For the past 18 months I’ve been working with Jayne Senior on her book, ‘Broken and Betrayed’, the account of her role in the Rotherham child abuse scandal. Jayne initially contacted me to see if I could help with her account of the role she played in the events that led to the shocking scandal.Broken and Betrayed

I knew of the wider story, and so I met Jayne and realised she had a hugely valid and important story to tell. After some initial work we secured a deal with PanMacmillan Books via The Viney Agency. The book is now selling well. This is what Jayne has to say about our collaboration:

“In August 2014 my life turned completely upside down following numerous articles in the Times written by a journalist, Andrew Norfolk, a damning report by Prof Alexis Jay was published that uncovered the horrific failings and unthinkable abuse of at least 1400 children in Rotherham South Yorkshire. 6 months later Rotherham was hit again when Louise Casey uncovered further evidence and our council was taken over.

“I carried a secret, that secret was it was myself that had shared numerous document with Andrew Norfolk. I had managed the project that had worked with those 1400+ children. I was approached on numerous occasions to speak to the press and/or write a book, during this time I refused them all.

“That changed when in my new job role I recognised other children were once again been failed, services that should have been protecting our most vulnerable continued to fail them, other towns across the UK were breathing a sigh of relief that their town was not under the spotlight like ours.

“One Friday evening I made the decision to find a ghost writer and discuss the possibility of writing a book; not a book that was full of drama and scandal but a book that would be read and people would recognise risks to children, act on those gut instincts, scrutinise their own practice and ask the question ‘if it’s not good enough for my child it’s not good enough.’

“I met with Tom Henry and immediately realised he was the person I wanted to take my words and put onto paper some of those horrifying stories of abuse and failure and create a journey that others could follow. Tom spent hours listening to my story, the stories of some of those abused and failed, read hundreds of documents and took the readers on a journey of tears, laughter, shock and more importantly an awareness and knowledge that this could be any town and anybody’s child.

“When it became difficult for me to continue Tom recognised those feelings and helped me get through it, for that I thank Tom for not judging, rushing, but for walking back through those horrific 12 years by my side and one step at a time.”

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Layla's Cafe

It’s a given that writers lead lives of constant and thrilling adventure. The walk downstairs to the kettle is fraught with stomach-churning anticipation; the trip to the spare room to make sure the paint is drying nicely is never less than mind-spinning. And yet, there are times when we must take a break from all this hedonism and re-charge our batteries. And by that, I mean that now and again, we need to get a life.

I did just that last week, in Saudi Arabia of all places. I’m working on a book with a prominent Saudi woman on female empowerment, marriage, divorce, enlightenment and loads more. Heady stuff, particularly in the Middle East where such issues are discussed, but not as often as they ought to be.

My client invited me to Saudi to see for myself the issues she wants discussing. I have to admit, I was a bit less than enthusiastic. Well, we’ve all heard the stories, haven’t we? And we all believe them, don’t we, because we believe what we want to believe and filter out the rest.

Anyway, I went somewhat faint-heartedly, expecting a severe, austere place where access to local people would be limited, at the very most, and where standards of behaviour would put the era of the Spanish Inquisition to shame.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! On the contrary, I met some of the friendliest, funniest and most generous people I’ve come across for a long, long time. And open too; much more than I expected. In all, I had a great and inspiring week, coming away with a raft of very useful information and insights that I couldn’t have picked up in any other way than first-person.

As writers, we spend far too much time in our heads and not enough exploring the people, places and situations that may be the very source of our inspiration, should we choose to look. And we don’t always need to travel across continents to do it. An overheard conversation in the local shop, a glance across a crowded street, the movement of trees in a spring breeze; getting outdoors, and out of your head (so to speak….) can open up experiential and creative possibilities that you’ll never discover second-hand, or on YouTube. Or on this website – so get out and get thinking!

