Interview with Ghostwriter Emma Newrick

Posted by on Jul 29, 2014 | Leave a comment

Today, I’m delighted to be interviewing Emma Newrick. Emma and I studied at university together, and Emma has since gone on to do amazing writerly things — including ghostwriting.

Not knowing much about ghostwriting, but being very intrigued by it, I decided to ask her some questions. Though I am slightly sad her work does not involve this…

Ghost stories

 

…it’s still fascinating stuff. Read on…

 

Hi Emma! Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m an English literature graduate from Durham university, and my favourite things are border collies, 1950s novelty print dresses, Earl Grey tea, reading, and writing, not necessarily in that order…

In my uni holidays I worked at a publishing company, and after graduation I went to work for them, first in the marketing department, then in editorial. I left the company to do a MA in theatre performance and practice because I wanted to be an actress; but after I’d done my training and started auditioning I realised it just wasn’t for me.

Acting and writing are both uncertain professions, but I ended up falling into writing almost by accident – the publishers had put me through the Publishing Training Centre’s Basic Editing course and after I left my job with them I did some freelance copyediting for them. I went on to get a job on a lifestyle magazine as Sub Editor – proofing the magazine for errors and managing the editorial team – and features writer. I’m freelance again at the moment, and divide my time between writing magazine articles, copyediting and ghostwriting.

 

How did you get into ghostwriting?

The publishers I worked for ran residential writing courses in the Lake District and the editorial team came along to help. We had an author, Janni Howker, come along to give a class, and she got all of us to join in. The exercise was to write the beginning of a story based on a few prompts, and I ended up with a riff on Red Riding Hood. I remember she asked us all to read out what we’d written and the whole room went quiet when I read mine. I looked up to find the rest of the team staring at me, and my boss said ‘You should be writing.’

I am a voracious reader (Kendra will tell you that I was actually at uni to do Archaeology and Ancient History but asked to borrow her reading list in the second week and by week three had switched to English Literature!) and had been writing little bits and pieces since I was a child – I wrote a book for my brother called Mona and the Witch (wish I could remember the plot as I’m sure it was gripping) when I was about six, but had never thought of it as a possible career. It was my boss who offered me my first ghostwriting assignment, in 2008.

 

What are some of the projects you’ve worked on (if you’re allowed to share)?

Song-of-the-NightingaleThe first book I ever did was with an author called Helen Berhane, who is a gospel singer from Eritrea. Helen’s case was highlighted by Amnesty International after she spent two and a half years locked up in a shipping container in the desert, along with other people imprisoned without charge or trial by the Eritrean government, for refusing to stop singing religious songs. She had an extraordinary story, and the publishers flew me out to Denmark, where she had been granted asylum, with an interpreter for three days to record her story.

I’ve since worked on some really diverse projects, from autobiographies to even a bit of fiction. My most recent project was the story of an anti human trafficking organisation founded by a really inspirational 26 year old ex opera singer.

I’m currently in Australia spending few months travelling round on a working holiday visa and it actually looks like I’ll be doing a ghostwriting project while I’m here for an Australian, which beats waiting tables!

 

What does the process of ghostwriting look like?

Well, it’s not writing books about ghosts, which I can’t seem to get my next door neighbour to understand! People choose to use ghostwriters for a variety of reasons. They have a story to tell but either don’t have the skills, the time, or would just rather a professional took care of worrying about whether that word works there or if another one might be better. It isn’t just celebrities, either, it’s anyone who has a story and an audience who wants to hear it – the founder of a charity, someone who’s had an amazing life or experience. For example, I’ve worked with a speaker who was great at public speaking but struggled when it came to getting it down on paper; someone else who didn’t speak English; and another client who had written most of his book but just felt it didn’t flow so wanted me to get it into shape. Usually though, I will write the whole project from initial interview to finished book. I work mostly for publishers (I have worked with people who are self publishing and am quite happy to do that, but working for a publisher means I know my hard work is definitely going to see the light of day on bookshelves!).

The process begins with an initial interview to establish what sort of project it is, how far the client has got with the outline, and how long we envisage the process will take. Then we would arrange a series of meetings (in person, phone or sometimes I would ask questions by email) so that the person can actually talk me through the content of each chapter. To use a recent example, I did phone interviews three times a week and each time we worked through a different part of a chapter. I then transcribe my notes, and that’s when the actual process of ghostwriting happens – I need to make sure I’ve captured the client’s unique voice, as the book has to sound like them, and also see that the heart of the story comes through. When you interview someone there’s an awful lot of ums and ers, and they do tend to go off at regular tangents.

