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Busting Ghostwriting

February 27th, 2021

I’m often asked what it means to be a ghostwriter. There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question because the process works differently depending on my relationship with the person I am writing for.

I first fell into ghostwriting by accident, helping a friend who wanted to tell his story. We audio-recorded around twelve hours of him speaking; me prompting his account with questions when I needed more detail or couldn’t ‘see’ clearly what he was describing. I carefully transcribed his words, and then gradually shaped and whittled them into his narrative.

The hardest part about working like this is that people don’t naturally tell stories in the way that they would be written – particularly in terms of structure. I spent many hours organising the order of the anecdotes he told, working to create a coherent and compelling narrative. I used a ‘strike-through’ technique with the transcripts: scoring out text on the page so that it was never deleted but I could easily see which material had already been used.

Because I am currently working on a series of books I have had the opportunity to develop and refine the collaborative process with their subject, Louise, over a couple of years. She gives me a brief outline of each story, which I then turn into a chapter by chapter synopsis. Once this has been agreed with the editor and our agent, it’s time to start writing.

Louise’s books are about the children that she has fostered, and she generally sends me around 30,000 of her own words. We have a contract for 70-80,000 words per book, so that gives me a great platform to work from.

In addition, the first section of each story is ‘creative nonfiction’, a construction of the child’s life before they reach Louise. This is a chance for me, as the writer, to imagine a world and I generally have around 20,000 words to play with here. I construct conversations and moments just as you might if you were writing a novel – based on relatively small amounts of information about the situation.

One of the things I have found most useful is that Louise sends me plenty of photographs to help establish people and places. They are invaluable in allowing me to flesh out those initial chapter ideas to begin to bring them to life. We also communicate regularly by text, email and on the telephone, and I make sure that she sees plenty of drafts as I write.

As we have worked on each book our partnership has grown. Louise now knows how I like to write and what I need – and I hope that I get closer and closer to capturing her authentic voice while doing justice to her stories.

 

My name is Theresa and I am a poet, ghostwriter and teacher. I am the ghostwriter of a series of foster carer books by foster carer Louise Allen published by Trinity Mirror. The first, Stella’s Story, reached the top 250 in the TCM (Total Consumer Market). Eden’s Story reached the Sunday Times Top Ten general bestsellers in February 2021. Jacob’s Story is scheduled for publication later in the year.

 

 

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