Saturday, 11 October 2014

A Man ( or woman ) by any other name

Fiction is a strange thing. Whoever can look at a Jane and not thing of that wonderful grey figure in Jane Eyre? I cannot think of the name Barbara without thinking of the person as fat even though the two Barbaras I know are very slender. Names evoke character. I cannot envisage Bob as anything more than a dog with silky ears whereas several of the men in my books have managed the name Rob with no trouble.

My men are not heroes. I hate the very word. There is no such thing. Some of them have evil qualities but I try to keep them human or I feel as though I have failed the reader. Most of them are decent, and to me that's the most important quality of all.

There are fashions in names. In my latest book, the Fall and Rise of Lucy Charlton, which is set just after the Great War, the two main female characters are called  Gemma and Lucy and as somebody pointed out these are not the sort of names which women used at that time. Well, tough. They suit the sisters and I like them. Sometimes you have to get past the obvious even in history. You expect your reader to overcome disbelief and slide willingly into your story. Otherwise she should be reading something else.

My favourite man in a book is not the psychotic Heathcliff, the arrogant Mr Darcy or the bully Rochester but a slight unassuming figure, Freddie, the main man in Cotillion by Georgette Heyer.

Freddie is not clever and not handsome, he is not tall. He is rich, I have to say and I did wonder rather whether Miss Heyer took her character partly from the bumbling Bertie Wooster, my favourite man apart from Freddie in fiction.  I have this dream that one day I will be twenty and beautiful and will marry Bertie Wooster and spend the rest of my life dancing late at smoky dark clubs, drinking champagne and being looked after by the inimitable Jeeves.

I will wear gossamer dresses and drive sports cars, write stories for Aunt Dahlia's My Lady's Boudoir and be unfailingly polite to the horrifying Aunt Agatha. I will of course be kind to Bertie's uncle who looks after the Wooster millions. We can sit by his study fire and talk of books My background would be perfect and so high in society that my family can talk of nothing but matters that don't matter.

I sometimes think that mothers burden their sons with special names so that no clutching female will come along and skin of them of their cash, as Bertie would say.  Cecil is not the kind of name where he would nick off from wife Ann for a floozie named Posy.

My mother obviously didn't think when she named me Elizabeth Rosemary. Many is the time I have signed my name Elizabeth R and heard titters.

Quentin only in Enid Blyton, same for Julian and Dick and even George.

My favourite name of all time is Harry. There's something sweet and yet wild about Harry, I can see him now sitting in the dark corner in a pub. He's just come back from war, the woman he adored has married another man and he is brooding, drinking a lot. He will never forgive her but he desperately wants her back.

And if you doubt me this is part of the story of one of my books, Swan Island. There is no hero in this book, just two decent men doing their best after the hell of a war where everybody lost someone. It's also my mother's story. The man who loved her went away, I think to Burma during World War Two, to fight. Her first husband had died, ( that's in my story, though differently ) and thinking she had lost her second love to the war, she married my father and then Harry came back. The other man in the story is called David Black and like my father is a decent upright hard working rather clever man and Ella loves him so what is she to do?

My mother used to tell the story so well, of how my father had taken her to a dinner dance at some lovely hall in Darlington and she saw the man she had loved and promised to marry walking across the dance floor toward her. There she is beautiful, black haired and blue eyed and pale skinned in the Irish way that she had, wearing a silver and peacock coloured dress, wondering why fate is doing such a thing to her.

My mother was called Bertha Ann but she was always known as Pat because her father saw her in the cradle and said 'What a little Pat. '  Irish to the core and a borders lass too. There you go, you see. A  rose by any other name, my lovely lovely mother.


  1. OMG, I have fallen in love with your blog - but how did you get hold of my Bertie dream? And Jeeves is mine - you hear me? Mine.

  2. Thanks for this, it made me laugh!