 

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Man and typewriter

Note to self: I must, must must update this more regularly!!
The last few months have been the busiest I’ve ever experienced – two books written, right from scratch, and on the most diverse themes. One is centred around the Rotherham child abuse scandal and is the most harrowing, hard-hitting book I’ve ever been involved with. Almost 2,000 children abused, and barely anyone noticed – particularly those in authority who really should have identified and tackled the problem more than a decade ago. Luckily, one person DID do something, and it’s their story I’m helping to tell. The author is a most remarkable person and example to others never to let a wrong remain unrighted.
The other project is a very interesting memoir/self-help book around the subject of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and anxiety. This has been a fascinating project, with many life-lessons contained within it, and I think it will generate a lot of interest when it is finally published.
I was sad to learn that the Rev Cyril Grant, whom I helped with a memoir in 2013, died earlier this year at the age of 96. Cyril was a great guy and it was a pleasure to help him with a record of his remarkable life. A few years ago I helped a former businessman, Ken Medlock, with his autobiography. Again, his was an amazing life, not least because of his zest for every aspect of it, and Ken has recently featured(for the second time) on an ITV documentary on centenarian car drivers. At the age of 101 he is still on the road and, judging by the footage, his sense of humour is also undimmed.
The book ‘Goodbye East End’ is now published and has been garnering great reviews on Amazon.

I assisted author David Merron with this, but my involvement was minimal, as David is such a good writer. I provided useful advice (I hope!) and a touch of polish here and there. Otherwise, his account of a wartime childhood spent in evacuation deserves to be a classic.

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East End

I’ve been working on a lovely story by author David Merron, whose experiences as a wartime evacuee from London are to be published as ‘Goodbye, East End’. David came from a close-knit Jewish community in the Aldgate area of the city and when he was evacuated to the countryside his world changed forever.
This is a fascinating story, not least because of the unique perspective David brings to both city and countryside that have changed forever. Now in his 80s, David has written for pleasure all his life and has finally been published by Transworld – which just proves that if you persevere you will get there in the end!
David’s story was a cracker from the story and to be honest, it required very little input from me in terms of ghostwriting. It was all there; it just needed a little support and some hand-holding, which all writers require from time to time. David is a natural storyteller with an incredible eye for detail and a memory to match, though I guess it’s hard to forget the events of World War Two if you were caught up in them, in whatever way.
The book will be published in July and is a cracking read!
Below is the publisher’s blurb….
At the start of World War 2, when Hitler’s bombs threatened to rain down hell, eight-year-old David Merron was taken from the heart of his close-knit Jewish community in London’s East End and evacuated to the safety of the English countryside. Transplanted into an alien world, adrift from his nurturing family and at the mercy of strangers, life was frightening and lonely. The strangeness of this new existence – its religious and cultural shifts – left David confused and questioning not only his faith but his very sense of self. But, with time, David realised that the rural world was also beautiful. Far from the cramped and often poverty-stricken East End, the countryside was wild and wonderful – an adventure playground in which a curious lad was free to flourish. Immersed in the ebb and flow of country life, David harboured a secret. Increasingly, he didn’t want to return to the dirty streets of the East End. Sometimes, he didn’t want the war to end. David’s moving memoir is about a small boy’s burgeoning love of the countryside and the confusion he felt about missing – and yet not missing – home. Set against a wartime backdrop of flaming skies and pluming black smoke, it is a celebration of the wonder and tranquility of the natural world that changed the shape of David’s life.

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Feb

23

2015

The Late Bus

Occasionally I indulge myself by writing fiction. Below is a short story I wrote last year. It was chosen as ‘Story of the Year’ on a UK writing website.

The Late Bus

It was about 3.37pm when I noticed mum was dead.

I say ‘about’. I can’t be more precise than that. I hadn’t looked at my watch for a full five minutes, and when I’d glanced at it last it said 3.31pm. There is five minutes and 35 seconds between the end of Penwortham Lane, where I know I looked at my watch, and the bus stop by the Post Office along Old Queen’s Road. We’d definitely passed the stop when mum’s head slumped on my shoulder and she let out a groan, like a bagpipe deflating. How far past we were I don’t know – the weight of mum’s body against me temporarily trapped my wrist – but it wasn’t far.

So I’m saying 3.36 and 45 seconds as estimated time of death. As I’ve mentioned, I can’t be more precise than that. After all, she was dead. I had other things to think about.

We’d been on the weekly trip to Lancaster. Mum liked the castle. She said the vibrations around it gave her energy. I know it was the caffeine in the tea she’d had from the flask on the way up and I said so, but she ignored me.

