Sunday, 24 July 2011


Yesterday's trip to the Gold Coast Library brought treasure.

If I read good things about a book on the internet I track it down on the library's web catalogue and order it in to the nearest branch. Because this library is awesome and has pretty much everything, it's usually sitting in the hold bay within two or three days... however nothing beats walking into a library with twenty blank spaces on your borrowing account and no plan or agenda. You wander along like a beagle sniffing out The Book, the one you are meant to read right now. Maybe it relates to what you're writing and can help you work out a story problem, maybe it's nothing to do with writing and there's something on your mind about which an author can offer illumination.

I remember picking up Laura Lippman's I'd Know You Anywhere and feeling dazzled and nauseous when I read the synopsis on the back cover. Not only was it story territory that interested me as a writer--which scared me a bit, as though reading the book might lead to unwitting trespass--but the concept also spoke directly to me as a reader. I clutched that thing to me and hustled it out of there; man, I probably would have stolen it if it wasn't free.

Besides the thrill of finding a book of Patricia Highsmith short stories (The Black House) and Hard Case Crime's reissue of Cornell Woolrich's Fright (I love that guy, he handles pain like no other) I brought home a trio of series novels yesterday that hit on a question I've been circling around regarding my work in progress.

My novel in progress is in the third person and my girl, my heroine, is identified by her first name... however lately whenever I name her I'm impelled to type her last name instead. As in, every time. Is it a mistake to change this, I've wondered, is this the thing that will make her look tough and independent but in the process annoy the reader and make him or her put the book down? I seriously don't know. I know I would never change it just to make a political point (I'm under no illusions that it would change anything for anyone) but I also know that for a week now I've been dithering every time I type that first name, fingers repelled by the keys.

I wonder why heroines in books and movies are almost always identified by their first names while the most compelling of heroes--or anti-heroes--are immediately identifiable by The Word, The Name. The three heroes that came home with me yesterday are Scudder, Reacher and Parker. You know them, right? As soon as you hear those solitary surnames, you know them.

The only female protagonist I can think of who is consistently called by her last name is Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies. I'm sure feminists have come up with damning reasons for this, to do with social inequality and females being seen as smaller, domestic, not taken seriously, blah blah blah. That's not my business as a writer, though, all that comes later. I just have to tell the story that wants to be told.

So anyhow my thanks go out to the Gold Coast Library and to the writers of the single-name heroes and anti-heroes of crime fiction. I picked up some amazing reads and I came home with an answer that has finally freed the fingers to run.