As well as editing The Short Review, Tania's got her first short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, coming out this year from Salt Publishing. I hope to have more about that nearer the publication date, but in the meantime here's what she says about the naming process:
During my MA in Creative Writing, as I was preparing the short story collection which would be my final manuscript, my tutor suggested I change one of the character's names. I had called her "Mags" and this reminded my tutor of the film Fargo. She suggested "Maggie". Not wanting to lose marks "just" because of a name, I changed it. And suddenly, Mags was gone. Mags, whose voice I had heard so strongly, whose story had moved me, had vanished with her name. Maggie? Someone else.
From this I learned that I wasn't choosing my character's names. They came with their name. Wrong name, different character. Or: wrong name, and the voice in my head is gone. As soon as I graduated, I changed her name back, and there was Mags, waiting for me, hands on hips, amused.
Is "naming" a character akin to naming a child? This is not something I have done, but most friends who have always had a name lined up in advance. Would it fit when the baby arrived, I wondered? Or were they somehow already connected to that magical process whereby - in the same way that Mags introduced herself to me – they weren't actually choosing the right name, although they thought they were, they were just hearing the right name.
Last year I was commissioned to write a short story for BBC Radio 4 during a week commemorating the 50th anniversary of the of Sputnik launch. Much to my astonishment, Mary Margaret appeared. Mary Margaret, a sixteen-year-old Irish girl in 1957. The minute I heard her name, there she was, fully-formed. She has that effect on others, too. Members of my writing group who read the many drafts loved her, loved her name (except for one person who, because of her name, assumed she was a nun!). Everything was present in those two names together: her Irishness, her innocence, the time she lived in. Mary Margaret could never have been called anything else. Just as her friend, Sylvie, could never be Sylvia. Nope.
Mary Margaret has stayed with me, she is now the main character in several more stories. She is not really a character to me, she's Mary Margaret, as real as she could be. When I saw the film Stranger than Fiction, I was deeply moved. That's how I feel; Mary Margaret is right there, I can almost touch her.
In a second story, Mary Margaret herself wants to change her name, wants to drop "Mary" because of what it connotes for her. And although she might do this when she introduces herself to others, in her head she is still, and always will be, Mary Margaret. There are the names we choose for ourselves and then there are those essential, ineffable singular names, to paraphrase T S Eliot, that nobody can alter.
I find so much about what Tania says fascinating, particularly how she felt she lost a character when someone outside (her tutor) changed the name. Anyone else had this experience?