It’s no secret writers make up names; for their characters, for their stories and for themselves. Females have taken to disguising their authorship since at least Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell started getting their poetry published.
The other day a writer revealed she didn’t (really) read books by female writers and disguised her name as she was writing for a youth audience, primarily for boys.
At first I was disappointed and angry.
However, I understand. There is research that says men will read books by men and most women will read books by anyone. There are also surveys by VIDA and the Stella Prize about how books by men, or books featuring male protagonists get most of the reviews, most of the prizes and most of the sales. Thus, I can’t blame this one anonymous author for wanting to get her books read by meeting market expectation.
In the midst of the rejection cycle I too have contemplated using my initials.
Yet, I want things to change.
I think this means we should stop pretending to be JK or even EL or the Bell’s and be ourselves with our full names (when not being read in blind submission processes), for starters.
Then we must start putting characters first. If Hermione is the most interesting character with the best narrative arc and complex back-story, then perhaps there is an argument she should be the main character?
If the movie market can evolve (Pitch Perfect II made more money than Fury Road) the book trade and writing can too. Women should not be embarrassed about wanting to read (or see) or write stories that reflect or speak to some aspect of their experience.
Women are half the world’s population, so it’s not unfair they should populate bookshelves as authors and stories as characters. Then, if we look at male characters and plots and if nothing much depends on a character being a man, perhaps it’s worth exploring the story with a female main character. The world will not fall apart. It absolutely will not.
This is part of the motivation behind my novella about Enheduanna of Ur. She was the first author in the world recognised as such by name. She was the first and most important author of the Akkadian-Sumerian culture thousands of years ago. She managed to influence religious practice through her role as priestess and as a poet, while maintaining her political clout. Enheduanna’s works were imitated across the world’s first empire and her direct literary influence lasted at least 500 years.
Enheduanna has been called the Shakespeare of Sumerian literature but that underplays her. Shakespeare never redesigned an entire religious philosophy and practice using plays and never invented literary forms. If anything, Shakespeare (with his sonnets to his Inanna-sounding Dark Lady) demonstrated he was an Elizabethan Enheduanna-rian.
Even so, if, with all her fame and achievements, Enheduanna’s name disappeared completely under the desert sands and from the records, and still remains relatively unknown even now, then what of the rest of us?
And what of those who further disguise their identities with cryptic pseudonyms and double initials? We will flare (if we are lucky) and fade out, and there will be no cuneiform tablets inscribed with our achievements to be dug up in 4000 years time.
If we can’t last, then we can surely add to a wave of change. At least then we can say we have tried to better the lot for the next generation of writers who may be encouraged to drop their name, or have to make a statement about how they pose for dust jacket photo shoots.
In the end, if pre-Victorian traditions invented to let women ‘get away with writing’ continue, unchallenged, what really has changed at all for authors?
This is why I will write under my name. No matter how much I want to be published, I promise to always be me (and fade and go into the west when it’s my time).
I pledge never to resort to using my initials.