“They come up from the witch’s dungeon!” she said, cackling. “Can’t you feel them, David?”

No, I couldn’t. Not once, ever. I looked up at the high, soot-blackened stone walls and down to the green in front of the castle. There was a slight breeze, accompanied by the rumble of the 10.47am Virgin WestCoast pulling out of Lancaster en route to London Euston, via Preston, Wigan North Western, Warrington Bank Quay, Crewe and Birmingham New Street, but that was it. Mum was disappointed.

“Oh you. No imagination. Always the same. Where’s your sense of fun? They’re magic, those vibrations. I can feel them. I’m sensitive.”

We usually caught the 9.10am bus from Wigan Station as it’s the more direct route. That was my idea. Mum preferred to take the slower bus – “round the houses,” she said – because she liked to look into people’s gardens. I don’t like to look in people’s gardens. I don’t see the point, as we have a garden of our own. Mum said other people’s gardens gave her ideas. If I can, I do something as we walk to the bus station – stop in a shop or use the public toilet in Market Street – so we slow down and miss the 8.53am indirect route to Lancaster.

“Typical!” she said, when she discovered we were late again, “spoiling my fun. Your head always busy with the details. Let go and enjoy yourself for once!”

As usual, I was pushing her in the chair. She grumbled a bit about the bus, but I didn’t notice. Once the chair was stowed at the front of the bus we moved down the vehicle and into our usual seat. A woman wearing a tartan jacket got on and sat in front of us. I stared at the patterns on her coat, watching the way the yellows tramlined across the reds and blues and greens and how they all converged and diverged at different points. If the jacket’s material was polyester it would’ve made the junctions of colour more symmetrical. As it was, it was constructed from some blend of heavy wool that didn’t quite lend itself to perfect parallels. That annoyed me. After a while I gave up and looked at something else. Finally, after a lot of fussing from mum about the flask’s screw-top, we were at Lancaster Bus Station.

It’s changed over the years. I preferred the old station. The buses came close to you as you waited in line. Now you queue behind a glass door, which only opens when the driver is ready to let you on. I used to enjoy smelling the engine fumes as it ticked over while the driver went to fetch a cup of coffee or tea from the machine. Now all you can smell is other people, which isn’t as nice as diesel.

Truth be told, it’s the only part of Lancaster I do like. My nurses at Ridge Lea, the assessment unit on the edge of the town, were nice enough, but they couldn’t understand why I was there, and nor could I. “What’s 5,750 times 27, David?” they’d ask.

“One hundred and fifty-five thousand, two hundred and fifty,” I’d reply, quick as a flash, and they’d all laugh.

“He’s a genius, in’t he? Not like the rest of the dafties in here, are you David?”

They’d go back to their tea, or to manhandling some screaming old patient, his white hair wild all over his head and his false teeth in pieces on the ward floor. I’d sit there, wondering what was so funny. 5,750 times 27 is 155,250. Wouldn’t you know that?

This went on for years. I’d spent a few weeks at Ridge Lea (to give my parents a rest) then go home. I’d walk from the hospital down into Lancaster and catch the bus. The smell of Dettol and cold dinners stayed in my nostrils and everyone in Lancaster looked like a Ridge Lea patient or a nurse. Or both. That’s why I don’t like it.

Mum and Dad did, though. They’d visit me, then go for tea and shopping in the town. They came to love the place, especially mum. One day she went into a shop that sold crystals – I think she was looking for a paperweight – and the shopkeeper told her that Lancaster was a very special place, full of mystery and ‘energies’. Mum bought a book on ‘energies’ and from then on, began to feel energies under her feet, especially in Lancaster. She also started wearing purple, but only after Dad died.

Anyway, on this particular day Mum felt energies coming from the castle. Happy at that, we went for tea and shopping. I annoyed her because I took time choosing a cake. Carrot is nice, but it felt wrong to eat savoury again after the main course. Lemon is too tart, Eccles cakes have dead flies in them and chocolate gives me headaches.

“You give me a bloody headache, David,” Mum grumbled. “You’re 57 years old. Just pick one before you reach your old age pension.” Then she stuck a fork into a slice of Black Forest gateau and pushed it into her mouth. Crumbs stuck to the whiskers under her chin. I decided to go without cake.

