Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 22, 2016

Guest post: The Significance of Title – One, by Patrick Holland

One (Patrick Holland)A week ago today, I published my thoughts about Patrick Holland’s super new novel One, and as part of my review I included a little ramble around my ideas about the significance of its unusual title.  I was delighted when Patrick tweeted me afterwards about it, and the upshot was that *chuckle* I have wangled a scoop for ANZ LitLovers: here, in the author’s own words, is the story of how One came to have its title, along with a marvellous insight into how Holland works that magic in his writing.

I never intended this title. I don’t wish to make light of a serious condition, but when I write, I exhibit some traits of the anorexic, the way the sufferer never believes they are thin enough. When I look at a page of my writing, no matter how conscious I’ve been of restraint, it always seems too heavy – too wordy. Arvo Pärt famously said,

“I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me.’

So, inspired by Pärt, and seeking a program for my minimalism, when I first started writing my story of Jim and Paddy Kenniff, I wrote the word ‘one’ at the top of the manuscript, and tried to transfer Pärt’s intuition about the musical note onto the word. Just so I tried to employ the simplest nouns I could; but the kind of nouns that referred to objects and phenomena most people have imaginative, physical and emotional associations with. So the book is built of paradoxically solid, translucent nouns: solid in that they are common, everyone believes they know what they refer to; translucent in that they likely evoke something different for every reader. Take the word ‘river’. I think that word, when unqualified, provokes vastly different mental images and emotions for a reader who grew up in a desert and one who grew up on, say, the Yangtze. So the world of One is rendered with unqualified ‘fires’, ‘gaslights’ ‘darkness’ ‘guns’ ‘rivers’ ‘plains’ ‘deserts’ etc., and I hope the reader will inhabit them.

But looking at the word ‘one’ at the top of book each day, in order to remind myself of my aesthetic imperative, I realised the writing was bending towards it. It became, first, the ‘one’ man who believed he could catch the Kenniffs; then his insistence that he could do it alone; then the ‘one’ girl Nixon and Jim both loved; then it referred to the gang’s desertion of Jim and his isolation; then the ‘one’ man, the tracker King Edward, who could actually get into the Kenniff’s hideout; and at last it was the single force that motivated the two men, which nonetheless rendered them enemies.

When it came time to present the writing, I felt that the word I had always intended to erase should stay.

Patrick Holland

Thank you, Patrick!

PS If you don’t know Pärt, his Como anhela la cierva is a lovely piece to start with.

Author: Patrick Holland
Title: One
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2016
ISBN: 9781921924965
Available from Fishpond: One or direct from Transit Lounge and any bookstore worthy of the name!



  1. Absolutely fascinating! I often think I do not pay enough attention – to the title, to the prose, to the use of that word in that sentence, to the way that particular phrase was chosen to describe that sensation. I often get swept up in a novel and don’t fully appreciate it’s beauty.


    • Me too, that’s why I like to read multiple reviews of a book. People focus on different aspects that speak to them, and of course Patrick is right when he talks about differing interpretations of those simple words like river.


  2. I read multiple reviews too, and nearly always before rather than after, and often instead of, reading the novel. Author’s introductions and explanations I put in the same category, definitely not privileged!, but often interesting. Glad you were able to secure an exclusive explanation of Holland’s title. Fascinating.


    • I used to do that when I read reviews in the newspaper, especially the long ones. Not so much now, not if I think I’m likely to read the book. But with much-hyped books I usually go to my trusted reviewers to see what they think – and usually eliminate the book thereafter!


  3. Fascinating Lisa … I sometimes think a lot about titles, and other times not much, but this was such an unusual title that you couldn’t help wondering about it I’m sure. I loved Holland’s explanation, partly because I love spare, minimalist writing, that paring down to the essence, and yet, as he says that essence can still mean something a little different to different people. It’s what can make poetry such a challenge to read! By paring it down you are really trusting your readers to “get” what you are wanting to say (even with those somewhat different associations) without explanation, aren’t you?

    BTW I reckon a good place to start with with Pärt is that lovely little short piece, Spiegel im spiegel. I love doing yoga to it! And, talk about minimal and getting down to one note!

    Oh, and as you know, I almost never read reviews before I read books. I never have. I hate being told what other people think about a book before I’ve had a go myself. After, I check my favourite bloggers, and look online for reviews from trusted review sources. I enjoy reading the different perspectives/angles and testing them against mine.


  4. I didn’t know the name, but as soon as I found it on You Tube I recognised Spiegel im spiegel, it’s gorgeous:)
    I know what you mean re reviews, but if I didn’t read, say Stu’s one today about Sudden Death, I wouldn’t have known about it to buy it. But I certainly don’t read reviews close to when I’m doing the reading …. by the time I get round to reading Sudden Death I will have forgotten what Stu said, and LOL this is getting easier as I get older and more forgetful!


    • Yes I’m not surprised you recognised it. It’s a mesmerising piece.

      As for memory, oh yes! I might start reading reviews soon! I do scan posts coming through and I may look at the first para to get a sense of whether I might be interested, but I rarely actually look for books that sound interesting because I’ve always got interesting books waiting for me under my nose. I probably feel too anxious about the TBR!


      • The Spouse tells me that he has some pieces by Pärt in his iPod, so I expect to hear more of this composer this weekend:)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. […] Check out this interview with Patrick Holland at Good Reading magazine. PS Patrick has very kindly written a guest post responding to my interest in the title. […]


  6. […] by Patrick Holland, see my review and Patrick’s explanation for his curious choice of […]


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