Today, my brain is a bit like a badly made salad sandwich. It’s full of lots of little bits of unidentifiable mush, most of which is green and squishy. Nothing seems to go very well with anything else, and there’s a faint tang of questionable mayonnaise. Overall, the whole thing is soggy and unappetising.
So, I must beg your indulgence if today’s post is a bit stranger than normal.
The things occupying my mind today include: sudden change, religion, noms de plume, the resilience of people, and love (naturally, given the day). I can’t say why, exactly, these things are among the pieces of flotsam and jetsam washing up on the beach of my inner sea, but there you are. So, I’ll pick one of these things at random and we’ll see how we get on.
And the winner is…. noms de plume (or pen names, if you don’t want to be pretentious). Did you ever want to have one, or did you ever imagine you’d adopt a different name at some point in your life? One more glamorous or interesting than your given name, maybe? I used to think about this a lot when I was younger. It probably came out of my dreams to write, or at least to be a creative person. I was going to be an artist for a while, too, but that dream sort of faded away as I grew older. But when I decided writing was my ‘thing’, I thought I’d do it under the name Yolanda Salazar, just because I liked the sound of it. Or maybe Phyllida L. Ravenscroft, or Jessica Lavery, or Xantha Musgrave. I had loads of names in my posy of identities. All of them made me sound like a middle-aged scribbler of questionable novels, the type with ripped bodices and swarthy miners/firemen/cowboys/etc. on the cover. I’m not quite sure why this was, because it’s not like I had a lot of exposure (no pun intended) to that sort of novel as a younger gal. (I should probably point out that I still don’t have any great familiarity with that sort of novel now, in my old age, either. Just in case you were wondering).
As I grew older and got a bit of sense, I decided I’d write under my middle name and my mother’s maiden name, because they sounded good together and they made sense, and I was more likely to be able to remember that name under pressure. It would be weird, I thought, to be at a book launch or some sort of terribly glamorous event and to show yourself up to be a total flake by exhibiting difficulty in remembering your own name. But then I got married, and my husband’s name rocked, so I just swiped that one (well, with my own initials in front of it, naturally). It turned out for the best in the end without me having to do very much, so it’s a bit of a win-win for me. I still have my other name (my middle name and mum’s maiden name) on the back burner, in case I decide to start writing blood-curdling horror novels at some point and want to have a different identity to slot them into. It’s good to have a plan B, I think.
Back in ‘the day’, of course, women writers sometimes needed to take male names in order to be published, or to be taken seriously. I still remember how my mind exploded when I learned that George Eliot was actually Mary Anne Evans, and I remember feeling angry when I read my introduction to ‘Wuthering Heights’ as a teenager and discovered the whole ‘Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’ thing. My enthusiasm for name changing was nothing to do with being female, of course, but everything to do with being a pasty little Irish girl with exactly no qualifications to write or create anything. Also, my birth name came with lots of assumptions about what sort of person I was and what sort of family I came from. It even allowed people from my locality to put me in a particular ‘slot’ – they could tell whose child and grandchild I was, where I lived, and who my aunts, uncles and cousins were, just by hearing my name. Assuming a different identity gave me the freedom to be creative, I felt. It was like giving my mind a room of its own, and allowing it to do something different than just be ‘that girl from the top of the town’.
In a way, though, I’m glad that I’ve ended up using my own name (not, admittedly, the name I was born with – but it is my own name!) as I set off into my dream. Somehow, anything else would’ve felt ‘unreal’, like I was giving someone else the freedom to follow their heart, and not myself.
Amazing how much power a name can have, isn’t it?
(All right, all right. I know I can’t post on a day like V-Day without mentioning it, so here goes – happy Valentine’s Day. Let’s all do something – even something small – to let another person know they’re loved today. It’s about more than stupid cards and meaningless bunches of flowers, of course. It’s about showing someone how important they are and how much they mean to you, whether it’s your spouse, your parent(s), your sibling(s), your binman, the guy who hands you your morning coffee, whatever it might be. Everyone needs a little positivity and appreciation, and not just on February 14th either. I’m thinking of a very dear friend (hopefully, she’s reading, and if she is, she’ll know who she is) – to her, today, I want to say ‘you are loved, always.’ Happy V-Day.)