In 2003, there was a buzz at the Frankfurt Book Fair – a book by an author only known as ANONYMOUS was the talk of the town. It was clever, it was racy, it was a game changer… Fast forward a decade and we know the author was and is Nikki Gemmell* and now she shares everything about her world in a clever and timely fashion as a columnist, as a television personality, and yes, as an author. I remember an interview with her (Denton?) when she described the process of writing the book and how, once she decided to take ‘Nikki’ out of the equation, she was free to write. She didn’t set out to make life complicated, she just wanted to be free to explore.
Using a pen name to encourage creativity, personal liberation and artistic freedom is certainly not new. A pen name may be used delineate the writers’ approach to different genres, to change publisher or to avoid overexposure… When you think the same pen is wielded by Stephen King as is Richard Bachman; that George Orwell is arguably more famous than Eric Blair; that Mary Anne Evans IS George Eliot, it is fascinating to imagine the dual lives these writers actually have.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. (I, for one, would love to see the Bronte sisters be able to manage Facebook / Twitter accounts for themselves as well as for Currer, Ellis and Bell!)
Think of the predicament grown up literary writer Stanley Lieber found himself in. His pen name achieved fame as a comic book writer, and he didn’t. Sensibly, I thought, he changed his name to Stan Lee. Can’t you just see his reaction as he walks down the street.
‘Hey, that’s the famous comic book dude,’ says pedestrian.
‘Yes I am,’ he replies boldly. Then he lifts his shirt sleeve to his face and mutters to himself, ‘Now!’
I just hope John Purcell - recently outed in Women’s Weekly as the author Natasha Walker, described as ‘the real queen of erotica’ - enjoys his own personal success sometime soon. It will be tricky for him to follow Lieber’s / Lee’s lead!
Yes, the one constant in all of this is that the exposure of the writer and their pen name persona is dependent entirely on the success he or she experiences. Otherwise, why on earth would anyone make their lives more complicated than the one they already have. But maybe this is just my view on the world, which from my perspective, is complicated enough for one person, let alone two!
By the writer formally known as Emma Mactaggart.
* I personally never thought Nikki was ever being that complicit or difficult or sneaky about being the anonymous author… the image of the girl on the book cover, in my mind, looks just like her!
PS – unashamedly, I used a combination of sources in creating this delectable article – yes, Wikipedia, www.news.com.au and my own unreliable memory!