Friday 30 December 2011

Ghostwriters and Biographers as Gift Items

Following a recent trip to Bangkok, (see previous blog entry), I have been thinking about this concept of ghostwriters and biographers as gift items. I have recently been commissioned for a number of such projects. One client, for instance, wished to write his autobiography in order to present it to his grandson. He had no expectation that the grandson would actually read it for many years to come, he just wanted it to be there, ready for the day when it might seem a tempting proposition. A couple of other clients have presented me to recipients who they knew wanted to write books but who they also knew would never get round to tackling such a daunting task without help.

Millions of people are now hooked on the idea of tracing their family histories. I have met enough of them personally to know they would be thrilled to discover that their great grandmother or great uncle had written a book chronicling family relationships, homes, businesses and – with any luck – scandals. It wouldn’t matter if the books had been read by no one since the day they were written, to that particular researcher they would be absolute gold dust.

It might once have been called vanity publishing – and if the author is persuaded to part with money on the promise of becoming a bestseller, then it still should be – but if all you are doing is leaving a record for future generations is it any more “vain” than commissioning a portrait painter or an architect to create a great family home?

Printing books to a high standard is no longer hard. It can be done on line at sites like or by the many specialist self-publishing companies, but writing the books in a readable style can be more challenging and that is where the specialist skills of the ghostwriter or biographer come in.

Given Away in Bangkok

(This blog was previously published on the excellent "Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?" site: )

I was sent to Bangkok as a gift this month. I was to be presented at a party to the host, who had long said he wanted to write a book and whose family thought he would welcome the help of a ghost. The family did not ask me to go to the Orient gift-wrapped, but they did ask me to take with me a mock-up of a possible cover of the book, so that there would be something tangible to be handed over, something that would show instantly what the gift was.

That got me thinking about the place for printed books now that we are all concentrating so hard on understanding the dynamic of the electronic versions. This imaginative idea of the book as a prestigious gift would not have worked so well if presented in e-book form. It would have lacked the cultural resonance of the print version. The recipient of the gift would not have been able to pick it up, turn it over in his hands and pass it round the guests who had assembled for the presentation beneath the hotel’s palm trees.

E-books are undoubtedly the way forward when it comes to getting writers’ work out there, showcasing it, distributing it more economically and ecologically, but when it comes to creating a product with special meaning, and for limited editions that are to be displayed as well as read, print will no doubt live on for a long time. Books that might be read by millions on screens, can still be produced in special editions for hundreds or thousands of collectors and enthusiasts.

The hotel in Bangkok where the four day party was being thrown, was next to a mighty new shopping mall, which had a whole floor dedicated to information and communication. Wandering past the bustling, beautiful stores belonging to brands like Apple, Blackberry and Nokia, I found in the middle of the concourse the most beautifully presented book shop. Half of it was dedicated to English language books and there were hundreds of well displayed, well designed, tempting books. The aisles were full of browsers and there was steady business at the tills. I know very little about the Thai book market. It may well be that retail rents are much lower than in Europe, but whatever the reason it was a wonderful experience to find books so integrated into this very modern shopping experience, seeing them finding their place amongst the Smart phones and tablets. It seemed like a glimpse into a harmonious future, bringing the works of writers to readers in an attractive way that we are still only stumbling towards in Britain.

Thursday 15 December 2011

BBC's "Imagine" Explains the Current State of Publishing Perfectly

With so much confusion and hype all around the publishing and reading world - are printed books dead in the water? Is Amazon going to take over the world? etc - it was good to have the whole business put into a very positive perspective by the BBC on Imagine - (Episode 6. "The Last Chapter").

The way I came to the programme seems to illustrate the subject rather effectively.
1. At a Society of Authors gathering another writer says "did you see Alan Yentob on Imagine last night?"
2. I went straight to Iplayer and found it.
3. I played it on my Ipad while answering emails on my computer.

Anyway, my point is - if you are looking for some erudite illumination on the state of publishing, this is the programme for you.

