'Why I don't want to be the hero of a Nick Hornby novel ...'

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The Independent Online
IT COULD have thrust him into the literary limelight. But when Will Lightman discovered that, by chance, his name had been used for that of the main character in Nick Hornby's new novel he was distinctly underwhelmed.

Now, after Mr Lightman contacted the publishers, the name of the romantic hero in About a Boy has been changed in corrected proofs to Will Freeman.

Last week the Independent on Sunday tracked down the real William Lightman, a middle-aged professional man from London who had never heard of the author of Fever Pitch, the best-seller about an obsessional Arsenal supporter.

"It is a complete mystery to me how Nick Hornby came up with my name," said Mr Lightman. "It is claimed that the chances of winning the National Lottery Jackpot are about 14 million to one. I should imagine the prospect of an author plucking my name out of thin air is even more remote, although this is what seems to have occurred."

Mr Lightman was alerted to the existence of the new book by staff at The New Yorker magazine as they prepared to print an extract. Staff there promised Mr Lightman they would change the surname to Leitman and contract the first name down to "Will" rather than William.

"But I still wasn't that happy," said Mr Lightman, "because I am usually called Will."

Mr Lightman then contacted Hornby's London publishers, Victor Gollancz, and raised his objections there.

"Originally, I thought the story-line of the book would be set in New York, but I now gather that it will be London orientated. I think I am the only William Lightman in London - if not in the country."

Adrienne Maguire, of Gollancz, said: "You would think someone might be pleased to be associated with a Nick Hornby book, especially as this character happens to be quite attractive."

The case illustrates a common problem for novelists and screenwriters. In 1963 Evelyn Waugh summed up the pitfalls of nomenclature in a diary entry: "How to invent names for fictitious characters without fear of prosecution? This morning's Times has births to Clague, Fimbel, Futty and Prescott-Pickup."

Graham Greene was also plagued by legal remonstrations in the Thirties. "There was one firm of solicitors," he recorded, "who went out of their way to incite actions for libel, checking the names of characters with the names in the London telephone directory."

As for Mr Lightman, he seems unlikely to become a fan of Mr Hornby's work. "I have since seen a couple of his books in the shops," he said "Not being a football fan, it is unlikely that they would prove to be my cup of tea."