Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Being Jekyll and Hyde: writing under a pen-name (Anne Rooney)

I'm sure you all know the story of Jekyll and Hyde. Dr Jekyll was so keen to retain his good name as an upstanding citizen that he feared to take his relatively innocent pleasures  - "a certain impatient gaiety of disposition" - in case it reflected badly on him and damaged his reputation. He recognises that he is not actually doing anything worth hiding - "Many a man would even have blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of," he says. Even so, his "imperious desire" to remain above reproach led him to develop a potion that allowed his darker side to come out in a separate existence and rampage around London, suddenly free of all limit. That darker side rapidly degenerated into something far worse. As soon as he first took his potion, Jekyll recognised that his dark side was "tenfold more wicked" than anything he considered doing in his own, good-and-bad-mixed personality. What he had discovered was the licence of the troll, and the licence of the pen-name.

We are used to the notion that internet trolls flourish on anonymity, that they will do and say things they would never dare to do and say if they were identifiable and accountable for their actions and words. I am feeling something of the same thrill of liberation as I finish my first book under a pen-name. I'm not going to tell you my pen-name, obviously, as that would make it useless. I'm using it for a book that might be said to have the equivalent of a "certain impatient gaiety of disposition", not slasher porn or anything. But is that the start of the slippery slope that leads to beating an [oxymoron alert] innocent MP to death, as Hyde does?

There are two reasons for writing this book under are a pen-name. 

Firstly, it is not a book that sits well with the books that I write most of the time. It will sell to an entirely different market, and I would prefer to keep the two separate. I don't want people from my main market to come across it, buy it and be disappointed, or annoyed. It is very different, and would - in marketing speak - dilute the brand. That was a bit of a worry, but it was something else that led me to write back to the publisher and say I'd changed my mind about a pen-name (they had suggested it).

But secondly, there are some weird people out there. I had another letter from one. I get a few, as I'm sure most writers do. And then I realised that this new book would be an incredible weirdo-magnet. That was the point at which I decided I didn't want to be discoverable. I will still, no doubt, get the physical letters which people send to the publisher and they pass on, but I won't get the emails or messages through Facebook or twitter. There will still be weirdo reviews, but they won't be linked to my other books in any way, so that's fine.

Already I am feeling the freedom of playing with ideas and words that won't be traced back to me. How far will it go? Will I end up writing Fifty Shades? Will I find another area to venture into, and need a new pen-name, and slowly fragment into multiple public identities? So far, only three people besides my publisher know this new identity. All are close friends, other writers who won't betray it. My fingers are flexing. Hyde is out.

Anne Rooney
Stroppy Author

The Story of Maps, published 15 September 2015, Arcturus


Joan Lennon said...

Wow! Let the wild words commence!

Sue Bursztynski said...

It's quite common for authors to use pen names for different genres - nothing wrong with that. Even J.K Rowling has done it, though someone let the cat out of the bag. :-) There is a wonderful children's writer here in Oz, Margaret Clarke, who wrote a series of junior horror novels as "Lee Striker" so that they could be shelved in the shops next to R.L Stine - not sure if it was her idea or her publisher's. Probably the publisher. Anyway, I don't think it worked, because soon enough the covers were reading "Margaret Clarke writing as Lee Striker."

There was another very popular children's writer, Paul Jennings, famous for his over the top humorous fiction, who wrote a serious YA novel which just didn't sell, once the name had sold the first lot. There was nothing wrong with it as a book, it was actually a good thriller. It just wasn't what his regular audience was expecting or wanting from him. Perhaps he wished the publisher had let him have a pen name.

And do you even want your regular readers to read something very different from the usual?

You've done the right thing, Anne. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

How intriguing! And interesting to note that you assumed the pen name after writing. I've often wondered if I would write differently if I created a new persona to write for me. One of these days I'm going to give it a go.

David Price said...

Interesting thoughts. I've always wondered peoples different reasoning for using a pen name. Something I definitely might try in future in order to explore different paths.