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Edinburgh Book Festival: Ghostly pursuits

As part of our Duelling Blogs series, our good friend over at the Saturation Point of Bells sent this update (crossposted).

To be honest, a ghost-writing workshop was not my first choice for Edinburgh Book Festival. However, being an aspirational little soul, I have not completely abandoned the notion that one day someone might actually PAY me to write something that I was going to write anyway. However much you tell yourself that whipping up a research document or conference report is a fine way to hone your writing skills, it hardly qualifies as "fun". There are people in the world who get paid for things they find fun. Its food for thought.

One such individual is sports journalist and ghostwriter Martin Hannan, who seems to make a pretty good living out of this ghostwriting lark. He's made a few quid out of NOT ghostwriting as well, thanks to the services of a good agent and smattering of canny contractual clauses. The moral of the story? Get a good agent.

There was much informative and entertaining discussion about the skills involved in writing someone else's voice. Many diverting factoids, as well. Did you know that Dick Francis's wife ghosted nearly all his books? I didn't. The need to sacrifice ego for craft was also noted, with due kudos going to Rebecca Farnsworth, Jordan's ghostwriter who, according to MH, has done a magnificent job of accurately capturing Jordan's pearls of wisdom in all their glory. With spelling. (Katie: "I talk into a Dictaphone and they go away and type it. I've got so many other things to do I couldn't sit there and type, plus I didn't pass English.")

I was getting quite excited. I've written for ministers and senior executives, I thought. I can do empty rhetoric and vapid monosyllables with the best of them. A corporate voice is still a voice, however inhuman. In my head, I was half-way to being intimate friends with half the celebrities on the planet, trusted guardian of their images and secrets.

I was bitterly regretting that most of my idols were highly literate, and wondering what doltish stars I might be able to love, when a little fly in my fantasy ointment became apparent. We were asked to interview each other and prepare a little ghost-written introductory paragraph to an autobiography, with a big glossy book on Scotland as the prize. One class member left early, and I had remembered Shelley Winters was in the Poseidon Adventure when no-one else did (long story), so I was to interview Martin himself. It was at about this point I remembered the inconvenient truth that I have never interviewed anyone in my life.

However, the bloke had just talked about himself for an hour, so I did have an unfair advantage. Nevertheless, I am enough of a suck not to want to seem like a twit to the teacher and well-established local journalist. With a ruthlessness born of desperation, I poked away at that most vulnerable of areas - childhood, family and religion, and within minutes he had helpfully confessed to seven years in the seminary training to be a priest. So there I had it, the Holy Trinity of popular autobiography, religion, journalism and football.

I left feeling rather pleased with myself, and with a big fat glossy book on Scottish history under my arm.

Recommended reading: The Ghost, by Robert Harris


  1. Oh no!!! I had to stop reading halfway through this post. All my memories of Christmasses past have to be revised before I steel myself to go back and read the rest.

    Christmas used to mean a new, shiny, thick hardcopy novel by Dick Francis. Oh, those heroes, so tough, so frail, so broken by life's tragedies, but so bravely continuing on to find true love.

    Hmmm....did you say a woman ghost-wrote them? All becomes clear.


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