Eight authors who write under pen names, from JK Rowling to Stephen King

Whether they were doctors worried about losing patients' trust, or simply wanted to try something new, these acclaimed writers adopted nom de plumes for various reasons

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While the name Stephen King immediately conjures up images of dark undercurrents in the state of Maine, mention Richard Bachman to a horror fan and they're likely to be left scratching their heads. However, the two are the same person.

Likewise, Agatha Christie remains one of the most famous murder-mystery writers in the world, but her lesser known nom de plume, Mary Westmacott, was just as critically acclaimed.

From JK Rowling’s male literary alter ego to C S Lewis’s poet name, here are eight authors who publish under pseudonyms.

JK Rowling / Robert Galbraith

The Harry Potter author is no stranger to having to tinker with her name to find success.

Although the British writer’s actual name is Joanne Rowling, she was advised by her publisher that young boys wouldn’t read the Potter series if they thought it was written by a woman. The initial K stands for Kathleen, her grandmother’s name.

She later went on to publish adult books under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith, including The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first in the series of the Cormorant Strike detective novels, and its latest instalment The Ink Black Heart.

“I chose Robert because it is one of my favourite men's names, because Robert F Kennedy is my hero and because, mercifully, I hadn't used it for any of the characters in the Potter series or The Casual Vacancy,” Rowling said.

Stephen King / Richard Bachman

When the “King of horror” first started out, his publishers limited the American author to one book a year. However, King was much more prolific, convincing his publisher to let him release more books under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, named after one of his favourite bands, Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Under the Bachman brand, King published seven books including 1977’s Rage and 1982’s The Running Man.

The pseudonym was exposed by Steve Brown, a bookstore clerk in Washington, DC who had noticed similarities between Bachman and King’s works. The prolific author would later dedicate his 1989 novel The Dark Half, about a pseudonym turning on the writer who created them, to “The deceased Richard Bachman”.

Isaac Asimov / Paul French

The celebrated Russian-born American science fiction author, Isaac Asimov, also turned to a pen name to try his hand at a different genre.

The talent behind I, Robot and The Caves of Steel was asked to write a sci-fi novel for children which would then be made into a television show. Fearful that the show wouldn’t be good, Asimov wrote Lucky Starr under the name Paul French and went on to pen six novels in the series under the pseudonym.

Agatha Christie / Mary Westmacott

As murder mystery authors go, they don’t come more famous or more prolific than Christie.

The English author wrote 66 detective novels — introducing the world to Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple — and 14 short story collections, as well as the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap.

Christie also produced six novels as her alter ego Mary Westmacott, which included 1934’s Unfinished Portrait and The Burden in 1956.

The most-translated individual author said she used a pseudonym to explore “her most private and precious imaginative garden”.

Dean Koontz / Brian Coffey

To date, US author Dean Koontz has sold over 450 million copies of his 105 novels. Working in the suspense thriller genre, he has also moved into horror, sci-fi and mystery.

One of the busiest writers in the world, through the 1970s, Koontz was writing up to eight books a year, leading his publishers to worry he was saturating the market and his brand.

He began using aliases so he could publish a lot more books, with 10 names known to the public, including Deanna Dwyer, Owen West, Aaron Wolfe and David Axton.

Michael Crichton / Michael Douglas

Many books by the celebrated author of Jurassic Park and The Lost World were turned into blockbuster films.

Having started writing novels when he was still at Harvard Medical School, the Chicago-born author worked under the pseudonym John Lange, publishing his first novel Odds On as Lange in 1966. He later claimed he used an alias because he was going to become a doctor and felt his patients would worry they might turn up in his novels.

As well as Lange, he also wrote under the pen name Jeffrey Hudson, using his own name for the first time for 1969’s The Andromeda Strain.

Crichton published the thriller Dealing, which he co-wrote with his brother, under the name Michael Douglas.

CS Lewis / Clive Hamilton

The British author of The Chronicles of Narnia also wrote under two other pen names, Clive Hamilton and NW Clerk.

The Belfast-born writer published as Hamilton when he first began writing, releasing several books of poetry under the pseudonym, including Spirits in Bondage when he was only 20. However, when his career as a poet failed to find an audience, he switched to his real initials CS — for Clive Staples — to become a novelist.

He would later pen a tribute to his late wife, A Grief Observed, under the nom de plume NW Clerk, which wasn’t revealed until his death in 1963.

Sophie Kinsella / Madeleine Wickham

The popular women’s fiction writer who penned the Confessions of a Shopaholic series has sold over 40 million books. Starting out in her career, she wrote her first book, The Tennis Party, at the age of 24 under her real name Madeleine Wickham.

Going on to write six books as Wickham, she later began writing under the pen name Sophie Kinsella — her middle name and her mother’s maiden name.

The English author revealed she was both Wickham and Kinsella when she released her 2003 novel Can You Keep a Secret?

Updated: September 05, 2022, 5:12 AM