Monday, September 02, 2019

What's in a Name?

I wonder if you've ever been asked to allow some worthwhile charity to auction the right for someone's name to be used as a character in one of your books? And if you did, how much did you afterwards regret your charitable impulse?

I did it a few times and got away with it. There was never a promise that the named character would be the murderer or the victim or even one of the principals and luckily the winners were people with perfectly ordinary names that could be fitted in quite easily to the book I was currently writing – and indeed, one was someone I knew and I already had a character who was much in the same mould.

I think there was a particular fashion for this at one time and stories began coming through that it had become a 'thing' for people with unusual names to make a point of winning auctions, just to wind up the authors. That was when I had a problem.

The book I was writing, Lamb to the Slaughter, was set in a small Scottish border town where feelings are running high about the threat to the small local shops posed by a supermarket's plans to open on the doorstep. Elderly Colonel Carmichael is shot dead on his doorstep; other characters have names like Forbes, MacNaughton, Burnett, Wilson – all common Scottish names.

So you can imagine how I felt when I was told the name of the man who'd won the auction and whom I was now obliged to insert somehow into my story – Wilfrid Vernor-Miles. There may be Scotsmen who are called Wilfrid, but I've certainly never met one. And Vernor-Miles – he'd definitely have to be posh, with a name like that and it was going to stick out like a sore thumb.

Mercifully, one of my characters was working for a pheasant shoot and I could actually slot in Wilfrid as one of the clients. But it did make me decide that in future I'd give the charity a donation instead of a name in future.

Ian Rankin has had a bigger problem. He recently offered two slots for names that would be put in his next Rebus novel and was, I think, gratified that he got two very high bids, each for £5000. He didn't know who had bought them, though, until the names were disclosed to him later. The bidders, clearly possessed of a lot of money and a wicked sense of humor, were – Lee Child and Karen Slaughter.

I'm waiting with interest to see how he deals with that – and whether he ever agrees to auction a name again!

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

That Ian Rankin story is hilarious. Thanks!