Are the names of my characters too similar? Is it bad that some have the same initials and others rhyme?

Do the names detract from the story?

Some people, who like my writing generally, have said they think my main characters should have less similar names. Billy and Bethan both begin with B, whilst Bethan rhymes with Megan.  Some say they find this confusing, others just find it irritating. I am surprised at this criticism. Billy and Bethan are brother and sister. Megan is their cousin. Many people give their children the same initials: James and John, Jack and Jill, Bill and Ben, Ronnie and Reggie. Rhymes are also quite popular: Diane and Suzanne, Amy and Jamie, Jenny and Penny.

What do people like about these names?

At least some people like the names I have chosen. They are authentically Welsh. I know Billy is the English form, but in the book he says he was Gwilym before he went away. A few people have commented that they were glad I avoided choosing anything that non-Welsh-speaking  people would find hard to pronounce.

I can’t change the names now!

You may wonder why I am asking now. Surely, it’s too late. I have published the book. For details, go to  this link. The same main characters will be in the sequels, won’t they? Yes. I am publishing the first sequel, The King’s Justice, on Createspace and Kindle soon. Most of the characters are the same as in Book I. But I might choose more carefully for the other characters in the third book in the trilogy. A lot of new characters will appear in that as well as several from the first and second books. And then, I intend to write more books. I will have to think what to call my new characters. Therefore, I will value your opinions. It would be a shame to spoil a good story by choosing the wrong names for the characters.

The front and back covers of Highwaypersons, Debts and Duties.
The front and back covers of Highwaypersons, Debts and Duties.

 

 

What is cultural misappropriation and how can I avoid committing it?

What do people mean by ‘cultural misappropriation’?

I have heard of cultural misappropriation only recently and have tried to understand it. It seems to occur when someone uses objects or images with a cultural or religious significance, if the user is not from that ethnic or religious group. I expect a lot of people will say I have defined it badly. Iam still struggling to understand it.

Where did cultural misappropriation begin?

I think it began when people used objects with cultural significance as objects of art or fashion. The first people to object seem to have been native Americans, whose art and icons were appropriated by white Americans, especially football or other sports teams. In Britain, items of Asian dress have often been used or copied in fashion with no thought for cultural significance.

How have writers been guilty of cultural misappropriation?

Nowadays, some people object to white British writers setting their novels in other cultures, or including principal characters of other ethnic or religious backgrounds.

A preacher preaching. Can I write about other religions?
A preacher preaching. Can I write about other religions?

 

Why do I have a problem with this?

We now live in a multicultural society. We have done for a long time. It would be unrealistic and undesirable to write only about white Englishmen. I need to include black and Asian characters in my novels. Obviously, I need to avoid stereotypes. I also need to avoid making the minority characters the villains. I said always. Some criminals are black. Culture is not only about race and religion. I am basically middle-class. I need to be careful writing about working-class or upper-class people. Careful. I should not have to avoid them completely.

The Scottish Saltire. Can I write about Scotland and the Scots?
The Scottish Saltire. Can I write about Scotland and the Scots?
Does cultural misappropriation apply to historical novels?

You will see black people in Highwaypersons Book II, The King’s Justice. Anyway, what about Scottish and Irish people? Even the Welsh? I think my years in Wales gave me a good understanding of the people, but I am not Welsh.  I also want to write a western. How do I deal with native Americans? If I am out of order, I am in good company. I have just watched Hamlet. None of the cast was Danish. Nor was the writer. What do you think?

The Red Dragon of Wales. Am I Welsh enough to write about the Principality where I used to live?
The Red Dragon of Wales. Am I Welsh enough to write about the Principality where I used to live?

 

 

Is Martin Luther King a hero only with hindsight?

Why are we talking about Martin Luther King now?

A lot of people have been talking and writing about the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr, on or around the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination. It was certainly an event that shook America – and beyond. His life and his death affected the history of his country and inspired a lot of people elsewhere. People are rightly asking how far America has changed in the intervening years and what should they do to complete what he started.

How does hindsight affect our image of King?

I am amazed at the almost universally positive words used about this man, particularly from people who otherwise would seem to be unsympathetic to all he stood for. People who were ‘even-handed’ in their response to the Charlottesville incident not long ago. Those who are outraged at sportsmen refusing to stand for the national anthem. People who are hostile to trades unions. Rich people who think the poor are scroungers.

What was King’s image before his death?

Many people considered him an irresponsible troublemaker. Even some black Americans accused him of turning local disputes into national issues, allegedly for his own purposes. Others said his condemnation of violence was naive, when his other words and actions incited it, if only indirectly. On the other hand, some have pointed out that the Establishment begins to take notice only when violence occurs. Gerry Adams would probably agree. Dr King’s image changed very quickly following his death. All his critics either kept quiet or remembered only good things about him.

What was special about Martin Luther King?

Many people could say a lot about him and how special he was without lying or exaggerating. There is one sense in which he is not so special: the remarkable effects of hindsight do not apply uniquely to him. Think of Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi. People revere them as saints almost everywhere. It was not always so. If you think there is something racial going on, think again! Think about Winston Churchill. Immediately before World War II, many thought of him as a has-been and a troublemaker. Then what about that American revolutionary, George Washington? Not all Americans supported the War of Independence and even among those who did, he had plenty of critics.

What’s Dr King’s got to do with historical novelists?

It is not that I intend to write a novel about him. However, I do need to remind myself to look beyond the popular images of historical characters and try to see them as human beings. If I acknowledge their faults, I do not  deny their goodness or greatness. I certainly should not forget their achievements or stop cheering for those who have taken up the baton.