Once there’s a rough first draft, that goes to the client and I then make changes based on their feedback. I usually expect to write two full drafts, plus extra changes, because often when you give someone the book they’ve asked for they realise it’s not actually the book they want! That’s all right, thought, it’s just part of the process. Being a good ghostwriter means having a good ear for listening not only to what your client says and how they say it, but also what they aren’t saying and perhaps don’t even realise they aren’t saying.

Then you have to remember all the other things that make up a good book – show don’t tell, adding colour and detail, and making sure you’ve got one eye on the reader’s perspective. Especially with autobiography, it’s easy for people to miss how they’re actually coming across to the reader. You can’t say things like ‘I raised my incredibly beautiful violet eyes to Rodney’s adoring face’ – not unless you want your reader to think what an irritating narcissist you are and probably throw the book across the room. I’ve had to moderate clients’ humour before too – what sounds hilarious in person can come across as rather offensive on the page where you don’t have the advantage of body language!

Sometimes people mistake what I do as taking dictation. That is part of it, but it’s what happens after you’ve got the basic gist of the story that is the ghostwriter’s craft. You need to think about narrative arc, where will be the best place to start (not usually at the beginning) and how to structure the whole thing chapter by chapter.

 

For you, what’s the best thing about ghostwriting?

I love the challenge of writing as someone else – it’s a skill that comes in very useful in journalism too, where you might need to write five features but only two are in your voice and the rest are as the voice of Vogue for example. I also love hearing so many different stories – the idea that you can be immersed in different places, lives and experiences without leaving your chair is one of my favourite things about reading too.

For me, writing feels like creating a complex tapestry – there’s always a point where you feel like you’re holding hundreds of separate threads and they seem like they’re just going to be a big knot, and then there’s a moment when they resolve into an incredible design, and it all just fits. That’s the feeling that keeps me writing.

 

And the worst?

When a client stands firm over something that you really believe needs to be changed. It’s their book – but ultimately I want it to be the best book it can be. It’s just part of the job though, and at the end of the day it is their story and their decision. Sometimes I can get the publisher to step in and argue for the change if it’s a major issue, but the rest of the time you just have to let it go and accept that no project is ever going to be perfect.
The other thing isn’t really about ghostwriting, it’s more about me personally – the feeling that I am forever writing someone else’s words and story, never my own. That’s going to change very soon though – see my answer to the next question!

 

You have other writing jobs and projects besides ghostwriting. Can you tell us a bit about them?

girl in the garettI mentioned writing for magazines earlier, alongside copyediting, which is the process of refining an existing manuscript and getting it ready for publication. I have a blog (www.girlinthegarret.com) where I write about things that interest me – the process of writing, books, a bit of fashion, theatre and so on. I’m focusing a lot more on my blog this year as it’s been a bit neglected because I’ve been so busy.

I am also determined that I’m going to focus on my own original fiction – the best and worst thing about freelancing is that I get paid to write, but it means I tend to drop my own projects in favour of a paid project. I have around three novels in development – one is a YA inspired by myths and legends and the Border Reivers in the Debatable Lands where I grew up, and another is set in and around a decaying English country house and is probably going to come out as a YA too as that’s my favourite kind of fiction. I’ve just signed up for a course on the English country house in literature so hopefully that will give me a bit of a kickstart!

I love magical realism, 19th and 20th century fiction, fairy tales and fantasy – Angela Carter’s short stories, AS Byatt’s Possession, I Capture The Castle, Cold Comfort Farm, so expect an unusual heroine, a touch of the supernatural and a house that counts as a character in its own right. If you keep an eye on my blog I’ll be writing about a place that’s inspired that particular novel quite soon. If you’re a fan of decaying castles, family feuds and roaring twenties extravagance, you’ll love it as much as I did.

 

And finally, what’s the best book you read recently?

Dreams of Gods and MonstersLaini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters, the conclusion to an incredible trilogy. It’s got it all – humour, heartbreak, lyricism, a gripping plot, fantastical worlds, and memorable characters, and she writes a fabulous blog too. She is a writer’s writer – she talks a lot about how writing can be magical, but can also feel like chopping your way through a jungle with a machete. She really works at her craft, and I find her incredibly inspiring. I closed the book with joy at how much I’d loved it and a real sense of loss because I hadn’t wanted it to end!

 

 

About EmmaEmma Newrick
Emma Newrick is a professional ghostwriter and magazine journalist, whose first book was published in 2009. She blogs at www.girlinthegarret.com about writing, decaying castles, and dressing like a 1930s literary heroine, fuelled by copious cups of Earl Grey tea. She is currently working on her first YA novel, and dreams of one day persuading her neighbour that ghostwriting does not mean she writes books about ghosts…

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