Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Names real and adopted

Publishers Lunch kindly led me to an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail featuring Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series, which you have doubtless read. Er, no, me neither, actually, but it doesn’t matter for what I have to say.

Turns out, you see, that Sophie Kinsella, mistress of the chick-lit genre, is actually Madeleine Wickham, an Oxford graduate with two sons. And - here at last is the point - under her own name she wrote seven novels (apparently fairly serious ones) before adopting the Kinsella monicker for the frothy stuff.

Which makes perfect sense to me. Novelists’ names are after all a form of brand-name. The most famous names - Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming, say - denote genres almost all by themselves. Come to think of it, I seem to remember reading that Harlan Ellison (a sci-fi fantasy chap) has recently registered his name as a trade mark. Harlan is well known among fans for his short fuse and snarling manner, and the last I heard he was involved in some hideously protracted and expensive copyright dispute with AOL, which sounds like a head-against-brick-wall situation if ever I heard one. So the trade-mark business may be something to do with that. Anyway, the point is, names at their best denote a genre or at least a particular kind of book.

All of which creates a problem for a writer who wants to write different sorts of books.

See, the thing is this - I for one have a rather short attention span. Well I was born in 1939, you see, doctor, and I never got the right vitamins as a child, on account of the war. So whereas the obvious and most sensible course of action for anyone who wants to be a writer is to choose a genre and then stick to it for 40 years, I myself was never able to do that. Which is how I ended up being an unknown. Rather than go on writing detective stories, and at least having a slim chance of being taken up by the TV people, like Dexter/Morse and some others, I got bored with that. After three books I branched out. So I have, at the last count, written books under my own name (Michael Allen, mostly detective novels), and as Michael Bradford (adventure), Patrick Read (crime/thriller) and Anne Moore (sagas/romance). Even so I have had professionals tell me that the Anne Moore books, for instance, as so different that no publisher could possibly attempt to build a ‘brand’ out of them.

Fortunately we live in the digital age, and the beauty of that is that writers can do whatever they damn well please. If all else fails, you publish it yourself.

Before I forget, even Agatha Christie got bored with writing, in effect, the same book every year. Just for fun she used to write occasional novels under the name Mary Westmacott. These are sometimes referred to as romantic novels, but actually, as I understand it, they were more in the nature of middlebrow novels about middle-class family life.

Oh, and as for Sophie Kinsella, who started off this stream of consciousness, the interviewer in the Globe and Mail says that she was wearing ‘nude fishnet stockings’. Nude fishnet stockings? Listen, can you send me a picture?

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