A ghost writer is someone who is paid to write books, articles, reports, or other texts (including tweets) that are credited to another person. Just like the name implies, the ghost’s contribution is hidden. Sometimes you can see a glimmer or outline of the invisible author via the tags ‘with’ or ‘as told to’. The aim though, is to put the spotlight on the other person.
Ghost writing has been in practice for thousands of years. The ancient novel, The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, is often cited as an example. This epic tome was released in the early 11th century and found a wide readership with women who otherwise lived reclusive, sheltered lives. Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman, is credited for the four thousand four hundred pages, but scholars are still in debate. The popular theory is that she wrote to the end of chapter thirty three and then handed the book to her daughter, Daini no Sanmi, to complete the work (fifty-four chapters in all).
The authorship of William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets are also in question. Many scholars believe that Shakespeare didn’t even exist, which puts a whole new meaning on To be or not to be! One school of thought is that Shakespeare is a nom de plume for the Earl of Oxford who had hoped to write in anonymity. Another theory claims Shakespeare was the invention of a group of writers who wanted to affect social change.
Film and drama explore the notion of ghost writing beautifully in the 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac. I particularly like the film adaptation Roxanne with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah, and Cyrano de Bergerac 1990 with Gerard Depradieu and Anne Brochet.
Some very well known speculative fiction writers have been ‘ghosts’ including HP Lovecraft and Theodore Sturgeon. Lovecraft wrote for Zealia Bishop and Harry Houdini, among others and Sturgeon ghosted under the name, Ellery Queen, a group of writers producing books from 1930 to the 1960’s. It’s surprising to look at some of the books that have been ghost written by other authors including the Nancy Drew series!
But how is this relevant to emerging writers? Ghost writing can be a wonderful tool for getting control of your authorial ‘voice’, learning how to fluidly change points of view and develop a rich and masterful style. To ghost write successfully, the feel, tone and character of the voice has to be distinct and consistent. It has to ‘belong to’ someone else. Writing in that other voice takes the pressure off the author (no one can see me), giving them the confidence they need to improve their own prose. Ghosting is also the perfect antidote for a creative slump. It allows for a step back from the sometimes too close attachment to the work. Also, ghost writing pays!
I’ve done a fair bit of ghosting in my day and though I sign my own name now, the experience has made me a more confident writer. Has anyone here done ghosting? Nom de plumes? What great books have you read that were written by ghosts?
Kim Falconer is the author of the Quantum Enchantment and Quantum Encryption trilogies, set in the worlds of Gaela and Earth and exploring all manner of ideas, people and places. The latest in the series is Road to the Soul, which will be published on 1 March. Visit Kim’s website and find out more about Kim and her books!