Being a ghostwriter is a bit like being an actor – without the potential for fame or money – in that before you get the job you usually have to go for an ‘audition’. This generally involves meeting the subject of the book (ie. the person whose name will be on the cover) so they can check you’re not a stalker.
And, like an actor, you need a thick-ish skin for the inevitable occasional rejection.
Over the years I’m proud to admit that I’ve been turned down by some very famous names. Reasons for not hiring me have included “not funny enough”, “too old” and “not Northern”, yet generally these rejections have simply bounced off my rhino-like hide. You can’t take it personally, I’ve got to meet some fascinating and wonderful people, and besides, if you’re going to write your memoirs at 19 then it’s no wonder you consider anyone over 25 ancient. Good luck with finding a teenage ghostwriter, love.
Yet there is one huge star who turned me down for a job – and I’m afraid to say it’s been bugging me ever since, because IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MEEEE!
What happened was this. I got a call from my agent (because, like actors, we writers need agents cos we is too thicky-dumb-dumb to deal wiv money) who told me that an A-list celebrity was going to write her autobiography and, by some miracle, I was on the list of ten ghostwriters who were being considered. So far, so routine.
The weird thing was, however, my agent had no idea who the celebrity was. Not a clue. Her identity was being kept a secret because she was so famous that if we knew who it was our tiny muggle brains might explode – either that, or they wanted to keep news of her autobiography out of the papers at this early stage. Anyway, the star’s PA was going to meet the ten candidates on her behalf, and would then select the final two who would be granted an audience with her majesty, which effectively meant that the ten of us would be in the weird situation of going for an interview for a job that we knew absolutely nothing about.
The star’s people hadn’t banked on the fact that I used to be a celebrity journalist and as soon as I heard the name of the star’s PA – let’s call her Daisy – I knew beyond a doubt the identity of the woman in question. Let’s just say she was a Very Famous Singer (VFS).
Well, I was literally giddy with excitement. Not only was I up for this amazing job, I had an immediate advantage over all the other candidates because I knew who she was!
Armed with this covert intel, my meeting with Daisy went brilliantly. I mentioned how much I loved dogs (knowing the VFS owned one herself), I geared our conversation towards subjects that I knew the VFS would find interesting: I basically did everything I could to show that I would be the perfect ghostwriter for the VFS without letting on that I had any idea who she actually was.
Two days later my agent called to tell me I was down to the final two. I was going to meet the VFS. I’m not one to toot my own trumpet, but this was so in the bag…
And so it came to pass that a week later I arrived at an office in central London, breezily confident that I would ace this interview as I had the one with Daisy. I was shown into a room and there she was: a titchy, tiny, perfectly symmetrical, pocket-sized package of hair and teeth. Smiley and radiant. Heart-meltingly beautiful, obviously. But with a look in her eyes that said, I will fucking SLAY YOU if you cross me.
Suddenly, I was horrifically nervous.
“Ooh, I love your cardi,” she said softly, still smiling.
“It’s from Monsoon, but it’s last year’s I’m afraid.” Then I remembered who I was talking to. “Although you could probably just phone up and they’d make you one for free. In fact, they’d probably pay you to wear it! Or you can have mine – but it’ll cost you! HAHAHAHA!”
She continued to smile, icily polite. My nerves kicked up a gear.
“So, what sort of books do you like to read?” she asked.
My mind instantly went blank. I love reading, there’s always a half-finished stack of books by my bed, I am a bloody writer for Christ’s sake, but I couldn’t think of anything at all, except…
“Beowulf,” I said, remembering a book I had skimmed at university, 15 years ago. “The epic Anglo Saxon poem. Have you, um, read it? It’s really quite good.”
“No, I haven’t.” Of course she hasn’t, you div. It’s an epic Anglo Saxon poem.
“And I believe you used to work for Closer magazine?” she went on.
I flinched, vividly remembering the time her publicist had phoned me in the office and screamed at me for five minutes because of a story I’d written about the VFS’s love life.
“Yes, but only doing the interviews, I didn’t write the gossip stories,” I said quickly. “That was… someone else. Not my sort of thing at all. I just did the chats. Nice, friendly, PR-approved stuff, you know? Besides, that was ages ago…”
And then – that was it. By some invisible sign the VFS instructed her people that I was to be dismissed. I hadn’t even had a chance to tell her how much I loved dogs.
She said that it was lovely to meet me, but her eyes were telling a different story. They were telling me that I was pathetic, and she wouldn’t work with me if I was the last person on earth.
Sure enough, I didn’t get the job. It would have been a really tough gig: the publisher wanted the book finished in a couple of months, and access to the VFS sounded horrifically limited. It would have been stressful and demanding, and I don’t even like her music that much.
Why didn’t you like me, Very Famous Singer? What the hell is wrong with me?? We could have been friends. YOU COULD HAVE BORROWED MY CARDI!