After tea and shopping it was time for home. ‘You looked puffed out,’ I told Mum. She didn’t reply. Like her skirt and top, she was a funny purple colour. I pushed her quickly down Penny Street to the bus station. I didn’t want to miss the 2.52pm via Preston. Again, it’s direct, and it stops in Preston for just four minutes, as opposed to the 3.01 which stays there 20 minutes. I like to be back in Wigan for around 4.45pm, as I know it’s easier to push Mum across the bypass before drivers start leaving work in their cars. Otherwise we’re stuck on the pavement for ages and people say things and ask me if I’m alright. Of course I’m alright. I just need to wait until 20 cars have gone past before it’s safe to cross. If 20 do go past and the 21st is close behind the 20th, I have to wait until 20 more go past again. If there’s a break in the traffic then, we can cross. If not – we wait. It drives Mum mad.

Then Mum went and died on the bus. It was 3.36pm and 45 seconds. Her head flopped on to my shoulder and she squashed me against the window. ‘What are you doing, Mum?” I said, because I’d been counting bus stops between Lancaster and Preston and now she’d put me off. It could have been 46 or 47, I can’t remember.

I took her hand. It felt cold. There was a blue look around her lips. She’d been quiet on the way back, but I think she knew I was counting and didn’t want to put me off. But she did, by dying.

By now, the bus was well past the Post Office on Old Queen’s Road. I wondered how I’d ask someone if they knew about dead people, and what to do next. But I was afraid that it would somehow delay the bus and I wouldn’t be able to get across the bypass before the people driving home from work began to use it. Still, Mum’d been dead about 14 minutes and 39 seconds and something needed to be done. Gently, I reached out and touched the back-to-back people on a man’s jacket called Kappa. I hoped he’d turn round and see Mum’s blue lips and know what to do, but he just shuffled a bit and carried on looking at his phone.

We waited at Preston for four minutes, which turned into six because the driver ran into Greggs, just by the main door, and came back with what looked like a sausage roll, or a bacon twist. It was hard to tell from the middle of the bus. I expect was a sausage roll. Bacon twists are more of a breakfast thing and was afternoon by then. Most of the passengers got off and only seven got on for Burnley, including a man and a woman who could’ve be married.

“Are you alright, love?” said the woman as she walked past.

I was expecting this.

“Yes,” I said. “I am.”

“Right….” said the woman.

She looked at me and I looked at her. Then I stared out of the window.

“And how about the lady next to you?”

“That’s my mum.”

“Yes, your mum. Is she alright too?”

“No,” I said, “she’s dead.”

The woman gives me a funny look, like she’s heard something rude.

“Right. I was only asking. There’s no need to take the mickey.”

“My mum’s dead,” I repeated. “She’s just died on the bus. Can you help me?”

The woman looked at her husband, or boyfriend. He’d already sat down.

“Take no notice, love,” he said. Then he looked at me.

“If you scare anyone else on this bus, dickhead, I’ll come over there and rip your lungs out,” he said.

He was a big man with a bald head, and I could see he might have the power to lean over and do what he said. I didn’t like to catch his eye. To be honest I don’t really know what that means – something about staring at someone – but I still didn’t want it to happen. I didn’t want him to catch my eye either. I pictured it flying out of my head, looking round at everything swooshing past, and him catching it and putting it straight in his mouth. I shuddered, and faced the front of the bus.

As we approached Wigan the number of people on the bus became fewer. The angry bald man and his wife left just before the roundabout at Church Lane. He looked at me and I turned away. His wife seemed worried, but he grabbed her hand, almost dragging her to the door. There was an old black man at the back and a couple of teenagers at the front. They had earphones in and weren’t interested in anything else.

The bus stopped at Wigan. Now I had a problem. Mum’s wheelchair was stowed at the front of the bus. We were in the middle of the bus. Somehow I had to get mum into the chair and off the bus. We needed to get home, then I could decide what to do. Jean, our next door neighbour, is quite good and she’d be able to arrange something. Her husband, Len, likes to play dominoes with me. Sometimes we go to the local pub, other times we stay at home. Len doesn’t win very often. He says I have a ‘lucky hand’. I let him think that. It’s nice to win sometimes. Other times it’s nice to let the other person win. You stay friends with people that way.

