Saturday 14 December 2019

The secret weapon in the book battle between BOD and Keano

Next month, the eagerly anticipated biographies of Ireland's two premier sportsmen are published. Both Brian O'Driscoll and Roy Keane got a lot of help from their ghostwriters.

Brian O'Driscoll and Roy Keane are both set to release books in the coming months
Brian O'Driscoll and Roy Keane are both set to release books in the coming months
Brian O'Driscoll: The Test
Roy Keane second autobiography
Ronan O'Gara autobiography
Brian and Amy
Roy Keane in action as Ireland coach
Brian O'Driscoll and Amy Huberman

Joe O'Shea

They are two of Ireland's most beloved - and controversial - sportsmen, so it's no wonder that the public are breathlessly anticipating the autobiographies of Roy Keane and Brian O'Driscoll, which are both published next month.

The two captains have the lucrative Christmas markets in their sights, but it certainly won't come as a shock to their fans to discover that Keano and BOD haven't spent the last few months huddled over a computer. Like so many of the world's biggest celebrities, they have employed ghostwriters to tell their tales.

The Ireland and Aston Villa assistant manager has collaborated with Booker Prize-winning novelist Roddy Doyle for a ghost-written biography with a difference. The Second Half is due for publication on October 9, a full fortnight ahead of Brian O'Driscoll The Test: My Autobiography.

Keane is expected to delve into issues such as his falling out with former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson after the then-club captain criticised the performance of squad members in 2005.

The path of a ghostwriter is not always a smooth one, however.

The Second Half is Keane's second ghost-written biography. His first was characteristically controversial.

In 2002, he joined forces with Eamon Dunphy (who was paid around €310,000 for his work) and their book - Keane: The Autobiography - was nominated for awards and sold a huge number of copies but caused major controversy (mostly for the description of an unsavoury tackle on an opponent) which soured the relationship between the Ghost and his subject.

Sports writer Paul Kimmage was originally supposed to write Brian O'Driscoll's book, but he controversially withdrew his services several months ago. A new writer, rugby journalist Alan English subsequently stepped into the breach and he started on a fresh version of the rugby star's life, working alongside the former Ireland and Leinster hero, whose wife Amy Huberman has just announced that the couple are expecting their second child in November

As the job title would suggest, "Ghosts" remain very much in the shadows, most rarely get even a mention in the books they write. A case in point is Andrew Crofts; only those at the very centre of the book trade would have heard his name, but his influence is significant.

The English writer has penned the life stories of pop-stars, sporting heroes and women who have survived horrific abuse.

But now Crofts is about to break his decades-long silence and offer us a rare glimpse inside the shadowy world of ghosting, as he publishes, under his own name, Confessions of a Ghostwriter.

As the writer himself says, it will be a unique chance to peer into a world where a writer-for-hire is paid often quite large sums to spend days or weeks with a celebrity, probing their lives and trying to get inside their heads as they put their life stories into words on a page.

Crofts says it is a strange relationship and a highly unusual trade. "Behind the title of ghostwriter, I could converse with kings and billionaires as easily as whores and the homeless, go backstage with rock stars and actors," he says.

"I could stick my nose into everyone else's business and ask all the impertinent questions I wanted to. At the same time, I could also live the pleasant life of a writer…

"You get the commission, have the adventure - anywhere from a palace to a brothel - and return to the security of your own home."

Ghostwriters have been a feature of modern publishing since the early 20th century, when an Irish-American newspaper man called Christy Walsh coined the phrase.

Walsh, who was a lawyer-turned-newsman and an ardent supporter of Irish Republicanism, set up the Christy Walsh Syndicate, which for many years handled the literary output of America's biggest sporting stars, including the baseball legend Babe Ruth.

The syndicate would use staff writers to churn out newspaper columns and biographies, doing the heavy lifting for the sportsmen, and later politicians and popular celebrities, who wouldn't know one end of a typewriter from the other. And although he was a fast-talking hustler, a dapper dresser who loved to pal around with celebrities and gangsters, Walsh had a Ghost-writers Code, of sorts.

His number one rule was; "Don't insult the intelligence of the public by claiming these men write their own stuff." Walsh also insisted that; "All ghosts must be in daily communication with their 'bodies'."

The Ghosts have always been with us. But it is only recently, as the market for celebrity biogs has exploded, that they have come to dominate the best-seller lists.

From household names such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Jordan and Victoria Beckham to bafflingly popular 15-minutes-of-fame concoctions like the car insurance ads Meerkats (who recently got their own biog, A Simples Life), a small army of Ghosts have been on hand to commit profound thoughts to the page.

The best that most Ghosts can hope for is a grudging thank you in the acknowledgement pages. However, it can be a well-paid existence. Now in his 60s and with 80 books and sales of more than 10m copies behind him, Andrew Crofts can expect to be paid a flat fee in the high six figures for each new project.

The author of Confessions Of A Ghostwriter regularly turns down work and earns more than all but the most successful "name" authors on the best-seller lists.

Most Ghosts, even if they do haunt the best-seller lists, cannot count themselves to be so well rewarded. Traditionally, the Ghost has received 33pc of the advance (plus royalties).

But in the recession, with book sales down and the industry in general trying to adjust to the digital revolution, writers-for-hire have found themselves being squeezed. They can now be offered as little as 10pc of the advance (plus a share of the royalties).

The industry is full of tales of poisonous relationships between Ghosts and their subjects, with the writers, often frustrated novelists themselves, having to deal with air-headed, ridiculously over-compensated celebrities with not much to say.

Ghosts say they have to become a combination of therapist, friend and fan, navigating their way around fragile, yet massive egos. And what if the subject has absolutely nothing of interest to say? One Ghosting horror story that has become legend tells the tale of a writer who had to come up with 70,000 words on the life of a famously boring, tight-lipped English cricket star. After exhausting every trick in the book to pad out the word count, he handed the work in, only to hear the publisher say; "This is terrific stuff! Do you think you could do us another 30,000 words?".

Back in the 1920s, father-of-Ghostwriters Christy Walsh wrote three autobiographies for Babe Ruth which sold in the millions. And the canny Irish-American writer left some sound advice for those who would follow in his footsteps.

"'A new ghost writer has to learn a lot about style," suggested Walsh. "He usually makes the mistake of thinking that he ought to write the way his celebrity talks. That is an error. He ought to write the way the public thinks his celebrity talks."

Those writers looking for wisdom and substance in the lives of pop-stars and soccer players today might do well to heed those words of advice.

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