Monday, September 24, 2007

Telling Write From Wrong (Part 9)

Why Did I Call My Novel `Vegemite Vindaloo'?

Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON

It's always great to know that your work is appreciated by others, so it was very heartening to see the review of my novel Vegemite Vindaloo by Canadian boook reviewer Lotus Reads. There was some interesting feedback too, with comments from readers who said they liked the title.

Radha said: "Love the name of the novel Vegemite Vindaloo". Asha wrote: "This book interests me very much, funny name too!" Tara said: ``You've made me want to read this book. I also love learning about different cultures through reading and this sounds great." Tanabata commented: "Great title! I always enjoy learning about different cultures so another one to add to the wishlist!" Booklogged said: "I definitely want to read Vegemite Vindaloo even though I don't have a clue what either word means" and Framed wrote: "I will certainly be adding this one to my TBR list. Love the title."

I guess that brings me to today's question.

What is the significance of the title Vegemite Vindaloo?

The choice of title has an interesting background. When I first started writing the novel, I had no specific title in mind. The plot was just a story playing out in my head. It was only when I was more than halfway through it that I began trying to think of a short title that would accurately encapsulate two cultures and two countries, for the book is set in India and Australia.

I honestly cannot tell you the exact moment the title Vegemite Vindaloo occurred to me, but I did run it past some of my journalism colleagues and they thought it was great. And I figured it would be very hard to find a two-word title that would immediately signify Indian and Australian cultures respectively.

Vindaloo is a curry-like Indian dish that comes from Goa and has strong Portuguese origins. In its original form, it is made from pork, but it can be made from chicken or beef. It is distinctive for its vinegar content and for the absence of potatoes.

Vegemite is a dark-brown paste made from yeast extract. A quintessentially Australian product, it was first produced by Fred Walker and Cyril Callister and arrived in shops around Australia in 1923 - in jars shaped like lighthouses!

I guess it was a bit of a gamble to call a debut novel Vegemite Vindaloo, but I can honestly say that at no stage was I asked to change it, or to even consider changing it. There was no pressure from Penguin, or from their managing editor, Ravi Singh, to go for something safer. In many ways, I thought it would be an intriguing title, even for readers who were not familiar with Vegemite or vindaloo – or both!

The novel was first named on the bestseller lists in The Telegraph in mid-2006, and was a regular inclusion in subsequent lists published by The Statesman. This list, from November last year (with the Booker Prize winner at #1 and a Calcutta-born author in the mix with some big hitters) is my favourite, for obvious reasons.....

1. The Inheritance Of Loss: A Novel Kiran Desai, Rs. 395.00
2. The Innocent Man John Grisham, Rs. 268.00
3. Vegemite Vindaloo David McMahon, Rs. 295.00
4. The Afghan Frederick Forsyth, Rs. 268.00
5. Cat O'Nine Tales Jeffrey Archer, Rs. 276.00


Merisi said...

Wow, only two degrees from the Booker winner!
I have read quite a few Indian authors (not right now, I am slogging through non-fiction), I have put your book on the "to read" list.
Have you ever put a list of your favorite Indian authors together?

david mcmahon said...

Hi Merisi,

Just a very great honour to be on the same list as some of the most illustrious names in fiction.

I'd be delighted if you read my book one day!

Have never put together a list of my favourite Indian authors - but it'd be a great subject for a post ....

Keep smiling


Ananda Niyogi said...

Hi David

Thanks for adding me to your blogroll - it's an honour!

It is very nice to know that you still share a bond with Calcutta. To use a slightly cliched phrase - "You can take a man out of Calcutta, but you cannot take Calcutta out of a man" :-)

I definitely hope to read your book sometime very soon.


Lin said...

Thank you! I was familiar with Vegemite but now I know the origin of vindaloo in your title.

I think you should seek out one of those first Vegemite bottles shaped like a lighthouse for your writing desk! Perhaps even have it turned into a desk lamp rather than a bud vase.

Nessa said...

I, too, have put you on my reading list. The title is great. It's lyrical and intriguing and fun.

just me said...

Rubbing elbows with John Grisham...I am in awe...I am totally tongue-tied.

You really are an inspiration to us would be writers. And I thank you.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Ananda,

Lovely to hear from you. Yes, I am very proud to have been born in Calcutta. I have never turned my back on my Indian background - it is something of which I am intensely proud.

Would love you to read my book and tell me what you think ....

Keep smiling

david mcmahon said...

Hi Lin,

Thank you ma'am. I am off tomorrow, scouting for the lighthouse-shaped bottles!

Keep smiling


david mcmahon said...

Hi Nessa,

Thank you, I cherish that description - lyrical and intriguing and fun.

You just entirely validated my decision to use it as the title.

Keep smiling


david mcmahon said...

Hi Just Me,

I was a bit tongue-tied myself! But in all seriousness, that is worth nothing unless I seek to help others whose dream is to write.

Keep smiling


Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

A title is the first thing to hook a potential reader in to picking it out to find out more - I think your choice of title is inspired!

ps. My son has lost my copy, he is currently funding it's replacement from his allowance..

david mcmahon said...

Dear Carol,

Be gentle with him - our children will decide our respective fates when we are in our dotage!

Don't punish him. If you can wait until December, I have to make a lightning trip to Delhi and will get you a copy then.

Shall send it to you, personally (and very fondly) autographed.

Let Junior off the hook - 'tis my appeal for clemency and ye must heed it. At least someone else is reading the book now!

Thank you, my dear friend, for your glowing endorsement of the title of my novel.

Bless you and the family

Keep smiling


Asha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lotus Reads said...

Hi, David!

Thank you for letting us know how you came to pick the title of your book. I remember seeing your book on one of the prominently displayed bookshelves at "Crossword" a prominent Bangalore book store, the title stopped me in my tracks and I walked over to the shelf and took your book down. I am so glad I did, it was a wonderfully satisfying read, thank you!

Wow, you were keeping some wonderful company on that bestsellers list! :)

Asha said...

David, I love the title Vegemite Vindaloo, very unique and attracts attention immediately,so don't even THINK of changing it!:))
You know,In one of the US surveys, 70% of the readers said they would buy a book just by looking at the cover and title which catches them most, rather than what's written inside! So you have won the first battle already and book has done very well for you too, so enjoy the success!I proud to say you are one of us!:)
I will try and buy it too, little expensive here I think, got to check.

Pijush said...

Hi David,

Nice to know the story about the title. Thanks for inspiring all of us. The name of Your new Novel is also interesting. I guess it also has some root and we will come to know in future :-)


Jeni said...

Thanks for the title explanation - makes a whole lot more sense now as to the book's content. I'll have to put that on my "gift list" to give my kids for my upcoming birthday or Christmas! They never know what to get me and books are ALWAYS a good buy in my opinion.

Tara said...

I love the title - though I think if given a choice I'd prefer to eat the Vindaloo rather than the Vegemite! Your book is on my 'want' list and I look forward to reading it. Congratulations on your success!

qofd said...

I am adding your book to my amazon wish list. I love the title.

I have a quick question that you are probably qualified to answer given your background and experience... is most of the mainstream fiction out of India written in English? I'm just curious because it seems like there is such a proliferation of great fiction written in English coming from there.

P.S. - I actually have a jar of vegemite that an Aussie friend sent to me. Is it worth opening the jar to try? I'm suspicious...

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

It's not as nice as Marmite. Eevn Paddington Bear has startid to eet Matmite!


Eve said...

David, what do you do with a jar of vegemite? Grease axels? :)

I thought the title was very catchy as well.

Colleen said...

Impressiv-O! But! I have to say, I am not a fan of Vegemite....okay, ewwww. But! people think it's disgusting that I love peanut butter with shaved carrots and alfafa sprouts on toast! (And I'm not even preg-o.)But! i'd probably meet you half way with beans on toast, if you Aussies eat that too =)

Kimberly said...

Goodness, what an honour! I've often reflected on the importance of the book title. I'm sure there are some fascinating books out there that have earned nothing more than a glance from me, because the title failed to captivate.

I think you ducked that problem perfectly!

Deborah Gamble said...


I am really liking your Write from Wrong column. I would think you could compile it all for a book someday.

BTW - I got your book! It was not easy to find here in the United States. Now I need to find a few hours of reading time!

Radha said...

I absolutely loved the name of the novel. Often food is the first point of confluence when two different cultures meet & vegemite vindaloo sounds delicious :-)

It must be such a professional high for you to see your work in that list !! congratulations !

Deborah Gamble said...


I have a question I hope you'll have time to address in a future article.

I am confused about contacting agents. Is it industry standard practice to send out multiple query letters at once? Do you need to let potential agents know they are not the only ones that you have are contacting? What if you are aware their agency does not accept multiple submissions. Is that usually multiple submissions of query letters, or multiple submissions of the manuscript?

Awaiting your wise words....

Framed said...

David, thanks for visiting my blog and letting me know about this post. Even though I dislike Vegemite, I think it's great in this title. I enjoyed reading your other posts so much that it's given me even more incentive to read your book.

indicaspecies said...

Hi David,

I was in India towards the latter part of September and had missed on this post.

It's never too late to say congratulations, right?

I hope you have as much success with 'Muskoka Maharani' as you have had with 'Vegemite Vindaloo' if not more.



Kirti said...

That's wonderful! A great title...and I have read "The Inheritance of Loss" are keeping great company!