Pen Name… Pending…
By: Brittany Kingston
I started writing at a very young age, so I didn’t give a thought to a pen name. I’d grown up being Heather Adams and everyone knew who I was. Even I knew who I was. Besides, I don’t think I even knew what a pen name was at that time.
I eventually grew up [some might debate that point] and I got married. Although there were choices, I was a traditional girl and took my husband’s name. At that stage, I went from one end of the alphabet to the other. From Adams to Williams. A plain name for a plain person. Nothing spectacular, not outstanding; an ordinary name.
Some years later, when a friend and I got together to share our love of writing, we decided to write a novel together—as you do. We didn’t see why that would be so hard… Aah, the innocence of youth.
Science fiction was a grand passion for both of us. So Susan and I co-wrote our first novel, “The Star Stone”. It was a brilliant piece of work. Even now, reading it can move me to tears—of laughter. Every writing mistake in the history of fiction was in there somewhere. I suppose I could let you read it, but then I’d have to kill you.
We had the foresight to shelve that idea and we moved on to our next collaboration, “The Half-Burnt Bridge”, a contemporary family saga full of sex, drugs, rock and roll, illegitimate children, blackmail, industrial espionage, murder… You name it, we had it all. Real block buster writing. To our credit, we stuck to it and finished that novel. And shelved it.
The upshot of all this prolific writing, apart from teaching us our craft, was that we were forced to think about other things. Things like… what name should our co-written work appear under? The by line of: Heather Williams and Susan Graham wouldn’t inspire anyone to pick the book up off a shelf and read it. We both recognized that we would need a good pen name if we were serious about getting our work out to the public.
But what? A combination of our names didn’t work. There was already an author by the name of Heather Graham on the book shelves, and Susan Williams didn’t sound at all interesting.
At the time, Susan lived in Olive Street and I lived in Templeton Street. Yes! Olive Templeton. But… Olive? No, that didn’t sound like us at all. Thus, Oliver Templeton was born. Now there was a name that could sell a book. It rolled off the tongue. It had rhythm. Oliver Templeton was an author with style.
Then I moved to a different town—to a different street name.
Undaunted, Oliver Templeton changed his name to Oliver Templeton-Main. Who could resist a novel written by Oliver Templeton-Main? Brilliant!
Then the fashion of author names changed. Long names were “out”. Short names and initials were “in”. Suddenly O. T-M. didn’t work at all. We had to rethink the impressive, eye-catching pen name that had taken a decade for us to come up with.
The answer was staring us in the face. Literally. Our pets.
Susan’s cat, Murphy, and my two dogs Jock and Tess, had for years been long-suffering witnesses to every writing session. They’d heard our first drafts, second drafts, tenth drafts, final triumphs, gradual realizations, sighs of exasperation and shrieks of laughter.
J.T. Murphy emerged.
Short. To the point. Catchy. No frills. J.T. Murphy was the author who would sell our books.
By that time, we’d also become more savvy to the business of marketing and selling. Placement in book shops would be an important part of getting our novels sold. A name like Adams would be so far up on the shelves, no-one without a step ladder would find it. Likewise, Williams would be down near the floor. The prime position in book shops was always occupied by surnames between G and M. Yes, good old J.T. Murphy would put us in prime position.
When it came to our individual writing, Susan would have no problems. A surname like Graham would be in prime position. Heather Williams, on the other hand, well… apart from the obvious book shop shelving problem, the name just didn’t have a ring to it.
I was back to my old problem. A plain name that was a little on the hard-to-pronounce side. I needed to get rid of the Williams part. Easy, you might think, but what about the Heather bit? Heather is an odd name. It makes a harsh sound, and unless you couple it with a short surname, it can sound rather out of place. Heather Dee? Heather Brae? Heather Gray? Not quite there. Those names just didn’t resonate with me.
Back to the book shelves I went, in search of my favorite authors. Where did I want to be situated? Which famous authors did I want my books to be near? Stephen King gave me the answer. Stephen King’s books were right where you couldn’t miss them. But I couldn’t steal his name. After all, he’d already made it famous.
So, King evolved into Kingston. I liked that. What went with Kingston? Not Heather. That was too hard to say. The dust was blown off the baby name book again. I went through all the “As” without finding anything that leaped off the page at me. Onto the “Bs”. This was a tiresome way to find a name. But then... Britannia... Hmmm, almost. Brittany. Brittany?
Brit-tan-ee King-ston. That had rhythm. It was easy to say. The words were pleasing to the eye. Brittany Kingston. I could live with that. At last, the butterfly emerged from her cocoon.
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