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Picking Character Names

Thicker_Than_Water_by_Mary_OSullivan-200Today, we have Mary O’Sullivan who will be talking about picking character names, and about her new novel, Thicker than Water. Welcome, Mary!

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Picking Character Names

So what’s in a name?   Not a question you would normally think about a lot – until you find yourself having to pick a name for your baby – or character names for your latest story.

I always had the belief that children grow into their names. A traditional name, one that has been in a family for generations, gives a child a place in the family history. It says this child belongs. The problem is, it also imposes obligations, a duty to carry forward history and traditions not of that child’s making.  So Jeremiah Puddleworth the Fifth would most likely be obliged to attend the same school, play the same sport, follow the same career as his ancestors. His other option would be to rebel completely against tradition and take the Puddleworth name to a place it had never been before. Whichever path our Jeremiah the Fifth takes, his given name has a big influence on his future.

Then there is the common name. The run-of-the-mill, every second person name. Mine for instance. Mary. I remember thinking in my teen years that if I had been christened Avril, Jane, Ruth , Hanna – anything but Mary- my life would have been so much more exciting. To compound the solidity and lack of any pretension, my parents chose Brigid as my second name. A Mary Brigid treads carefully through life, not taking too many chances, rarely raising the head above the parapet. Yes, there were and are adventurous and successful Marys. Here in Ireland we have had two inspirational Presidents named Mary; Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. Marys have excelled in all walks of life ; Mary Quant fashion, Mary Berry cookery, Mary Shelley writing, Mary J Blige singing, Mary Queen Of Scots a powerful monarch , and many more. Yet it is still my belief that these Marys are outstanding individuals despite, and not because of, their given name.

When my writing was first published, I had the option of choosing a pen name. I thought long and hard about that one. Belinda, Amanda, Jacintha, in fact any name ending in ‘a’ appealed to me. Something that would immediately stand out.  In the end the Mary Brigidness of my character won through. How could I hide behind a glamorous name when that would be the antithesis of what I am? In fact why should I hide at all? There is of course, the awful possibility that a newly published book will be slated by critics. The author may even be ridiculed and shamed. But that, said the Mary Brigid in me, is the chance you take when you decide to make your work available to the public. Besides, I suspected then, and know now, that the most likely outcome is that the work you have slaved over for the longest time will barely tickle the public consciousness as it takes its place with the hundreds of thousands of other new publications.

Given my belief about the influence of name, I attach utmost importance to naming my fictional characters. For each of my novels, the main character appears in my imagination, complete with hair and eye colour, height, weight, occupation, history – and name. And so before I put pen to paper , or typed a word, I knew that Claire (Parting Company) would be clever and practical; Robyn(Time And Tide) would be  a successful career woman ; Ella ( Ebb And Flow) would be sensitive and have a tragic history. I get to make the choices for the ancillary characters. I like short names like Zack, Fred, Frank, Martin for the men simply because I have to type them so often over the course of a 120,000 word novel. Laziness if you like. I keep the women’s names short also for the same reason – though if I felt a character needed a long and complicated name with umlauts and acutes, I must of course, allow them to have it. For the most part, I never name a character after someone I know personally. Safer, in case the character turns out to be a nasty piece of work. I am, needless to say, influenced by people in my circle, but I have never deliberately based a character on someone known to me. That is the glory of creative writing. It allows you, in fact it requires you, to use your imagination. To be creative.

Thicker Than Water, my latest novel, is built around the story of Maeve, Jan and Linda, friends for twenty years. Their lives are profoundly affected by a tragic twenty four hours in their home town of Ballyderg. Maeve was the first character to introduce herself to me. I saw her dark curly hair, brown eyes, figure still good but softening into middle age. I felt her vulnerability, understood her love for her husband and children. Yet I felt a strength in her and knew she would do anything to protect her family. The name Maeve, the one she already had, to my mind reflected all those qualities. And so I embarked on teasing out the awful events of the blackest day ever to hit the town of Ballyderg. The friends, Jan, an independent business woman, and Linda, the snobby wife of entrepreneur Gerard, were side by side with Maeve from page one through to the end.  As with real-life characters – which fictional ones have to be for the author during the twelve months it takes to write, rewrite and edit a novel – they grew into their names. It is my hope that people read and enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thank you to malikagandhi.wordpress for hosting me today and to Lucy Felthouse (Writer Marketing Services) for organising my visit here.

Excerpt from Thicker Than Water

Gerard Shannon felt the tic beneath his left eye begin to beat a rhythm to his impatience. The Town Hall, an impressive granite-stone building from the outside, was a claustrophobic rabbit warren on the inside. To add to the unease of pale green walls, wilting yucca plants and vertical venetian blinds, the Planning Officer’s deep bass bounced off the ceiling and rolled in waves around the room. He spoke in sound bites.  Gerard smiled at him because Phillip Long was an influential man. An essential cog in the slowly turning wheel of commercial life in the rural Irish town of Ballyderg.

“So when do you expect full planning approval through?” Gerard asked.

“Next planning meeting.  Trust me, I’ll have the objectors on-side. Everyone wants to see Ballyderg recover and this development is the way forward.”

Gerard nodded but said nothing. Another block of retail units in the town centre was not, in his opinion, what Ballyderg needed.

“I’ll let you know about the meeting,” Phillip said. “Give you time to work up an ad campaign for letting the units.”

Gerard stood. As the only letting agency in the town his business should automatically get the contract without having to kowtow to councillors but that is not the way things worked.  At this moment he didn’t give a damn about the units or even about Ballyderg. He offered his hand to Phillip Long.

“Thank you. I appreciate you keeping me in the loop.”

“No problem. No problem. We’ll touch base when the planning’s through.”

Gerard made his way as quickly as possible down the once stately staircase. Outside he checked his watch. It was time. Leaving the town he headed towards the hills and the appointment he had to keep.


Blurb for Thicker Than Water :

When local teenager, Keira Shannon and her father, business man Gerard Shannon, go missing, the town of Ballyderg unites to search for them.

 As the search continues rumours of domestic violence, extramarital affairs and criminal behaviour are rife. The crisis causes families and life long friends to doubt each other.

 The only certainty left is that the town has been visited by evil. Or has it? Could it be the evil one has always lived there sharing history, laughter and tears? And if so, who could it be?

 Buy Links

 Amazon buy links :            

Tirgearr   Publishing                 

 Amazon Author Page:              

Author  Biography:

maryosullivanauthorpicMary worked many years as a Laboratory Technician. Her hobby, her passion, has always been writing. Busy with family and career, she grabbed some moments here and there to write poetry and short stories. She also wrote a general interest column in a local newspaper.

As the demands on her time became more manageable she joined a local creative writing class. It was then, with the encouragement of tutor Vincent McDonald, that the idea of writing a novel took shape. She began to expand on a short story she had written some years previously. It was a shock for her to discover that enthusiasm and imagination are not enough. For the first time she learned that writing can be very hard work.

Mary now has six traditionally published novels, nine eBooks and hopefully more to come, inspiration permitting.


Social Media Links

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