Gail Aldwin tells the stories behind the names of her characters in her second contemporary novel for adults, This Much Huxley Knows.
About the Book
Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?
Funny and compassionate, this contemporary novel for adults explores issues of belonging, friendship and what it means to trust.
Thinking of Names
Before I had a child, I always thought choosing a name for a baby would be an absolute delight. It turned out to be more problematic than I imagined, particularly with the need to respect names in the family and not to copy those chosen by close friends. Finding names for characters is also a challenge but the reasons are very different, let me explain.
Huxley’s young voice offers a unique perspective on life, society and friendship. He sees things from a different angle which highlights the follies of adults. While this was always the intention behind the novel, Huxley didn’t appear until I was knee deep in the first draft. Initially, the narrator was a five-year-old boy called Mikey. When it became clear that writing in such a young child’s voice posed many limitations, I changed his age to seven years in order to capture the inquisitiveness that becomes more apparent at this stage of growing up.
The novel was originally set in 2010 but as the manuscript developed, I realised there was a need to build more jeopardy into the story. To do this, I shifted the timeframe to 2016, after the Brexit referendum, so that community tensions could be explored. At this point, I realised my narrator needed a name that fitted with the time and also reflected the middle-class aspirations of his parents. A little research showed that the name Huxley was gaining in popularity although it was still quite an unusual name. The link with the writer and philosopher Huxley Aldous was a happy coincidence.
The characters of Kirsty and Jed were salvaged from an earlier abandoned novel. I was always very fond of these two and I was delighted to put them in a new setting where they could shine. The only problem was, I had a main character called Jez in my earlier novel The String Games. At the beginning, I was continually getting muddled between the two names. Fortunately, when I was able to fully flesh out the character of Jed, the confusion ended.
Kirsty and Jed are friends with another couple who have two children. There’s Ben who has his seventh birthday during the novel and his younger sister Juno. Originally, Ben was called Beau. I had in my mind the actor Beau Bridges but when my husband read an early draft, he kept thinking Beau was a girl. It seemed silly to put confusion into the mind of any reader, so I speedily changed the name to Ben.
Huxley rather likes his neighbour’s cat who comes to say hello most mornings. Although Huxley would rather have a brother or sister, Barley the ginger cat is the next best thing. The fictional cat was named after a friend’s pet, and although the real Barley is now deceased, I’m pleased to have immortalised him through my novel.
As you can tell from this piece, while it’s not so easy to change a person’s name in real life, there is flexibility in naming a character. Although choosing a character’s name can be equally problematic, it’s easy to fix if the writer has a change of heart. Long live the find and replace option on the computer!
About the Author
Gail Aldwin is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter. Her debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home overlooking water meadows in Dorset.