The Bug House Files

“Trevanian? What the hell does that mean?”

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What's in a name?: Crime writer Sharon (formerly SJ) Bolton.

What’s in a name?: Crime writer Sharon (formerly SJ) Bolton.

I was interested to read a blog by the esteemed crime writer S J Bolton explaining her decision to revert to her real name Sharon.

Back in 2006, her publishers Transworld suggested she use initials because “a lot of men (in the UK at least) are reluctant to buy a book with a woman’s name on the cover” – and as an eager-to-please debut novelist, she duly obliged.

It would seem she was not alone, however. As she points out in her blog, “a rather alarming number of other S Js have sprung up. S J Rozan, S J Parrish, S J Watson. Then there’s C J Sansom, R J Ellory, N J Cooper…”

Understandably she was beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic – hence the announcement earlier this month that her latest novel Like This, For Ever would be published under the name Sharon Bolton.

It’s an astute move (unless of course S J Rozan, S J Parrish and S J Watson decide to follow her lead and also happen to be called Sharon). After all being called Patricia Cornwell or Val McDirmid has certainly done nothing to hinder the illustrious careers of those two bestselling crime writers.

Sharon Bolton’s experience with Transworld nevertheless highlights the importance publishers and writers continue to place on the name on the cover in terms of potential sales and genre recognition.

Jim Grant, aka Lee Child, explained recently that he chose his pen name after calculating precisely where his books would be positioned alphabetically on the shelf of Waterstones, while the prolific Stephen King wrote four books as Richard Bachman because US publishing regulations stipulated authors could only publish one book a year.

The American film scholar Rodney Whitaker wrote under many pseudonyms – Nicholas Seare, Benat Le Cagot and Edoard Moran – before landing on the brilliantly enigmatic “Trevanian” (“Trevanian”? What the hell does that mean?) for his 1972 bestseller The Eiger Sanction.

And few can have had more pen names than the great Ed McBain, born Evan Hunter but variously known as Hunt Collins, Curt Cannon, Dean Hudson, Richard Marsten, Ezra Hannon and John Abbott depending on what he happened to be writing at the time.

Jim Ford is not my real name either. I use it not at a publisher’s behest but because I want to draw a line between my crime writing activities and the stuff I do in my “real” life. But I also think that it suits the genre in which I write, so there was more than a small degree of calculation involved when choosing it.

One of these days I may publish a slim volume of poetry – in which it’ll be back to the drawing board once again.


Author: Jim Ford

I'm an author and journalist. "The Bug House" series of Tyneside-based crime novels is published in 2014

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