Ghostwriters are supposed to maintain anonymity. That’s the point, surely? When I buy a book by Jane Doe, I believe Jane Doe wrote it. I’ve written lots of books for other people, anonymously, and I still feel like that. Would you feel quite so thrilled by an 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. But not every Everest-climber can write. Hence I can produce a publishable book under the name of a mountaineer, if asked.
What I do is called ‘creative non-fiction.’
Below is a selection of the things I’ve written about – not book titles, just what the book’s about and where the action took place. The Author has copyright, not me, their name’s on the cover and not mine, and I’ve signed a confidentiality agreement. Anonymity is important.
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.
These are the subjects I remember best, and the places where their action happens.
Recollections of an 1890s childhood (UK); Life as 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); A paramedic far from home (the Gulf); Being jailed as a foreign correspondent (Middle East & North Africa); Becoming a scientific pioneer, despite rubbish exam results (UK); Triumph over fear through self-help books (UK); Grim humour in psychiatric institutions in the 1970s (UK); 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); Being married to a schizophrenic (Australia and 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,fall and rise 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); Self-promotion for businesswomen (West Africa); A Shanghainese midwife in wartime London; From ghetto in Tsarist Russia to Mayfair, in three generations.
I have ghosted several books of biography and history (mainly mid-Victorian and early 20th century in UK, Russia & France) that directly inspired TV programmes. One autobiography about an exciting career has been turned into a film by Netflix. I’ve edited letters, wartime and post-war, from Burma and Kenya. As the writer and researcher in a team dedicated to finding out about domestic life and travel in late Georgian England I’ve become increasingly inspired by history and genealogy. And thanks to my many clients, I’ve learned a lot about some unlikely industries 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 there isn’t much – there hasn’t been time. All you’ll find is Lambeth Past, a book of London local history; articles, mostly history, from years ago which are on the London Historians website; and a couple of collaborations. Get Thinner Stay Thinner was written with Dr Ian White, a hospital consultant. In that case, anonymity didn’t matter because I contributed some content.