I very rarely search for my real self on the internet. The last time I did it was probably three or four years ago when a search for my actual birth name thankfully came back largely empty. At the time, I thought I should perhaps grab ‘my’ domain name, just in case publishing fame should come knocking, but I never did. I searched today and discovered that not only is my name (but not me) quite prevalent across the web, there are two or three characters going by my name, one of whom has taken out the domain name, another with the Twitter account and then pretty much anything to which you could connect my name. One is a British somewhat dauby painter who lives not a hundred miles away. The other is brash American around whom the world apparently rotates.
Because I have a relatively unusual real name (I’m not a John Smith) it is relatively rare that I see it in print. There was a stalker, I remember, who had my name and it worried me that people might think I was into stalking. But other than that, my real name has remained out of the public eye, which makes it disconcerting to read people boasting of their accomplishments using my name. It feels like I’m looking into a parallel universe where I didn’t have qualms about working as the real me. ‘Welcome to the Derek Smiles website’ is the way these other me’s are doing it and had our name been Derek Smiles. ‘Read the Derek Smiles Newsletter’ was the another I saw done by the American me. Subscribers: 7, which means he’s also about as successful as me.
I can’t decide if they’re wrong or I’ve been wrong all these years. I hate all that ego culture where the name is more important than the work. I suppose I hate it because it has become the predominant cultural force over the last twenty years. On the occasional times I have to visit Superdrug or Boots, it shocks me how often a celebrity name is attached to a perfume or aftershave. I really don’t want to smell like David Beckham’s armpits but it’s even worse when you’re wearing an aftershave named after a fictional character such as 007 who never actually had real armpits. It’s why I admired the Baconface project so much and why, with a few reservations, I like reading about Banksy.
Yet perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps the only things that matter are the names. Was I any better or more noble when I wrote a book of letters boasting of the celebrities contained within?
Yesterday, I wrote a long rambling email about my experiences writing under a pseudonym. A few years ago, I thought it was the right thing to do. William Donaldson had done it when writing his Henry Root letters and there is no finer spoof letter writer than the mighty Donaldson. In America, the great Ted L Nancy did it to the point that most people though he was Jerry Seinfeld until he was revealed to be a Seinfeld friend and stand-up, Barry Marder. Now I think it was probably the wrong thing to do. It means that nobody knows me or can even attach my name to all of my very disparate body of work.
Yet a pseudonym takes you away from yourself and allows you to create a slightly better world. As Stan I could be a very different person: bold, confident, cheeky, sly, and flirtatious. Very flirtacious. As myself, I could never flirt with a woman. As Stan, I could try to seduce Jacqueline Bisset.
Jacqueline would have featured in Volume 2 of Stan’s letters had I been more determined searching for an agent or publisher. I think they’re the better and funnier letters, written after volume 1 was published. Fearing that the UK might associate my name with a book in the bookshops (how naively optimistic), I wrote mainly to Americans, so the majority of the book are letters to and from Hollywood stars. Bisset was Stan at his randiest, which is perhaps unsurprising because I was the kind of youth moved deeply by The Deep. Not that I was a particularly big fan of nautical adventures of the 1970s, you understand, but because I am a very big fan of nautical adventures starring Jacqueline Bisset circa 1977 and shown repeated on ITV throughout the 1980s.
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If you've not seen the film (and, these unenlightened days, that’s more than likely), let me give you a quick précis. Basically, the plot goes like this: Jacqueline wears a white t-shirt in deep waters before climbing up onto the deck of her yacht whist it bobs around in a cooling wind offshore wind. There’s a certain perkiness about the scene which I won’t dwell on in this family friendly environment and other things happen during the film, even if they don’t really matter so much as the lovely Jacqueline wearing her white t-shirt and bobbing around on the deck of her yacht.
My letter to Jacqueline Bisset was one of my better letters. Jacqueline certainly understood Stan’s humour and wrote a very seductive reply on a nice glossy eight by ten which I now keep sealed in an airtight bag along with her hand-written envelope. Would it sound terribly weird to admit that on days when I feel very low, I unseal the bag and inhale deeply? There are not many men who can tell you what Jacqueline Bisset smelt like on one day in May 2010? I’d try to describe if for you but it’s a bit like pears but with a hint of pomegranate and then some mysterious something that I can only assume is ambrosia… And that’s the heavenly stuff not the tinned rice pudding.
However, I digress. As result of yesterday’s email, I’ve recompiled a new PDF of the entire Volume 2 as it sits in manuscript form. I intend to spend today reading it to see if it’s worth finishing it up with the extra letters I’ve received since I last edited it. I might then try it again with agents or publishers. Sometimes I’m too self-defeating. Here I have a finished book that’s both very funny and filled with big star names. Surely that has to be worth something. Doesn’t it? And perhaps I might even try to get it published under my real name...