MY WEEK – MEMOIRS AND SECRETS

I am currently ghostwriting for nine authors and this week, I worked with three of them. On Tuesday, I met a woman in her 30s. We’ve just started on her memoir – a life full of secrets. Her book will be 60,000-80,000 words and everyone of them jaw-dropping…

On Wednesday I met a chap in his 60s. He’s writing about his childhood in Dr Barnardos’ homes, which is going to be about 15,000 words.  This part of his life has been largely a secret to his nearest and dearest until now.

The author had recently been into his loft and found remnants of homeworking that his mother did in the 1950s to try and make ends meet. Homeworking was popular with working class women at the time although it didn’t pay much. One of this lady’s jobs (her son always helped her) was sticking jewels onto costume jewellery. Here’s a picture and there are more on the Your Memoir Facebook page. It was fantastic to see these items in the flesh, as well as this author’s first ever suit! The treasures and memories he has in that loft! I look forward to exploring further…

 

Costume Jewellery
Then yesterday, Thursday, I met with a lady in her 80s, who is writing a book about her whole life, in about 30,000 words. This book will be kept a secret until she dies. Sadly, because I’m really going to miss spending time with her – though I’ll keep in touch – we are nearly finished her memoir. And yesterday I asked what life had taught her, what pearls of wisdom she could pass on, “Decide what you want and go for it,” she said. “Then be prepared for it to not always work out exactly as planned and get on with it.”

Wonderful!

In a slight departure for me, I’ve been reading biography rather than memoir this week. The book was Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne. More secrets! I was attracted to this because Brideshead Revisited is one of my top ten favourite novels. Wanting to know more about its author and if Brideshead was in any way autobiographical, I Googled about until I came across Paula’s book. Mad World refers to Madresfield Court, the home of the Lygon family. Brideshead was largely and affectionately inspired by this family who took Waugh into their bosom and their ancestral home. I had no idea and it was gripping! I’ve now bought Waugh’s diaries, letters and the first volume of his autobiography. Sadly he died before he could finish the second volume.

But before I continue delving into Waugh’s world, I’m on a bit of a Somerset Maugham mission. This has been brought about by the birth of Whitstable’s very first literary festival WhitLit, coming to our town in 2014! Somerset Maugham is a writer I’ve always been aware of and since he lived in Whitstable as a child and there will be a Maugham element to the festival, I thought I better find out more. I have ordered Of Human Bondage, one of his novels, which was free on Kindle,  inwhich Maugham calls Whitstable Blackstable. And The Secret Lives Of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings.

Will I be having a role in WhitLit? Yes, I am delighted to say I shall be on the management committee, putting something very special together.

What is it? That’s a secret but when I can tell, you’ll be the first to know…

 

Sshhh

EDIT SHMEDIT

The opposite of what I am trying to do…

Some of my authors are starting their books from scratch and I am the ghostwriter.

Others have already started writing, or have written the whole thing, and are looking for me to tidy-up or ‘edit’ their work.

This can be tough.

Memoir could not be more personal and when I come along, asking what this means and what that means, authors occasionally feel affronted – either that I am criticising them or worse, that I have not understood their world and never will.

I had one author back away completely when I started poking about. I was very sad because the book, an adventure, had the potential to be amazing. It was very well-written, full of great anecdotes and valuable information. It could have sold well. It just needed a polish. But my duster was too much. It’s still a great book, but it’s not as great as it could be. The book was big and the author was paying me a reasonable sum of money. I don’t know what he thought he was paying me for. What would have happened if I had given it back, after some months, untouched? He might have been delighted. I would have been paid. It would not have been ethical and the book would be (and for all I know, still is) the poorer for it.

I don’t seek stuff to change for the sake of it. I’m thrilled if I come across a whole chunk that doesn’t need me. There are so many great storytellers and capable writers out there. And I always read the memoirs I’m going to be working on in advance and give the author an idea of just how much twiddling there will be.

But it’s tough. And I get it. When I was a journalist I was quite sensitive about people editing my work. More so about them asking questions…

“ISN’T IT OBVIOUS?!!!” I’d ask myself when the queries came back. Well, no, obviously not.

I once spent ten minutes trying to get a soldier to explain to me what a ‘treeline’ was. He couldn’t or wouldn’t say ‘woods’. Had he forgotten what he called them as a child? I doubt it. To him it was obvious and he was annoyed that it wasn’t to me, because it was part of his special world. It’s not that I replace military terms with civilian ones, I just need to write it in a way that moves the story along and doesn’t lead the reader to having to pause her reading while she has a quick Google.

Sometimes I need more feeling from an author. Recently, I was working with an author who’d had an affair with someone else’s wife. In a scene where he came face to face with the husband, I added in brackets: HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU MET HIM?

GUILTY!!!!! Wrote the author in frantic pencil and told me that that one question alone had made him consider telling me he couldn’t go on.

I was aghast. I hadn’t meant to question the author’s morals. I just knew that for the reader, that was quite a dramatic scene and they’d want to know how our hero felt.

I now explain that I’ll be asking questions in capital letters to differentiate them from the original copy, but that I am NOT SHOUTING.

Apparently that wasn’t obvious.