Ghostwriting life stories involves much more than simply editing another person’s words. It’s an entire process focussed around the storyteller, their stories and their voice. Clare Pugh, one of our skilled contemporary writers, fully understands how to bring these elements together to create engaging memoirs and biographies. In this special Q & A, we ask Clare about her experience working on Story Terrace books, providing insight into her perspective as a ghostwriter.
Your first few books for Story Terrace had been purchased as gifts by relatives. Were the recipients a little nervous at the start about having their lives recorded in such detail?
Everyone that I’ve worked with has just been excited about having their memoirs ghostwritten, but I imagine that their first reaction would have been complete surprise. After all, to receive a gift like this is still very unusual. If there had been any element of nervousness, though, it disappeared once we had talked through the process together.
With the majority of people having access to computers now, some argue that people could just write their own memoirs. What do you think about this?
Of course there are many, many people who have excellent, proven writing skills, but what most people don’t have is sufficient time in which to write their own memoirs. So by having your memoirs ghostwritten for you by Story Terrace, you are, in some way, being given the gift of time. Time to spend thinking about all the things that have made your life exactly that – your life. What a luxury – I wish someone would write my memoir for me!
Apart from this gift being an opportunity for the recipient to spend time enjoying their memories, in what other ways do you think such a present would be so valuable?
To me the most wonderful thing about someone having the story of their life celebrated in such a way is its permanence. There it is – your time on earth – in your very own book. I’m as guilty as the next person of over-dependence on electronic communication these days: so many enjoyable exchanges that are then almost instantly forgotten – who ever reads through old emails?
You sound like a fan of paper and ink?
Absolutely! I am a true book-lover, and have very few possessions other than books. Admittedly I have a lot of them, but they’re not just for show; I have read the majority. I’m not in any way precious about them either: I’m happy to spill coffee on them, fold down corners . . . I just like having them around me.
How does being a writer of fiction help when ghostwriting?
Being a ghostwriter is so much more than taking a list of dates and significant events from someone’s life and turning them into prose. A good ghostwriter will, after interviewing the client at length, be able to understand their distinctive character and voice, and weave it into the narrative. The memoir is then very clearly the client’s own story. So creativity and imagination – essential qualities in a fiction writer – can be used in ghostwriting to produce enjoyable, and true, memoirs.
When did you first become interested in writing others’ memoirs?
About ten years ago, when I began as a volunteer life-stories’ assistant at my local hospice. Here I helped patients who wished to leave a record of their lives. This was primarily through the written word although some patients chose to compile memory boxes, photo albums, etc. The three years that I spent there were incredibly rewarding. Working in this way with people with life-limiting illnesses made me appreciate even more the importance of being able to leave behind a record of your life. These life-stories not only gave the patients a feeling of closure, but their families also greatly appreciated being given this precious reminder of their loved one’s life.
Have you ghostwritten memoirs for any of your family or friends?
No, and as far as my parents are concerned, it’s a real regret. My father, who died ten years ago, was a wonderful man and had had an interesting life. Despite being told by his school that he should try for Oxbridge, he signed up instead to fight at the start of WWII, and soon found himself, aged nineteen, alone in charge of a Sudan Defence Force unit. After the war ended he was unable to settle down for many years, visiting and working in many different countries. Apart from an incomplete list of dates, I have no record of his many adventures. I still have lots of letters from my parents (my mother died in 2010), and photographs, but how I would love to have their life stories too. But, of course, it’s too late. So to all of you who are looking for a way to show your loved ones how much you value them, I urge you to give them the gift of a Story Terrace memoir. It will, without a doubt, be the best present you’ll ever give.