Monday, July 23, 2012

What's in a name? Guest post by psychological thriller writer Niki Valentine.

Today I'm delighted to host a very interesting guest post from psychological thriller writer Niki Valentine on the occasion of the ebook publication of her latest novel, Possessed, in advance of the October print publication.

Possessed sounds really exciting:
Who do you trust when you can no longer trust your own mind?

Emma's life has always been a struggle, and now she's been accepted at a prestigious music school, she is determined to excel. But when the impossibly chic twins, confident Sophie and quieter Matilde, come crashing into her life - surrounding her with champagne and parties - they demand Emma's full attention.

Then shy Matilde commits suicide and shockingly, her identical twin Sophie flourishes. Now odd things are happening to Emma: blackouts, waking up in strange places, bizarre dreams. Something, or someone, is consuming Emma's mind. Terrified, Emma begins to doubt everything and everyone around her, especially the beautiful Sophie...

Powerful, twisted, atmospheric and disturbing, Possessed is a terrifying psychological thriller.

This is the second Niki Valentine book - the first, Haunted, was acclaimed by the Irish Sunday Independent as 'quite terrifying'. But their author is also Nicola Monaghan, the prizewinning writer of equally tension-filled 'literary fiction' who also teaches Creative Writing at Nottingham University. Her first, The Killing Jar, deservedly won a Betty Trask Award and the Author's Club Best First Novel Award, among others - like all of her writing, it had me gripped from start to finish!

 In today's post, Niki  talks about this 'dual identity' as a writer - and admits that it's maybe not so dual an identity after all:


In 2006, after I published my debut novel, I got married. I’d always planned to keep my maiden name, as I liked it very much, and also have some feminist principles about these things. But my writing career gave me a third option: I could change my name and keep it at the same time. My feminist principles intact, both my husband and I changed our surnames to one with resonance and family connections for both of us and I became Mrs Valentine.

Even as I sent off my passport and my deed of name change, I couldn’t help thinking what a great name this would be for a writer. Other people mentioned it too and the idea took hold that I might find a way to use it. I didn’t want to lose my maiden name, though, and the identity that went with that. My first novel did pretty well and won a couple of prizes, so I had built a reputation that I didn’t want to lose.

I’ve always read widely and through a number of genres. I do love literary fiction, but I love books from many genres. I was aware of Iain Banks and his alter ego with the extra initial, having read books by ‘both’ and enjoyed them. Literary fiction wasn’t even my first choice of genre; all the books I’d planned and started before writing my first novel had fantasy elements to them. I was a big fan of magic realism and gritty, urban fantasy, as well as stories about ghosts, possession and reincarnation. And my literary fiction had criminal and thrillerish elements, so that crime was a genre I considered too.

I didn’t need to use another name to write a different genre. I’m a strong believer that, as a writer, I should be able turn my hand to any genre I want, as long as I am prepared to read and get to know it intimately. I also think that it’s preferable to love the genre I’m writing and feel passionate about it. There’s a lot talk around writing and publishing and this idea of the author as a ‘brand’. I’ve never seen myself that way; nor have I been encouraged to by any publisher I’ve worked with. I refuse to be a commodity, or to see art in such deeply capitalist terms. It doesn’t scan for me.
That said, I am also a reader. I know how it works to go up to shelf in a bookshop or library and find a writer you love. The warm feeling of the familiar and the new at the same time. I know that I come to books by writers I know with certain expectations. That’s not to say that I think every book should be the same. I’m probably the most disappointed when I find it’s more or less the same book I’ve read before, or written to some kind of formula the writer or publisher has come to believe in. At the same time, if it was a wildly different genre, I think there is a risk I’d be disappointed, not because the book isn’t good, but because it isn’t what I wanted from a book right then and there.

Like most of my choices as a writer, the decision to use a different name was about the reader. I thought it made more sense to define myself as two different entities. Niki Valentine, who writes thrillers with psychological and supernatural elements to them, and Nicola Monaghan, whose thrillers are more literary in nature. In fact, the deeper I get involved in my new genre, the less it feels different from what I write in the other name. It broaches similar themes; broken psychologies, disturbed individuals, dysfunctional relationships. These seem to be the things I am interested in, no matter which name I use, or which genre I wrap it up in.

Many thanks to Niki, and I urge you to read her gripping books. The ebook of Possessed can be bought here.


Group 8 said...

Very interesting.
As someone with a difficult to pronounce name, I come up against name challenges all the time. But it always provides a talking point and friendly banter with introductions at readings etc.

My agent and I discussed using a pseudonym but I already had 4 books out by then so it didn't make huge sense. I'd consdier it though, for different genres, if I went there.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, it's a very interesting issue. I used another name when I wrote novelisations for TV - my own name (or one of them!) as my official writing name is actually a pseudonym! - and I'd certainly consider using another name in the future, for various reasons - not least that it's somehow psychologically helpful sometimes to start afresh with a new sense of one's writing self for a new piece, especially if it's a departure (and one of the reasons took a pseudonym in the first place).

Roz Morris aka @Roz_Morris . Blog: Nail Your Novel said...

I've got a slightly different take on writing names - I spent years writing under others' names as a ghostwriter. I hit bestseller lists as other people - so that meant when I wrote as 'me' I was definitely going to do it my way.

Niki/Nicola, I've been a longtime fan of writers with literary sensibilities who fuse this with other genres - Iain Banks (without the M in my case) has been one of my favourites for many years. With the M, although I like his prose and his mind, I don't get on with the sensibilities of his fiction - but because of a simple initial I can have the flavour of Banks that I like. As you say, we have to prepare the reader carefully and not mislead them.
(I found this myself when releasing my first novel under my own name. It is possibly a reincarnation story - but with a distinct twist. I had to be careful readers understood it was a literary novel that asked questions rather than a paranormal one.) Anyway, best of luck with your launch. It sounds very exciting.