Ghost busting

The Times’ Bruce Dessau lifts the veil to reveal the ghosts behind those high-profile celebrity autobiographies, and while it doesn’t reveal a lot that’s new, it’s good to have it all spelled out again:

“Publishers would rather there weren’t ghostwriters,” explains Trevor Dolby,

head of the new Random House imprint Preface. The facts seem to bear this

out. The biggest seller in 2006 was Peter Kay’s The Sound of Laughter,

which shifted more than half a million units and was genuinely written by

Peter Kay. Dolby is also proud that one of his early hits was Martin Kemp’s

autobiography, True, which the musician-turned-actor wrote single-handed

while recovering from his brain tumour operation. “It is always better to

have the subject write it. But if they are any good, and if the ghost is any

good, their voice will come through.”

Ghosts are a necessary evil. Not just because some stars – and not always

those responsible for what are known in the trade as “chav memoirs”, such as

Kerry Katona and Jordan/Katie Price – lack literary experience, but because

publishing is an essential part of the 247 fame process these days, and

stars don’t always have time to dip their quills in their Quink. “It’s all

part of the branding,” adds Dolby.

Ghostwriting can be a lucrative trade, whether its practitioners spend six

hours taping their subject or stalk them for a year. Dolby says that there

are about eight anonymous scribes who do it full-time and make a good living

while nobody knows who they are: “They are very secretive and discreet and

sign huge confidentiality agreements.”

Dessau doesn’t go into much detail of fiction ghostwriters (beyond a mention of “chav memoirs” by Kerry Katona and Katie “Jordan” Price, both of whom have gone on to “write” novels) but it goes without saying that branding is key – and that the uncredited or partially credited writers forgo the possibility of recognition to be part of something greater – or at least, a hell of a lot more lucrative – than what they would get on their own.