After several centuries of lurking in the shadows, ghostwriters are finally bursting out of the closet. While many projects still come with confidentiality agreements that are longer and more draconian than the actual contracts they support, more and more ghosts are being named and famed.
Roddy Doyle got equal billing when he ghosted Roy Keane’s latest memoir, The Second Half, in 2014. I myself have just ghosted Chances by Penny, an erotic memoir for a lady who has to remain anonymous because of the shocking content of the book, putting me in the unusual position of being the spokesman for this very personal love story upon publication. Ghosts are more used to being back home working on their next project at the moment when the flash bulbs go off and Mariella Frostrup sends out invitations to interview.
Because of the secretive nature of the business it is never going to be possible to provide a definitive list of the greatest ghosted books, we can only work from the ones which have been openly credited or have been “outed” by the media like the recently, and unfairly, vilified vlogger, Zoella, who was attacked for having ghosting help with her first novel. The waters are further muddied by the input of researchers in the early stages and editors in the later stages of many books’ creation.
1. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Dumas used a number of different “assistants and collaborators”, much in the same way that novelists such as James Patterson do today. The French refer to these ghosts as “nègre littèraire”. An author called Auguste Maquet has since been credited with writing a large part of The Count of Monte Cristo as well as The Three Musketeers series.
2. Profiles in Courage by John F Kennedy
Authorship of this book, which started life as a magazine article, was all part of the image-building which helped Kennedy along the path to becoming the most powerful man in the world and ultimately one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century. The actual writing was done by Ted Sorenson, the speechwriter who also gave JFK such immortal lines as “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. It is a beautiful example of just how valuable the services of a ghost can be in the rise to power. Ronald Reagan, when questioned about his autobiography, is reputed to have said that he had heard good things about it and “greatly looked forward to reading it”. I have since worked for a number of powerful figures, many of whom I am pretty sure haven’t yet got round to reading the resulting tomes.
3. Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca and William Novak
Published in 1984, this is a personal favourite of mine, partly because it was the first business story that I found totally gripping and partly because it was the moment that I realised ghostwriting might be a really interesting way to make a living. Iacocca was a giant in the American motoring industry and William Novak made a riveting read of a tale about turning around a struggling corporation. It made me realise that business stories could be full of life and character, tension and drama.
4. Open by Andre Agassi
Ghosted by Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer, this autobiography entered areas of personal confession and insight that few sporting stars, (or their advisers), would think was good for their image. The result is a rounded portrait of a man of unusual talent, painting a truthful and revealing picture of what it actually feels like to be under that much pressure every hour of every day. I think it would have been hard for Agassi to pull of such a skilful literary feat himself.
5. Life by Keith Richards and James Fox
If we had waited for Keith Richards to find the time, energy and will to write his own autobiography, it is a fair bet we would still be waiting on the day that he finally surrendered to mortality. It takes a great deal of self discipline and practice to be able to sit down and write a whole book. Very few people can do it if they have spent their whole lives doing something else. The world, I would suggest, would have been a poorer place if there had not been some kind of book-shaped autobiographical record of this man’s extraordinary personal life and career to go along with all the music and all the newspaper cuttings.
Andrew Crofts’ latest ghostwritten book is Chances by Penny, an erotic memoir published by RedDoor.