Call Me By My Name
In the new baby name polls of 2020 for the UK, parents have gone traditional with Oliver, Harry, George, Edward, Noah and Arthur (hurrah!) back in vogue. Of course, the Victorians were prepared to experiment with names like Isambard and Brilliant, but in times of uncertainty we move back into our comfort zones.
However, last week I had a bit of a shock.
As you all know, I choose the names Bryant & May because of the matchboxes. The names are redolent of a smoky, sooty past and said exactly what I needed them to say. There was another Arthur Bryant, it turned out, a historian (and a bit of a fascist) but it doesn’t pay to overthink these things.
My sister-in-law was researching our family tree (such as it is – no disowned earls or baronets in that lot) and stumbled across a family secret. My mother was illegitimate, and being of an old-fashioned nature, utterly mortified by the fact. Now it turns out that her family name – and by extension mine – is…Bryant.
So I am my own fiction. Although the books are quite mad, they’re far more factually correct than most readers realise. Underneath the flesh of them, the bones are constructed from London’s real past. So to find out that the name I randomly chose is my own is a bit of a shock.
Over the years I’ve hidden plenty of friends’ names in the books, plus lots of tricks, jokes and recurring odd references (it’s the mischief maker in me; The headline of the Tenet review I posted last week was palindromic, just for fun). Using real names and events in books is tricky. For example, should the next novel feature the pandemic or avoid all mention of it? After all, it’s a world changer.
Or is it? When things return to a slightly different normal it will only be because the future has accelerated slightly to incorporate the changes which were almost here anyway; the end of being tied to large pointless offices, the end of cash etc.
What can’t change is London’s history, which is so rich and complex that it continues to provide me with raw material. Only now, the detective uncovering it will partly be me. I was always part Bryant, part May anyway.
Featured above; part of Gustave Doré’s terrifying vision of a hellish London.