Friday 18 November 2011

Mariella Frostrup Plays the Mischievous Minx

It all started with the Book Show from Sky Arts turning up at the house to film me waffling about ghostwriting. Pleasant sunny day, guard down, camera running, my questioner enquired if I wouldn't prefer to write "in my own voice", or something similar.
What I wanted to convey was the idea that I wasn't particularly interested in hearing anything I had to say, but I was interested in hearing from other people with more interesting backgrounds. What actually happened was I proferred the opinion that the world had heard enough over the last five hundred years of people like me, ("middleclass, middleaged, middlebrow, male and english speaking"), pontificating and that it was time to give the rest of the world a bit of hearing.
The filmed interviews ended, (Hunter Davies and Kirsty Crawford had also appeared and been very charming), and the viewers were returned to the studio where, to my horror, distinguished novelists Robert Harris and Peter James sat listening to me pontificating, as if deliberately illustrating my own point, (if only I could lay claim to such subtle powers of irony). Mariella Frostrup, armed with her most disarming of smiles, then suggested to them that they were the under attack as "middleaged, middleclass, male and english speaking pontificators", (mercifully she let them off the "middlebrow" accusation).
Eek. These two were most defintely not who I had in mind. Most of Peter James's books of crime and policework are very much not set in the world of the middleclass etc etc, and Robert Harris tells tales on the very rich and very powerful, who are just as colourful and interesting as the underdogs of society. To make it worse, I know them both. Peter is a chum of long standing and Robert very sweetly quoted my "Ghostwriting" book at the start of every chapter of his novel, "The Ghost".
Both of them, mercifully, did not rise to the bait that the Mischievous One was dangling and doled out only the mildest of reprimands before saying very forgiving things. I felt a little like I had been hauled into the common room and told off by two much admired teachers for some piece of smart-alecry which I had meant for other staff members. Yet another illustration of why it is infinitely preferable to stay behind the scenes as a ghost and let other people do the media pontificating.

Friday 11 November 2011

Posh-Publishing Embraces Self-Publishing

Faber and Faber, poshest of the posh old guard publishers, (T.S. Eliot, Peter Carey, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath - you get the picture), run a thing called The Faber Academy - - and are launching a three-day course on self-publishing in February 2012 entitled "Bring Your Book to Market". The tutors are Ben Johncock and Catherine Ryan Howard .

I met Mr Johncock, who runs a thing called The Twitter Consultancy, in a BBC radio studio in Oxford a year or two ago. I was still somewhat in a funk about social media at the time, but already uneasily aware that the things this extraordinarily bouncy young man was talking about were probably the future and sooner or later I was going to have to get my head round them. (The programme was being mediated by the fabulous Sue Cook - - who was also proselytising on the joys of social media, making me even more aware that I might be cowering a little further from the cutting edge than was wise).

Catherine Ryan Howard I have not met, but she is a successful self published author and comes across on her website/blog etc as being very jolly, truthful, self-aware and endearing.

Not only are Faber and Faber an extremely bright bunch of people, (their editors re-wrote "Lord of the Flies" for William Golding for heaven's sake), they are also not afraid of things cutting edge - a point proven by their recent adoption of Jarvis Cocker as Editor-at-Large, which followed a similar appointment for Peter Townshend some time ago, when the old boy was still pretty cutting edge himself. If they are embracing the idea of self-publishing and the need for us to learn how to use social media properly, then I think we can safely assume that there is now no going back.

I find this is all enormously encouraging having just launched an ebook of my own, "The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer", ( and opened a Twitter account.

Thursday 10 November 2011

A Triumph for Fine Ghostwriting

The announcement from New York that Keith Richards has won the Mailer Prize for Distinguished Biography is a wonderful endorsement for the writing skills of Mr Richards' ghost/collaborator/whatever-you-like-to-call-him, James Fox.
The whole project illustrates perfectly the joys, (and doubtless frustrations), that the process of ghostwriting for an interesting subject can provide. Mr Richards has led the most interesting and entertaining of lives. Spending time with him and then speaking in his voice must have been fun. To then be awarded a "distinguished" prize would be a very jolly cherry on top of the cake.
Mr Fox is, of course, a highly established writer, (and author of the very famous "White Mischief"), so I am sure he has no problem with Mr Richards picking up the prize and the attendant publicity which will help to keep the royalties flowing.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Are Blogs the Perfect Writers' Medium?

Amidst the razzle dazzle of Twitter, Facebook and the rest, it is easy to overlook the wonders of the humble blog. For writers they must be the greatest form of communication that the producers of the electronic media have yet presented to us. Now we can be editors and star contributors of our own magazines, writing and publishing the articles that we would normally be trying to persuade others to publish, able to pursue our hobby horses at full gallop and shamelessly plug the work of those we admire.
I have been particularly converted by Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog, (and here it would only be seemly to admit that I have been both interviewed by Morgen and have also written a guest piece ).
Regardless of the obvious vested interests at work here, I would still like to sing the praises of blogs such as these. There are companies now who offer to organise "virtual book tours" which, if I have undestood correctly, largely involve people being interviewed or writing about their latest book on other people's blogs in much the same way they would in old fashioned media like television "sofa shows" and the features pages of the old "grey-prints".
Each blog may have no more than a few hundred or a few thousand followers, but then many of the best literary magazines had similarly modest but extremely devoted readerships.

