OK, I was going to tell you about this really interesting crematorium I looked round in Viareggio but then something more pertinent cropped up. Wayne and Coleen. Now you all know I’m not one for gossip and I only believe 69% of the stuff that appears in the News of the World but this whole sorry Wayne-Coleen bizz has a direct bearing on my writing. In Gemma’s story, completed but in need of final editing, I used Wayne Rooney’s name. The context was that the coach of the Cuddlethorpe Tigers, Kayleigh Allbones (I am so good at inventing names) compliments Gemma’s playing ability thus: ‘Are you Rooney in disguise?’ she asks. Meaning ‘You are that good.’ I even ran the idea by the editor that this could be the title of the book. However the legal department said no way as it would cost too much, Rooney’s name being a trademark like McDonald’s. A sound decision, as it happens.
Now here’s my dilemma. Wayne Rooney is a brilliant, brilliant footballer (South Africa 2010 excluding) and everyone knows his name. Kids adore him. They adore his childhood sweetheart and wife, Coleen, too. It was therefore an obvious choice for me, as a writer writing about football in England, at the present, to use his name in this context. In other words, as a compliment. The trouble is, I’m a children’s writer and Mr Rooney is not, at the mo, what you might call a good role model for children. Well, for children, teens, adults or even Shrek, to whom he so often compared. For a start there’s no way Shrek would ever cheat on Fiona. Role models don’t cheat on their wives. They don’t (allegedly) then declare that they don’t care how their wife or their wife’s family reacts to the revelations, seeing as it’s his money that’s bought them their house etc and made them what they are today. Ooh, to be a fly on the wall in that house this weekend.
So, what do I do? Keep Rooney’s name in or change it for another one? If so, who? Terry? Lampard? Gerrard? Hardly. Maybe I should go for an England player from the Women’s team instead? But ‘Are you ‘Smith’ in Disguise? (as in captain Kelly Smith) doesn’t have the same impact (no offence, Kel).
This is the problem with using real names when writing contemporary fiction. The real names can let you down in real life. Yet if you make up every name and don’t use any cultural references, the story doesn’t ring true. I got round this in my teen book, Saturday Girl (formerly Getting Rid of Karenna) by having my main character have a crush on James Dean. This was questioned at the time by the publisher’s reader because he wasn’t trendy. Well, maybe not but he is an icon. Better still, he’s a dead icon. He can’t do any damage to his reputation. I chose Dean deliberately. Had I used the hottest star at the time for Suzanne’s crush it would have been Chesney Hawkes. Exactly.
But that doesn’t really work for football for 8-11 year olds. I could use Pele or Best’s name but they’d just say ‘who?’ They might say ‘who?’ to Rooney in ten years time but Girls FC won’t be in print by then (although the TV show will have been a huge success…).
So what to do. Keep Rooney in or change him for another before the manuscript goes for editing? Decisions, decisions.