‘What’s the problem?’ said Elian, bouncing up to sit on my desk.
‘Nothing,’ I said irritably. I was having enough trouble concentrating already.
‘Nothing doesn’t sigh like that.’
‘What? Was I sighing?’
‘Constantly,’ he said, with that little dramatic eyeroll of his. ‘You were going: Hhhh. Hhh-hhHH. HHHHHH!’
I cracked a smile despite myself. ‘Well… I’m stuck on some names.’
‘Ooh, what kind of characters?’
‘Just random colourful lowlifes in a tavern.’ Dammit, why did I tell him that? Now he was going to want to ‘help’ me.
‘Oh, well, when I need random names, I just hit the keyboard, like this.’ Before I could stop him, he reached over and smushed his small hands all over my keyboard. Letters, numbers and symbols sputtered onto the screen.
N 6,okkk5689pbnl; ,.;-0’
‘Um,’ I said cautiously. ‘I’m not sure how you’d pronounce that.’
‘No-o-o!’ He threw back his head and laughed at me. ‘Jesse, you don’t have a clue, do you?’ I thought of reminding him which of us was a famous, well, ex-famous novelist and which of us wrote cartoon fanfic and scribbly comics, but such was the boy’s magnetism that I kept my mouth shut. ‘You have to make a name out of it. See, this bit’s ‘Nokk’ and that bit could be ‘Pebble’, and that face at the end could be… Shockwink! Nokkpebble Shockwink!’ He grinned and kicked his feet with delight at his own cleverness.
I put my head on one side. ‘Hmmm. That could actually do for a dwarf or a gnome or something. I’m seeing him with a kind of high-pitched gravelly voice. And a nice line in old-school dirty jokes.’
Elian elbowed me in the ribs and did a grating dirty-old-gnome voice. ‘Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean, ehhh!’
I laughed. ‘Disturbingly accurate!’
‘You do one!’
‘What, the voice? I couldn’t possibly.’
‘Noooo, you hit the keyboard and make a name!’
‘Oh. Okay.’ I poked at the keyboard tentatively and got this:
‘Oops,’ said Elian.
‘No, it’s all right – um – let me think.’ And I typed underneath:
‘YEAH!’ Elian high-fived me. ‘Why do they call him Once?’
‘Um, because he tells a lot of stories?’
‘No, because you only piss him off once. No, both!’
‘Perfect, so we’ve got Once the violently irascible storyteller and -’
I tried again, but I still couldn’t get the hang of it:
‘Oh dear,’ I said. ‘I’m not sure I can make anything out of that. I suppose the first bit could sound like ‘oogie’… Oogie Yuman?’
‘Are you kidding me? Can you really not see it? It’s Ugh Yum!’
‘Oh wow. Yeah. Clearly a two-headed ogre.’
‘Woohoo!’ He beat a tattoo on the keyboard and this came out:
‘Jhamen… Whiskyhate!’ I said.
‘Yeah, that’s definitely a sexy bad boy. How do you get the letters to come out so well?’
‘I dunno… The other way to make names is hitting one letter at a time without looking. Then if it gets unsayable you delete one. Like this.’ He moved his hands over the keyboard as if he was casting a spell, then tapped out d-h-r… ‘Okay, that could be an Irish sound. You try.’
I hit a Z. D-h-r-z. ‘Um, delete?’
‘Yeah, try again.’
‘Cool!’ he said. ‘Dhrakkae Osgetuki. Or Dhrakkaeos Getuki. Which do you think?’
‘Hmm… perhaps she’s a Dhrakkae who’s crossdressed as a Dhrakkaeos.’
‘Or vice versa.’
‘Jhamen Whiskyhate is intrigued,’ I said. ‘They have Belligerent Sexual Tension.’
‘Yes! Do another.’
‘I’m not sure I need any more.’
‘Just one more!’
‘Grwf Hykuyi?’ I said tentatively.
He grabbed my hands and jumped down off the desk, spinning me round in my office chair. ‘Victory dance! Victory dance!’
I let myself be pulled to my feet and dragged across the room in a mad galumphing tango. We must have been a picture, the slight boy leading the tall gawky man. ‘See?’ he panted. ‘You can totally still write. You just have to have FUN with it!’