Inside The World Of The Ghostwriter

On December 12, 2012

I love ghostwriting. For me, it’s one of the best jobs there is. Imagine sitting down with someone interesting, hearing their story, and then putting it onto the page in a way that’s true to them and engaging to readers. Without question, it’s a privileged position for any writer. Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to work with some terrific subjects – I’ve gone on the road with pop stars, hung about in recording studios, spent time in dressing rooms, been at run-throughs in rehearsal rooms for tours and a fly-on-the-wall at video shoots … Always, I grow fond of the people I’m working with and become completely fascinated by their lives. If there are songs or books or films they love, I’ll dig them out and listen/read/watch in order to get a sense of what moves them. If there’s a place that’s special, perhaps from childhood, I’ll go there and get a feel for it, if I can.

For me, ghosting is about immersing myself in the subject’s life and telling their story in a way they and others will find authentic. The whole process can take a big chunk of time and be all-consuming. It’s definitely not a nine-to-five job. I’ve tried to get across what it’s about in this author profile on Chris Hill’s blog.

On December 8, 2012, I spoke to Jennifer Tracey from BBC Radio 4’s iPM programme about the ins and outs of being a ghost and, among other things, reminisced about working with a fantastic subject, Spandau Ballet singer Tony Hadley. The interview is available as a podcast and the ghostwriting segment is about ten minutes into the programme. Listen to it here: BBC Radio 4 iPM
For ghosting to work there needs to be trust between subject and writer – a rapport. You may be together for one or more sessions a week, each lasting several hours, over a period of months, so you need to get along. It can be incredibly intense and confessional with tears (on both sides) when difficult memories surface. Ghosting demands patience and an ability to listen attentively and work out what’s important and what isn’t since only a fraction of what passes between the subject and the writer may actually make it into the final draft.

I’m aware that some people look down on ghosting as somehow not being quite ‘proper.’ They draw a distinction between ghostwriting and writing – writing being the respectable side of things. I don’t feel like that, because I know what it takes to ghost a book. There’s so much more to being a good ghostwriter than – as was once suggested to me – ‘typing what someone tells you.’

I’m proud to be a ghostwriter. Without the ghost, there’d be no book and great stories would go untold. OK, it’s not my name on the cover but so what? That’s the deal. And, to be honest, the people I’ve worked with tend to be generous, secure individuals who are more than happy to acknowledge the role of their ghost. Ghosting – what’s not to like?

Cover Image: Tony Hadley in celebratory mood after a winning performance in Memphis on ITV’s REBORN IN THE USA show. (Photo: Maria Malone)

2 Responses to “Inside The World Of The Ghostwriter”

  • It sounds like a fascinating job – the under the skin thing appeals to me as I spent a lot of years as a news and features journalist – and that’s partly what they do too when they are writing about people, get inside them. It sounds like a great way to use your skills as a writer in a commercial way – wheras I have to find different motivation for writing my literary novels!

    • It’s brilliant, Chris, a privilege to get the inside track on someone’s story and help them get it on the page in a way that feels real. You’re right about the news and features side of things – that’s my background too and was a great grounding for ghosting. We all have to find other ways of making ends meet while we’re waiting for that blockbuster … seems to me you’re doing pretty well!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *