Thursday, 28 February 2008

Pseudonyms

Do you write under your own name? I’d never be asked that question, would never have conceived it as the title of this blog, if writers didn’t sometimes use pseudonyms. I tend to answer the question with another: ‘Why would I work so hard on a book and then want to put it out under someone else’s name?’ But in truth there can be good reasons why authors want to adopt a pseudonym.

Occasionally, it may be a matter of seeking privacy. The first detective novel published by the humorous journalist A.B.Cox, an intensely private man, appeared anonymously. Later he wrote as Anthony Berkeley. When he wrote stand-alones as Francis Iles, a prolonged debate took place as to the author’s true identity; suffice to say that many of the guesses were ludicrously wide of the mark.

Sometimes a pseudonym is used to conceal the fact that the book is written by more than one person: Ellery Queen, Francis Beeding and Nicci French are obvious examples. Sometimes there are commercial reasons, for instance if a publisher does not want to flood the market with books coming out under the same author’s name: thus John Dickson Carr became Carter Dickson, and Cornell Woolrich transformed into William Irish. The immensely productive John Creasey used countless pen-names.

On other occasions, there is a desire to brand certain books separately from the rest of the author’s output. I suspect this is why Ruth Rendell sometimes writes as Barbara Vine, even though there is no attempt to conceal her true identity. Similar considerations explain why John Banville, the Man Booker Prize winner, writes crime as Benjamin Black.

John Banville told me recently: ‘Christine Falls was something different, compared to my earlier work. It was important to make that clear to readers, to give them a signal that this book would be more straightforward in some ways, not post-modern at all.’ In his early books, he had a character called Ben White, and his first plan was to adopt Benjamin White as a pseudonym. But his publishers felt that Benjamin Black sounded better – and, alphabetically, would get closer to the top of librarians’ and booksellers’ purchase lists!

10 comments:

Jilly said...

So that's who Francis Iles was. I loved his 'Malice Aforethought' - televised back in the late 70s or early 80s.

Martin Edwards said...

I watched it too, Jilly and I thought Hywel Bennett did a great job as the meek and murderous Dr Bickleigh. Iles also wrote the book on which Hitchcock's 'Suspicion' is based. But the book is better than the film.

David said...

Another reason to take on a pseudonym is when you discover, as I did, that there are several other writers with the same name. It was quite a shock the first time I entered my name in Amazon and found pages of titles, ranging from books on Sussex (where I live!)to children's stories and even what appears to be a crime novel. To avoid confusion, my next book won't bear my real name on the cover, and I must admit it is a slightly strange prospect. My mother, for one, can't quite hide her disappointment...!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi DAvid - I can imagine that it was a shock! But how did you set about choosing a suitable pseudonym?

David said...

That was quite a challenge in itself: finding a name that didn't come up in a search on Amazon. Harder still was finding one where a ".com" or ".net" domain name was still available, since almost every conceivable permutation has been snapped up by these mysterious people who presumably do it to hold the rest of us to ransom! Anyway, after a lot of discussion my agent and I finally came up with TOM BALE, which hopefully is quite easy to remember and will look good on the cover of a book. (Ideally, of course, I'd have kept my own name but used someone else's photograph...)

I also want to say that I recently found this blog and have really enjoyed reading it. I'm amazed that you're able to produce such thoughtful and detailed posts, and still find time for writing!

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting, David. (Or should I say Tom?) Thanks, and of course I appreciate your comments about the blog. Not sure I've written quite as much fiction since I started it, but...

Chap O'Keefe said...

Another reason for a genre writer to to use a pen-name: a pedestrian "Keith Chapman" doesn't have the right ring for an author of action-packed westerns. Somehow "Chap O'Keefe" does. To me anyway!

Martin Edwards said...

And to me, Chap!

Anonymous said...

I mostly write under "Jacqueline Seewald," my real name. But early on, when writing short stories from a male perspective, I wrote under "J.P. Seewald," thinking male readers might be turned off if they knew a woman had written the story. Lots of female writers do this for similar reasons. However, a number of men have read THE INFERNO COLLECTION and enjoyed the novel although they know it's written by a woman. Is the age of sexism over??

Anonymous said...

Can anybody confirm that Edward Marston is a Pseudonym for Andrew Martin?