Author Martin Kongstad on giving titles to his books

Martin Kongstad is part of our Summer Read - a series of interviews that celebrate talent and that may challenge, shed new light on or even re-ignite common truths about how we bring out the talent in ourselves and others.

Told to journalist Kasper Steenbach.

Martin Kongstad was one of the main characters in Mads Nørgaard – Copenhagen's WINTER 22 campaign. Kongstad, born 1963, is a writer and restaurant critic for Weekendavisen and the author of a number of books. He made his debut in 2009 with a collection of short stories called 'He Dances on his Son's Grave', for which he received the Danske Bank's Debutant Prize. This has since been followed by ‘Am I Cold' (2013), 'The Chef Who Blushed' (2018) and the biography of Casper Christensen, 'Casper' (2020).

What does it mean to you to come up with a title for one of your books?

Titles are very important to me, because a good title embraces the project and sets it off in the right direction, and so I get worried if the title doesn't arrive by itself, because it can be a sign that I don't quite know where I'm going.



How do you come up with your titles?

My debut from 2009 is called 'He Dances on his Son's Grave', and the title was presented to me while I was writing. I was at a café in Borgergade with my friend Troels, who is a visual artist. In the corner sat a group of 68ers who were well on their way with bad red wine, and I recognised one of the women and knew that her daughter had just died tragically at the age of forty. At one point the woman rose from the mists and went out onto the floor dancing bizarrely, and I leaned in to Troels and whispered, "She's dancing on her daughter's grave." It's a good title, I think, but people constantly mess it up and call it ‘He Dances on his Father's Grave, which would be more usual, so to speak. The title later became a short story about a father who despised his own son.



What's the best title you've come up with?

My second book is called ‘Am I Cold', and it is my best title for the sole reason that the sentence is fundamentally irrational: surely you would know if you are freezing? It also comes from reality:  it's actually a question I once got asked by a girl I went out with. We were at a premiere party and she was uncomfortable with the situation and emphasised this by asking me if she was freezing.



Which of your titles have you had the hardest time coming up with?

I was in big trouble with my third novel, because I couldn't figure out what to call it and that worried me like crazy. The book is about what can happen to a person who becomes successful - in this case a master chef. I was in Rome to finish writing it and one night one of the characters in the book told the master chef that he had changed, became much more confident and stopped blushing. Then I knew the title had to be 'The Chef Who Stopped Blushing’.

What will your next title be?

At the moment I am working on a new novel and, as was the case with both 'He Dances on his Son's Grave' and ‘Am I Cold', the main character is Mikkel Vallin, a person who could be my alter ego, but luckily isn’t that on all points. I had the title before I started because I know roughly where I'm going. It is called 'We Are Tired of Mikkel'. I am working on going more into emotions than I usually do. Until now, I have preferred to leave all feelings beneath the sentences instead of formulating them, but I would like to go more expressive this time.



What titles have you discarded over the years?

I have scrapped several books with titles over the years, including my debut novel about Mikkel Vallin as a rock journalist in the nineties, which I dropped, even though - or perhaps, because - I had been working on it for ten years. It was called 'Scrambled Eggs'. Maybe I'll finish writing it one day. I have also shelved the thriller ‘The Hunting Lodge', which I wrote both as a film and a novel.



Are there titles by other authors that you envy?

I talked to Jan Sonnergaard about titles and names, and he slams a novel shut if there’s a bad name on page 283. Sonnergaard came up with one of my all-time favorite titles: 'I'm Still Afraid of Caspar Michael Petersen', which maybe even would have been even better if it was Pedersen and not Petersen.