“Are you a bit stuck there?”

The old man was probably a West Indian. He was small and wiry.

“And your mama’s asleep, right? You don’ wanna disturb her.”

I shook my head. She was asleep, sort of. It wasn’t a lie.

“Well then, let’s bring the chair to her,” he said, “and slide her on. She’ll be none the wiser.”

The old man strode down the bus, picked up the chair and carried it back. It didn’t seem heavy for him.

“I work with engines 30 years,” he said, winking, “at Leyland Motors. This is nothing.”

He assembled the chair and between us, pushing and pulling, we slid mum on to it. The old man looked at her, then at me, then looks at her again, but didn’t say anything.

Mum flopped around a bit and she looked a funny colour, but otherwise she was doing well. Playing at being alive, I mean. Her purple hat fell off and the old man put it back gently.

“Hush now baby, don’t you cry,” he sang softly, then smiled at me. He pushed the chair to the door then got off and beckoned me to help him lift it down. Between us, we lifted mum on to the concourse and through the doors.

“You’re OK now, son,” said the old man. “Take care of yourself. Be good to your mama.” Then he left, whistling the tune he was singing on the bus.

Now I’m standing with my hands on the back of the wheelchair. Mum looks cold. The light is fading and people are starting to arrive at the station having left work. We must get to the bypass now, before the cars drive by in numbers and I have to keep counting to 20, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20, again and again, before we can cross. I know how many steps it takes to get home once we’ve crossed – 2,176. Plus 10 more to get to Jean’s house. She’ll know what to do. Maybe Len will fancy a game of dominoes, once it’s all over?

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six…………………………………..

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Recently I attended a gathering of authors connected with the excellent Silver Wood Books publishing company (www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk) at Foyle’s bookshop in Bristol.

The topic was self-publishing and I was there to talk up the benefits of employing a ghostwriter or co-author, should you need one for your project. As it happened, almost all the published and wannabe published authors there didn’t need my services, so I was happy to sit back and listen to how authors going down the self-publishing route are faring in a highly competitive book market.

The answer is pretty damn successfully, if you’re prepared to put in the legwork in terms of your own PR and marketing once your book is out. But it’s this latter element that is causing a few headaches – if you’ve written a book, you think it might do well and you want it in hard copy, how do you afford to pay for this service?

The answer, according to several self-starters there on the day, is Crowdfunding – simply put, selling your idea online in the hope that someone (or many people) somewhere will buy into the idea and help to get it to market.

It’s been used for all sorts of arts-related projects, often very successfully, and there is no reason why a good pitch for a book project shouldn’t do equally as well. So I will now hand you over to Sandy Osborne, author of the Girl Cop series of romcom novels (http://sandyosborne.com/) who will guide you through the process of crowd unding and how it worked for her.

There are various crowd funding sites. They all have different rules. With some eg Kickstarter its all or nothing – you have to reach your target or you don’t get anything. Pubslush allow you to set a minimum goal which you get if you don’t reach the final target.
You definitely need to have a video – some of my backers stated that the video was what made them pledge!
Rewards need to be simple and clear. I would recommend going up in clear easy amounts (in 5’s and 10’s only) with probably 6 maximum.
Rewards need to offer value for money. Think about what you would expect for your money. Try to offer rewards not available elsewhere (I offer Girl Cop pens and notebooks!).
Include a ‘big reward’ I included one for £500 to have a cameo character named after them (or a name of their choice with sensible conditions) and an old school friend snapped it up in the first few days of the campaign!
Once the big reward had gone, Ed Hancox recommended adding another ‘big’ reward. I added one offering tickets to my launch with an overnight stay/meal at a local restaurant. That was snapped up too!
Be prepared for the pledges to plateau mid way and don’t panic (I can talk – I was considering offering a kidney as a reward half way through!)
Many authors running campaigns at the same time will be willing to do reciprocal pledges.
Tweet like never before and engage on FB will all your old friends – include your crowd funding link with every message. You’ll be amazed which ones support you and which ones don’t!
Prepare an e mail with a link to your crowd funding page (and test the link by sending the e mail to yourself before you send it out) and send it out on the first day of your campaign. Don’t do it before as some will want it to act on it straight away and may not remember to go back to it if the link isn’t live.
Re-send the e mail in the last few days of the campaign with a polite update to remind those who have forgotten to pledge.
Text everyone in your contacts list. Again you’ll be surprised who responds and who doesn’t.
Ask your local press do a piece on you. I have found that if I write the article for them and send a Hi Res pic, they are more likely to run it.
Ask your local radio for an interview.
You have to be more pushy than normal….not easy for some.
Make sure you keep people updated and THANK them!