Monday 31 October 2011

Self-Publishing Moves into the Mainstream

The idea that The Bookseller magazine, that venerable trade organ for the traditional publishing process, would dedicate four pages of editorial for a "Flagship Feature" on self-publishing would have been unthinkable even a short time ago, but that is what happened at the end of last week Bookseller. The very suggestion of people publishing their own books has in the past brought forth patronising smirks at best, and howls of derision at worst, from those who believed such things should be left to the professionals.
All that has now changed and leading the charge is Alison Baverstock, (the author of the Bookseller feature), with the publication of her guide to self-publishing The Naked Author.
It would be hard to overstate what a seismic change in attitude this represents. Self-publishing does not in any way threaten the livelihoods of the existing publishing businesses that are able to add value for their customers in matters of packaging, distribution and marketing, but it does mean that a whole new cottage industry has been allowed to spring up and is now thriving thanks to a variety of factors coming together at the same time.
The Naked Author is an absolute milestone in this exciting journey.

Monday 24 October 2011

Ghostwriter and Assassin Entwined

A ghostwriter is once more in the spotlight in Haruki Murakami’s much publicised new novel, 1Q84.

Tengo is commissioned by a maverick publisher to “re-write” a compelling piece of prose written by an equally compelling teenage girl, leading him into the sort of adventure that tempted me to become a ghostwriter in the first place. (I haven’t finished reading it yet so it’s quite possible a fate will befall him which will make me reconsider my position there).

The chapters following Tengo’s adventure alternate with those following Aomame, an icy, glamorous, professional assassin. The stories of these two protagonists become increasingly entwined and there are, as you would expect from Mr Murakami, enough subtexts to feed the minds of several million ravenous readers.

I know I’m biased to an unreasonable degree, but I just love the idea of a ghostwriter being used alongside an assassin as a device to unravel plots and characters and trains of thought – just as Robert Harris did with his very different ghostwriter in The Ghost, (his protagonist ghosted non-fiction rather than fiction). Unravelling plots, characters and trains of thought is, after all, exactly what we are hired to do in the real world.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Books and Authors on Television

Despite the phenomenal success of Richard and Judy’s Book Club, the myth persists that books and authors don’t play well on television. Never mind that virtually all the major drama series are adapted from books, (“The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas being the latest one to be heavily trailered), and that virtually every major television personality writes books more often than cheques, (Jamie Oliver and Jeremy Clarkson must virtually support Penguin these days). In the last couple of days however I’ve seen two cheering little programmes.

First there was Diana Athill on Imagine. Ms Athill breaks virtually every rule of television; she is old, (women aren’t supposed to appear on the screen after their fortieth birthdays unless they are willing to don sequins and be mocked on the dance floor), she is unashamedly posh, (although she has a sexual history which would make an Essex reality girl blush), and she is mightily and unapologetically intelligent and literate. The reason she makes good television is because she is genuine and because she thinks and talks with an honesty and clarity which fairly takes your breath away.

The second programme was produced by The Culture Show and involved carting the Booker shortlist up to the village of Comrie and getting a variety of locals to read, comment and meet some of the authors. The result was a gentle half hour of interesting characters telling interesting stories. (The book which came off the worst was later announced to be the winner of the prize, which I guess goes to show just how far the literary world’s tastes sit from those of the majority of the reading public).

Surely there must be a wealth of this sort of unexploited television fodder gathering cobwebs in our remaining bookshops.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Chocolate Addiction and the Pursuit of Literary Excellence

In the course of learning about Twitter, I have been stalking, (sorry – “following”), a number of authors and I have noticed an inordinate number of us flag up chocolate addiction in our personal profiles, (i.e. our identities as we see them). Where once authors were expected to be booze-soaked, chain smoking, serially promiscuous, unwashed and generally antisocial types, we are now more likely to list chocolate, caffeine and “the occasional glass of wine”, as our credentials for being considered bona fide garret-dwelling Bohemians. Speaking as someone who can never be too far from an espresso pot and a bumper bar of the dark and bitter stuff, I find this trend interesting. Have Messrs Starbucks and Costa done this to us, or is it the combined seductive powers of Joanne Harris and Juliette Binoche? I think some serious research is required. Good subject for a media studies dissertation or two, I say.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Rare Interview with Maggie de Beer

Maggie de Beer has been famously reluctant to give interviews, reputedly on the advice of her management, who worry that some of her views might not chime well with modern sensibilities. The following extract from a Q & A with a literary journalist is therefore a rare, and shocking, glimpse behind the very controlled image that she normally allows the world to see.

Q. Many readers have been shocked by the apparent ease with which you put your career before your personal life. Some have suggested that it is a very male approach to ambition.

A. Well I can assure you I am all female, but I think people forget how different things are now to when I started in the seventies. The idea then of trailing a child along behind you to auditions – I assume that is what you are talking about – was just unthinkable. If you felt you had a destiny which you had to follow then you had to be single minded about it. It wasn’t just me. It happened to Shirley Bassey and many others. We had to make choices.

