Of Nursery Rhymes and the Ethics of Ghost-Writing
Talking recently to a very dear friend about how much one should disclose of himself in his writings, he jokingly mentioned that probably he should write nursery rhymes, to ‘hide’ himself from some of my ‘meticulous analyses of his works. I told him that nursery rhymes were indeed disclosing a lot about ourselves, especially because directed to children. We cannot hide our soul from them and even less wear any mask in front of them.
I have been writing nursery rhymes for my children every year, for their birthdays, and my emotional world was clearly locked into those few words. To be precise, I have been actually writing ‘filastrocche’, Italian nursery rhymes in short lines and with syllabic repetitions. The etymology of the word ‘filastrocca’ comes most probably from the Latin word ‘filum’, meaning ‘sequence’ and the Greek-Latin term ‘historicus’ (skilful, expert in telling stories). So, the singer of a ‘filastrocca’, can be seen as the keeper of all old knowledge, and at the same time as the omniscient poet, dancer, actor, magician. Isn’t all this so fascinating? I do love and enjoy stepping into that role, now and then!
Therefore, going back to the origin of our interesting and funny conversation, I suggested my friend to become a ‘ghost writer’, in order to comfortably take shelter from my intrusive and inquisitive gaze and scrutiny! Isn’t the ghost-writer a storyteller as well? He is just not producing HIS own stories.
Would you ever be able to hide yourself behind the big ego of some personalities, listen to all their weird stories and ideas, write a book for them without being able to tell anyone in the world that the Pulitzer-price nominated book was indeed written by you? Nobody has asked me yet (and I have the feeling that nobody will ever do it :-) for any help in writing his/her story, but I know I would not be able to write on behalf of anyone. To me, it is a matter of ethics. Therefore, at the same time, I would never ask anyone to write a book on my behalf too. I would feel like I am cheating people. I can already imagine being haunted by ghosts, having terrible nightmares, and many a restless night at the thought that the book with my name on its cover was not actually created by me…Maybe I am just too old-fashioned in a world that is fast and furiously progressing in spite of all my mental masturbation.
The most famous and best-paid ghost-writer in the world now is Andrew Crofts. He has so far written 80 titles and sold 10 million copies in his 40 years career. He clearly has a very different and much more practical point of view. Crofts also wrote books under his name, like the famous ‘Sold’, written with Zana Muhsen. It is the true account of two child-sisters sold as brides in Yemen. The book was very successful, especially in France. Muhsen’s story of slavery and rape was so moving that it helped launching Crofts’ career as a ‘story-teller’. Other people’s tales definitely intrigued Croft, and he never felt the need to put his name on the book covers anymore.
Ghost-writing is no longer a prerogative of the – scornfully called – ‘nègre littéraire’. There are all kinds of ghost-writers in any field (fiction, non-fiction, sports, autobiography, cookbooks, etc…), simply because it is not easy for all to write and, especially, to become a good and successful writer. What I found quite amazing, in the case of Crofts, it is the number of requests he receives in a year: one thousand!! Apparently, his real issue is to make the right choice, based on personal interest, new experiences and obviously…remuneration.
In a recent interview with ‘La Repubblica’ and in an article on ‘The Guardian’, he clearly stated that, as a ghost-writer, he had to suppress his own thoughts, feelings, opinions while looking at the world with other people’s eyes. He would collect all the information, make all necessary research, start writing, respecting the literary genre of the book he is writing… and never get stuck, as he had to meet the deadline, be professional and reliable. He also said he never felt any form of envy towards the success that his book could obtain and – on the contrary- he was always happy and proud of any successful outcome of his writings.
According to Crofts, the most fascinating part of the job is the conversation with kings, billionaires and personalities of all sorts, but also with outcasts, whores and homeless. He would ask all the impertinent questions he wants to, while living the comfortable life of a writer and fulfilling other people’s vanity and ambitions. No wonder that, with his writing skills, he is making much more money than many established and professional writers in the United Kingdom. On average, he asks for Euro 130,000 for each work.
Not every ghost-writer is as well known and well established as Crofts. There are terrible stories of fragile personalities with pretensions of authorship, who rank their ‘ghost’ as a valet or a cleaner. Therefore, Crofts represents more the exception than the rule.
Crofts recently published ‘Confessions of a Ghost-writer’, a reading for any aspiring ‘ghosts’ who would like to know more about this ‘shady’ craft.
So, my friend… could ‘ghost-writing’ be a good option for you?? Alternatively, would you still prefer writing nursery rhymes?
THE GOOD NIGHT SONG
One and one makes two,
Take your best dream and make it true.
Live your life with passion and love,
Always smile at the sun high above.
And when the night turns everything dark
Do not be frightened when the dogs bark.
Put down your book, turn off the light
Think of me, and be ready to sleep tight.
The stars and the moon stand guard over you.
Remember my goodnight kiss and never feel blue.
(Paola Caronni 07.09.14)