https://www.kickstarter.com/profile/girlcop

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A good interview should flow naturally; we all know that strange sensation when we run out of questions and conversation ‘dries up’. Below are a few thought of mine – plus a few I’ve borrowed from here and there – on the subject of a successful interview. This can be a quick five-minute job to obtain a quote, or a week-long session with a ghostwriting client.

 

1. Find a suitable location.

In my experience, somewhere the interviewee feels comfortable. Take them out if you want, but often better results are obtained somewhere familiar. Try to avoid having other people around.

2. Prepare your goals ahead of time.

Know what questions you’re going to ask and why you’re going to ask them. Heading to an interview with a sense of what you want to get out of it is critical to conducting a successful interview.

You should already be thinking about what you want your piece to look like and what you need from this interview to get your article closer to that end result.

3. Write down your questions.

Be sure and bring prepared questions with you. But don’t make this a stacatto or stilted process. Think conversation – and be prepared to think on your feet.
4. Ask for what you need.

Some interviewees are frustrating because they just don’t understand what you want from them. Introduce yourself and be clear about why you’re there, and what you hope to achieve from the interview.
For the most part people want to be helpful, and you just need to tell them how they can.
5. Think about the medium.

I try (but don’t always succeed) to avoid interrupting during audio recording; instead I nod and smile in response. It doesn’t always work and sometime you need to intervene. Make sure you ask open-ended questions, not ones that require a yes or no response. For example – don’t ask ‘did you enjoy your day out sailing?’, instead, ask ‘what did you enjoy about your day out sailing?’

Another great trick for audio interviews is to have your subject re-enact the story. It makes for good sound and helps you avoid having too much of your own narration later on.

 

6. You can push a particular theme, but not too hard
Don’t be afraid to revisit a question or topic that you feel hasn’t been properly addressed by the interviewee. Sometimes people need time to warm up to you or a topic, or will respond better if your question is worded differently. Keep trying.

7. Empower your subject.

A great question to ask if you don’t fully understand the perspective of your interviewee is, “What is your ideal solution/resolution?” Obviously this only works in certain circumstances, but when appropriate it can help clarify a person’s point of view or opinion.

Another great question is, “Why do you care about this issue?” This can be an effective way to get a strong and emotional quote about why the topic you’re covering is so important.

8. Endure awkward silences.

Not easy, but it often elicites the best responses. Think therapy. Let the interviewee consider, and give them space to answer as fully as possible.
Ask your question, let them give you the rehearsed and generic answer, then sit there quietly and see what comes next. You’d be amazed how often this technique yields powerful results.
9. Listen

It’s amazing how many interviewer like the sound of their own voice! Sometimes the interview actually becomes the interviewer’s response to the interviewee. When your interviewee is speaking, an interviewer’s main role is to listen. Acknowledging their opinions with a nod of your head, or a simple ‘yes’, or ‘I see’ is a good way to show you’re listening without breaking their verbal flow.

10. Be interested

Avoid cutting people short if your time constraints allow it. You may not use the information they give you, but they will feel heard and people often open up more easily to other questions if they feel they’ve said what they wanted to say.

