Friday 17 September 2010

Also Known As - Josh Lacey

Do you recognise these names?

Carlo Lorenzini
Theodore Geisel
Charles Dodgson
Georges Remi
Daniel Handler
Darren O'Shaughnessy

If not, I'm sure you recognise these ones:

Carlo Collodi
Dr Seuss
Lewis Carroll
Lemony Snicket
Darren Shan

They're the same people, of course. They wrote children's books under one name and went about their lives under another.

Writers have always used pseudonyms. Jack Higgins, John le Carre, Lee Child - many of the names that crop up constantly in the bestseller list aren't the names by which these writers are known to their families.

When I started writing for children, I decided to use a pseudonym too. It seemed sensible at the time, as most decisions do. I was working as a journalist and I'd just written a book for adults, so I thought it would be a good idea to keep my identities separate.

I've now changed my mind. I still write one series, the Grk books, under my assumed name, Joshua Doder, but I write everything else, for whatever audience, under my real name, Josh Lacey. But I can still see the advantages of using a pseudonym. With a name that isn't your own, you're free to be someone else.

One of my great whitely heroes is Daniel Defoe, who used various names for his books. His novels weren't actually published as novels at all; they were supposedly the autobiographies of Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack and other rakish adventurers. I envy the way that he could conceal his own identity so completely behind the voice of his narrator, hiding himself as entirely as the modern ghost-writers who give voice to pop stars and footballers, letting readers imagine that they're reading an honest autobiography.

If Defoe was writing today, would he be blogging and twittering and delivering regular self-revelatory snippets on his website?


More likely, he'd set up an online journal, the diary of a man wrecked on a desert island. Daily updates would describe how he hunts for food and builds himself a shelter. One afternoon, he's walking along the beach when he finds a footprint in the sand...

If you read, you'd think that you were privy to the private thoughts of a lonely sailor trapped on a tiny island. You'd never know that every word was actually written by a man sitting at his desk in his comfortable house in Stoke Newington, hiding behind the screen of a pseudonym, which allows him to be whoever he wants.


karen ball said...

I find this topic fascinating, not least because I work at WP where several writers can all be published into the same series under a pseudonym. Do the books have less value because the name on the cover isn't a real person? Author names can be used to intrigue, becoming part of the fiction. Gender-neutral JK Rowling anyone? Readers want to create a fantasy figure author as well as invest in the story on the page. I always feel slightly apologetic about my real name. It's so ... dull. Perhaps I should invent an exciting pseudonym?

Gillian Philip said...

Same here, Karen! I work for Hothouse as Gabriella Poole but I'm not her, and she doesn't necessarily have to be me (if you see what I mean). It is a weird but fun experience to 'be' someone else. Josh, did you find yourself writing as if you actually *were* a different person, not simply attaching a different label to the same writer?

I do vividly remember explaining this side of the business to an adult audience, and using the example of Daisy Meadows. Cue gasp of horror from a woman in row 4, whose illusions I had just shattered...

In some cases of straight pseudonyms, it does seem to be a simple label, though, sending a message to the reader. Everybody knows Barbara Vine is Ruth Rendell, and there's no secret, but she's signalling it's a slightly different type of book... I've often wondered what her basic rationale was for using both names. With Iain (M) Banks it's a bit more obvious, but Barbara Vine and Ruth Rendell both write psychological thrillers. Hmmm.

Fascinating post, Josh/Joshua!

michelle lovric said...

I think pseudonymns have been burned on the pyre of publicity.

How can authors pretend to be someone else these days, when
they are so relentlessly required to expose themselves?(Perhaps I mean "work hard to increase their exposure to every possible media for publicity purposes" - but the former FEELS more accurate).

There is no more retiring to anonymous desert islands unless you prefer the genteel seclusion of the backlist.Only one Salinger is allowed in every generation, and possibly not at all in this one.

The publishers' perfect author - circa 2010 model - blogs (with photos of lifestyle if not face), attends litfests (and is photographed), visibly visits schools, and if at all possible does television and radio, all activities incompatible with wittholding details of true gender if not actual appearance.

I suppose several different names can have the same face? With one VERY careful owner, or one who doesnt mind if someone joins the dots. The thing is, though, there must be a face these days, it seems.

So - if he wanted a book deal - would have to skype school visits, do satellite links to Oprah, post daily photos of the happy hermit at his labours and share those footprints in the sand. Maybe that's what photoshop was really invented for.

Unknown said...

Keeping separate identities could protect younger readers.
If an author was published as MG and adults the reader might need a warning especially if the content/rating were vastly different.
When I love an author's work I find the back list of everything they've written and work my way through it. This is something I have done from a very young age.

Stroppy Author said...

Karen, I think it depends whether several authors write the books that go out under one fake name.

My daughters were distraught when I told them Lucy Daniels didn't exist and they stopped reading the Animal Ark books immediately (for which I was not sorry, I have to say - but I am sorry they were disappointed).

I asked them recently why it had mattered so much and they said it meant the books weren't lovingly crafted by someone who cared but knocked out by a bunch of hacks for money. Fair point. Further, that they felt they had been duped by the publishing company and wouldn't buy any more books from them because they felt they were being laughed at for being stupid. I think that's quite an interesting view.

I'm not sure the first half of their answer is one that only the children of a writer would give, though. The concept of a book being knocked out quickly for money might be alien to other children...

Miriam Halahmy said...

Whenever I say I'm a writer the next question is always, So what name do you publish under?So far I haven't found another children's writer called Miriam Halahmy, so I'm hoping it will help things along in publication year next year. Good for you Josh, just going for the real name.

Anonymous said...

hello and merry xmas to every one - hope yous had a good one - just back from tenerefe weather crap , all the best for the comming year -