On Being A Multiple
This is Chris Fowler. He’s not me, by the way. But he bears my name and is probably a lot smarter than I’ll ever be. This charismatic guy is a respected American sportscaster working for ESPN who happens to share my name. I have a common name. Taxi drivers make one of two jokes about it, either accusing me of being in Eastenders or playing football. That’s usually what we Fowlers do, things like that. It’s one of those old English names that was invented to describe a profession, like Cooper and Porter.
Recently there have been a number of books and films about losing your identity. Lately though, I’ve found I have too much identity. There are several other Chris Fowlers in London (I’m ‘Christopher’), one of whom I know well because his wife Pat Cadigan is an excellent SF/fantasy writer.
The problem arises whenever ‘the other Chris’ goes on social media, which is a lot of the time. This morning I got called a wanker by someone I don’t know because the other one posted an article and he assumed I’d written it. There’s no easy way to cure this. An avatar helps to distinguish you from others with the same name, but Twitter, Facebook and so on tend to blur identities. Grandmas have been logging on as Grandmaster Flash because their cookies pick up the the first seven letters and fill in the rest.
Dave Gorman wrote a book about visiting all the other Dave Gormans in the world, but I don’t fancy doing that. Knowing that there’s one smooth, admired, high-profile American professional with my name is quite enough, thank you. There’s even a company called Chris Fowler International, a ‘financial printer’, apparently, which sounds like a forgery outfit. There are quite a few criminal CFs too – their mug shots regularly turn up online. They usually look like they’ve been fighting.
For a while I was two people on Facebook because my publisher set up a separate business site for me (not something I particularly wanted to do) and that address still gets published even though it’s defunct. To find me on Twitter, try my handle Peculiar (although someone else has managed to use that as well by hashtagging it) or christopherrobertfowler on Facebook.
Which brings me to the question of pseudonyms, and whether to set one up or not. I’ve finished a novel that doesn’t fit with what I usually do – should it go under a new ID like Rock Tuff or Lavinia Sidebottom? Or do you stick with your original name? Jobbing writers, a title I’m happy to include myself under, tend to diversify their identities.
The thriller writer John Creasey was one of the most prolific authors of all time, producing 562 books under 28 different pseudonyms. Even he had no recollection of some of his titles, and no comprehensive catalogue of his works has ever been completed. It showed that good work – and maybe good connections – surfaced whatever name it was produced under.
But people have other reasons for changing their names. The novelist Hugh Wheeler wrote ‘Sweeney Todd’ for Stephen Sondheim, but little was known about him. Some digging proved he was English and penned thrillers under the pseudonym Patrick Quentin as well as Q. Patrick, Jonathan Stagge, Richard Wilson Webb, Martha Mott Kelley and Mary Louise White Aswell.
Why use another name? I began to suspect that Mr Wheeler was ‘intensely private’ (as they say in obituaries) when I read his ‘Puzzle For Puppets’, in which two lines are spent describing the detective’s wife and half a page is reserved for descriptions of the muscular marines in a San Francisco bathhouse. The backstory to the ‘Puzzle’ books grows more complicated when you realise there were a number of collaborators, and that they may have been romantically involved with Wheeler. Search the forums on these authors and you’ll quickly lose a day. His book of collected short stories, ‘The Ordeal of Mrs Snow’, now commands fortunes on eBay.
Well, I like to think that my personality traits remain unique even if my name doesn’t, and I can’t handle any extra identities right now…I’ll stick with the one name – that’s enough trouble as it is!