Q. Giving up your child for your career is certainly one thing that people have pointed to. But not many women would be able to walk away from their families when they are fifteen and never even look back. That is a very ruthless sort of ambition.

A. Ruthless is a horribly negative word, don’t you think? I prefer “focused”. I was totally focused on what I had to achieve. I couldn’t afford to have any excess emotional baggage. Women are now coming to realise that they really can’t “have it all” – they have to make choices.

Q. Do you feel you made all the right choices?

A. Yes, of course. I’m not saying they weren’t painful. They were, but there is no point in going on about it. All this weeping and wailing that goes on now, with everyone traumatised by the terrible things that have happened to them. Bad things happen to everyone. It is just boring. You have to focus on the positive, on the beautiful, on the exciting, the glamorous if you want to be a star in the true sense of the word.

Q. Sex has played a big part in your career.

A. I don’t know about that. Sex appeal certainly has, that is all part of the glamour, don’t you think?

Q. But you don’t talk about sex in your book (The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer). Is that deliberate?

A. I don’t choose to talk about sex much anyway. It’s not that interesting is it? Everyone does it – well most people, just like they go to the bathroom each day. I don’t want to read about it all the time.

Q. But for many years you were a stripper …

A. That’s a stupid, ugly word.

Q. What word would you prefer?

A. Exotic dancer, perhaps. Erotic actress. Real sex appeal is about what is hidden. It is a tease, a flirtation. Once everything is out in the open it is just farmyard rutting, don’t you think? Just anatomical descriptions. Whatever happened to romance and glamour? Can you imagine Audrey Hepburn describing what she did in bed in anatomical detail? Or Princess Grace? Of course you can’t.

Monday 10 October 2011

Video Trailers for Books

Marketing books must be the hardest task in the media world – even harder than writing the damn things. No one has ever found a reliable method of raising a book above the bubble of competitive noise apart from the unpopular, (to other writers), move of linking up with celebrity names. Beyond that it is all a lottery – always has been and perhaps always will be. But new media give birth to new possibilities, and one way of bringing an unknown book alive for potential readers, (or potential publishers), is to make a book trailer, because with the internet we now have somewhere to showcase the resulting films. I had a go at it myself with an actress performing a monologue from the opening pages of “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride” (to see the result go to the home page of, below “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer”). But others have taken the idea further, producing what look pretty much like full blown movie trailers. Terrence (Terry) King has produced a trailer, (go to ), to showcase his unpublished novel –“The Silent Partner” – which I think is a pretty compelling and digestible taster for the book.

Tweet Right Masterclass and Twittering Pirates.

Determined to get on top of this Tweeting lark I purchased Tweet Right, by Nicola Morgan ( ) who is the world expert on assisting numbskulls to navigate these choppy seas – and at the same time experienced a baptism of fire when boarded by Twittering pirates last night. The pirates sent out mischievous and self-serving tweets in my name, (one had me telling my followers I had seen a really “bad blog” about them – which is dispiriting at any number of levels – the other merely had me recommending a weight loss article, which at least shows that the Twitter Pirates have some of the sharp entrepreneurial instincts of their seafaring ancestors). Nicola is wonderfully calming in her advice, and the Twitter police seem to have been quickly on the pirates’ trail, so hurrah and onward we sail on our voyage of discovery.

Friday 7 October 2011

The Naked Celebrity

Reflecting upon the simple brilliance of Alison Baverstock’s newly released title “The Naked Author” – I’m beginning to wish that instead of “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer” I had suggested “The Naked Celebrity” as a title for Maggie’s frank revelations. It has that lovely film noir ring to it – the sort of thing you might see scrawled on a newspaper vendor’s board. Celebrities like Maggie are so very brave and selfless in baring their souls to their public, but the phrase also conjures up dark images of bodies in the woods and sinister subplots – Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson, Hendrix and Hutchence, Morrison and Mansfield, Polanski and Presley – so many vivid images have seeped into our brains from the fabulous, tragic, celebrity circus.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

If You Don’t Appear in the Media, Do You Really Exist?

Liz Hurley famously talked about people in the non-celebrity world as “civilians” and working with Maggie de Beer on her memoirs - "The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer" - has led me to think a little more deeply about why people like Liz and Maggie yearn so painfully to be famous and why they work so long and so hard to acquire and hold onto fame.

Maggie never really believed she existed until she read about herself in the papers or saw a picture of herself outside a theatre or flickering across a television screen. The moment she left home her family became invisible to her and only the faces she saw in the media remained real. The majority, those of us who are never photographed or filmed or talked about in the media, are a sort of grey wallpaper around the colourful contents of her celebrity room.

