This may sound strange, but choosing names for characters is one of the hardest things to do. Not just for the main characters. Anyone.

I tend to overdo things, I know. But choosing names is one of those things I can’t compromise on. It’s got to be authentic. Too many times, I see authors revert to using “popular” names for their characters. If he’s a KGB agent, he invariably gets named Boris or Ivan. The French guy is often Jacques, and few Germans get past Hans.

Even worse, African blacks called Sipho or Thabo seriously rubs me up the wrong way. It’s just offensive, it’s serious steorotyping, and smacks of a lack of proper engagement with the character.

OK, I may be exaggerating, but I suspect readers pick up on this, even if only subconsciously.

If you want characters to really come to life, give them a life. And it starts with a proper name.

Sure, there are real Siphos and Borises out there. But there are also Lindisas and Igors and Petr/Nils/Jaimes. I hate stereotypes. Or rather, I avoid it like the plague. Instead, I spend way too much time, hours, in fact, in researching actual names. I trawl news reports on countries where my story is set to find off-beat, actual names, then jumble them up, adding this surname to that first name, until I find something that sounds not made up.

Even though it absolutely is.

Strangest thing, after spending so much time getting a character a proper name, I can’t just leave him or her there. They need to look like a Petr or a Guillaime. It follows that they get dressed properly, get decent or appropriate features, mannerisms and peculiar ways of speaking. If I’m really in the mood, and if space allows, I even create a proper back story.

This is probably the most fulfilling part of writing – the creation of a proper, fleshed-out character with an intriguing back story.

That is exactly how my helicopter pilot Jan Botes was born. I needed a chopper pilot in the novel BOS, and had so much fun creating him, he took charge of the pages and wrote himself into the next book, IVOOR. Promise. He just plain pushed to the front and shouted “write me!”

That’s just how Jan Botes is. Irrepressible, in your face, fiercely loyal, and a damn good flyer who frequently pulls Tex and Carlos out of trouble. And to think he started as a bit-part character.

Ivoor is available here as an e-book: