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Last Updated: Monday, 31 May, 2004, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
I'm a celebrity, get me a ghost writer
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Online Magazine

It's no surprise that many stars don't really sit down to write their autobiographies. But who does it for them, and why?

Being Jordan, the autobiography of the model who now calls herself Katie Price, edged towards its 100,000th sale over the weekend. Not bad for a book still selling at up to 16.99.

Her success is made possible by readers' penchant for nosing into people's private lives, a curiosity which saw sales of memoirs and biographies in the UK top 85m last year.

The desire to take a share of that market means there is no shortage of the great - and the not-so-great - queuing up to publish their thoughts.

Ricky, by the actor Ricky Tomlinson, is currently selling in the tens of thousands, while former US President Bill Clinton, the violinist Vanessa Mae and model Emma Noble have all been talking about their forthcoming books.

Many previously unknown people are also enjoying success with memoirs based on compelling personal stories, including Kevin Lewis, author of The Kid, a book about childhood abuse which has sold more than 150,000 in the last few weeks.

Of course, while some of the people whose by-line appears on the front cover really do put pen to paper, it would be naive to imagine they all have either the time or talent. After all, that's the work of the ghost writer.

But who are those people prepared to listen to the innermost thoughts of others for hours on end, followed by weeks shaping them into a book in which their name may well not appear?

'I'm the writer'

The biggest celebrity autobiography of recent years has been David Beckham's My Side, a title which has sold well over one million copies.

David Beckham
Beckham's My Side won an award
Collecting an award for the book last month, the England captain said: "When I decided to write my autobiography I never expected to be breaking records. I just wanted to give my side of the story."

In reality it was the actor-turned-broadcaster Tom Watt who wrote the book. But seeing the Real Madrid star collect the prize and the bulk of the glory is not something that bothers Mr Watt.

He says: "I was just delighted for him. It does not matter to me, I have got a life to get on with."

Like most ghost writers, Mr Watt, who is currently working on a paperback edition of the book to include Beckham's difficult months in Spain, insists the story does not belong to him.

"Why should David have a literary voice? I'm the writer. It's just the need to get things down on paper."

He was also determined to make sure the words on the page really were those of the England captain.

"What surprised me about it was how close it is to acting. When you act you take someone else's words and do your best to bring them to life on stage or camera," says Mr Watt.

"Ghostwriting a book, you're taking someone's words and trying to give them a voice."

Child bride

Mr Watt's sentiments are shared by Andrew Crofts, who is one of the UK's most prolific and successful writers, despite being almost completely unknown to the book-buying public.

Tom Watt
Ghost writer Tom Watt worked on Beckham's book
He is the ghost writer for the bestselling The Kid and is also behind Sold, by Zana Muhsen, a tale of an enforced child bride in the Yemen, which has sold four million copies worldwide.

Mr Crofts also does his share of celebrity work, and has written for stars including the actress Gillian Taylforth and Vanessa Mae, but prefers to stick to the unknowns.

"The people that turn out to be the most interesting are the ones you have never heard of. I get a couple of calls a day and some of them are from extraordinary people."

The trouble with celebrities, he says, is that their stories are all too familiar.

"If I was asked to do Elton or Becks, I already know the story to begin with and it's just not as exciting," he says.

Laborious process

Famous or not, most ghost writers start their books with hours and hours of taped interviews. It's a process built entirely on trust.

The problem with being a writer is not the actual writing - if you can do it, you can do it
Andrew Crofts
For My Side, Mr Watt went to Beckham's parents Sandra and Ted, his wife Victoria and Manchester United stars including Gary Neville, before speaking at length to the player himself.

"I wanted an outline of the story and I wanted to spend my time with David talking about how he felt," he says.

Once the interviews are done, the laborious process of giving them structure and the bite the readers are looking for begins.

This, says Mr Crofts of his three or four books a year, can be done surprisingly quickly, although there are often problems with the first versions.

"You get everything you can out of them and put it in the first draft. Then they say 'oh God', it's too unkind to my mother, it has to be taken out."

The lifestyle

Despite the frustrations, Mr Crofts says the work is worth it, giving him an insight into the lives of people he would not otherwise meet.

And he denies suggestions that ghost writers are simply frustrated novelists.

For one thing, he has already published a novel, Maisie's Amazing Maids. Fellow ghost writer Michael Robotham, who has written for Ricky Tomlinson among others, has received good reviews for his own new novel, The Suspect.

But Mr Crofts, a former freelance journalist, says he always enjoyed the writers' lifestyle and could not hope to do so well by working solely a novelist.

"The problem with being a writer is not the actual writing - if you can do it, you can do it. The problem is finding the really good stories publishers will pay for."

He also enjoys the fact the person whose face appears on the front cover will have to do the marketing work.

And with three or four books a year coming out, there is always the drawcard that ghost writers can earn good money.

"I'm comfortable. There's private schools for the children and swimming pools and that kind of thing, but no private yachts quite yet," says Mr Crofts.


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