A Rose By Any Other Name

At the BL Weekender event, I was having a chat with someone. The conversation was nice and lively; we were talking about how hard it can be to be a new author in an established tie-in field and as the conversation progressed, the inevitable question came up.

‘Did you ever think about using a male pseudonym?’

The answer was honest. Yes. I thought about it quite a lot at the start of my BL writing career. I thought about it probably for all the wrong reasons though.

So after much contemplation and discussing it with a few people, I decided to go with my Actual Name. After all, as one person put it eloquently, ‘you wrote the thing didn’t you?’

I don’t have the luxury of an ambiguous first name which is something of a shame – imagine the fun of turning up to a signing event and confusing the heck out of someone – something that I know the lovely Nik Vincent-Abnett has had happen. But then, if I’d picked something obviously male, would that have precluded me from signing events and things like BLW and BLL?

Initials, I could have used those. I toyed with that idea for a little while and still couldn’t get past the fact that I’d written the story, why shouldn’t I be proud of it?

So Sarah Cawkwell it was… and still is. It’s a truth that it has startled people in the BL fandom to see a female name amongst the others on the bookshelves. I know this because I’ve been in a GW store and heard people commenting on such. It’s hard at those moments not to chime in with ‘and why shouldn’t there be’? Instead, the last time I overheard someone say ‘hang on, this is written by a woman isn’t it?’ the question was answered with ‘yep’. Then the original question-asker bought it (Valkia, as it happens).

Should it matter remotely whether I’m male or female and writing in the Warhammer universes? What do YOU think out there? Should it matter? Of course it shouldn’t is my response. But things I’ve read in assorted dark corners of the Internet suggest that there are people who think otherwise. The face of the hobby is undoubtedly changing; you’re now far more likely to find female customers in GW store as much as you are male ones. Sure, less of them – but they’re still there. Some would-be female BL writers have told me that they feel more confident after I ‘trailblazed’ for them. That in itself is the best reason ever for not having chosen to go down the male pseudonym route. Be proud of what you’ve achieved. Don’t hide from it.

Would you consider going with a male pseudonym in the future?That is generally the other part to the question. The answer to that is ‘do you really think I’d tell you?’

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8 thoughts on “A Rose By Any Other Name

  1. Lysander45 says:

    True story. Having not seen any pictures of him before the Weekender, I honestly believed Sandy Mitchell was a woman. Now I know he is a wonderfully beardy gentleman who reminds me of the vicar who christened my niece.

    I dont think names really matter in fiction. Well that is not true, once you get an accolade of some kind like ‘New York Times Bestseller’ then your name becomes very important from a publishing perspective because it has a recognisabie zinger attached to it. But outside of that, the story will always sell first and foremost. And if someone does not want to read your work because ‘O Lord a female hath written words, cast the wench to the kitchen where she belongs’ then good riddance to close-minded fools.

    That last sentence raised a bugbear for me so back to the point. If you write something good, the name attached does not matter. That is until you have written many good things, at that point your name becomes immediately recognisable and your primary point of attraction. Dan Abnett could write a steaming pile of turgid filth (not that such a thing is possible its just a name drop) but he is still Dan Abnett.

    I hope I got my point across clearly, I am always so terrible at condensing my opinion into word forms. I am learning but still, the words allude me.

  2. timkenyon says:

    Ms. Pyro,

    Your dilemma indeed causes me a little self-reflection. On the fact of it my chosen nom de plume was one of simple desire to stand out from the authorly crowd – or at least in particular that there already is an author bearing my moniker. However, the choice of two initials and a surname was (for me) an easy one.

    Now that I turn my brain around to it, the more I think this was motivated by a desire to carry a gender-neutral moniker as I don’t wish to have my work judged as better or worse merely by dint of how many X chromosomes I carry.

    But I understand the points you raise. In times passed the very nature of being female precluded one from certain places, activities, and vocations. I would love to argue those times have passed. I would love to argue that a woman writing genre/tie-in fiction is commonplace, but I can’t do either.

    I love that you’re writing in Fantasy and 40K. I love you’re one of the few women doing it. And I love that there are more women feeling confident to do so now that you have blazed said trail. And I think it’s amazing that there are so many female authors currently plying their craft in the fan-fiction (and various other sub-) genres.

    Delightful post.

  3. One of the reasons why I was initially interested in your book was that you were a female writer. It is rare enough in Fantasy, let alone Warhammer 40K. I was curious more than anything just to see Warhammer 40K through a different genders eyes and if I could even tell.

    To me, I would have initially thought you would use a pen name simply because it is Warhammer 40K and the fear of forever being “…that Warhammer author.”

  4. The Flying Dutchman says:

    I don’t think it should matter at all. For the same reason most of the media is viewed from a male’s perspective NOW, but somewhere in the future, things might change.
    And if my dream of writing a Black Library novel ever becomes a reality, which I hope it will, I won’t be so nice when asked ‘why didn’t I wrote it under a female pseudonym?’
    Why the hell for? I’m a man and proud of it. The flip side to that coin is and forever will be, a woman who’s proud of being a woman. What’s with all the sexist attitudes?
    After all, they have plenty of women in 40k universe.
    Some armed with heavy flamers.

    Good for you, Sarah. I’m pleased you went with your name. The days of George Sand are long gone. As they should be.

  5. KerriFitz (randombeasty) says:

    I’m so pleased you did decide to stick with your own name and not go with a pseudonym. I would absolutely love to write for BL, and I’m currently researching for a short story submission. To know that their have been other women who have written for BL does make it much less daunting. You definitely are a trail-blazer and should be very proud of being such. I also very much got the impression from the editorial team that they would love to welcome more female writers to the BL fold. And why not? If you’ve got the passion to write about someting you thoroughly enjoy then that should shine through in your work.

    Write on sister 🙂

  6. Richard Coffland says:

    Since when have women and children been spared the atrocities of war? Countries like to kid themselves by sheltering sexes from enlistment, but the reality is that we all pay a price. Look at some of the great stories behind the beginnings of heros and legends (Fiction or Real)…Conan began as a child whose village was destroyed and parents killed in front of him. These stories some based on fiction and some on fact are all beleiveable because of the horrors all people face regardless of sex. So why couldn’t an artist who is skilled in the use of words tell a great story without societal limits of gender?

  7. lygris says:

    Although I won’t name names, there were actually a few authors at the Black Library whom I thought, from first seeing the byline, were female.

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