Wednesday, 18 June 2014

My name is Fish

I have written a book. It's called What I Think About When I Think About... Swimming and is illustrated by Katie O'Hagan and published by Troika Books. It's not my first book. I wrote this. And this. And co-edited and contributed to this, if you judge a book by the existence of an ISBN.

But as we know, when it comes to kids, nothing you do before they exist counts. As such, this is my first book.

It is certainly my first book for children. Though I hope adults will read it and enjoy it as well. And my first book under my given name of Eleanor, rather than the name I generally use, Ellie.

It felt important to me to reclaim Eleanor. I was known throughout childhood as Eleanor, except to family members. I remember starting university and introducing myself as "Ellie, Eleanor, whatever" and so it came to pass that somewhere around the aged 20 mark, Eleanor went and Ellie stayed.

At university I stood for election to a sabbatical NUS post (editing the student newspaper). I used the name Eleanor. Whilst I don't blame the name. I lost. I didn't take that chance again, switching to Ellie for my next election, when the winner of a round the world travel writing competition was put to a reader vote in The Guardian. I was Ellie. And I won.

The job I had been in prior to that, as a business journalist, in which I lasted four months, published me as Eleanor. And the job I got after that published me as Ellie. And Ellie, once again, stayed.

But it feels right to reclaim Eleanor for my children's book. The name your parents give you is a gift. I remember telling each of my children, alone with them on their first night, your name is X, and explaining why we made the choice we had, what cultural and emotional baggage it would give them. what compromises were made, and how I hoped they would grow to love their names. And always at the back of my mind I have felt a little ungrateful not to use the name I was given.

Fish, of course, rarely have individual names. The fish in my book thinks about many things. His (it is never directly referred to, but Katie O'Hagan's wonderful illustrations most definitely look male) ponderings cover nostalgia, fears, metaphysical concepts and the meaning of life, as well as wordly pleasures. But I think in his musings, were he to have a name, he would come to the same conclusion about his own book that he dreams of writing, and use his full one. If none of that makes sense, you'll have to buy the book. You can do so here.

What I Think About When I Think About... Swimming by Eleanor Levenson and Katie O'Hagan (Troika Books, 2014)

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