What’s in a name?

A lot of kids ask me where the two main characters in the book get their names. When I was growing up in north London, England, my best friend on Wolsey Road was an untidy boy named George. Because neither of us cared much for soap and water, my mum called my friend Dirty George. She nicknamed me Wiff.

The book idea actually began with just these two names, Wiff and Dirty George. That’s all I had. I knew I wanted the story to take place in London but I had no plot, no conflict, no structure. I didn’t know who my characters where, what they wanted, and what was standing in their way.

Olga Litowinsky in her wonderful and pithy book, Writing and Publishing Books for Children in the 1990s (don’t worry about the “1990s,” still very relevant today) says, “The best book begins with characters, characters who want something. They spend the rest of the book trying to get it, while other people or events conspire to keep them from getting what they want. Over and over again, you will hear from editors, “Know your characters.”

In the beginning, I didn’t know anything about my two main characters, so I spent six months living with them, discovering who they were. Every where I went, Wiff and Dirty George tagged along. They eventually became real people to me. And from an awareness of their hopes, fears and motives, a story unfolded.

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