When I buy a book I want to believe it’s been written by the person whose name’s on the cover. I’ve ghost-written a great many published books and I still feel like that. Would you feel quite so thrilled by that account of a near-death experience on Everest if you knew it came from a woman who’d never left her desk in South London? Me neither. Hence I write anonymously.
What I do is called ‘creative non-fiction.’
Below is a selection of the things I’ve written about – not book titles, just subject matter. The Author has copyright, not me, and I’ve signed a confidentiality agreement so I can’t give you the details. However, trust me. With one exception that still nags at me, these are not dull books. They’re constructed like fiction with all the inciting incidents and reversals and crises and character arcs you can expect. There’s sex and violence and murder, danger and falling in love and hysterical giggles. The Independent said of one of my books that it ‘reads like fiction’. It was meant to. But it was all true; it really happened to the ‘Author’. At least, that’s what I was told. Creative non-fiction adds atmosphere, sense of place, enhanced emotion, humour – but it doesn’t lie.
Here are the books I remember best, and the places their action happens.
Recollections of an 1890s childhood (UK); On being a private detective (UK & worldwide); Building a family fortune in the oil industry (USA); Recovering from bankruptcy by risking one’s life (Far East); Three marriages and serving in the Special Operations Executive (UK & Middle East); A struggle against bullying in the oil industry (Central America & USA); Thriving as a salesman in the oil industry (Far East); On being a paramedic (the Gulf); Being jailed as a foreign correspondent (Middle East & North Africa); Triumph over fear through self-help books (UK); Grim humour in psychiatric institutions in the 1970s (UK); A tycoon devastated by slander (UK); An idyllic marriage ending in unexplained death (UK & central Europe); Intrigues of a provincial solicitor (Ireland); A childhood in poverty (Ireland); Marriage to a schizophrenic (Australia and mainland Europe); Raising a mentally ill child (UK); Becoming wealthy from property abroad (Near East); Being transgender (UK); A farmer’s fight with the bank (UK); Being an MEP (UK and mainland Europe); Rise and fall of an Essex family over 200 years (UK); Building a business as a personal trainer (UK); Advice on working out from a champion athlete (UK); Making good as the only black boy in town (UK and USA); Moving a family out of their comfort zone (UK and South Pacific); An unconventional approach to everyday debt reduction (UK); A midwife from Shanghai in wartime London (Far East & UK); From ghetto in Tsarist Russia to Mayfair, in three generations.
I have also ghosted several books of biography and history (mainly mid-Victorian and early 20th century in UK, Russia & France) that directly inspired TV programmes; and I’ve edited letters, wartime and post-war, from Burma and Kenya.
I’ve been ghostwriting for well over twenty years. Most of my work has been about other people’s lives. I’ve become a competent, in fact an inspired, historian and genealogist along the way. I’ve learned about industries I never even thought about before, and visited countries I’d never have gone to otherwise.
In general, I just shut up and listen, and the book gets written.
Under my own name all you’ll find is Lambeth Past, a book of London local history; articles, mostly history, from years ago; and a couple of collaborations. Get Thinner Stay Thinner was written with Dr Ian White, a hospital consultant, and I’m currently part of a team dedicated to casting light on the world of Mr and Mrs Thomas Ellis, travellers in late Georgian England.