In a recent episode of a sitcom set in the offices of a New York publisher, one of the super glamorous editors holds up a manuscript and says, ‘We want the author because she’s a big name, but her manuscript is limp,’ (wrinkles nose in disparaging way). ‘We’d better send it to a book doctor.’
We all love a good book – a book that makes us think, laugh, cry, wonder, marvel, a book whose characters or ideas or images remain with us long after we have finished it.
There are plenty of critics to tell us whether any particular book is good or bad. But look up the reviews for a book panned by the literati and dozens of people will say they loved it, because what’s good to you isn’t necessarily the same as what’s good to me. So, isn’t ‘good’ in the eye, or mind, or heart of the beholder?
Are the classics good? Undoubtedly, and yet so many of us struggle to get through them. They may be great literature, and they have brought joy to many, but I’ve lost count of the people who admit that they couldn’t actually finish Tolstoy, or Dickens, or Trollope.
A couple of years back a man named Pavlos came over from Egypt to work with me on a memoir of his father, who had, in his day, been a distinguished international endocrinologist. However, when we sat down together to begin going through his memories of his father, Pavlos, himself in his seventies, couldn’t remember much. In fact, after half an hour of peering at a scrap of paper on which he’d written a few notes, he declared himself done.
What to do?
We started again and over several days began to stitch together moments, memories, thoughts, colours, scenes – anything and everything that Pavlos could recall from his childhood and his father’s extraordinary life in Cairo.
Eventually what we had was a short book of vignettes; little passages, just a page or two long in some cases, each of which captured, in no particular order, an aspect of his father – his humour, his dedication, his fussiness about meals, his camping trips in the desert with 12-year-old Pavlos, his dash in the middle of the night to treat a prince and his kindness to patients who could only pay him in chickens and honey.
I had been afraid that Pavlos might be disappointed, as the book was so short, but I need not have worried. This book was, for him, the best book in the world. He added in old black and white photographs of his father and when it was complete he was so excited about it that he went to the printer on the Isle of Wight to watch it roll off the presses.
Once he had the copies, he gave them to his children and grandchildren and to everyone who had ever known his father as well as to the libraries and medical schools across the world that his father had worked in or visited.
This was, in the end, a very good book. For Pavlos it was the best of books and, after he sent it out, he received many warm messages from people who had known and loved his father. The book was itself an act of love, and what can be better than that?
For me it confirmed what I already suspected – if you love a book, it’s a good book. And since every book is loved by someone, it follows then that all books are good!
Of course they are, because books are wondrous things.
‘Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved. That is the only reality in the world. All else is folly.’
Leo Tolstoy was almost completely right when he said this. What a shame, though, that he didn’t add ‘love and be loved…and write your book’. Perhaps he didn’t think of this at the time because he had already written many of the books that have made him immortal, so he wasn’t feeling the misery of knowing you have a book in you that is still waiting to be written.
For so many others, though, the book is still topping the bucket list, still something to mull over, dream about and plan for when the right moment arises.
How often do we ghostwriters hear, ‘I’ve always wanted to write a book,’ or ‘Everyone tells me I should write a book’? These statements are always delivered with great eagerness and passion. No-one ever sounds half-hearted when they confess that they would love to write a book.
We never mind how many times we hear this. Because we know, for absolute certain, that if the people who tell us of their hopes and dreams actually do write their books, it will bring them a great deal of happiness and they will never, ever regret it. No-one says, ‘I wish I’d never written my book.’ The only possible source of true regret is not writing your book.
Yet sadly all too often writing a book is something people plan to get around to – until time runs out and they realise they never did get around to it and now no-one will ever know how the story went, or what it was that inspired them to achievement or how they managed to found a business or what Great Aunt Maud said that made the whole family fall off their chairs laughing.
Writing a book is far more worthwhile than almost anything else you can do. Carl Sagan called books ‘proof that humans can work magic’. Books, he said, ‘break the shackles of time’. They outlast us in a way that nothing else ever can.
Have you ever heard of Harold Thorpe?
That’s because he didn’t write a book.
His friend Elwyn White did though. He wrote a short book in 1952 about a spider saving the life of a pig. Almost 70 years later, children and adults are still loving it.
While Harold died wishing he had written the book he knew he had inside him, Elwyn left the world Charlotte’s Web, and so we think of him still, and smile our thanks for the gift he gave us.
Books beg to be written. Books bring creativity, fulfilment and joy. Books are our legacy, our gift to those we love – and to ourselves. Think of the tales not told, the dramas unremembered, the wisdom unshared, the memories forgotten when, for want of a pen (and a bit of time) the book is lost.
So, if lack of time is stopping you from writing your book, seize the moment and come to us, at United Ghostwriters. We will make the time so that you can save it and still see your book where it deserves to be – out in the world.
‘So, what’s it all about, this ghostwriting business, then?’ I was at a party (remember those) when someone asked this, predictably followed by, ‘I suppose you write ghost stories?’ Cue much laughter.
‘Well,’ I smiled sweetly. ‘Actually, sometimes we do.’ I had just written a book for a psychic and there were plenty of ghosts in it. ‘But mostly we don’t.’
Ghostwriting is a much misunderstood and occasionally maligned profession, so perhaps it’s time to explain what it is that we’re actually all about.
While this is definitely a year that most of us will be happy to forget, what many people are doing, as they wait out the seemingly endless days in lockdown, is looking back at their memories.
As we have felt under threat and life has changed in painful and unexpected ways, there has been a shift in our collective values, away from the frivolous and material and towards what matters most – the people we love. And this has given rise to a longing, in so many of us, to write our personal stories. As a result, writing memoirs has never been as popular as it is now. Memoir is having a moment, and it is bringing enormous pleasure, both to those who are writing them and to those who read them. Read more “Why Memoir is Having a Moment”