Ghost Writing

Dawn French is everywhere at the moment because she's just published her first novel. I love Dawn French; she was superb in The Vicar of Dibley and she makes it OK to be fat, but I confess that despite acknowledging her comic genius generally, not for one moment, when I heard her talking about her novel on Radio 2, did I actually believe she'd written it.

I must have been involved with the writing industry too long; I've become sceptical. Partly it's because I have a good friend who, as well as writing her own books, is a ghost writer. She's signed a cast-iron contract not to reveal who she writes for, but she makes a fair living out of writing books which others then pass off as their own work. It's pretty common, she told me.

Since I learned this, I have come to realise that of course it is going to be common practice. Writing well is a skill, like any other, and (there's a risk here that I'm going to sound terribly pretentious and big-headed) I have seen enough amateur writing to know that most people are really, really bad at it. Lots of would-be writers can't actually string together a good sentence, so why should any celebrity who wants to write a novel just happen to have the talent to create a robust plot, believable characters, and write in an absorbing and effective style?

Take Jordan - Katie Price - for example. Famous initially for having an embonpoint surgically enhanced to cartoonish proportions, she has written several novels which seem to score between 4 and 5 stars from Amazon reviewers. I've heard her being interviewed, and Essex accent aside (I have an Essex accent. It makes me sound stupid too) the girl does not have the greatest command of the English language. I find it difficult to believe that being a celebrity automatically embues her with the understanding and ability required to write a full-length publishable book, any more than it gives her the talent to turn her hand at her other enterprises, such as designing jewellery or lingerie. (OK, I'll admit, she is probably qualified to design lingerie.)

Several celebrities have used their fame to launch a writing career, and done well out of it. Alan Titchmarsh, Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Hilary Duff and now, apparently, Tyra Banks who has been offered a three-book deal. It's possible that some, or all, of those have written the books themselves - possibly with the help of an extremely thorough and heavy-handed editor - just as it's possible Dawn French wrote the novel with her name of the cover.

But I'm going to suggest that most of them didn't, because ghost writing is a great game for everyone. It's a win-win arrangement for the writer (who gets paid well), the celebrity (who gets extra publicity, and the right to claim to have written a novel) and the publisher (who sells many more copies of the book than they would had the actual author's name been on the cover). The only people who lose out are the buying public, who are being duped, but even they get to read a great book they might not otherwise have bought.

So would I ghost write? Yes. I need the money. And I would love to see a book I had written plastered all over posters on the Underground or in big displays in Waterstones, even if it did have Robert Pattinson's name above the title.


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