There is a long tradition of novelists naming characters after people they have known. Some honoured in this way are more pleased than others. A A Milne's son Christopher Robin, for instance, grew to resent his fictional counterpart in the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Ian Rankin once named a character for a fan who had paid for the opportunity in a charity auction. That fan later wrote a novel in which a character called Ian Rankin misappropriates his name. So how would one successful author appreciate his name appearing in another's novel? We may soon find out.
A new novel by D J Taylor, At the Chime of a City Clock, is published on Thursday by Constable – and already readers have spotted a familiar name. Midway through the novel, we are introduced to a seedy detective, "a spindly-looking bloke in a brown mac with a strand or two of silvery hair plastered across his head...". This minor character's name is Faulks.
Taylor's fans will not have forgotten that last summer his name was dragged into a spat about another novel: Sebastian Faulks's A Week in December featured an unpleasant book reviewer, R Tranter, whom many immediately pegged as Taylor. Both Tranter and Taylor contributed to satirical magazines, it was murmured. Both wrote under their initials. Taylor had recently written an unflattering review of Faulks's Human Traces. Not only were the authors once great friends, but they have also been colleagues on this very newspaper. So how is their relationship now?
"I have immensely warm feelings towards Sebastian Faulks, who was a great friend and sponsor of mine in the early days," confirms Taylor, who would not be drawn on the fictional Faulks, saying enigmatically that "writers are sometimes entitled to a little bit of fun, which is all this is".
Faulks, however, did not return calls about his new namesake – perhaps caught up with the paperback publication of A Week in December next week. But last summer he scoffed at any similarities between fictional characters and real-life reviewers. "I can't describe the measure of desperation with which this question fills me," he said. "This is the complete opposite of what I'm trying to do: create a freestanding, fictional world, true to itself and umbilically connected to the real world." If his next novel happens to star a scoundrel named Taylor, we will know that he has changed his mind.