I hate it when this happens

The last few weeks have pretty much all blurred into one long haze of roads and engines, cars and trucks and constantly moving from somewhere to somewhere else. I always knew it was going to be a bit like this, endlessly travelling between Wales and Fife as the the fallout from last July slowly settles, but I'd never anticipated covering quite so many miles in such a short time. I am become travel-weary.

But sometime in the last few days, as more miles flew past, I found myself listening to a programme on Radio 4 interviewing a couple of new authors.

Now normally these things just roll over me. I try not to get too annoyed at the success of others when my own is so tantalisingly just beyond reach - that way madness lies. Or at least wandering around in public muttering to myself and scaring small children. This programme caught my attention though, because the two authors in question were ex-police officers who had turned to writing crime fiction. There was a panel at Harrogate last year on much the same subject, and it's always interesting to hear the anecdotes and insights of police officers. Grist to the mill, you might say.

As is often the way with these things, I came to the programme halfway through, and hadn't caught the names of either author. Fortunately the presenter repeated them after the interviews, and that was when I almost crashed. The second of the two, who was in the enviable position of having signed a five book contract, was a fellow called Matt Hilton.

Now there's a green-eyed monster in me that hates Mr Hilton already for his good fortune, but the truth of it is his first book must have been something quite special to sell that deal. Either that or he's got a very good agent. Either way, despite the creeping jealousy, I'm happy for him, really. I might even go and buy his first book, see what all the fuss is about. But all the while I'll be cursing him for a completely different reason.

Because a crucial secondary character in my own novel The Book of Souls, is called Matt Hilton.

It's a complete coincidence, of course. Until last Sunday I'd never heard of Matt Hilton, beat officer in Cumbria. I came up with the name myself in the first half of 2007, whilst plotting out the book. The process by which I name characters is fairly random, in the main (although there is a Detective Constable Stuart MacBride who pops up from time to time, round of face and rosy of cheek). Matt Hilton was a combination of a friend's Christian name and a chain of unremarkable hotels. I never even bothered to Google it to see if anyone else important shared the moniker, and if I had it probably wouldn't have shown up back then. This is just one of those annoying coincidences.

Which leave the question: does it matter? If I leave in my Matt Hilton, clinical psychologist (and if the book ever sees the light of day) will people read it and think it's some kind of nod in the direction of a fellow artiste? A lot of crime writers do it, but then it might seem a little odd since I've never met the real Mr Hilton.

Or I could just use search and replace to change the name. There's no great significance to it, particularly. Plot points don't hinge on him being called Matt, so I could call him something different, like maybe John Rickards or Mark Billingham. Or use the old system and call him Stuart Ramada, David Malmaison, John Forte (actually, he sounds like more of a thriller hero). Now I'm all of a dither what to do.

Still, it could be more annoying I suppose. They could ban smoking in pubs, then I'd have to get rid of all those murky, smoke-laden, atmospheric settings.


Anonymous said…
Perhaps you should meet Matt Hilton to see if you become friends and have it as a genuine, if retrospective, nod?
JamesO said…
Well, Anonymous, apparently he's going to be at Harrogate this year, so maybe I'll get a chance to have a chat with him there. Who knows, I might be able to persuade him to change his name, and save me all the bother.
Gabriele C. said…
That's one advantage of writing historical fiction; there's aren't many chaps called Arminius or Calgacus these days. ;)

Btw, I'll be in Scotland from June 4 - 16.
swallowtail said…
that's hilarious. seriously.
here is the latest in advice you haven't asked for: just keep writing and get published so I can read your first book. I imagine the name will take care of itself.

o, and 'keep on truckin'
Trace said…
I'm always changing name of characters. Sometimes the name just doesn't fit, or it did until the character did such and such or whatever.

Names can be a pain in the ass.

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