Some thoughts on ghostwriting

Where would we be without ghostwriters? What colourless, pictureless places Waterstones might appear, without the autobiographical royalty of Katie Price and Alex Ferguson staring back us from the best-sellers section, sealed with the promise of their ‘signature’, the strange mark which resembles more a child’s rendering of a Curly-Wurly, rather than what it actually is, their own name, and the sole extent of their literary contribution.

The job of the ghostwriter is to animate the words of the living dead, or celebrities, as they’re more commonly known. Once a celebrity has earned enough scorn, they’ll be invited to write their autobiographies, so that we might understand where they came from, and how we might become them. But how does one write a book, particularly when one has never read one before? This needn’t be an obstacle, the Publisher will assure them, simply speak to the Ghostwriter, and He shall do the rest.

“’Ghostwriter’, is that the thing with the skeleton on the motorcycle?”

“No, that’s the Nicolas Cage film, Ghost Rider.

“I liked that film.”

“Yes, good. Say that to the Ghostwriter, say everything to him, and at the end of three days, the conception will have taken place. Then we wait.”

I’ve always imagined the following scene to be something out of the Exorcist, in which the ghostwriter holds a cross to the celebrity and shouts, “The story of your life compels me! The story of your life compels me!” until all the confessions are exorcised from the host.

Andrew Crofts, a ghostwriter with 80 titles to other peoples names, is now releasing a book to his own, Confessions of a Ghostwriter, which will probably go someway to dispelling the myth I’ve always imagined. But can ghostwriting ever be considered a noble pursuit? Isn’t it just the respectable face of merchandising? For the likes of footballers and reality stars (those celebrated for being their captivating selves) can it be anything more than just a published PR puff piece? I find it only marginally less ludicrous than a fragrance being named after someone. Am I really supposed to believe that this is what ‘J-Lo’ smells like?

Investigating Crofts, I find him more interesting. He’s allowed unparalleled access to his subjects, to make his literary puppetry all the more convincing, and yet we never get to hear what he makes of them. What if David Attenborough had spent the afternoon with a dolphin, and the only thing he brought back was his keening impression? As impressive as it might be, it wouldn’t tell us what we wanted to know. More could be learnt if instead of reading Kim Kardashian: My Story, we instead read Crofts on Kardashian. At least then there’d be no obligation to censorship, except under the threat of libel.

As the theologian Meister Eckhart once said, “We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves!” so how could we possibly trust the celebrity with the hired mouthpiece? Of which Eckhart would have surely said, “They know so few things, their selves included!”  

fishingboatproceeds
Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 the police force of one small American city, Albuquerque in New Mexico, shot and killed 23 civilians; seven times more than the number of Brits killed by all of England and Wales’s 43 forces during the same period.

The explanation for this gap is simple. In Britain, guns are rare. Only specialist firearms officers carry them; and criminals rarely have access to them. The last time a British police officer was killed by a firearm on duty was in 2012, in a brutal case in Manchester. The annual number of murders by shooting is typically less than 50. Police shootings are enormously controversial. The shooting of Mark Duggan, a known gangster, which in 2011 started riots across London, led to a fiercely debated inquest. Last month, a police officer was charged with murder over a shooting in 2005. The reputation of the Metropolitan Police’s armed officers is still barely recovering from the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian, in the wake of the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London.

In America, by contrast, it is hardly surprising that cops resort to their weapons more frequently. In 2013, 30 cops were shot and killed—just a fraction of the 9,000 or so murders using guns that happen each year. Add to that a hyper-militarised police culture and a deep history of racial strife and you have the reason why so many civilians are shot by police officers. Unless America can either reduce its colossal gun ownership rates or fix its deep social problems, shootings of civilians by police—justified or not—seem sure to continue.
maliaauparis

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