Undercover man is up for award

Gender-Bending Pseudonyms
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TODAY, THE best-selling author Jessica Stirling could make history by winning the Romantic Novel of the Year award. She - or rather he - hopes to become the first man to win the coveted award.

Hugh C Rae from Glasgow has spent 25 years in his back bedroom smoking cigarettes and creating historical sagas that have sold 2 million copies.

Banned for decades from revealing his literary identity or speaking to the press, Mr Rae, 63, has been shortlisted for The Wind From The Hills, a passionate drama chronicling the lives of two sisters on the Scottish island of Mull in the 1890s. It would be a popular win for a writer whose books are consistently in the top 100 borrowed from libraries and who writes five hours every day, producing a "Jessica" novel every seven months.

The Wind From The Hills is Mr Rae's 21st appearance on the bookstands as Jessica Stirling and contains such sizzling lines as: "He pulled the little buttons from her blouse and, tearing at the silk, parted her bodice and lifted her shift."

Mr Rae is not the only man writing under a female pseudonym, but the device is more commonly used by male pornographers. Among Mr Rae's contemporaries is Emma Blair, the author of Flower of Scotland, who is really Iain Blair, another Glaswegian. "His publishers insisted on `Emma'," said Norma Curtis, secretary of the Romantic Novelists' Association. "They did not even let him, as a Scotsman, use the name Fiona.

"We have one other man on our committee called Roger, but he has to call himself `Gill Sanderson'. He writes romances for Mills and Boons in the mornings and war comics in the afternoons.

"There is a feeling among readers that if a man has written the novel, there will be a lot of war and deaths. If they saw a bosomy dress on the front cover and a man's name, they wouldn't read it."

Mr Rae denies that he writes as if he were female. "That's not on. I write for women."

Originally a crime writer, Mr Rae, who lives in Killearn, Stirlingshire, moved into romantic fiction in partnership with Peggy Coghlan, a short storywriter. However, she retired after seven novels, leaving Jessica to Hugh. He says he has no problem adopting the Jessica persona. "I barely have to think about the gender thing now."

Iain Blair (right), who writes romantic novels, notably Flower of Scotland, under the name Emma Blair.

The Rev Toby Forward, a vicar, who, until rumbled, convinced Virago that he was an Asian woman.Dominique Aury double-bluffed everyone with The Story of O, a masochistic fantasy, which appeared under the name of Pauline Reage but was assumed to have been by a man.

Alexander Trocchi, Scottish-Italian writer from the Beat Age, who wrote erotica in Paris in the Fifties under female pseudonyms.

George Eliot, aka Mary Ann Evans (right), the author of Middlemarch.

Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte, the literary sisters who called themselves respectively Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell.