Ghosting is how I got my break in publishing. I was serving my apprenticeship in the writing class at London’s Morley College and dreamed of rising from the slush pile. I knew my show from my tell, I understood structure, I could keep a pace ticking and could twizzle plots and characters into a right old twist.
A lucky accident got me to an editor who needed a manuscript in a hurry. I wrote a novel to their brief; they liked it. So began my career as a ghostwriter.
Meanwhile, I was finding my real literary identity - in the authors I cherished. Hilary Mantel for oddness, Jeanette Winterson for rebellion, Jan Mark for peculiarity, Donna Tartt for cleverness, Ann Patchett for passion, Barbara Trapido for humour.
They could not be more different from the thrillers I was writing as a ghost.
Finally my own debut was ready - My Memories of a Future Life. If a trauma in a past life can haunt you in this one, what would you see if you visited yourself in a future lifetime? My narrator is a concert pianist with a career-threatening injury who gets involved with fringe healers offering miracle cures. While she tries to make sense of what she’s seeing in her possible future, her current life becomes all the more mysterious and tangled. The novel is a hybrid genre; literary fiction with elements of romance and futuristic speculation - but most of all it's the story of a lost soul looking for where she now belongs.
Soon, the novel wooed an agent. Publishers said it was compelling, original . . . but could I make it more commercial? A thriller, perhaps, like those lovely thrillers I sold bucket-loads of?
Until that moment, I’d thought my priority was to see my name on a cover. After so long letting others take the credit, that gets to be an issue. I could have had it, easily, if I'd changed my novel. But I’d already got stacks of books I had written to fit the agendas of others. And the authors whose work I treasured didn’t neuter their books. So I went indie.
When I published, I had a surprise.
With a ghosted book, I’d hand it in and move on. But my own novel keeps coming back. Out of the blue, readers email me. When this first happened it was a big and delightful surprise. It still is.
In endlessly unexpected ways, they tell me I have understood the core conflict of their lives. A few of them tell me off as well, furious with what I’ve made them experience. (With that in mind, it's curious to imagine the fan mail I might have inflicted on the authors who adopted my ghosted novels. I did some bad things in those books.)
I never knew this happened, this renewing current between writer and reader. It makes me so glad I stuck to my vision, and mined my story for the truths that were most important to me.
When I write for someone else I'll do whatever they want. And I don't disagree with those who compromise to secure publication. We all are aiming for different things.
But publishing my own novels has reminded me how our stories become a reader's most private moments. My prose becomes the voice whispering beside their own thoughts in their alone-time on the train, or the drowsy pre-dream period last thing at night. With that in mind, how could I not be true to my material? Obviously I'll take advice on what isn't working, but I won't change anything for markets and fashions. Our books outlast those anyway.
Have you had a watershed moment that made you realise who you were as a writer?
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AFTER SO LONG AS A GHOST, THIS NOVEL IS FOR ME by @Roz_morris http://goo.gl/RM8i6j #theartistunleashed #writing