The media of course is a bigger playground now than it was when she first ran away from home in 1970. Now you can be famous simply for being on-line, for blogging, for having a YouTube video that goes viral. To Maggie that is not real fame, not the sort of iconic status that she dreamed of from the first moment she learned the legend of Marilyn Monroe, first saw the headlines that lifted Jackie O and Christine Keeler from the crowd, first felt the eyes of a crowd upon her.

Monday 3 October 2011

Authors Stripped Naked

Intrepid authors are now heading into the future alone, stripped of our protective layers of literary agents, editorial and publicity departments, (deprived also of the joys of rejection letters and remainders piles and saved from the jaws of the pulping machines).

Self publishing and electronic publishing are the future and Alison Baverstock – possibly our nation’s greatest living authority on the worlds of writing and publishing - has created a survival guide for us all in her new book The Naked Author, (published this week, ironically, by A&C Black, a particularly distinguished member of the old style of publishing houses).

I have seen the great Baverstock in action in both the lecture halls of Academe and amongst the denizens of the Society of Authors and the idea of her marching, naked and brave, into the future is a fine one indeed. She is our Lady Godiva. Where Jamie Oliver led, Baverstock will follow, where he opened up the secrets of cooking to everyman, she promises to do the same for publishing.

Amazon author profile

The Naked Author: a guide to self-publishing

Friday 30 September 2011

Should Everyone Write a Book?

“Everyone who wants to write a book should do it.” - The very idea brings knee-jerk reactions of horror from many. But if you suggested “everyone who wants to paint a picture should do it”, you would receive a much more forgiving response.

Is that because a painter is asking for only a few seconds of their audience’s time to appreciate their work – a few seconds that could also be combined with being in company or simply day dreaming - whereas a book might expect them to spend several hours of mental effort in its exclusive company?

But just because a book has been written doesn’t mean you have to read it unless you truly want to.

“But now every book can be self-published, so there is just too much stuff out there.”

Well yes, there is too much for anyone to ever hope to read more than a tiny percentage of the books that they might potentially enjoy. But returning to the artist/writer analogy; self publishing a book is really just like putting a frame around a painting, merely a practical way of making it easier for your audience to access your work should they wish to.

If only one person ever read your book and enjoyed it – or maybe if you simply enjoyed writing it – wouldn’t that be justification enough for doing it? Even if you fear that your writings seem mundane now, that doesn’t mean they will seem that way to anyone who might come across them in fifty or a hundred years time. Then your book may be providing a fascinating glimpse into the past, just as a painting produced today might make the perfect decoration for a house in the twenty second century.

Thursday 29 September 2011

What Would You Sacrifice to be Famous?

A philosophy current prevailing in the popular media is that if you want to succeed, want to excel, want to be a winner, want to attain your dreams, you have to be entirely ruthless and single minded. The message is constantly being banged home in singing, dancing and other talent competitions. Chefs, business apprentices – they all have to give “110 per cent” of themselves to the job. But if you are giving everything, (plus a mythical extra ten percent), you are doubtless going to have to make some sacrifices in other areas. The hard working parent who later laments the time they didn’t spend “watching their children’s school plays” is a cliché, as is the child who grows up to resent his or her parents’ absence from their early years. Some people forgo relationships or let marriages and friendships slip in the rush to be “successful” or “rich” or “famous”.

Amongst other sacrifices, Maggie de Beer even gave up her own child in order to stay on her chosen career path, and that child eventually became the key to Maggie achieving everything she had ever dreamed of. That would suggest it was a sacrifice worth making – Maggie certainly believes so. But how many would be able to do such a thing to win their moment in the celebrity spotlight?

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Autobiographies: the ultimate headstone inscriptions

What would you like to see written on your gravestone? Usually when people ask that question they expect you to come up with a pithy one-liner, summing up the whole sorry business of life and death in a few choice words. But actually, if you have a bit of an ego, you’d probably prefer to see the crowds pouring into the graveyard to read the whole story. Why else do so many people want to write autobiographies if it isn’t to benefit from a little wipe with the brush of immortality?

Whether its a self-published tome for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren to pore over or a mighty scholarly work for the general public, being remembered by future generations, (and validated by the current ones), is what you hire the ghostwriters for.

For Maggie de Beer it was the ultimate prize in her quest to become an icon, to have written and printed evidence that she was a glamorous, interesting person, someone of note, even if it meant having her many shortcomings exposed to anyone with the price of a paperback or a download.

“What’s the point in being coy about it?” she would say, “Steffi’s told the whole world what a terrible person I am already anyway.”

