Ghostwriting – An introduction to me and my work
I’ve been a ghostwriter since 2007. I tell people that I got into it by accident, which is true. By that stage I was a freelance journalist, having been a newspaper reporter since 1992. I hadn’t thought about writing books, but when the (unexpected) opportunity came to ghostwrite a memoir, I took it – and discovered that actually, I wasn’t as bad at it as I might have thought.
I also found that my ego could easily cope with not being the credited author. I watched as the two people for whom I’d ghosted my first book took their seats next to Richard and Judy and were interviewed by TV’s golden couple about their story. Two things struck me: 1) it was their story, not mine. I’d just helped to deliver it. A literary midwife, if you like. 2) I had no desire to be interviewed by Richard Madeley, god love him. Not then, and not now.
So off I went, out into the world of ghostwriting, armed only with a pen, notebook and cassette recorder. I’d no idea what direction I’d follow or who I’d meet. Good job, really. Had I known I’d be spending time with a sex-crazed insomniac Hollywood star, or with a man later murdered by his own government, or in a Northern Ireland paramilitary drinking club, I might have stuck to writing travel features about the Cotswolds. But I doubt it.
Anyway, they’re stories for another day. Instead, let’s begin in the way I always begin – with a few questions:
- What is ghostwriting?
Simply, it’s the process of writing stories for people with good stories to tell, but not always the time or capability to write them. We can all tell stories, every one of us, but in the same way we can’t all be plumbers, dentists, car mechanics, lawyers or prime ministers (actually, that last one isn’t true, judging by the last few we’ve had here in the UK) we can’t all be writers. As a ghostwriter, I turn stories into books, with the aid of some skill, a fair amount of experience and a waft of magic.
- What skills does a ghostwriter need?
A talent with words is helpful. Happily, I’ve always had one, right from the off. Ability in maths, physics, sport, art, woodwork and metalwork eluded me, and still does. But English never let me down. It’s the only skill I have, and it’s a good one. Oh, I was also OK at needlework, so I might have been a tailor. Instead, I now spend time stitching words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters together. Also, I’m a good listener. Tell me a decent tale and I’m all ears. That’s a skill too – just as important, I think, as being able to write that story down. Then there’s the magic…
- What do I like to write about?
Many things. I’ve worked in the fields of politics, crime, law, showbusiness, music, comedy, self-help, true-life drama, psychology, history, health and sport. Yes, even sport! This motley collection of subjects all comes back to one overriding theme – people. People are at the heart of everything I do. I mean, you wouldn’t get much juice out of a book about shipping, for example, would you? But when those ships involve people, as they invariably do, well….let’s just say that I’ve got the manuscript to prove it.
- Which book (or books) am I most proud of?
‘All of them’ is the diplomatic answer! In truth, I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve had the good fortune to work on. Of course, there are moments that stand out – seeing Belfast from the point of view of John Chambers (who recently contributed to the excellent BBC TV series Once Upon A Time In Northern Ireland) was quite something, as he and I worked on his book ‘A Belfast Child’. Realising the courage it takes to be a whistleblower while listening to the stories of Maggie Oliver and Jayne Senior, who shone their lights on the ‘grooming gangs’ scandals in Rochdale and Rotherham. Getting my head around professional snooker with top player and seven-time-World-Champion Stephen Hendry, who was the model of patience and understanding. Hearing how campaigner Roland Chesters discovered he had HIV, and how he dealt with that. I’ve been privileged to work with so many great people.
- Can I help you?
Yes, probably. Not every story will make it to a mainstream publisher, of course, but there are other avenues open these days. If you think you have something interesting you’d like to share in book form, drop me a line. I’m friendly, good-natured and approachable (at least that’s what my dog tells me) and I’m honest – I’ll let you know soon enough if your story is something we could work on.