Preparing the new William Quest novel for publication next month, I’ve been thinking about how I come up with names for characters.
It’s not always easy.
In the new Quest novel I’ve had one character who is very important to the story. I gave him a name I quite liked and was nearly at the end of the book when it dawned on me that it was terribly similar to the name of a well-known personality.
So I had to do a rapid renaming session during the revising of the manuscript.
People often ask where character names come from?
Well, from all sorts of places.
I like walking around graveyards, and they’ve provided several names over the years.
I also use family names quite a lot – and there is a sampling in several of my series.
I had ancestors with the surname Stanton. Hence Billy Stanton in my 1930s thriller Balmoral Kill, and Rosa Stanton in the Quest novels, set in the 1850s. (In moments of mad imagination, and not very seriously, I like to think that Billy is a descendant of Rosa.) William Quest himself was, in my original notes, going to be called Edward Stanton – but I didn’t think it had much of a ring to it.
William Quest has no links to anyone, though I did see a Quest on a gravestone once.
The only character who is definitely named after a real person is Josef Critzman, of the Quest novels. Josef Critzman was a real ancestor of mine. Like his namesake in the books he came to England from Poland (then a province of Russia) – probably as a political or religious refugee.
Unlike my Book’s Josef, who runs a walking stick shop and a secret society, my ancestor settled in the Black Country of the English Midlands and lived a harmless life as a glazier. I’m very proud of him. Family legend has it that he fled Poland with his brother, though I could find no trace of a sibling. So in the book I gave him a brother called Isaac, that adaptable crime lord.
Albert Sticks, the ex-prizefighter in Quest, actually began his career in Balmoral Kill, which I started and then put to one side to work on Quest. When I went back to Balmoral Kill the Sticks there became Corporal Bliss.
Jasper Feedle was never meant to exist in Quest at all. I just wanted a villain to meet Sergeant Berry and have a walk on part of a few paragraphs. But Jasper arrived, with a complete personality, and inveigled his way into the plot, Quest’s entire back story and the Monkshood secret society.
It happens sometimes like that. Where these characters complete with names come from, heaven knows?
Wissilcraft, the Spymaster in the Quest novels, got his name from a gravestone I saw in East Anglia many years ago. I’ve never come across it in real life, though the novelist Henry Williamson has a Laura Wissilcraft in his Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight saga.
With the third Quest novel finished (it’ll be on pre-order in a couple of weeks) I’m moving on to write the final book in my tetralogy The Chronicles of Robin Hood (do check out the first three volumes Loxley, Wolfshead and Villain).
In a way, Robin Hood is easy as far as characters go. Robin and his greenwood gang are very familiar names from the medieval ballads onwards, as are the Sheriff, Gisborne and his enemies. Trying to make the familiar characters different from previous outlaw outings is the difficult task.
Thank you again to all you readers who’ve bought and kindly commented on the novels. Do keep looking because I’m going to put some pieces about the new book on in the next few weeks.
And please do spread the word!
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The fiction and walking books are all now out in paperback and as Ebooks on Kindle.
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