Monday 26 September 2011

Authors' Electric Dreams Blogspot

Today I have written a short introduction to my electronic activities with "The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer" on a website called "Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?" - .
Because publishing books electronically is not hard - and because it is fun to do - millions of writers are now plunging like lemmings into the icy waters. The big question remains, just as in traditional publishing - how do we make our voices heard above such a mighty competitive roar?
Just as high streets shops, newspaper review sections and Richard and Judy helped to focus people's attention onto traditional books, sites like this one are starting to give some structure to the babble of this gigantic, sprawling, exciting new marketplace.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Were "Page Three Girls" the Founders of Modern Celebrity Culture?

Spending time with Maggie de Beer, helping promote her autobiography – “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer” - has led me to pondering. Would it be fair to say that she and her fellow “Page Three Girls” became the founders of the modern celebrity circus in 1970 when they were persuaded for the first time by The Sun to take off their tops in a national newspaper?

Was that the moment when the concept of “being famous for being famous” first took root, when someone merely had to look sexy in front of a camera to start being treated as a VIP?

Of course the Sixties witnessed many meteoric and fleeting success stories, but those celebrities had usually sung a hit song, taken a photograph for the cover of Vogue or invented a new hairstyle. When glamour modelling went legit and the media started to write about the girls as well as showing their pictures it discovered the public’s surprising willingness to be intrigued, a fascination which survives forty years later with the likes of Katie Price and reality show contestants. I doubt if Maggie and the other girls had any idea they were changing society forever when first persuaded to whip their tops off for the boys.

Friday 23 September 2011

Famous Mother and Daughter Reunited on Website

To be separated from your child at birth must be one of the most painful experiences any mother can endure. Worse of course to have them die before you, but there is a very special agony in knowing that they are alive, growing up somewhere else, in someone else’s care, loving someone else, and that you have no part in their lives.

The reunion of such mothers with their lost children is bound to be fraught with dangers. What if they hate you? Blame you? Want nothing to do with you? What if they have been told nothing of your existence and would prefer not to be disillusioned about those they believe to be their true parents? What if it looks like you are back only to cash in on their good fortune and new found fame?

Despite all of the above we have a happy ending for Maggie de Beer and Steffi McBride – mother and daughter are now reunited on a new website, with both of them telling their sides of the dramatic story of both their rises to fame and the secret that kept them apart for so many years.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Maggie and Me in Seventies London

Maggie de Beer and I arrived in London in the same year – 1970, although she was only 15 and I was by then a sophisticated 17. We both had our fabulous dreams. She was going to be a star and I had my lightweight portable typewriter, which I trusted was going to make my fortune.

Of course she ended up as a national treasure through the wonders of reality television and the celebrity media circus and I am no more than a Boswell to her soaring Johnson, but I feel we understand one another. We share a timeline, arriving in Earls Court, sandwiched between the much trendier areas of Chelsea and Kensington, on the tail end of the much trendier Swinging Sixties. Then it felt like we had come in at the end of the party, but everything was about to change. Credit cards and parking meters were still a rarity and we had Hughie Green rather than Simon Cowell, Petula Clark rather than Lady Gaga.

Monday 19 September 2011

Learning to Love Maggie de Beer

Maggie de Beer first came to my attention half way through the writing of a memoir for her daughter – Steffi McBride. In fact that was when Steffi first learned of her existence too, (it’s all explained in her book “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”).

Initially, of course, Maggie’s behaviour seemed pretty indefensible – I mean giving up your child for the sake of your career, particularly a career like hers, is hardly the work of heroines – but as I got to know her better I became intrigued. It must have taken some guts to leave a safe and secure home at fifteen and never look back, and the woman had to be admired for her single minded perseverance in her pursuit of fame and glamour. She endured over thirty years of endless disappointment but she managed to keep on believing in herself and refused to give up hope.

Of course she only got her big break because of Steffi, but my God she was ready for it when it came, knowing exactly how to exploit this window of opportunity for all it was worth.

I found myself becoming increasingly fascinated by her single minded personal ambition to be famous and adored, and so I wrote her side of the story, starting with her leaving home in 1970 and then following her through to the eventual rise to fame she had worked so long and hard for. Her story pretty much mirrors the rise of today’s celebrity culture itself, from the arrival of “Page Three” girls through to the explosion of reality television nearly forty years later.

One of the attractive things about Maggie is her refusal to complain about the terrible price she had to pay for having her fabulous dreams come true.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

From "Blockbusters" to "Systemcrashers"

So, the button has been pressed and The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer are available for the whole world to read at . Simple. People don't even have to worry about queueing round the block to get their copy. Instead of "blockbusters" authors should now aim to produce "systemcrashers".

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Maggie de Beer Cover Image

We have an excellent new cover. Using the same model, (see picture in previous post), designer Elliot Thomson has created a look which is eerily reminiscent of the sort of poster I would have had on the walls of my Earls Court bedsit in the very early Seventies.

My publisher, Paul Hurst, is now preparing for the technical launch into the cyber marketplace.

