Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than 80 books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He has also guided a number of international clients successfully through the minefield of independent publishing. Last year he published his own memoir “Confessions of a Ghostwriter” and this year sees the publication of “Chances” an erotic love story which he ghosted for an anonymous Swiss lady.
When did you first realise you could make your living as an author without your name being a feature on the front cover of the book?
About thirty years ago I was interviewing a business guru for The Director magazine and at the end of the interview he told me he had been commissioned to write a series of business books but didn’t have the time. He wanted to do them for marketing reasons and so suggested that I write them with material that he would give me. He would then get the glory and I would get the money. I was insulted for about ten seconds and then realised this was a brilliant way to gather information quickly, directly from source, and not to have to worry about where the publishing deal was going to be coming from.
Caroline Sanderson (Bookseller Magazine) once wrote about “the Crofts factor”, and indeed there’s a string of glowing quotes about your work on your website—from all manner of readers, scholars, journalists, reviewers … If ghostwriting isn’t a silent game, do you then become a collaborator? And what’s the difference?
I could easily be called a collaborator, but “ghostwriter” is a better label I think, both more descriptive and more interesting-sounding. If I advertised myself as a “collaborator for hire” I might be mistaken for some sort of political weasel.
In your book, Ghostwriting, you devote not a small part of it to the client/writer relationship. Have there been times over the years when you wished you’d read your own book before embarking on a project?
No. Out of a hundred or more relationships only one or two have gone wrong, which I think it a pretty good percentage. I think the percentages of failed marriages would be a great deal higher.
Is there ever a sense that you’re living vicariously? The reality of the writing life is, after all, a lot of sitting behind a keyboard …
Absolutely I am living vicariously, but I get the best of both worlds. I am able to dip into other people’s lives, spending time in places I wouldn’t otherwise get to, all the way from palaces and private islands to brothels and shanty towns, and then escape back to the safety and security of my office at home – retreating inside my own head for weeks on end, like most writers.
You reportedly once said, “I have a horrible feeling that if I’d got the call from Germany in the 1930s I would have hopped on that plane like a Mitford.” Where do you draw the line when it comes to accepting or rejecting a potential project?
There are only two criteria. 1. Is this person interesting enough for me to want to spend several months inside their head? 2. Can the project be made to pay enough for me to live during those months?
I firmly believe that everyone should have the right to tell their story, and to get help doing so if they need it, just like they can get professional legal representation if they are accused of a crime.
Once a book is written people can then praise or criticize it, buy it or boycott it. If we refuse to listen to those we disapprove of how can we ever hope to understand them? If we could understand more about what makes some people into monsters we might be better equipped to deal with them.
Do you think a good writer can cut a good story from any material?
Almost, but it won’t necessarily make a whole book. It might make a newspaper article, a short story, a documentary or drama. Only certain stories lend themselves to the traditional book form.
When you started your writing career, independent publishing would have largely been called ‘vanity’ publishing. What has your relationship with independent publishing been like over the years?
I have always thought that it was a wonderful thing for people to be able to write books, even if they can’t persuade traditional publishers to back them and even if they need the help of a ghost. The only thing that was wrong with ‘vanity’ publishers was that they raised people’s expectations by promising that the books would get into the shops and become best sellers. This was ‘misselling’.
People are much more clued up and realistic these days. If someone wants to write their life story just for their friends, family and descendants I think they should be encouraged to do so, but they must understand that it will cost them money, just like having a portrait painted. Writing a book is fun to do but it is no more or less likely to make the author money than a lottery ticket.
Do you have any particular daily writing habits you could tell us about, or strategies for maintaining the writing (working at a computer) life?
Treat it like any other craft which you want to make a living from. Put in eight or more hours a day, just as you would if you were a carpenter or a florist or an illustrator or a window cleaner. Find out what people want to read/buy and then give it to them. Once you are earning a living you can then indulge in writing what you want in the hope that someone will eventually like it enough to buy it.
What are some interesting aspects of your current projects?
Last summer I brought out a memoir of my own, Confessions of a Ghostwriter, which was published by The Friday Project, a HarperCollins imprint. The writing of the book and the resulting interviews have led me to think quite deeply about all the changes that have taken place in publishing since I arrived in London in 1970 as a starry-eyed seventeen year-old.
This spring saw the publication of an erotic memoir which I ghosted for a Swiss lady who goes by the name of Penny. The book is called Chances and because Penny has to be anonymous I have been doing most of the talking about it to the media, which is unusual for a ghosted project.
Chances is the true story of the most erotic of love affairs. It started with teenage love at first sight for Penny and James and was shattered a few years later by the realities of adult life and family expectations. Like Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers were forced apart by circumstances and they were sucked into unhappy marriages. Unlike Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, however, they were to be given a second chance, eighteen years after their first meeting, when their marriages collapsed and they found each other again.
Since coming back together they have discovered the most profound secrets of happiness, exploring their sexuality and venturing into areas of experimentation that many imagine but few get to taste for themselves.
The book asks, what if your first love was your soulmate and perfect sexual partner but you made the mistake of letting them go? What if you were reunited with that first love and were then able to fulfil every romantic and erotic dream you had ever had?
And, finally, The Woolf special question: What’s one of your favourite works of fiction, and why?
I think Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham would be right up there. It is the ultimate coming of age story and sums up, I think, how many young people feel when they yearn to lead glamorous, creative lives and find themselves being dragged into ‘normality’, all their illusions about life and love being gradually eroded by reality. I completely identified with it as a young man and it re-enforced my own determination not to allow myself to be knocked off my chosen course.