Sometimes you should listen to other people. And sometimes you shouldn’t. The name Zapper’s Mam’s a Slapper grew out of the book. This is the beginning of Chapter 8:
I chose the name Billy when I was eleven. It was 1999, I’d had eleven years of answering to the one my stupid mother gave me and I wasn’t going to do it any more. You can imagine the stuff I got. “Zappa’s on the crapper.” “Zappa’s mam’s a slapper.” You can probably make your own up and I’m telling you, I’ll have heard it.
Zappa McErlane. I ask you.
People home in on stupid names. People in authority. Every time I changed class or we got a new teacher I could see her eye going down the register and she’d be thinking, “Oh, yes. Zappa. He’ll be the one. I’ll have trouble with him.” And if they think they will, they do.
So that was where the title came from. And the book sold with that title, and it got good reviews – but there were people saying to me, ‘I would never buy a book with “slapper” in the title. It’s disrespectful to women.’ I let myself be persuaded by that argument one day, and changed the name. It must have been a moment of weakness, and I’ve always regretted it, and whenever I think of the book I think of it as Zappa’s Mam and not by the title it now holds.
Zappa’s Mam is more faithful to the story of a boy born into the family from hell. His mother saddled him with the name Zappa when he was born, and his mother was an appalling woman. She made her living by selling her body and she was bringing up her daughters to do the same. As for Zappa, she expected him to help his stepfather in his career of selling stolen goods.
He was changing more than his name when he decided henceforth to be Billy.
But it’s never quite as simple as it seems, is it? Yes, his mother was awful – but, towards the end of the book, Billy gets an insight into the things that happened to her when she was scarcely more than a girl. They say that to know everything is to understand everything. I don’t know that that’s entirely true, but Billy certainly emerges feeling he understands her a bit better.
He’s still glad he changed his name, though.
Coming of age