Gavin ‘The Brand’ Cameron

Fans of the BBC TV show The Apprentice will remember a candidate who styled himself as Stuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs. While his idea of branding was certainly misguided, it was nonetheless a memorable gimmick. As a writer, it is similarly important to consider how you’ll be perceived by your readers.

Next time you’re in a bookshop or a library, have a look at some of the book covers. You’ll often find that books by the same author share certain elements: perhaps the author’s name is written in a particular typeface, or perhaps a certain style of artwork is common between them. But branding goes so much deeper than a cover. It can include the personality or values that you want to convey to the reader.

Bronco branding in the Top End.
Bronco branding in the Top End. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My own branding begins with my moniker: Gavin Cameron is actually my first and middle names. My real last name is Cruickshank, but I don’t use it because there are several possible variations in the spelling, and it serves as a small distinction between my real life and writing life. Not to mention that Crookshanks is Hermione Granger’s cat in the Harry Potter series.

There is a long literary tradition of pseudonyms, and this is catered for in the standard manuscript format. Your real name goes in the address at the top left-hand corner, while your pen name is included in the byline underneath the title. I also mention it in the body of the e-mail or on the cover sheet.

Even so, the issue does occasionally cause problems. A couple of times, show organisers have thought that Gavin Cameron and Gavin Cruickshank were two different people. One organiser recently made publicity material in the name of Cruickshank instead of Cameron, and it’s now being corrected.

In an attempt to stop this from happening again, I’ve now made it clear in my e-mail signature:

Gavin Cruickshank
writing as Gavin Cameron.

On the same subject, you might have noticed my Twitter name @LadyGavGav. Although I’ve never liked my first name being shortened to Gav, and still don’t, I felt I had to take that Twitter name as it was available and was an improvement over my previous handle @Knaw_Says.

Together in Electric Screams

This is the last Monday of working on my MLitt Dissertation, freeing me to give you more in-depth entries from next week onwards. But I’ve one more filler photo for you, and it’s the cover of said dissertation.

There is a creative part of up to 15,000 words, which can include prose and/or poetry, and 3,000-word part to discuss it further. Jennifer Goldman’s Electric Scream is set in 2027 and is written from the perspective of a 29-year-old poet who finds and transcribes a video diary she kept as a student in 2016.
You might notice the dissertation is ‘written by Gavin Cruickshank’, and that’s because I have to use my legal name. I would otherwise use my middle name Cameron.

Last week, I was speaking to a poet and I accidentally used this individual’s last name, which can also work as a first name. The poet accepted my apologies but described such mistakes as a ‘pet hate’.

I was furious with myself not only for doing it to someone whose work I admire, but because I feel the same way when someone spells Cruickshank incorrectly, especially when I’ve spelt it out or the other party has made an assumption. J K Rowling didn’t help by giving Hermione Granger a cat called Crookshanks.

I therefore use my middle name to avoid the spelling issue. Of course, this sometimes causes as much confusion as it saves. At a reading a couple of weeks ago, the organiser thought Gavin Cameron and Gavin Cruickshank were two different people and wasn’t sure which of us had agreed to participate.

The Power of The Name

Many authors find it difficult to name characters. It’s not just a case of finding a name you haven’t used before; it has to be consistent with the person’s age, region, class, &c.

My names normally come very quickly, but in my novel The Government Artist, it took weeks to find the right moniker. The main character is a man born in 1943 who could potentially have gone to Oxford University. His name became Malcolm St Clement, which has a certain easy rhythm and suggests he’s from a fairly well-off family. But what about the names given by peers rather than parents?

In the TV series NCIS, Dr Donald Mallard is universally known as Ducky, an affectionate term that plays on his first and last names. By contrast, Agent Gibbs is the boss, and addressed only by his last name as a mark of respect. The only exception is Ducky, who is allowed to say Jethro. It implies the two have a relationship that predates Gibbs’s appointment, and perhaps his tolerance of being addressed so informally is a mark of his own respect to Ducky.

It can also speak volumes about a character whose nickname is not used, at least not to his or her face. In another of my books, Fifty Million Nicker, Josh “Speedy” Rush works in an office where affectionate titles are given to everyone. However, his colleague calls himself Pressure Pete as he’s proud of his harsh sales tactics. Nobody else calls him this, preferring to use names that range from Pete the Pain to Pete the Prick. One of their bosses is also unkindly known as Tart, taken from her first name Flanella.

In a few cases, the nickname can say more about the person who bestowed it than the recipient. I have a real-life example from people I knew a few years ago, so I’ll have to change the actual names used. Person 1 was called Callum, but Person 2 had only just met him and struggled to remember his name. One day, P2 accidentally called him Logan. Even though this was an isolated mistake and he finally learnt Callum’s correct name, P2 continued to nickname him Logan, trying to make it catch on. He persisted for three years, and nobody else ever used it.

If there is one name I should use more often, it’s Jeffery Archer. I don’t know exactly why, but last week’s post gained twice as many views as normal. Do keep it up.