Names can be deal breakers between me and my characters. If their name doesn't feel right I can't do anything with them until I've fixed it. Believe me, I can spend an entire morning playing around with Nan, Nancy, Anne, Annie. And then end up with Mary. Does it matter, you may wonder? Well, yes, it does. I think it's one of those instinctive things, like being able to hear a duff note on a piano.
Sometimes the name field is wide open. Anyone can be John, I suppose. Actually I don't believe I've actually written a John. When I wrote Life According to Lubka Buzz had to have a name that crackled with cocaine-fuelled nuttiness. When I wrote At Sea, Enid had to have a shy, unassuming kind of name. Enid could no more have been Buzz than Buzz could have been Enid.
When it came to creating Nellie for A Humble Companion I had a bit of help. Though Nellie herself is my creation, her father Ludwig Weltje was a real person, a dutchman by birth. So I had great fun perusing lists of common names used in the Netherlands. Cornelia was perfect. Unusual enough to be interesting but handily shortened to Nellie by those who knew her.
Surnames are important too. I found Morphew in a list of tradesmen in 18th century London and as soon as I had his name he came to life. It sounds daft, I know. I guess it's just one of those weird obsessions that distinguish novelists from normal, sane people.
Laurie's lovely publishers Quercus have offered me a copy of her latest book, A Humble Companion, to giveaway to one lucky reader (UK only). So as this post is about character names it seems only fitting to have a name based question for you to answer to have a chance to win the book.
To enter, complete the Google form here with your details and your answer to 'What name was Queen Victoria known by as a child?' A) Ria B) Drina or C) Tori. Entries close 6pm on 31st July.