Thank you for joining me for my very first ‘writerly rambling’ post of 2020. Today I am talking about a bit of local book networking. Some of my favourite people are four friends of mine that happen to be sisters. Their dear mother was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. She had a friend, Helen who all four sisters would often say to me – with widened eyes ‘You’ve got to get in touch with Helen! She’s got a book out!’ Well, don’t let me tell you, here is William B. Taylor to tell us how he and Helen Gerrard came up with their character names and book…
What’s in a Character Name? Guest blog by William B. Taylor.
Being both absent minded and often quite lazy, I have never really analysed my writing process, so I’d like to start this blog by thanking Sam for offering me this opportunity to actually think about what I do and why I do it when it comes to this particular aspect of my writing process.
My wife, Helen Gerrard, awoke one morning in 2018 with an idea – The Bee Polisher. By the time I dragged my lazy self out of bed and downstairs in search of a cup of tea (and a reason to have bothered to wake up that day), Helen had already written out a story on a sheet of A4, and drawn a sketch of the title character.
Available to buy here
I read it with my cup of tea, and thought it was a weird and wonderful idea. Grabbing the remote control and switching off the Jeremy Kyle Show, I turned to my laptop and began to type. Little could we have known in those early days, that these innocent actions would eventually lead to us being offered a publishing contract by Pegasus Publishers for our first book, The Bee Polisher.
Helen’s original story only contained two character names, The Bee Polisher, and Old Fred the farmer. The Queen was just “the Queen”, or “the wicked Queen”. I decided to create a realm in which these characters could live, alongside other characters that would appear in the later story. Fortunately it was a children’s fairy tale set in a fantasy kingdom, so I had the freedom to be able to invent new and unusual names that would hopefully appeal to that audience. I’ll go through the characters in the order they appear in the book.
King Garold is the kindly old ruler of Bumblonia at the start of the book. His name came to me quite easily. At college I had a good friend, Gary Graham, who for no particular reason other than it sounded a bit silly, I liked to call Garold. This name jumped into my head and I thought it sounded suitably regal – especially with the word “King” in front of it.
Next in line to the throne is Barold, the king’s free spirited son. When I lived in the wilderness of the north, in a bleak and remote village called Carlisle, I had a friend called Barry Cox. If my memory serves me true (it often doesn’t), Barry lived in a cottage in the woods under a bridge. For some reason the character of Barold reminded me of him. I reasoned if Gary could become Garold, then Barry could likewise become Barold. The fact the names Garold and Barold rhyme helps to create the feeling of the royal family line.
The next character to appear is Malicia, an ignorant and unlikable figure who has grown up in the city kingdom of Shmogg and knows nothing of rural life. I decided she needed a name that in some way reflected her unpleasant personality, while sounding realistic enough as a name in itself. Her character is both militant and malicious so I blended these two unpleasant words to fit.
Lord Shmuck is Malicia’s father. He is fueled by a sense of duty, which is fueled by a desperate fear of otherwise being poor. I chose Shmuck in the hope that the connotations of the word would help the reader come to an idea of his character.
Old Fred the farmer was Helen’s original idea for the “hero” character, the protagonist from whose perspective most of the story is written. I did not change Helen’s idea because I value my marriage, and because I liked the use of alliteration between the character’s name and their job. This use of alliteration was then applied to the names of all the other Bumblonian villagers, for example Young Bill the butcher’s boy, Frankie the fishmonger and Mary the miller’s wife. This felt like a simple (or lazy) way of naming the minor characters.
Young Bill and Frankie
The only animal to be named in the book is Old Fred’s beloved cow, Milky Joe. Helen suggested this as she is a fan of the TV series The Mighty Boosh, and Milky Joe is the name of a character that appears in one episode. One of my proof readers raised the point that Joe is a boy’s name and that is strange for a cow. I agreed, but kept the name as it was anyway.
The rest of the characters to appear are not named and are referred to by their job titles. These include the Archbishop, the Captain of the Guards, The Bee Polisher and the Friendly Local Bee Collection Officer.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I struggled with the place names almost as much as I struggled to write the blurb for the back cover of the book. I have no idea why, but they just didn’t come to me easily at all. I begged a friend to write the blurb for me, which I tweaked a bit to make it sound more like me before sending to the publishers. Likewise, I turned to the charity of others for help when coming up with the place names in The Bee Polisher.
I am an avid reader myself, with a particular love of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. I have been told this can bee seen in my writing style, which is a compliment indeed. On the internet there are many groups of similar-minded Pratchett fans, a couple of which I am a member of. In my desperation I turned to the other members, saying I was writing a children’s book about bees, and requesting any ideas they might have. They didn’t let me down.
The Kingdom of Bumblonia was a lovely name for the land in which the bee-related tale unfolds. King Garold lived in a castle called The Royal Twill (that took a couple of moments for me to realise was an anagram of my own name, Will Taylor). Old Fred lives on Hunningbie Farm near the village of Coombe.
The Kingdom of Shmogg was my idea, I’m pleased to say. I wanted a name that showed the contrast between the city and the clean, fresh countryside. I thought about the characteristics of cities and as soon as I thought about smog I knew I had the perfect name.
And that’s it. That’s how I came up with most of the names in The Bee Polisher. It was a mixture of names from my past, a bit of wordplay and help from others. I hope you have found this blog helpful, interesting, or at least fun to read.
I’d like to thank Sam once again for asking me to write this blog. Now I suppose I had better crack on with the next book!
About William B. Taylor
William Taylor was born long ago, near the sleepy village of Manchester, in the land of England.
He was born in the traditional manner – naked in a room full of strangers. Before long, he was educated – and very quickly learned the basics of tying both shoelaces and a tie.
He became a man and took himself a wife (he didn’t steal one, he got married). Now he likes to write down his silly thoughts and musings, occasionally wondering what happened to the boy he once was…
Links to buy The Bee Polisher by William B.Taylor and Helen Gerrard
What a lovely story Will and Helen, the story of your book and how you created it. Great names too – and I loved your place names. Wishing you every success with your next book. I wouldn’t have had this blog post if it wasn’t for my friends that are four sisters xx
Join me on January 22nd (Just before Burns Night) when Lizzie Lamb shares her character names. (Can’t wait!)
Happy reading! Samantha xx