Jack is a popular name for heroic protagonists, of course, in thrillers, crime dramas and adventure tales, such as Jack Reacher, Jack Frost, Jack Bauer, Jack Sparrow. And Jack is a name redolent of fairy tales – Jack the Giant Killer, Jack and the Beanstalk, Spring-heeled Jack, Jack and Jill. The name has a certain quality to it, a certain strength of – er – character. Perhaps, George or Mildred are equally popular names in fiction but they conjure different images from Jack. Quite different. So I called my protagonist Jack.
Originally, he was going to be just Jack but I realised that he needed a surname of a sort. So he became Jack Cock, then Jack Coq.
Coq is the French for chicken, of course, so combining it with Jack was counterintuitive according to The Philosophie and Understanding of True Names, a book yet to be published, and, indeed, written. But Coq is also a reference to the false charge levelled by Horace and Hobble, the two Constables, that Jack is a French agitator. And as with Jack, Coq is a one syllable name with a hard sound at the end. And, of course, Coq is a play on words because my protagonist Jack has a large cock. Which has its own name, Mister Pizzle, so called after the word for a bull’s penis. There are more slang words for penis than for any other part of the body, and these include plonker and pillock. But pizzle was the only appropriate one in the circumstances.
As for Horace and Hobble, these two resemble the Broker’s Men in pantomimes such as Aladdin and Cinderella but, in fact, their names are mere alliterative fancy. Ignatius Qwenk is also mere fancy, plucked from the ether, then made Dutch. He speaks Dutch in the story. Here, indeed, his name gave him more substance than a mere Johan Kepp (although that’s not a bad name) might have done. I tend to make up names although some real ones can be extraordinary such William Sweetbones (from a seventeenth criminal indictment ), Francis Younghusband (a British soldier and explorer) and Christmas Humphries (a British judge). The names of the Commedia characters in the story are all proper Commedia names, tending towards the Italian rather than the French or the Anglicised versions. He who the English call Harlequin, the Italians originally called Arlequino. Here, he is Arlequin. And Pigg is a real name.
Where the names in The Spectacle become a little more intriguing is where they allude to real people. Bill Shoe I have already mentioned in an earlier blog (a reference to Tom Stoppard who used the pseudonym William Boot). The connections of Barclay and Mercer, the two brutal orderlies in the madhouse, and of Fish, one of the inmates, to real people are less obvious. This is because, especially in the case of Fish, the connection is potentially slanderous. And deliberately so. The name and character of Fish is my thrust between the ribs to someone who did me a particular unkindness many years ago. He is, indeed, an artist and well known in his field, although when I knew him he hadn’t yet become one. It is unlikely that the person concerned would connect himself with the character Fish, however, who can only paint in blue and has Tourette’s. And the Commedia character Pasquariello, who attempts to paint Arlequin’s portrait, also alludes to the same person. While the portrait scene comes from a transcription of an actual Commedia piece, nevertheless, Pasquariello’s ineptitude and decrepitude are directed to that same real artist. He is none of these, of course. I’m just being mean to him, knowing full well there is nothing he can do about it. It’s like sticking up two fingers to someone who can’t see what’s happening but everyone else can although they don’t and can’t ever get the joke. Oh, there are in-jokes in there, too. Mean ones.
As for Barclay and Mercer, these names derive from Barclay’s of bank and credit card infamy, and from Mercers, their debt collection division. A few years ago, I ran into financial difficulties and ended up in debt to Barclaycard. Not only were they unwilling to reach a sensible agreement with me over repayment of that debt but Mercers harassed me on the phone, sometimes ringing me several times in one day and in the evening and threatening me. In the end, I discovered what my rights were and I got them to cease harassing me. I decided to write them into the book. Unlike individuals, you can’t slander organisations.
In The Spectacle, the Constables have a dog named Yur. Yur is a lurcher and is named after what, as a child, I believed to be what a Cornish farmer had called his dog. What he was actually saying wasn’t the dog’s name at all, of course, but a command for the dog to come to him, ‘come here’ which was reduced to ‘yur’ by his Cornish accent. In The Spectacle, the description of Yur is a short portrait of my then lurcher called Lucy (sadly she died from cancer a few years ago aged only seven). After her death, I decided to write my dogs into all my fiction, even if they have only walk-on parts.
Several years ago, I was an active participant in an online forum run by the Telegraph in conjunction with a series of articles written by the novelist Louise Doughty. Louise suggested we, the participants in the forum, might contribute to a speculative and risky venture, namely, a collaborative novel. Needless to say, that proved to be too difficult to make real and nothing came of it. She set a sort of competition for us to come up with a title, without, of course, having the first idea of what the novel would be about. And as a prize, whoever she felt came up with the best title would be rewarded by having a major character in the novel she was writing named after them. As luck would have it, I won with Custard Shoes. So, in Whatever You Love, there is a female police sergeant called Antonia Saunders. She is named after me. Oh, the fame of it.
Excuse me while I bask a little.