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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 10:42 GMT
Booking a place in history

Forget writing a bestseller, those who can afford it have been bidding to see their name appear in one. But when it comes to names, most novelists refuse to be dictated to.

For anyone who has dreamed of seeing their name in print in every bookshop, this was the answer.

On Tuesday night, ordinary people had the chance to secure their place in literary history by taking part in a charitable auction in London.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly
Name to remember: Holly Golightly, as played by Audrey Hepburn
Seven authors, including Louis de Bernieres, Jim Crace and Nick Hornby, allowed members of the public to buy their way into the pages of their next novels.

They will appear as fictional characters and the proceeds will go to the Medical Foundation, which helps victims of torture.

Kathy Lette, who penned the bestseller Foetal Attraction, commanded the top sum. Bidder Shelaine Green paid more than 6,000 to appear in her forthcoming work.

The drawback is that Ms Green and the other successful bidders will have no control over their fictional incarnations.

They could be a central or peripheral character; a saint or a sinner. Naturally their living, breathing namesakes will have to sign indemnity forms.

Final auction prices and names
Kathy Lette - 6,200 (Shelaine Green)
Sebastian Faulks - 2,800 (Rebecca Millward)
Nick Hornby - 2,050 (anonymous)
But if the idea sounds impressive for its seemingly brilliant simplicity, then think again. For the authors, the writing process promises to be a major headache.

In fiction, names are everything.

You can bet the likes of Leopold Bloom, Holden Caulfield, Winston Smith, Martin Chuzzlewit, Holly Golightly or Harry Lime did not start life as publicity hungry bidders in an auction room.

However, it is true that Ian Fleming's most celebrated creation, secret service spy James Bond, was named after an American ornithologist who Fleming lived next door to in the Caribbean.

Spooky behaviour

Martin Amis turned down the chance to take part in Tuesday's name auction, fearing that allowing someone else to choose the name of one of his characters would "spook" his next book.

Martin Amis
Martin Amis: Guarding his artistic independence
"The name is an integral part of the text," he said, pointing to characters of his such as John Self from Money and Keith Talent from London Fields.

Whitbread Prize-winning novelist Jim Crace dismisses that as a "feeble excuse". But he admits writing a predetermined name into his next book will be an "interesting challenge".

"Names can say a lot. You make assumptions about people that you are going to meet just by their name. An Algernon is very different from a Dean.

Crace has a peculiar approach to naming his characters. He has played around with contemporary names to get more unusual sounding ones - Simon became Shim and Martha became Marta - but also likes names such as Joseph, Victor and Anna.

James Bond
Named after a twitcher
"They're not specific to any country. They're really just European names, which is useful if you don't want to tie the story to one country."

Lowdo, a character in his book Continent, derives from the word lowdown.

"I opened a book at random and 'lowdown' was the first word I saw."

In contrast to Crace's ethereal sounding creations, pick up one of the crop of current "chick lit" novels and the trend is for characters who seem to combine the exotic with the urban.

The mother of them all, Bridget Jones's Diary, set the pace with the likes of Desdemona, Cosmo and Magda.

Myrtle, Mungo and Honey Moon

Bringing up the rear are India Knight's My Life on a Plate, (featuring Araminta, Ismene, Myrtle); Isabel Wolff's Trials of Tiffany Trott (Portia, Mungo, Saskia) and Amy Jenkins' Honeymoon (Cherelle, Venice and the eponymous heroine Honey Moon).

If the names sound unreal, at least they won't land the authors in court.

William Shakespeare
"Just call me Bill ... or Rose"
Which is exactly what Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin risked when he took part in a previous character name auction.

Rankin struggled with Fern Bogot, the very un-Scottish name he had been given, before deciding to make her a prostitute. Luckily the real life subject saw the "joke".

But it should stand as a warning to bidders at Tuesday's auction that an ill-suited name could be given an equally ill-fitting personality.

Not that Britain's most celebrated writer would have agreed with any of it. For William Shakespeare, names were just not that important.

Or, as he more eloquently put it: "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

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06 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Readers flock to buy literary roles
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