Friday, 17 May 2013

What's in a name?

Or how Douglas became Julia...

In 1859, Mary Anne Evans became George Eliot in order to be taken more seriously as a novelist at a time when it was believed women wrote only light romances. Today, it’s male authors who adopt female pen names to be taken seriously as romance writers.
The late best-selling saga writer Emma Blair was only revealed to be a 6’ 3” Glaswegian called Iain, when ‘she’ was nominated for the Romantic Novel of the Year award in 1998, and he turned up to the ceremony. Even ex-SAS hard-man Chris Ryan changed his name to Molly Jackson when he switched from war books to pen love story The Fisherman’s Daughter.
The reason for the sex-swap is a belief among publishers that women (the main market for romance) won’t buy books by male writers, and vice versa. That’s why JK Rowling opted for gender-neutral initials, so as not to put off boy fans.
Whether readers really care if chick-lit authors are chicks is debateable. Blair’s sales soared after Emma outed herself as Iain, and American author Nicolas Sparks has always sold romance by the ton without changing his name to Nicola.
Intriguingly, most pseudonymous authors of either sex make no secret of their true identities.
The novels of Annie Sanders reveal on an inside page that she is in fact two women: Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders. Yet Annie (Ashworth, that is) says their publisher insisted on a collective moniker, fearing readers wouldn’t buy fiction with two names on the cover.
An author name, then, is a brand and it makes sense to choose one that fits the book, be it tough and masculine for a hardboiled thriller or soft and feminine for romance.
Douglas McPherson
When I started writing romance, I chose the name Julia Douglas to separate my fiction from the journalism and non-fiction books such as Circus Mania which I write as Douglas McPherson. I also thought that if I wrote a first person magazine story and the readers saw a male by-line, they might assume the narrator was a man when the character was in fact a woman.
Taking my lead from married crime writers Nicci Gerrard and Sean French who pooled forces as Nicci French, I borrowed my partner’s first name, Julia and turned my first name into a surname because I thought Julia McPherson was too evocative of the Highlands.
I give interviews as myself, though. In fact, making my ‘secret’ identity a talking point has proved a useful publicity tool.
But I’m not the first to think of that. When novelist Madeleine Wickham re-branded herself as Sophie Kinsella to pen the frothier Shopaholic series she initially concealed her identity with mysterious publicity photos that hid her face. She later revealed her double life as a way of promoting her book Can You Keep A Secret?


  1. Just popped over to your blog to say hi as a fellow womag writer.

  2. Interesting post, Douglas or should we call you Julia?

    1. Glad you liked the post. Better call me Douglas, unless Julia gets really famous in which case I'll have to say I'm her agent.

  3. Are you a member of the RNA? Perhaps you'll go to their next summer ball as Julia...

    1. I'm taking style advice from Barry Humphries...