W says:

    Hello Helen! Labyrinth or maze – doesn’t matter, unless you’re playing scrabble. 🙂

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    I’ve actually got this, it’s not as bad in real life, the colours are deeper. The deep red & yellows do attract the eye from a distance, it’s a chap book so the cover is larger than a normal paperback, the glass corridor blends into the roof, a yellow rib cage.

    I can see what they were trying to do but it doesn’t work.

    Not the worst cover ever, so many covers now use the same stock formula, Private Eye even do a regular look a like cover spot.


  8. Helen Martin says:

    Jo W – I couldn’t decide on the spelling so I switched to maze, but labyrinth has a separate specific meaning referring to a contemplative pattern that people walk. I’ve a couple of non-suggestible friends who have walked one and been astounded at the effect on their emotions and thought processes. It must have something to do with the deliberateness of the walking and the continual changing of direction. I haven’t tried it. Anyway, I think I have the spelling more firmly set – labyrinth.

  9. Wayne Mook says:

    Maze always makes me think of hedge mazes first, and with Labyrinth you have the mythical aspect with Daedalus, Icarus, King Minos, The Bull of Marathon, The Minotaur and Theseus and all that they link too, plus the film. By the way, rumour is that they are going to make a sequel to Labyrinth.


  10. Chris Lancaster says:

    I’ve got this as well, and actually quite liked the cover — I think it would have been better even darker so as to better suggest flames or hellfire (not that these feature in the story).

    For what it’s worth, I also thought it was a really good story. I think that many office workers (and I visit a lot of different offices) would most definitely feel obliged to carry on working as all went to hell in a handcart around them.

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