Pen To Print

Friday Feature: The Big Debate – What’s In A Name?

by Farzana Hakim

I’m Farzana Hakim but you can call me Farzana, or like my friends, you may say Faz, or Fuzz, Fizzles or Fudge, take your pick. You don’t know me, so what difference will my name make, huh?

A bit about me? Well, I write stories, plenty of stories. One, Sweethearts of Ilford Lane, was recently published and another, The Silence of a Deep River, won first prize in a writing competition and is currently with my agent, who’s running around trying to get it published for me. Woohoo… I’m going to be famous. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

However, I’m also sensible enough to know that while I’m hoping my stories will reach as far as Timbuktu, I’m questioning whether my name will make that same journey. In today’s climate of narrowed branding (initials as opposed to full names to disguise gender for example), will my author’s identity be able to come along for the ride? Maybe who I really am might be more of a hindrance than a help.

To my mind, in a crowded writers’ world, my name is what defines me. It is my storytelling brand, giving my novels enough authenticity to rub off on the loyal army of readers I crave. By promising a recognisable ‘formula’, big name authors have already attracted this loyal following, generating sometimes millions of sales. Even if they haven’t written it themselves, their name on the cover spells success.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, writing a great book is the most important thing. Mine of course are pretty fabulous (to my mind at least). My debut is all ready to be adapted into a TV drama. In fact, Hollywood, here I come! However, seeing as I’m not quite at the dizzy heights of Zadie Smith and John Green, my author identity is struggling. The issue is this, my brand – whether online, offline or in person needs to reflect me. Furthermore, if I want it to create commercial reach I need to be able to create the right kind of momentum. However, breaking out of my hometown of Dagenham and away from my stay-at-home-mum status, is not just a mental process, it is also a branding journey, demanding expertise and time I just don’t have.

So, how do I claim my author identity? I am what I write. And I write what I know. Great tag line. We could all do with one. Based on my debut, I write commercial fiction with ethnic minorities as my lead characters. Sweethearts of Ilford Lane is about a girl, who like me, grows up juggling her eastern cultural expectations within a western society. My voice is authentic. Readers, some from my own culture, some from outside it, appreciate the courage it has taken for me to tackle forced marriage, suicide, and underage sex. This book has allowed me to advocate against forced marriage. In it, I’ve highlighted common themes that are rife within the British Asian community. Does this mean I’ve attracted a niche market and so built my brand?

If that’s the case, it may be that I’ve shot myself in the foot with my second book. The Silence of a Deep River explores the partition of India and Pakistan and has absolutely nothing to do with forced marriage or underage sex! Does this detract from the ‘name’ I have claimed with my first book or does my campaigning voice and the authenticity behind it bridge the genres? I suppose the connector is that Silence of a Deep River is also personal. It is inspired by my late grandad’s journey which began in India in 1933, took him to Pakistan in 1947 and saw him in Forest Gate in the Fifties. It reflects stories I don’t want to be lost and it makes me emotional knowing it comes directly from the people I knew and adored. It’s a special story, part of me and my culture and should therefore absolutely be part of my writer’s identity, even though its sits under historical, as opposed to romantic, fiction.

As J.K. Rowling knows, crossing genres, can be dangerous. To write the crime thriller The Cuckoo’s Calling, she had to take the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. And it wasn’t the first time she’d adopted a pen name either. J.K. Rowling was used when a publisher worried whether boys would buy books written by a ‘Joanne’. I’m immediately reminded of the Bronte sisters, who wrote under male pseudonyms to get published too. We haven’t come far…

This whole author identity is not as clear cut as it seems. It’s a complicated business. And I can’t be one genre type of author. My work in progress is a historical fantasy based on the Atlantic slave trade for crying out loud. How am I supposed to face my readers with that one?

It might be good advice then, to keep doing what I do. Like my old mate Rumi, I’m a storyteller writing wherever my heart takes me. I’ll give you words which travel from deep within me. My readers can decide how to perceive me.

After all, I’m Farzana Hakim and I write stories which I believe are worth telling.

Support my brand and Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Fact Box

Questions to ask yourself about your author brand:

  • How do I want my readers to see me?
  • Am I able to communicate my brand through my writing, does this reflect reader perception?
  • Who reads my books, who do I want to read them?
  • Can my brand grow alongside me, i.e. reflect where I want to be in 5 years’ time?
  • Can I get away with just being one brand? (This is what I have done, but if you are trying to reach completely different audiences – i.e. academic, and romantic, you may consider another identity also).
This article was taken from Write On! Issue 4. You can read the designed version, alongside the whole issue, here.
This whole author identity is not as clear cut as it seems. It’s a complicated business.