When I was given the opportunity to write some book reviews for the SMH last year it crossed my mind for about six seconds that I ought to write under a pseudonym. This was not because I had anything to hide but because the average law-abiding person gets so few chances to act under an assumed name that it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity. I was also conscious that whatever name those reviews were published under would probably be the name I would use for anything else I might have published. (Of course I already have a pseudonym of sorts in "Tim Sterne", but that's really more of a nickname or nom de blog - I am Tim, from Sterne - than a name I have deliberately adopted.) In the end I decided to use my boring, everyday name, the surname of which I find I have to keep spelling for people despite it being the name of our recently-deposed PM of eleven years. How soon we (bash our skulls against walls in an effort to) forget.
The other thing I had to decide on was my contributor note. Again there was a strong temptation to lie, eg. "T. Kazutoki Sterne is the author of Drescher, Goebbels, Braque: An Eternal Golden Shower. He lives in a canoe under a chocolate waterfall with a sentient cabbage named Joyce." Sobriety and the desire not to appear insane prevailed once more and I settled on the more prosaic and honest, yet vastly less intriguing, "Tim Howard is a Melbourne writer". What I like about this formulation is that it makes a claim for authority - hey, this Tim Howard guy's a writer, not just some schmuck! Or at least he's a schmuck who is also a writer! - while also providing the authors of the books I reviewed with my full name and rough geographical location just in case they felt like tracking me down and pointing out my own deficiencies, literary or otherwise. "Tim Howard is a Melbourne writer" may be boring, but it is also fair.
I also like its concreteness. "Melbourne writer" rather than that common variation "Melbourne-based writer". The latter sounds as if the writer in question merely "keeps a house" in Melbourne, turning up occasionally to dust the Van Goghs and water the geraniums before jetting off to Paris, London, New York. I suppose in some cases this might be true; in my case it would be so far from the truth as to constitute a category five fib, punishable by the malicious flicking (with a ruler) of the perp's ear lobes.
All this talk of contributor's notes reminds me of Michael Martone's book Michael Martone: Fictions, which consists entirely of contributor notes for "Michael Martone". I haven't read it but I would like to. On an unrelated note: my birthday is coming up soon and I have no qualms about accepting gifts.
Incidentally, does anybody else find it odd and disappointing that this month's Australian Literary Review contains only one fiction review and that's of a short story collection largely consisting of previously published - if often brilliant - material?
Tim C. McSterne is the author of this post. He is based in a darkened room somewhere in Melbourne.