Well, the first thing I ought to clear up is the obvious. Tim Doutreval, often just Doutreval, is my nom de plume ( or nom en ligne? ) The intention was not to be secretive. In this world of liking, tweeting, following, instagramming, googling, etc., it is difficult for an author to disappear behind a veil of anonymity. Of course, if an author plans to hide and let someone else promote the book, I suppose you could go all J.D. Salinger and hide away from the world. So Doutreval is my writing persona.
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
–E. L. Doctorow
This creates “Tim Doutreval” fictional superhero at 2 a.m. slogging through late Victorian London and Paris and “Tim Mills” fencing coach by
day, er, early evening.
Many years ago when I was looking for that perfect name for the online world that wasn’t tmills45345342, I came up with a list of possibilities. I narrowed it to two: Levassuer, the French captain and foil to Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, and Doutreval, the first fencing coach to André Moreau, otherwise known as Scaramouche. I decided Doutreval was the easier of the two to pronounce. Funny, I know.
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I am not French. I’m almost exactly half English and half Irish, so I should really hate myself. The culture of fencing is tied very much into the French and Italians. Some of the best fencing books have been French. It was natural for me to tip toe around the edges of that world for my own.
Fencing gets into the blood and stays. No matter how many times you try to put the blade away forever, you just can’t do it. Sooner or later you have to give in and accept that a day without fencing is less of a day than it could be.
Starting when I was about 6 or 7, I would sneak halfway down the stairs in the middle of the night to see if my dad was asleep in the chair in front of the television. This happened often. When he did make it to bed, I would check the TV guide. Between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. they would play these great old movies like Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Mark of Zorro, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Spanish Main, The Black Swan, you get the idea.
I sat a foot from the screen with the volume barely audible and watched. And, kids, this was pre-cable TV. Star Wars (which is just Star Wars not Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) arrived in town when I was eight. Between 6 and 8, I cemented into my brain that all I wanted to do was to fence and write. Movies like The Adventures of Don Juan and the fencing instruction scene convinced me how awesome a sword fighting career would be.
Initially, I tried to figure out this fencing thing on my own. Mileage not so good. I read and wrote under the covers at night when my movies weren’t playing. It took a long time to find both as a possible career.
Fencing succeeded first. Now, with the name of a fictional fencing master I travel the journey of a novelist. I couldn’t be happier.