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Well, this is the first post in almost a year, which isn’t a great track record for a writer. But quite often, the business of writing takes over the business of writing about writing and in the past 11 months I’ve been busier than the proverbial one-armed bricklayer.
What have I been doing? Well, I finished off a book with a charming old chap called the Reverend Cyril Grant, about his life as a minister in Bristol and around the world. This was published by SilverWood Books (www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk) to a very high standard and acclaim all round. Cyril was delighted, not least when so many people (including the Mayor of Bristol) attended his launch party.Evacuee
I’m also working on another book by an older person with the working title of Song Of The Skylark. This is the story of an East End evacuee’s experience in the countryside of the Home Counties during World War Two. Nothing unusual in that you might think, but there is much more to this evacuee’s tale than meets the eye, lifting the lid on an aspect of British society in the 1940s that was distinctly at odds with official anti-Nazi rhetoric. This has now been picked up by a UK publisher and the deal is about to be signed.
I’ve also been helping out a guy from Glasgow on a non-fiction submission about an old electric guitar that may be of exceptional historic and monetary value – or not, as the case may be! Unfortunately, this has so far failed to find a home in the UK, which is surprising as it’s very much a British story and I feel there would (or should) be a lot of interest in this among guitar fans. But there’s no betting on what’s hot and what isn’t in the publishing world – it’s often very much down to the likes or dislikes of an individual editor, and whether the book idea is commercial enough. The guitar book idea is also on submission in the United States, so fingers crossed it will find a home there.
I’ve also been travelling around the UK carrying out interview work for a charity that looks after homeless and vulnerable young people. This has been a fascinating commission, not least because the work has enabled those people to have a voice. It’s also helped me to hone my interview technique, which I’ll have a look at in more depth for my next blog – which will NOT be left for another year!!

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“Writing will always take you places,” as no-one in particular said, and it is true. Even if you don’t leave your spare room for 18 months, whatever you write within those four walls will send you forth on a journey across cities, oceans, deserts, and even time itself. Alternatively, you might simply end up in another confined space, like Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’, but at least you’ve shifted somewhere.

Ghostwriting often involves two – and perhaps three – journeys during the course of a book. First, there is the journey you take with the author’s story, the one in which you find the author’s voice and imagine the world through his or her eyes. There is you own journey too; because no matter what anyone says, the ghost’s own style and voice invariably creep into the narrative, flavouring it with personal literary likes and dislikes. Finally, there are the physical journeys the ghost takes: the hours spent on motorways, in trains and on buses travelling to meet authors, agents and publishers. Every journey is food for thought; thoughts filled with anticipation, excitement and the fear of the unknown. I’ve taken many memorable journeys during my time ghosting books and at the end of each one I always ask myself the same question, the kind that was asked of domestic travellers in the petrol-rationed days of World War Two – ‘Was your journey really worth it?’

Happily, quite often the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, despite the trials and tribulations of the journey itself. A book deal, a pat on the back from a publisher pleased with the final manuscript or the end of a pleasant book launch are always pleasant conclusions to the effort made, though there has been more than a fair share of disappointments this year, too. Still, with the sun out and holidays looming there is time for reflection and a chance to renew energy and resolve.

Just recently I’ve undertaken one of those satisfying journeys, albeit that it concluded in the dining room of a Bristol nursing home – hardly the sort of woody literary agent’s office or airy, open-plan publisher’s office that is run-of-the-mill for me. I’m working with a retired Free Church minister who, at 94, has decided to write his first book. This project started in 2007 when his beloved wife died, and he was given an enormous amount of help collating the info needed from a friend. However, the years since 2007 haven’t been entirely kind to the Reverend’s memory and when I met him a couple of months ago it was obvious we would need to structure an intensive and painstaking interview process to plug the many gaps in the narrative. Luckily, he has no hesitation answering questions and giving very full accounts of events he can remember. Unluckily, he tends to repeat these stories over and over again, asking me if I’ve heard them before. Nevertheless, with patience and understanding we have now managed to do what we set out to do and I have many megabytes’ worth of recorded material ready to be pressed into service.

To celebrate, the Rev took me to a local nursing home where he occasionally lunches (“though never alone. Oh no. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I lived here…”) 30-degree heat we had soup followed by quiche lorraine, mash, carrots and gravy. The Rev apologised for eating more slowly than he used to, so I apologised for bolting my food. I asked him if he watched much television or listened to the radio.

“I’ll answer that in a minute,” he replied, gnawing his way through a chicken leg, and indeed it was more or less a minute before he lifted up his head again.

