When I was writing Samurai Kids
, I was very conscious of having six main characters – all with Japanese names. The feedback I received from friends and colleagues was – “Too many names, too hard to remember. Do you really
need six main characters
?” But I did. So I thought I should choose names that had a familiar
ring, then they would be easy to remember. I didn’t necessarily select legitimate Japanese names. What I didn’t realise then was I was thinking with the adult half of my brain.
When the book was published and I started to receive feedback from kids via email and school visits, I discovered something surprising. Kids had no trouble at all remembering the names. Writing Tip #1 Never underestimate the child reader. As long as your story has their attention, you can have as many unusual character names as you like. Although it is a great icebreaker when I ask a class where the name Yoshi came from. (Just for those who don’t know, Yoshi’s Story is one of Nintendo’s most popular and enduring games).
Now in retrospect I wish I had chosen all six legitimate Japanese names and I have promised to listen to the child side of my brain in future. When
I wrote Polar Boy
I consulted a list of Inuit names and chose Iluak
. I liked the way they rolled off my tongue and it seemed appropriate
meant ‘one who does good things’ and Miki
meant ‘little’. I chose Finn because
it made me think of snow and ice.
At the same time a friend
told me about Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
series. It sounded wonderful and I wanted to rush out and read them. But geographically there were some similarities
to the setting of Polar Boy
and I have this rule – Personal Writing Rule #1: Don’t concurrently read anything at all similar to what you are writing.
So it had to wait. And that worked out well as by the time I finished my ms there were three books in the series waiting for me
and it was an absolute feast to sit down and read them all back-to-back. And I was glad of PWR
#1 as Michelle Paver’s
main characters Torak
sound very similar to Iluak
and Finn. But that’s where the similarities
end and thanks to PWR
#1 I know my choice was influenced at all.