Has any book ever before so dominated the news agenda on both sides of the Atlantic (and beyond) for what feels like months and months? In the lead up to publication of Spare on 6th January, the Mail, Express and others frothed daily over the possible story lines, prejudged slights, and predicted apocalyptic damage to the reputation of the royal family and even the country.
Since publication, the headlines have, if anything, become bigger and shriller. (One hilarious confection of outrage read: ‘Now the grudge-toting manbaby really has thrown his royal toys out of the pram.’) Every aspect of Spare has been scrutinised – from the excruciating stories of a family at war, to the author’s openness about intensely private moments, to his possible motivation for writing such a revealing book and, even, the potential for the contents of volume 2. (To my mind, one aspect that has escaped justifiable opprobrium is the absence of an index. Really, Penguin Random House?? Really? A 416pp autobiography of apparently global public interest that sells 1.4 million copies in one day, and no index? Shame on you.)
Technical publishing issues aside, unusually for a book of this kind, one other aspect of Spare has also been the subject of much media interest: the role of the ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer. There have been articles about his previous books, his methods and process, his own family issues, his lifestyle, remuneration and so on. There have also been stories focusing on claims about the tug-of-war over what was to be included or excluded in the final book.
For example, an article appeared last November, claiming that after the Queen’s death, Harry wanted to make some changes that were either not allowed or challenged by the ghostwriter and publisher.
For professional ghostwriters everywhere, this kind of claim creates instant consternation. If you ask any reputable ghostwriter, they will tell you that one of the first rules of ghostwriting is that the book belongs entirely to the author. Our job, as a group of professionals, is to help someone’s story onto the page in the most readable, commercial, true-to-author style possible. If the author wants to include or exclude material, then within legal constraints, that’s absolutely their prerogative.
We can play devil’s advocate, we can provide an objective voice or sounding board for the author, we can dispassionately help them talk through the pros and cons of a story and the likely effect of it on the reader and/or the media; but we categorically do not have a final say on whether it goes in or not. It is not our book. Our job is to be the diligent, discreet, skilled midwife to the book, to be a trusted ally of the author, and then to withdraw from the project to whatever distance the author wishes.
The very wise Caro Handley, fellow United Ghostwriter, summed the role up so eloquently,
‘To me the idea has always been for the author to hold their finished book, delighted with the result and (almost) forgetting that anyone else was ever involved, because the ghost’s job is to melt quietly and gracefully into the background.’
So, to anyone considering employing a ghostwriter who has developed doubts because of the sensationalist headlines of the past few months, I think I speak for all reputable ghostwriters when I say, we are there to tell your story. And then our job is done.