“Well, I’ll tell you now,” he said. “I’m afraid I’m not keen on sport, so we can’t talk much about that.” No problem to me; I can’t think of anything more boring than watching sport on telly.

“However,” he continued, “there is something I do like to watch. Every morning, at 9.30, I switch on my TV set and I watch The Jeremy Kyle Show. Now, what do you think of that?”

The Rev chuckled, and popped a carrot into his mouth.

“What do you think of it?” I replied hesitantly. It was hard to imagine the gaggle of angry, hard-bitten young men and women parading their issues for all to see in any way impressing the Rev. But this is a man who has shown compassion all his adult life, perhaps in compensation for the terrible lack of compassion shown to him as a child.

“Well,” he said, “it’s very interesting. It gives me great insight into people today. If I were still preaching I would be talking about the Jeremy Kyle Show. The problems it raises are fascinating, just fascinating.”

The Rev went back to the remainder of his carrots and I looked around the room. It wasn’t the most uplifting sight, yet it gave me a spark of insight into the man I’d just spent four days with in a faded 1930s house. No matter his age, or his failing memory, here was a human determined to engage with the world and, more importantly, determined not to judge and to see good in all situations. Now I saw how he inspired congregations right around the world, from the US to China and Australia to Great Britain, how he charmed an American woman to be his wife and come to live with him in post-war Rotherham. How he was instrumental in setting up a local branch of the Samaritans and no doubt saved hundreds of lives, albeit anonymously and at the end of a phone. And so, by one flash of insight, he had charmed me too. I’m looking forward to ghosting the Rev’s book. I just hope his once-wonderful memory sticks around just a little longer for him to be proud of what we will achieve.

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rejection

I’ve just submitted a very lengthy and comprehensive proposal for my latest ghosted book. It’s a hell of a story, detailing the life of guy who literally danced his way out of deep trouble and into the very highest reaches of showbiz. It’s what you might call a rollercoaster of a read, if you were so inclined. The author isn’t well known at all, but he deserves to be. Hopefully when the book is published he will get the recognition long overdue to him.

I say ‘when’ the book is published. Of course, I mean ‘if’. The author and I have worked very hard on the proposal and this being his first book, he’s understandably nervous about what happens next. The proposal is now with my literary agent and after he’s read it and made comments, it will go out to around a dozen UK publishing houses.

Having been through this many times now, I’m nervous too. As a ghostwriter I invest an enormous amount of time in proposals – for no financial gain – and while rejection isn’t something to take personally, it’s also very difficult to take rejection for granted, as we all have to do from time to time.

If a completed manuscript – or a well-researched idea, at least – isn’t simply going to sit in the bottom drawer for ever, a writer must face the fact that not everyone will like what he’s written. This can be a real eye-opener for some people, not least first-time authors who haven’t yet developed the hide of a herd of elephants. And in today’s publishing climate you certainly need that.

I’ve had books rejected on the grounds that the editor “loved it, but couldn’t get it through the meetings.” There was also “an amazing and compelling account, but I didn’t like the ending” – this from a non-fiction proposal too. I’ve even had someone practically tell me the whole thing was a dungheap of misinformation and downright lies. This latter comment was particularly cruel, but revenge was sweet when it was eventually published to critical acclaim.

I always reserve a wry smile for the phrase “after careful consideration…” which usually precedes a rejection. In this fast-paced, trend-driven, Twitter-frenetic publishing world I wonder how much actual time there is left for ‘careful consideration’, or indeed much consideration at all? It doesn’t make me cross – it is as it is – but sometimes I ee little point in maintaining a veneer of politeness given that the subtext is all too evident.

Still, I carry on regardless and promise myself that, if rejected, I’ll cheer myself up by getting accepted next time. Outright rejection is rare but it happens; I once put a proposal together about a well-known lawyer which hit editors’ desks in the week of the 2008 stock market crash. Suddenly, wealthy lawyers and their fat cat clients were no longer the flavour of the month and the proposal received 12 straight rejections. A year previously and we’d have sailed through. Bad timing, and bad luck.

So, I’m crossing fingers, toes and eyes for this latest one, but even though I believe in it and desperately want to see it on the shelves, it’s very much 50/50. Let’s see what next week brings…..

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