I love Matt Whyman and I was so excited both by him agreeing to take part but also about what he planned to write about. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do...
CONFESSIONS OF A CELEBRITY GHOST WRITER
The first rule of Ghost Writing Club is that you never talk about the books you’ve ghosted. Ever. You’re hired to be invisible. Quite literally - a ghost. This is not your day in the sun. The celebrity whose name is all over the cover is the one to bask in the glory. You might be lucky to get a small-print acknowledgement, but even then don’t hold out hope.
Last year, I heard from my agent that I was in the running to ghost a celebrity memoir. She knew that I’d always been interested in writing such a book. It seemed like a challenge, which appealed to me. I also knew there was a long shortlist drawn up of writers more than capable of doing the job, and so I put it to the back of my mind. Then, on the last day of June, my agent called and said, ‘scratch out everything in your diary for July. The next four weeks are about to be a well-paid hell on earth.’
As you can imagine, the surprise at getting the gig was eclipsed by the news that I only had a month to write it. Normally, a book will take me between six to nine months. So, having agreed to the offer, I put down the phone and promptly had a panic attack. What was I doing, I asked myself? I’d just signed up to the impossible, and had visions of being sued by the publisher, the celebrity and all ‘the people’ involved in the project who expected me to deliver the goods.
So, once I’d finished breathing into a paper bag, and having realised I was totally on my own here, I sat down and worked out a course of action. Straight away, it felt like being told I was facing exams imminently, and yet I hadn’t done any revision. In that situation, I knew that a plan was the first thing I needed to draw up.
The contract stated that I was expected to deliver a 50,000 word manuscript. Because my maths is terrible, I decided to give myself not a month but 25 days to write it, simply because I could divide 50,000 by 25 in my head. All of a sudden, 2,000 words a day for 25 days didn’t seem so terrifying. I could do this, I thought, but first I had to meet the celebrity.
Things were so tight that my first encounter with the commissioning editor occurred on the train journey to meet the star in question. He had placed great faith in me, and I didn’t want to let him down. By the time we stepped off the train, I felt I had his full support, and an appreciation of what lay ahead for me. Our meeting with the star occurred behind closed doors. As a ghost writer, I quickly recognised that it’s not their job to worry about the writing. That’s my responsibility, as was drawing out the material I needed in order to put it together. I left with a sheaf of notes, most of them unintelligible, but with a clear idea of the story ahead of me.
That night, I plotted the entire memoir from start to finish. I boiled down each chapter to a sentence, emailed it to my editor the next morning and gave him one chance to come back with any input. There was no room to mess about midway through this project. Everyone needed to know exactly what to expect from the start.
Then came the writing. 500 words before coffee break. Another 500 to lunch. After that, I had the small matter of looking after my children when they finished school, before returning to my desk when my wife came home from work so I could write another 1000. Sometimes I’d be done by 10pm. Other nights I’d be up until 3am. There were no weekend breaks. I just motored on. What saved me was the road map I’d written up. I just stuck to the plan, and reminded myself throughout that I wanted to do a good job. I’d picked up several ghost written memoirs and promptly put them down again. They just lacked soul, in my opinion, and so I sweated hard on that spark.
Just to make things harder, I agreed to send across three chapters at a time so my editor could sign them off. It was tough, but the alternative risked delivering a 50,000 word donkey that everyone rejected.
Twenty five days later, like a man who’d just crawled across the desert, I reached the final full stop. I then had a few days spare, in which my editor allowed me to tinker with everything, before the manuscript was taken out of my hands. My role in the book was finished. There was nothing more for me to do. As a result of my labours, the springs in my keyboard were so worn out I had to replace it. I was exhausted, but everyone was happy, and that included me.
It was weird to see the book published later that year. The star did the promotional rounds, and I resisted every temptation to yell ‘I wrote that’ from the rooftops. Was the experience hell on earth, as my agent had suggested? No. It was just very intense but would’ve been a nightmare without forward planning. As for the finished product, it did very well. You’d know the title if I told you, but there’d only be consequences, so I’m saying nothing more.
Thank you so much Matt! I really do love this post and you have me utterly intrigued!! Thank you for taking part!!Hope you all enjoyed Matt's post! And don't forget to follow Matt's Site, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube, and check out his books on Goodreads! :D
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Matt Whyman is a bestselling author, also known for his work as an advice columnist for numerous teenage magazines.
He has written two novels for adults, Man or Mouse and Columbia Road, as well as both fiction and non-fiction for teenagers, including Superhuman, XY, Boy Kills Man, XY:100, The Wild, the So Below trilogy, Inside the Cage,Goldstrike and The Savages.
His most recent books, Oink! My Life With Minipigs (also known as Pig in the Middle), and Walking with Sausage Dogs, are both comic memoirs about family life with problem pets, published by Hodder and Stoughton.
A graduate from the University of East Anglia's MA in Creative Writing, Matt is often invited to teach the subject for writers of all ages. Recently, he has hosted workshops across Russia and the Middle East.
In 1995, Matt became the first agony uncle for 19 magazine, and has subsequently written regular advice columns for B, Fox Kids, AOL UK and Bliss. He often appears on television and radio in this role. Over the years he has co-presented a series of ITV's cult Saturday morning show, Love Bites, and a live weekly phone-in on LBC. He is currently resident agony uncle on BBC Radio 1's The Surgery.
Matt is married with four children, and lives in West Sussex, UK.