Someone's stolen my character's name!

Books in Translation

Book Review: Wonder by RJ Palacio

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
In choosing names for my fictional characters, I try to make them memorable, fitting for their characters and true to their backgrounds.

My crime novels are set in Cornwall, where surnames are often drawn from the old Cornish language. Family names may begin with Tre, Pol or Pen, such as Tregenza, Polwhele and Penhaligon. Tre means settlement, Pol means pond and Pen is a hill or headland. Using names like this adds to the sense of place.

My protagonist is a police inspector named Neil Kettle, which I chose to suggest his subtle but cunning approach to questioning suspects, for he's quite mild, almost submissive (kneeling), lulling them into a false sense of security. He's also slow to come to the boil, but when he does the explosive results are shocking. When I started writing the first novel featuring him, I did think to check that there wasn't already a well-known fictional detective of the same name and that it wasn't the name of some celebrity I'd never heard of.

I've checked on a few characters' names since, trying to avoid looking like I'm copying anyone. The worrying thought came to me, while I was labouring away on the second novel, creating a serial killer called The Watcher, that another author might have success with a murderer of the same name. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, I gamely thought….

Now, the bridge has appeared!

My WIP Sin Killers features a malevolent thug who goes by the name of Cleaver. His face is hideously scarred with knife wounds, and he's an expert with various blades, a career criminal with a fearsome reputation. I'm 20,000 words from typing The End, and I have plans for Cleaver to appear in the climactic and bloody arrest of my villains when he saves Neil Kettle's life.

Last night, I settled down to read a crime novel set in Cornwall in 1956. It's recently published and well-reviewed, so I wanted to see how debut novelist Laura Powell had tackled the county in The Unforgotten. From the blurb, the storyline is more about a village girl's fixation on a handsome newspaper reporter who's writing about some gruesome murders, but I howled out loud when I read her telling him that the locals are calling the murderer The Cornish Cleaver!

Damn it! :mad:

I'm only one chapter into reading the story, but I went to sleep fuming….

Has this happened to any of you?

I know that it's a coincidence and that even if my novel was ever published, it wouldn't be for years, so few people would ever notice the similarity, but I'm still annoyed and slightly disheartened. :oops:

Well, why is it a problem, actually, and something useful might come out of it. I clicked the book link and read a review there by AE Rawson. She is an online friend of many years and has published her own novel, A Savage Art, with Fahrenheit Press.

They publish crime and thrillers (only) and they seem open for submissions. Now.
I wouldn't worry - unless you want to of course! Like KTLN says it shouldn't be seen as a problem.

I think I did a google search for a book title - but found many of these examples with other books so didn't take issue with this. It's as big or as small an issue you want to make it. Up to you.
I found something worse, Paul....another novel with the same TITLE as mine, and older....gaaahhhh ....Impish.gif but I didn't nick it. I'd never heard of it. I'm not going to worry. Should it prove to be a problem, I'll think of a new title. I would be sad, because the title was a hand in glove thing, one of those thoughts that come at three in the morning, but thinking up new names or titles...well. What we do, innit :)

My title however, has 'The' in it.

Vive la difference. Yay!
Think of it as a challenge...there must be other good names for your character. Plenty of names for a knife...

But I know how you feel. I was told that the working title for one of my books is too revealing, so I spent ages coming up with a perfect alternate title...and found it is the title of no less than FIVE other books! Well...perhaps a revealing title isn't so bad...
I'm 100 pages into reading The Unforgotten and feeling less annoyed, mainly because of the quality of the writing. There's nothing terribly wrong with it, but the author Laura Powell's background is in journalism as an editor and interviewer, and this shows in how she describes events almost as a reporter...rather than a novelist who empathises with her characters.

Also, and I'm in danger of straying into cultural appropriation territory here, as well as sounding bitchy, but she plainly doesn't know Cornwall very well. I'm not sure why she set the story here, as so far it could be anywhere on the British coast. Of course, a writer should be able to write about anything they like, provided they take care to get facts right and avoid being prejudiced, but she calls the village where the murders occur St Steele—which is about as un-Cornish a name as I've ever heard, and more appropriate to foundry areas in the north of England.

I could accuse her of tokenism too, for the one Cornish expression she's so far used is 'grushens', which means the dregs of tea leaves in a cup. In 25 years of living here, I've never heard anyone use it.

Hmmm, now where did I put my Laura Powell voodoo doll...I've got a few pins left! :p
They publish crime and thrillers (only) and they seem open for submissions. Now.

Thank you for posting this, Katie-Ellen.

I've been checking out Fahrenheit Press, and they're an interesting operation for crime writers looking for a publisher. Very gonzo in approach, which comes from founder Chris McVeigh's lack of respect for conventional practice...I might have found someone who's as bolshy as me!

Encouragingly, they represent both debut authors and writers with an illustrious track record. I might give them a go, rather than sell my soul to Satan by courting Amazon.

If you're a crime writer, this interview with Chris McVeigh is worth a read:

Indie Publisher Fahrenheit Press on Running a Small Publishing House
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Books in Translation

Book Review: Wonder by RJ Palacio