The Secret Ingredient

Or a little shameless self-promotion.

I had written another post for today, but it felt wrong not to give this space over to the launch of my new novel, officially published today. The Secret Ingredient is my eighth book. Coincidentally, my mum had eight babies. I wonder if she ever felt it would be expecting too much of people to be excited for her by number eight? Even though I have no doubt she loved that baby – my little sister – as much as the rest of us, and felt just as proud and elated … if perhaps, a little more tired!

By novel no. 8, I don’t expect everyone to experience the same thrill they did when my first book, Call Waiting, was published. My family are very proud of me, but it’s what I do now. There’s not the same level of excitement when my advance copy comes. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s great, Mum. Congrats … What did you say we were having for dinner?’

Same with friends. ‘You’ve got another book coming out? But aren’t you writing at the moment?’

‘Yes, I’m working on the next one.’

‘So what will this be, six … seven now?’

There is no way the heightened level of excitement that accompanied that first book – even the first two or three – could be sustained. It would be impossible, and exhausting. I couldn’t do it, so I can hardly expect everyone else to.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud, and happy, and that I feel a very real sense of achievement. With the publication of The Secret Ingredient, I have over a million words in print. That boggles my mind. But more than that, the characters are part of my psyche now, taking their place alongside the characters from all my previous books.

So here’s to them! I hope they’re all right out in the big wide world, without me overseeing everything they do. They’re on their own now. I’m on to number nine …

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What’s in a name?

Well, plenty, I reckon. I’m stuck for a name for this blog, though. I’m thinking it’s probably going to remain ‘dianneblacklock’ so you’ll still be able to find it. I have at least changed the tagline. Must get around to decorating next week …

Names of blogs aside, I love naming things, namely, the characters in my novels. And that’s what has been occupying me lately in my current novel. I have most of the major characters sorted, though the female protagonist took three goes to get right – hoorah for ‘Find and Replace’ on Word. I had a name in mind as I began, but it jarred as I read back over the first few chapters. I tried another name, but it didn’t feel right either, and finally this one evolved – one I’m sure I wouldn’t have come up with in the first place, but it feels absolutely right now.

In a way, characters name themselves, at least they certainly won’t be shoe-horned into a name that doesn’t suit them. When I was writing Almost Perfect, I could not settle on a name for Liam. I had a very long list but I just couldn’t decide. One day, a scene from later in the novel came to me, and I quickly scribbled it down – by the end he was Liam, and he couldn’t be called anything else after that.

I have an admission, I’ve always been obsessed with names. When I was a girl I wanted to have eighteen children, weird but true, and I think at least part of the reason was that I would get to choose so many names. I made long lists of monikers for those would-be children, giving them second, and sometimes third names. It was updated regularly as my tastes changed. I still have an extensive handwritten list – needless to say most of the names make me cringe now.

I only had four children in the end, and didn’t even give two of them middle names. So I have plenty of names to use up! The names of my characters are very important to me: they have to go with the surnames, they have to fit with the other members of their family, they have to be true to the age of the person. And somehow they have to reflect, as best they can, the personality of that character. It really grates on me if names don’t seem right when I’m reading a novel. One thing (among many!) that really bothered me in The Slap was that the names didn’t feel right. ‘Connie’ was a very odd choice for the seventeen-year-old daughter of hippies. And ‘Anouk’ was a white, thirtysomething, middle-class woman – the only explanation for her name is an offhand comment that her parents were francophiles. But as I remember she has a sister called Tracey. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for giving her such an unusual name, and it irritated me throughout.

Maybe it’s just me? Are names in books important to you? Are there names that grate for you as well? Would the wrong names affect your enjoyment of a book? Or would a rose, regardless of its name, smell just fine to you?

PS: Thanks for all your lovely comments and feedback on my first blog! So encouraging xx