After my shameful performance recently, I lashed myself to the grindstone this weekend and managed to crank out 2,366 words. In fact, it was going so swimmingly that I had to remind myself to stop in mid-flow – a trick I picked up early on in my writing career, to ensure that next time I sit down to write I don’t have any trouble getting going. I find that if you finish at the end of a scene, it’s much harder to kick-start with a new scene – stop in the middle and you can hit the keyboard running.
“Plank 4”, although set firmly in London (apart from a quick excursion to Sittingbourne in Kent), has several foreigners into its cast – specifically, French people. London has always been popular with the French, who have flocked there for work or to avoid religious persecution or to set up companies or to be near the Fortnum & Mason food hall, and in Sam’s day there would have been plenty of them around. And with a rather larger and more foreign cast of characters than usual, the business of naming them all has become more important.
Although I speak passable French I am far from fluent, and I find that I lack the instinctive feel for names that I have in my own language. Getting the right vintage of name is essential – imagine the shame of accidentally choosing the French equivalent of Duwayne for an 1820s Frenchman – and so I have been scrolling through lists of nineteenth century French authors and artists. But then picture someone foreign doing the same to find a typically English name, and thinking, “Zut alors – or ¡ay caramba! – this William Shakespeare fellow is everywhere, so Shakespeare must be a very common English surname – perfect for my character”. What if I accidentally choose a name with all sorts of connotations for French readers? On the other hand, I’m not sure that Sam has any French readers, so maybe it doesn’t matter.
And for you Martha fans out there, rest assured that she sees this as a golden opportunity for self-improvement – she’s already borrowed a French vocabulary primer and is learning word lists as we speak.