This week, while I was interviewing my latest client, she expressed her fears about being ‘too honest’ with me. ‘You might think this sounds weird…’ she began nervously, as we explored her feelings about a particular part of her story.
But I was quick to reassure her I appreciated her honesty and no, nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) would make her seem weird to me. Since I began ghostwriting in 2009, I have written 14 books, including four Sunday Times bestsellers, and I can hand on heart say any book’s success is thanks to the author’s ability to be profoundly honest.
Honesty brings integrity and authenticity to a story, which brings it alive for a reader. Arguably all memories are subjective, so there is no right or wrong. If you believe it happened that way, from your point of view, then it did! After listening to heartbreaking, cruel, brave, passionate, happy and shocking stories of unimaginable and imaginable situations, ghostwriters are able to hear the best and worse of the human condition.
A fellow bestselling ghostwriter, Andrew Crofts, once said ‘a splinter of ice in your heart‘ is a requirement of this job, and it’s hard to disagree. An ability to listen without prejudice is necessary, alongside empathy, to pull a story together. All good stories are an exploration of the human condition.
Like all members of United Ghostwriters, I’ve spoken to people from every facet of life, from a coalminer’s wife (At the Coalface by Catherine Paton Black) to celebrities (Forever in My Heart by Jade Goody) to a Romany gypsy (Gypsy Princess by Violet Cannon) to survivors of childhood abuse (Nobody Cared by Terrie O’Brian) and all of their stories involved hours of digging deep into their lives. Some have told me secrets they have never told another living soul, while others have looked back on memories in a different way following our conversations. For others, understandably, it takes a while to trust that I am a confidante as well as a writer. Sometimes, with permission, I am even asked to speak to a relative or close friend to fill in the gaps of memories.
I will never forget the sexual abuse survivor who made me laugh until I cried as she described the ghastly look of her abuser with great humour. Or the relative of the terminally ill celebrity who relayed the last joke she cracked on her deathbed. Or the whistle-blower to Lance Armstrong who forgave him, despite everything she had endured. Often being honest with a ghostwriter runs alongside being honest with oneself. So tell us anything, anything at all. Confidence is assured, and when it comes to writing your story, it will bring the words alive on the page in ways that will surprise both you and your reader.