2005 was my third year doing NaNoWriMo. It was a different NaNo crowd then: that was the NaNo era of Taras and company, the era of the psychic ferret. (I’ll explain the psychic ferret in another post.) Anyway, by then I’d done the requisite vampire horror story, and I’d done an attempt at a hardboiled noir. I thought I wanted to do a classic whodunnit, but I was a little stuck for ideas.
It occurred to me that if I could only get together an interesting cast of characters, the story would write itself … so I polled the other NaNoWriMo participants for characters. Not original characters, mind, but characters out of literature, history, pop culture, anywhere. I had no intention of using these characters exactly as they were; rather, I would create new characters based on these given characters and/or their stories, new characters who would fit together in the same universe and the same setting. It was a technique that bore fruit, and I would repeat it several times over the following years.
Among the given characters that year was Reepicheep, the gallant mouse-knight from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
Well, then. He was a gallant young man. Honourable, of course, and small in stature. I called him “Eric Peters”, and I had him show up as a result of a shipwreck because the last we saw of Reepicheep, he was sailing off to the edge of the Narnian world in a tiny coracle.
Eric solved the mystery handily, and I brought him back the next year. I brought him back for a third time in 2008 (having skipped 2007) and this time, I had an idea that I wanted to publish. I thought that my work had improved, and I thought this third foray had a chance of becoming something more.
“Eric Peters” had grown less and less like a mere parody of Reepicheep, in my opinion. He was his own character now. It was the result of living in the early 20th century instead of the fantasy milieu of Narnia: the rules were different, and the opportunities even more so. He wasn’t a knight, though he might dream of being one; he was more curious about the world around him, and less belligerent. I began to think he was more like Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and I endeavoured to work in a little of Kenneth Grahame’s Water Rat as well.
In 2013, in the middle of the great push to finish rewrites on that 2008 NaNoWriMo novel, I decided to change his name. The mystery world already had Ellis Peters and Elizabeth Peters; it didn’t want another E. Peters to confuse with the rest. So Peters became Peterkin: the “-kin” suffix giving the name a sort of childish whimsy that I was sure the actual character would hate–much as Reepicheep might detest the implication that he was “cute and cuddly”. And it seemed like a nicely unique name … very little chance of him being confused with someone else, I thought.
Later, JF told me he actually knew a guy named Eric Peterkin. I guess you can’t win ’em all. Whoever JF’s friend is, I hope he finds his namesake entertaining.