Posts Tagged choosing names for places
What’s in a name? Sometimes, a lot of agonising. A lot of mind-changing. A name in a work of fiction is never random. It hits the reader with meaning. Overtones. The sound in the reader’s mind-ear, the shape it makes on a page. Sometimes a name has associations for the writer too, associations that help us envisage the character more vividly and truthfully. Or help us empathise. Or not. Sometimes, a name outstays its welcome and needs to be changed.
That’s what we’re talking about today. My co-host is independent bookseller Peter Snell.
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BTW, if you like this subject, you might like this post on naming your characters and settings.
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I’ve nearly finished the second run-through of Ever Rest, and now I know the characters well, I can flesh out details that I’d previously left vague, such as where they live and what I want that to suggest. But this brings certain hazards, as I found when I published my first novel. I thought you might like this post from my archives, originally penned for Authors Electric.
It’s a funny thing, releasing a novel. You think you’ve made everything up, then someone informs you that it’s not as fictional as you’d hoped.
And moreover, you got it wrong.
Like the time when I received an email telling me the fusty village where I’d set the action in My Memories of a Future Life was not spelled Vellonoweth but Vellanoweth.
‘No it’s not,’ I replied, thinking my correspondent had a cheek. ‘I made it up.’
‘It’s near Penzance,’ he said.
Oh dear. It was.
I honestly had no idea the place existed. My Vellonoweth, with an o, was inspired by a stand-out surname I spotted in a magazine. It embodied everything I needed for my setting – a fusty, sleepy hell full of dreary people. If I used a real town I couldn’t take it to the stifling depths I needed.
But it turns out there is a real Vellanoweth. So I may have some apologising to do. Here it is.
2. I’m sorry I gave you so many atrocious singers and musicians and I’m sorry my narrator didn’t find that endearing.
3. I’m sorry your only watering hole was the Havishamesque and immense Railway Hotel with its curry-coloured carpets and paintwork like melted royal icing. In earlier drafts it was much worse so I’ve spared you a lot.
4. I’m sorry I gave you a dismal 1950s high street with concrete shoebox buildings.
5. I’m sorry I made it rain most of the time, which made the precinct even more depressing.
7. I’m sorry no one could pick up TV or radio, except for the barmy local station in the old wartime fort which most of the time played industrial whalesong.
8. I’m sorry the electricity supply was as bad as the weather and the singers. But on the plus side I did give you a decommissioned nuclear power station which attracts more tourists than Glastonbury Tor and allows the locals to sell home-made radiation detection badges. See, it wasn’t all bad.
9. I’m sorry the people I despatched to this hell from London behaved so bizarrely and upset these good folk, who as you can see had enough to contend with.
On the other hand, as the novel is about other lives, perhaps you’ll enjoy Vellanoweth’s literary alter ego. To allow some respite, I did give you the neighbouring towns of Nowethland and Ixendon. If they really exist I’ll eat my atlas.
Yours sincerely, Roz
(Thank you for the pictures, Recoverling, Hydra Arts, Angelhead and Abode of Chaos)
Have you ever invented a place or a character and later discovered it was real? Have friends or family members ever spotted themselves in one of your stories, or imagined they have? Confess in the comments.