I have a confession to make – I’m a regular viewer of the TV series Cold Feet, which follows the fortunes of five long-time friends living in Manchester, and the various trial and tribulations of their 50-something lives. The series was first aired in the late 1990s and ran for five seasons; it was revived in 2016, picking up the lives of the original 30-something characters in real time.
I’ll admit that I was a devotee of the show first time around mainly because at the time I was living with a commitment-phobic boyfriend, just like Jimmy Nesbitt’s character Adam in the first series; I tuned in each week to see how Adam’s long-suffering girlfriend, Rachel, coped with his intimacy issues. I think I hoped that life might imitate art, and that my situation would resolve itself in the same way Adam and Rachel’s eventually did. After a stand-up argument when she throws him out of her flat, Adam retreats to his bachelor pad to sulk. A few days later however, he has a moment of epiphany while drinking whisky in the bath and he realises he can’t live without her. Half an hour later he is standing in the flowerbed underneath her bedroom window, stark naked and with a red rose clenched between his buttocks, professing his undying love and begging her to marry him. I didn’t necessarily want a precise re-enactment of this scene by my then boyfriend, but I did hope for a road-to-Damascus moment and a heartfelt gesture of some kind. Or even just an acknowledgment that we were actually living together, after 18 months of him staying over at mine seven days a week . . .
Fast-forward 23 years, and I’m still watching the show.
In last week’s episode, I was struck by one particular exchange, which has been replaying every so often in my mind ever since. (Cold Feet is clearly a show which is Shakespearean in its depth and universal reach).
This was a scene where one of the key characters, Karen, who has recently set up her own book publishing business, is catching up with her close friend Jenny, another one of the ‘original five’ of the show. Jenny has just been given the all-clear after a breast cancer diagnosis and months of chemotherapy, but after the initial sense of euphoria, she’s finding herself inexplicably struggling with feelings of low mood, anger and guilt. As she confides in Karen, she tentatively raises the idea that writing a book about her experiences might be a good way of working through her feelings and helping women in the same boat.
She’s calling on Karen’s professional know-how as a publisher (and perhaps she’s secretly hoping her friend will offer to help her, or even to publish her book). Karen’s response is swift, brutal and to-the-point: ‘It’s already been done, Jenny . . . And it’s not as if you’re even famous or anything.’ Jenny is suitably crushed, and left wondering at her own foolishness for even thinking she could do such a thing.
I’m glad I don’t have friends like Karen.
If you’re considering the possibility of writing a book, honesty and realism are very important of course – both in terms of the feedback you may seek from those in the industry, and as well as on your own part, as you work out what your expectations are, what the practical process will involve and whether you have the time and resources to see it through. But not automatically shutting down ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking is also very important. And equally, not telling other people – or yourself – that their – or your – individual story is unimportant or irrelevant to the world at large.
Yes, a lot of cancer memoirs have been written; yes, for the last number of years you were more likely to get a book published on almost any subject if you were well known and had a big enough ‘platform’. And of course, regardless of ‘platform’, so much of any real-life storytelling relies for its impact on the quality of the writing. It’s not just the facts of the story that are important – to paraphrase the words of the late Belfast comedian, Frank Carson, ‘It’s the way you tell ‘em’.
But, as well as being a rubbish friend, Cold Feet’s Karen is well behind the rest of the publishing industry in her thinking. You don’t have to be a celeb these days to have your memoir considered seriously by a commissioning editor – look at such recently published runaway bestsellers as The Salt Path by Raynor Wynn, Educated by Tara Westover, Motherwell: A Girlhood by Deborah Orr – all life stories written by ‘ordinary’ people. Your experiences, how you lived through them and what you drew from them, can potentially be as interesting – or dare I say, it, perhaps significantly more interesting – than the life and times of X, Y or Z from Love Island or I’m a Celebrity . . .
What you do need to do is to be able to identify the aspects of your experiences which may most speak to other people; also those which will strike a particular chord in today’s world. You do need to hone in on the significant, interesting details of your story, and carve out a narrative thread a reader can follow. You have to have the ability to see the bigger picture – to draw something from what you have undergone, and to find a compelling way of communicating this.
If you have limited writing experience, but passionately feel that you want to tell your story and that you have something important to share with, then it is definitely worth thinking about enlisting the help of a professional ghostwriter. Not only will they be able to bring your story alive in written form but, like all of the writers here at United Ghostwriters, they will bring with them an invaluable knowledge of the publishing market today, and how your unique set of experiences might fit into this picture. A good ghostwriter will work with you as a partner, and indeed will be your greatest ally when it comes to navigating all of the key considerations I’ve listed above.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering how things panned out for me with that boyfriend back in the late 1990s – life most definitely did not imitate art. After four years together, I finally saw the writing on the wall, and we decided to go our separate ways. But not before one final, last-ditch effort from me when I gave him a copy of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, hoping that he’d be inspired by it and follow the same trajectory as Rob, the indie record store owner and chronic commitment-phobe. I think I was maybe just a little too subtle back in those days. Or is it possible I had some intimacy issues of my own . . ?!
Fast forward to 2020, and I have been happily married for the last 14 years to a wonderful man who proposed to me on Christmas Eve, just a matter of months after we first got together – to my complete surprise and delight. Life may not always imitate art, but sometimes in the long-term it can bring outcomes you could never have imagined. Which is why, I believe, it’s always worth relating real-life stories as well as trying to create great (or even just good) art.