Searching around for names for
characters which are time-appropriate and psychologically-appropriate for one’s
creations characters is one of the engaging aspects of beginning a new novel.
So in the past year in writing Becoming
have been very involved with this character called Alice whom follow – with her
family - from age zero to the age of 11.
She has become entirely real to me.
I can’t quite remember how and why I named my central character ‘Alice.’ In the end she just seemed to walk out of the mists and tell me that that was her name. ‘My name is Alice.’
However in recent days something has occurred to make me think that the mists out of which she walked was my own subconscious. It was only after finishing the novel and celebrating its publication has it occurred to me that I actually had two aunts called actually called Alice.
One was my mother’s sister who, among five clever and accomplished sisters, was the one who was just that little bit dizzy. Her sisters would say, ‘Oh well! You know, that’s just our Alice.’ The other Alice was my father’s sister who was christened Alice but throughout her life she was known as Mim. They told me it was because as a small child she would say me-mim-me a lot. She got a lot of attention in the family.
Auntie Mim was brought to mind for me by the fact that people reading my posts about my new novel Becoming Alice and other preoccupations have also all also been dipping into the archive and pulling up a post I wrote in 2010 called Auntie Mim And Her Talent With Bullets.
And as I said Auntie Mim’s
birth name was Alice.
As in all generations in our family Auntie Mim was fascinated by words. Her brother - my father - wrote wonderful letters, read loads and was an obsessive cross-worder. My late brother not only did crosswords but created them as well. One highlight of his mature life was competing on Countdown. My sister, a keen reader, was an accomplished cross-worder until seduced by Sudoku. I write for a living. My daughter and son both write and love words. And so- on …
In the present day my blog here, Lifetwicetasted, is part of the contemporary world of word-play, as is Twitter, which I now ‘play’ just a bit. (For uninitiated this involves writing something in 140 characters or fewer and posting it on the Twitter site. Then anyone who reads it can respond to it in 140 characters or fewer. And so on. Anyone can respond to anyone.)
There is a lot of verbal flotsam and jetsam floating about out there. But the ones I enjoy are cryptic, punchy, imaginative, speculative, fluid, quick. It’s amazing what you can get into 140 characters.*
I have to say, as a word-junkie, Twittering is fun. I am sure Auntie Mim would have loved it Twitter.
Of course there was no Twitter in the 1930s and 40s but Auntie Min was obsessed with this thing called Bullets - competition with a curious similarity to Twitter a competition in The John Bull Magazine where you had to respond to a prompt and create cryptic associated phrases for the ‘Bullets’ competition. I can’t remember the number of words but it was tight. She was quite good. She sent them away and even won at trickle of money prizes now and then.
It seems to me now that she would have loved the mental gymnastics of Twitter.
So, re-reading the post about Auntie Mim the first time in some years. I can only speculate whether having two Aunties call Alice lying there in my subconscious might have generated the name of my heroine in Becoming Alice.
There were many kind and interesting responses to my post about Auntie Mim and the power of Bullets. But here are just two really significant and touching response which really stand out to me eight years later. I will share them here:
Anonymous3 August 2010 at 08:33
‘My father, John Irvine, won the biggest prize ever with a bullet in John Bull, in 1933. The money was 4,000 guineas (the equivalent today of £300,000.) He was a humble joiner in Paisley and with the money he moved with his family (wife and four children) to Troon, bought a bungalow and gave us all an education. He died at the age of 91. His winning bullet - at a time when monuments showing a soldier with a rifle were going up - was "Man with a Gun" (given words), completed by him with "Wasn't Greatest Sculptor's Design". I shall be eternally grateful to the John Bull magazine and to my father for the opportunity they gave us to better our lives.’
Anonymous20 November 2010 at 03:57
‘I am one of John Irvine's children mentioned above. I am 81 now and the other three are still alive. Yes, we moved from a Paisley tenement into a Troon bungalow and went to Marr College where we got an excellent education. His winning bullet was considered at the time to be the cleverest there had been.’
That’s the power of words…
I thought you might be entertained by a few of the tweets I cooked up by me in response to The other people are highlighted if you want to know what they said…
To @paulmagrs Friendly Whitby ghosts mean I can be there in spirit, writing.
To @nwndirector Alnwick Castle water falls beat all earthly dress, even Phillipa's
To @daneetsteffens Truth is only the first step to understanding perhaps. Or understanding is a precondition for truth, more likely.
To @normblog An old friend of mine had a party to decorate her straw coffin, thus introducing meaning to her funeral - but not yet...
@Adelica Politicians wives wheeled out to order, in the old tradition of the vicar's wife or the wife of that old devil at the manor?