Fifteen year-old Maggie arrives in London on the run from her humdrum suburban life, determined to make it big in show business.

For more than thirty years she is exploited by both men and the media. She struggles against endless set-backs and disappointments, always remaining optimistic, always believing that this time her big break has come. Then, when most of us would have given up all hope, the celebrity circus rockets her to bizarre and unexpected pinnacles of fame.

Starting in 1970 Maggie de Beer’s journey mirrors the rise of celebrity culture and the growth of the media which ruthlessly created it, exploiting and destroying the lives of girls like Maggie who willingly offered themselves up, happy to make any amount of personal sacrifices in exchange for a chance to live the dream. She is determined to make herself “interesting” and only when she finally achieves her goal, at enormous personal cost, does she discover, under the full glare of the media spotlight, that the family she was running away from was never as humdrum as she had believed.

“This, I thought as the chauffeured car slid me back from Park Lane to Earls Court behind darkened windows, is what life must have been like for party girls like Christine Keeler in the sixties. I had found my Xanadu, the place where I was meant to be …”

This is the story of a woman who just wanted to be recognised and loved by the whole world.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Self-Publishing an E-book

Last week I led a debate at a Southeast Authors meeting entitled "Should authors be publishers?"

The more I delved into the history of publishing, back to the days when authors, booksellers and printers did the whole thing themselves, the more convinced I became that maybe this is a good time to get back to basics.

For about a quarter of a millenium we have all been focusing on pleasing publishers, (and for the last quarter of a century we have done the same with literary agents), and have rather forgotten that it is ultimately only the readers who matter. The problem is finding ways to reach them efficiently, which is where traditional publishing houses have been helping out.

But now we have the electronic media, which allows us to take at least the initial steps to market by ourselves, (with the help of a few experts), and so I am setting out on the e-book publication trail.

I have enlisted the help of Paul Hurst, a self-confessed geek, (, and Elliot Thomson, a designer who has done a brilliant cover design for one of my ghosted books in the past (, and I will keep the blog appraised of progress as we stumble forward together.

The book is called "The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer" and the blurb currently runs something like this:

Fifteen year-old Maggie arrives in London on the run from her humdrum suburban life, determined to make it big in show business.

For more than thirty years she is exploited by both men and the media. She struggles against endless set-backs and disappointments, always remaining optimistic, always believing that this time her big break has come. Then, when most of us would have given up all hope, the celebrity circus rockets her to bizarre and unexpected pinnacles of fame.

Starting in 1970 Maggie de Beer’s journey mirrors the rise of celebrity culture and the growth of the media which ruthlessly created it, exploiting and destroying the lives of girls like Maggie who willingly offered themselves up, happy to make any amount of personal sacrifices in exchange for a chance to live the dream. She is determined to make herself “interesting” and only when she finally achieves her goal, at enormous personal cost, does she discover, under the full glare of the media spotlight, that the family she was running away from was never as humdrum as she had believed.

“This, I thought as the chauffeured car slid me back from Park Lane to Earls Court behind darkened windows, is what life must have been like for party girls like Christine Keeler in the sixties. I had found my Xanadu, the place where I was meant to be …”

This is the story of a woman who just wanted to be recognised and loved by the public.

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.

Monday 27 June 2011

Writing Workshop in Zurich

I have been invited by an interesting organisation called to do a workshop on writing non-fiction. The event is being held in Zurich on the weekend of October 1 -2 and there will be a fiction workshop going on simultaneously with Amanda Hodgkinson, author of "22 Britannia Road".

I know from my in-box just how many people there are out there who have a strong idea for a book and just need a bit of guidance on how to turn it into a reality. So, if you fancy a weekend in Switzerland why not bring your idea along and we'll see what we can do to help?

Thursday 16 June 2011

Unwarranted attack on the Society of Authors

I have been startled to see an unwarranted attack on the Society of Authors on the Bookseller website by Gregor Dallas, an historian who is standing for election to the Society's Management Committee.

I have also had my name put forward for the Committee, but I would have felt defensive of the Society even if that were not the case, since I have always found them to be unwaveringly supportive of their members.

Mr. Dallas's complaint is that the Society does not stand up to the big publishers and try to influence the books that they choose to publish. The thought of an organisation with such a vested interest actually having the power to influence the books that people get to read is positively Orwellian.

Authors as a breed do tend to live a little outside the bustle of mainstream life and we are not always the best judges of what sort of stories the vast majority of people want to read, hear or watch. It is always good to listen to the paying customers. When Shakespeare sensed that the groundlings were growing restless he was always very quick to adapt whatever work he was presenting to them. The big publishers spend their lives trying to divine the tastes of today's groundlings.

