Famous pen names

Why do some authors choose to write under pseudonyms?

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You could be forgiven for thinking Sophie Kinsella is a lot like her famous Shopaholic character, Becky Bloomwood. Both started out as financial journalists (Sophie toiled for Pensions World mag), both go wild for designer duds (Sophie’s fessed up to owning a closet strictly for shoes) and both are married with children (Sophie has four sons with her husband, Henry Wickham, a headmaster at Lockers Park private school in Hertfordshire, England).

But that’s where the similarities end. Becky is, of course, a fictional character and Sophie is real — sort of. Kinsella is actually Madeleine Wickham (née Townley). Her first book, The Tennis Party, came out in 1995, six years before Becky first swiped her credit card. When Wickham, now 40, had the idea for the Shopaholic series, she thought it needed such a different style from her other work that she wanted a nom de plume. Using a combo of Wickham’s middle name and her mother’s maiden name, Sophie Kinsella was born. We think the books would have been a hit regardless of what name they were published under.

Here are some of our other favourite writers with pen names:

Anne Perry The prolific English mystery novelist (she created the Thomas Pitt and William Monk series) knows murder first-hand. Born Juliet Hulme, as a teenager she and her BFF Pauline Parker killed Parker’s mother in 1954. Hulme changed her name after serving time for the crime; her true identity only became public with the release of Heavenly Creatures, the 1994 Peter Jackson film that dramatized the affair.

George Eliot Born Mary Ann Evans, this Victorian writer chose to publish her books — including Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda and The Mill on the Floss — under a man’s name. She thought her work would be taken more seriously and she wanted to protect herself from the scandal associated with being a — gasp! — novelist.

Carolyn Keene Many of us grew up on tales of the teen super-sleuth Nancy Drew, who solved mysteries involving old clocks and hidden staircases (young-adult fiction has really come a long way). But the biggest secret about Nancy may have been that her alleged author Carolyn Keene never existed. The series was dreamed up by American book packager Edward Stratemeyer in the 1930s and all of the stories were manufactured by his Stratemeyer Syndicate, which also created The Hardy Boys and The Bobbsey Twins.

Anne Rice The massively popular novelist who spawned a pre-Twilight bloodsucker craze with her own Vampire Chronicles, was born Howard Allen O’Brien. According to Rice, she was named after her father because her parents thought it would make her stand out. She called herself Anne in school, taking her husband’s last name when they married. (Rice also wrote erotica under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure.)

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