What books are you most proud of working on as a ghostwriter?
From a personal perspective, it would be Up To Me, by Serena Bradshaw. Serena was a very clever, funny woman, with a wonderful outlook on life. Even though she had a very serious, very dark story to tell, we had a lot of fun working together.
With about half the work on her manuscript completed, Serena was diagnosed with cancer. She was sanguine about her treatment, and remained optimistic for the future. We worked even harder in an effort to complete her manuscript, but Serena died just before the final revisions on her manuscript were completed.
In our last meeting, Serena expressed her desire that we finish and publish her book, and I promised we would. With the help of Serena’s friends and colleagues, I was able to get her book published by Big White Shed, and it stands as a wonderful testament to a very special person.
In terms of the work that I had to put into making a book work, I’m proudest of a book I worked on with Dr Andrew Tillyard, who suffered a life-altering accident when he was knocked off his bike while competing in a triathlon.
His book, The Reality of Brain Injury: Am I Still Me? was partly compiled from his blog, comprising tens of thousands of words of content. Andrew would admit that the material contained a lot of repetitious material, many non-sequiturs, and material that wasn’t fit for publication. I’m proud of the job I did in refining, reshaping, and revising this material – with Andrew’s blessing – to make it into a cohesive, publishable manuscript. It was published by Routledge in 2022.
What are the pros and cons of working as a professional ghost writer?
Getting the opportunity to work with so many interesting people is a huge pro. Everybody that I’ve worked with has had an interesting story to tell. And it’s always especially gratifying to help people realise their long-held dreams and get their stories into print.
It’s wonderful to be able to talk to people about the lives they’ve led, with all of their successes and disappointments. There is drama in everybody’s life, no matter how mundane they think their experiences have been.
Then, with the interviews completed, I have the responsibility – and the privilege – of taking all of that information and turning it into a compelling story.
The biggest con is speaking to people who don’t have the confidence to try and commit those stories to print. I think the tide is turning, but too many people still think that autobiographies and memoirs are the exclusive preserve of the rich and famous. It’s always a shame to see someone put it off another year, and then another…
What are three secrets to being a good ghostwriter?
The first is easy: you have to be a good listener. Coming up with interesting questions to ask my clients is always fun, but I need to be alert to the little asides they make when giving their answers. These little deviations often contain lots of unexpected material for further investigation.
Capturing a client’s tone of voice is a big part of turning a good story into an authentic memoir or autobiography. Again, you need to listen closely to pick up the little peculiarities and cadences of speech that distinguish one person’s tone of voice from another’s.
I think the third thing sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it’s a big one…
Ghostwriters talk a lot about finding a good rapport with their clients. And sometimes, rapport is confused with having things in common. I think it’s important to allow for our differences too. I’ve learned that even if you feel politically, socially, or religiously at odds with a client, it doesn’t matter.
It feels as if we live in a very polarised world these days, but our differences should not define who we can and can’t work with. I enjoy the opportunity to tell people’s stories, all of whom have different outlooks on the world. It’s the way we work together, not the things we have in common that really characterise our relationships.
What is it in your personality that makes you a good ghostwriter?
Weirdly, I think that being an introvert makes me a better ghostwriter and interviewer. I find it much easier to have very focused (and sometimes emotionally intense) conversations with a single person, as opposed to having to interact with lots of people at once. And the writing part – all that time alone – is never going to faze me.
What’s it like being a freelance ghostwriter?
I spent several years at a publishing house, with all of the security that comes of having a paid job. But going freelance – while challenging – was good for me in opening up all sorts of opportunities to work with people I wouldn’t have met or worked with otherwise. I’ve worked on a far wider range of books as a result of being a freelance ghostwriter and not being tied to any house style, or being forced to reject stories that don’t fit a publisher’s list.
What writer’s work do you most admire?
I’m a member of a ghostwriting organisation called The Ghostwriter’s Agency, which is full of award-winning, bestselling ghostwriters. The combined forces of that august group have written some astonishing books…
But the honest answer to this question has to be Terrance Dicks.
Terrance Dicks was a British television writer and script editor. But he’s best known as the noveliser of scores of Doctor Who stories. Back in the 1970s, I devoured his Doctor Who books just about as fast as he could write them. Before the days of streaming, DVD, or even video cassette, those books were a precious memento of what were regarded as ephemeral television broadcasts.
Dicks wrote with brevity and urgency. His books were propulsive page-turners without an ounce of fat on them. He taught me so much about the power of clarity and economy, and I’m a better ghostwriter because of him.
What do your clients like about working with you?
They find me patient and good humoured. I put people at ease, and give them a space in which they can talk freely, knowing that I’ll always use my discretion to omit things which don’t belong in their book. They know that I’ll treat their story seriously and that I’ll do everything I can to make sure it feels authentically theirs.
One of my clients said it best: “Chris has a great talent, and an incredible skill for getting to the heart of the narrative. He really imprints your heart and identity on your story.”
What is your ghostwriting day like?
I think it’s fair to say that I’m not at my absolute best first thing in the morning! It takes a bit of time, a lot of tea, and a few emails, before I’m really ready for work.
I often schedule mid-morning client interviews, leaving me free to do as much writing as possible through the afternoon. The head-clearing walk, and the energy-renewing burst of exercise often make it onto the To Do list, but don’t get ticked off as much as they should. I like to listen to music when I can, but rarely when I’m working on a manuscript, unless it’s sufficiently abstract that it doesn’t distract me.
I do keep a close eye on the daily word count – and how quickly it’s rising or falling, depending on which stage of the writing or editing process I’m at. I don’t set any daily word targets though. I prefer to stop writing when I feel good about the progress I’ve made. Doesn’t sound very easily quantifiable does it? Feeling good about my progress might relate to solving a structural problem, or feeling as if I’ve represented an important part of the story effectively. I do also like to get to a point in the writing where I know exactly what I need to write next, just so that I can pick things up quickly the next day.
What would your own autobiography be called?
In honour of the many times when I’ve said and done some ever-so slightly ill-advised things, it’d have to be I Probably Shouldn’t Have Done That!