There are an infinite number of ways of bringing books before interested and relevant readers that do not involve the "Big Six" publishers or supermarkets or even W.H. Smith.

Long may the Society of Authors continue its good work in helping its members to survive in the jungle of modern publishing.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Words With Jam

I have been asked to judge a competition for an excellent e-magazine for writers called Words with Jam (as in "words that stick" - get it?)

Readers are being asked to send in the first pages of novels - always the most crucial words in any book since they have to tempt potential readers to keep turning the pages. Details can be found at Even if you don't plan to enter the competition the magazine is well worth a look.

Can't wait to see what comes in.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

The Next Generation of Freelance Writers

I was invited in to Kingston University the other day by Todd Swift - the Canadian poet - to talk to fifty or so students on the creative writing course. Kingston has a good buzz about it, (I had been there just a few weeks before talking to Alison Baverstock's Publishing MA students).

Todd very kindly cajoles all his students to buy my "Freelance Writer's Handbook" and also encouraged them to line up to have their books signed at the end of the session. Talking to some of them individually got me thinking.

It's been forty years since I was setting out like them, arriving in London straight from school, hoping for pavements of gold and all the rest. Then the freelance writer's world was one of manual typewriters and self-addressed envelopes where now it is all emails and attachments, but in essence it is still a gigantic leap of faith into a life where every morning you wake up not knowing if this is going to be the day your big break finally arrives. No doubt they were hoping that I was going to give them some clue as to what the next forty years of their lives are going to be like, but how different will it be by the time these guys are the ones blathering on to another generation of hopefuls?

The only thing I can promise to those who stick it out is that they are in for some grand adventures.

Saturday 5 February 2011

In Bed with my iPad

Like several million others I received an iPad for Christmas. Although I firmly believe that such appliances are a signpost to the route we will all eventually be travelling, I was very unsure of exactly how this newcomer would fit into my life. I have to tell you, dear reader, it is a relationship of unmitigated bliss.

In our first few weeks together I have dowloaded five books and four of them have brought great joy, (the fifth was a substitute purchase for another on the same subject - Montaigne - which proved to be unavailable for download). With each of the books I have made a spontaneous decision to buy based on a recommendation, a review or simply a whim, and I have been reading the desired texts within minutes of experiencing the initial whims - without any expenditure on petrol, postage or parking fines and with minimal damage to the forests of the world.

The screen literally brings light into my life, making it unnecessary for me to hunt out suitably illuminated corners of the house, (of which there seem to be fewer and fewer as both light bulbs and my eyes seem to grow dimmer), and allow for the turning of pages with the most satisfyingly sensual of caresses. Once we are in bed together we need no other light at all.

The books whose glow I have so far basked in, since you ask, are:

"Room" by Emma Donoghue, which is simply delightful in similar ways to "Stuart a Life Backwards" and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time".

"One Day" by David Nicholls, purchased in order to try to understand why so many people keep telling me its wonderful.

"Life" by Keith Richards - just because - which yielded the unexpected surprise of finding him (or perhaps his co-writer), quoting from a book which I once wrote with someone who was involved with the Stones during their Riviera exile.

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith, telling of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, which is both fascinating and beautifully written.

I understand that these are all commercially successful projects from authors who currently do not need to worry overly about methods of distribution but I am only a few weeks into this relationship and suspect my purchasing decisions will broaden and deepen in time. I am not entirely sure that I would have got round to actually buying any of these books in paper form, certainly not all of them - and that fact makes me feel extremely optimistic about the future for authors of all sorts.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Losing my Skyping Virginity

Having been persuaded to grasp the skyping nettle by Nikola Danaylov, the awesome brain behind the Singularity Weblog, (, I have now done my first intercontinental video interview with him, talking at enormous length, (45 minutes - but don't let that put you off), about my biography of James Martin - "The Change Agent - How to Create a Wonderful World".

The results will not only be on Nikola's website but also on YouTube and iTunes.

So, how brilliant is that? A full scale filmed interview in the form of a conversation between me in England and Nikola in Canada, all completed in time to go through to the kitchen for supper. A perfect, early example of "The Singularity" in action.

Saturday 15 January 2011

The Independent receives an invitation to "the private realm of James Martin"

"He is a computer genius, futurologist, inspirational speaker and multimillionaire. But why is James Martin giving his fortune away to Oxford University? Steve Connor meets the mysterious philanthopist on his private island off Bermuda."

That is the introduction to an excellent feature article in the Independent's Saturday Magazine this morning. Steve, the paper's Science Editor, read my biography of James Martin, (The Change Agent - How to Create a Wonderful World), and contacted me to see if Jim would agree to an interview next time he was passing through the UK. Jim said he would rather Steve went out to visit him on his island in Bermuda - "the private realm of the mysterious philanthropist". The result seems to have been an interesting meeting of minds.