Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Professor Sutherland Among the Ghosts

Coming across a witty article in The Spectator by Professor John Sutherland entitled "Among the Ghosts", reminded me of the last time I heard him speak on the subject on Radio Four's Today programme, when John Humphreys and his production team were obviously hoping the Professor and I would fall out on the subject of whether ghost-writing is a "capital crime" - even the Professor had to admit that it was not that, although I think he said he found it a bit "iffy".

He seems to have been giving the subject a bit more of a ponder since then. He's obviously still not our greatest fan, but he now seems to be giving us little more than an old fashioned and kindly meant professorial cuff around the ear. He seems more saddened by the low motives of those who hire us than he is with us the ghosts.

When we were set to spar with one another by Mr. Humphreys, a reluctant pair of pit-bulls, the Professor did say in a rather despairing tone that in ghosting the motive was "always commercial".

I can't argue that that is not true, I'm just wondering if it is such a terrible thing. Most writers earn virtually no money at all from their books and have to rely on other ways to pay their mortgages, feed their children and put something aside for their old age. So they turn to journalism or they teach or they have some other expertise which they write about, (John Mortimer and the law, for instance, or the many "gurus" and "experts" on everything from medicine to gardening who fill our media).

If you want to be a professional writer of books, but do not want to rely on a university, the BBC or Rupert Murdoch for a pension, then you have to look for ways to be paid for your daily labours. We are scribes in the marketplace, selling our wares to anyone who cares to hire us in just the same way as artists might sell their skills for painting portraits. Undoubtedly the motive we have in selling our skills is commercial. The alternative, I think, would have been to have seen my children starve.

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