Over on my Alan Miles Facebook page recently, I was asked why I’m using Alain Miles as a pen-name for my published work. Well, here’s a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. You’ll learn the whole sordid truth…
Read your horoscope today? Nor me. That stuff we read in the papers is all a load of nonsense, isn’t it? But sun signs? Believing that our personalities are shaped by astrological forces? That’s another matter entirely. I’m a believer.
In my early years I had no idea I was a Leo. Timid, introverted, lacking self-confidence, cautious, I was a disgrace to my sign. Not that I’m blaming myself. Astrology wasn’t the sort of thing we talked about in our house. It wasn’t till my mid-teens that I first got my hands on Old Moore’s Almanack. I remember slipping it between the pages of Playboy so my mother wouldn’t find it.
The pleasure I had in those secret moments with old Moore. Again and again I thumbed his pages, shivering with excitement as I re-read my destiny. I was King of the Beasts, a born leader, a creator, a giver and receiver of love and affection, a pleasure-seeker. And I liked the mane. Other boys my age wanted to be an astronaut, a pop star, an accountant. Not me. I wanted to be a Leo.
It took me a lifetime of dedication to get there. At first I was a Cowardly Lion, but when everyone was out of the house I shut myself in the cupboard under the stairs and practised roaring. Soon I began to overcome my fear and doubt; I learnt to lead and I was never wrong. I fought the status quo unceasingly, intolerantly. And now I feel I’m a true Leo. I’m not perfect of course: still today I wonder whether I’m sufficiently regal and pompous. But whenever anyone asks to see my profile, I just refer them to Traditional Leo Traits.
As with Leo, so with Alain. I wasn’t always a proper Alain – in fact, I wasn’t an Alain at all. For years I floated quite happily through life, perfectly content with the Alan Miles brand. Until I came to publish my first novel. And then, to my horror, Google told me that I wasn’t Alan Miles at all. Or if I was, then I already had several books in print, and I had a face that wasn’t at all the one I remembered. I checked the mirror. No, I was right: I wasn’t blond and my nose was more … aquiline. So then I called my mother. Had she been keeping a terrible secret from me?
– Oh that’s good. So you don’t have to write books any more then? And you can go back to your proper job?
I did some more checking and it got worse. There was another A. Miles writing too. Writing diet books. Now, it’s true that I have been thinking about writing ‘Cooking For Me And My Dog’ – recipes we both enjoy. But a diet book!? It hardly sounds like me. Lions don’t diet.
So what to do? I suppose pistols at dawn could have been a possibility. But remembering my positive experiences as a born-again Leo, I decided that the best thing was to be a born-again Alan. Now if you’ve ever been born or reborn, you’ll probably remember that one of the highlights is getting a new name. And that’s exactly what happened. I was a born-again Alain.
Why Alain? Well, many people think it’s French. Just the other day, a reviewer was discussing my dialog style – my refusal to use quotation marks – and concluded it was some kind of “French thing”. Actually it’s because after years of faithful service in my garden office, my computer has a few dead insects trapped under the screen, so when I have scenes full of dialog, it can get very difficult to read: is that punctuation or an insect? Since I can’t get rid of the insects, I decided to get rid of the speech marks. But if thinking of me as French makes readers happy, adds a little je ne sais quoi to the writing, then it’s a myth I’m happy to build on.
But the truth is that Al Ain is a city in the United Arab Emirates, a country that has happy associations for me. I considered other cities there too: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, even Ras Al Khaimah Miles, but none of them had quite the ring I wanted. And besides, I think I might have some kind of metaphorical affinity with Al Ain too: an oasis city, stuck in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by desert.
So Alain it was. A new life as a writer, and with my new nom de plume, a new identity. Following in the footsteps of the greats: George Eliot, George Orwell, Mark Twain. But even for a Leo – strong-willed, positive, independent, self-confident, with no such a word as doubt in my vocabulary, this hasn’t been easy. To become the new person, I need to eradicate all traces of the old: just try telling Facebook and LinkedIn that you’ve become someone else. Or your mother. Or your spouse. (This wasn’t so bad: my wife said she could do with a change.)
I spent the whole day yesterday being Alain and leaving Alan behind. I launched the Alain Miles author page on Facebook, rebranded myself in LinkedIn, retitled the blog, created an alainmiles.com domain. There’s just one problem: I might be a fraud. Facebook is certainly suspicious. Before they’ll allow me to ‘claim’ my page, 30 people have to ‘Like’ it. Not see it, not read it, but actually Like it. What if it never happens? I could be left in limbo for the rest of my natural days, neither the Alan I’ve renounced, nor the Alain I intend to be, just a figment of my own imagination ….
Postscript: Forget about Alain Miles on Facebook, LinkedIn and all the rest. It was just too hard living a double life. So I’ve stuck with Alain for my published books … but everywhere else, I’m just plain Alan: