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Andrew Crofts of West Grinstead

Andrew Crofts

I was born in Groombridge, near Tunbridge Wells. My father was of those people who had a good war. He never saw a shot fired but went to India, Egypt, Israel and Greece. He even met my mother in Alexandria.

I went to school in East Grinstead and then went to Lancing College. I quite fancied being an artist, actor or writer. What I didn't want was a normal job. That was the one thing I was certain of.

I wasn't interested in A' levels as I was too busy putting on plays or writing stories. I didn't want to be trapped like my father had been, commuting to London every day for a job he never really loved. I wanted to have something to look back on in later life.

When I was 17, I moved to London, living in a shared flat in Earls Court. It seems bold now but it wasn't so back then. People started out sooner in life.

I tried everything to establish myself as a freelance writer. I was trying to write a great novel, and I was banging on the doors of publishers asking for commissions. A lot of magazines were coming out at this time, the early 1970s, especially business magazines. PR was coming of age too and I tried to tap into that.

I loved to travel, so I declared myself a travel writer. I would take a location, like the Caribbean, and contact all of the airlines who flew there, hotels, the tourist authorities, and say 'I'm a travel writer and I'm coming to the Caribbean.' At the same time, I would write to every magazine in the Universe and ask if they wanted an article. Magazines had a good deal because they didn't have to pay a staff reporter to fly out there, and the Caribbean businesses knew that a freelance writer would sell articles to several different publications.

There were no mobile phones or laptops, so I would spend two weeks in nice hotels, being driven around by the tourist authorities. Of course, I'd have never been able to pay for these trips with my own money. Only Princess Margaret went to the Caribbean in those days!

Travel writing also took me to the South Pacific, Australia and the Far East. There was a lot of competition in business and everyone wanted publicity, and I was fortunate in that most writers had not cottoned on to the importance of PR.

As well as travel writing, I was writing for numerous business publications, and wrote books about PR and freelancing. I wrote one novel too, a thriller, but it was useless!

After ten years, I had established myself as a freelance business and travel writer. One day, I interviewed a management consultancy guru for a magazine called 'Director'. He had been commissioned to write several books with titles like 'How to Close a Sale' and 'How to Double Your Turnover'. He wanted to do them but he didn't have time to write them, so he asked me if I would write them. He said 'You can have the money but I'll get the glory.'

I was insulted for about two seconds and then I thought, 'Hold on, that's brilliant!'

The time consuming part is research. If I wrote a book on management consultancy from scratch, I would need to interview hundreds of people. And who would buy a book with my name on it? He had all of the information and I just needed to produce a book in his voice.

That was when the penny dropped. I took an advert in The Bookseller declaring 'Ghost Writer for Hire.' It was slow to begin with, but gradually jobs came in and one in particular changed things.

A woman called Zana Muhsen, from Birmingham, contacted me. When she was 15 and her sister was 14, their father asked them if they would like a holiday in his home country, Yemen. When they arrived there, the sisters found that their father had sold them as child brides.

We sat down in a hotel for a few days with a tape recorder, and Zana went through her story, chronologically. I wrote 'Sold' and it was a slow seller initially, but then it started to pick up sales overseas. Twenty years later, it has sold over five million copies.

Gradually, more jobs came. I wrote a lot of books with similar themes; culture clashes, tug-of-love tales or forced

Ghost writing meant I could spend two or three weeks with a person, get to know them and ask some really
impertinent questions. A journalist can't ask anything they like, but as a ghost writer, I can as I am on their side. The subject has got to tell me everything, even if it is left out of the book in the end. You can ask anything. Did you sleep with him or not? Did you steal it or not? You have to know to set the tone for the book.

After Sold, I was writing three or four books a year and eased up on freelance journalism. It was easier for me to meet agents and publishers and the work came in quickly. I think I was the first person to set up my stall and say 'I am a ghost writer'. Any writer, if you caught them when they were not busy, would ghost write if you handed them a cheque. But nobody was actually promoting themselves as a ghost writer.

I was approached by a lot of people who had traumatised childhoods. I thought these were really good stories. They were like Greek myths, as you have the perfect hero or heroine (the child), the perfect villain (whoever is exploiting a child) and at the end you hopefully have triumph and redemption. But publishers thought the stories were too traumatic for the general public. Then Dave Pelzer's book 'A Child Called It' sold millions, and all of the publishers were suddenly calling me, wanting all of the stories.

Kevin Lewis had contacted me about a book based on the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. He could afford to commission it, so we wrote 'The Kid'. I didn't think any publisher would take it on, but I was wrong. Within a week we had a good advance and it spent months at the top of The Sunday Times chart.

Some people didn't like the books. They thought we were exploiting the children, but I didn't think so. I thought we were shining a light on to an area that nobody wanted to talk about. Abusers bank on secrecy, but after people read 'The Kid' or 'The Little Prisoner', the dam opened and people realised it was okay to talk about it.

I also wrote a few books based on charity stories, primarily inspired by Eastern Europe, including Promise of Hope by Colonel Mark Cook, which is about an orphanage in war-torn Croatia. I also continued to write a lot of books for business people, particularly in Africa and India.

I've written books with many celebrities too. Ghost writing has changed the way autobiographies are written. Celebrities can no longer get away with saying 'I danced with Sammy Davis.' They have to talk about their childhood and their emotions so now we have much richer autobiographies.

One of my favourite celebrities was Pete Bennett, who has Tourette syndrome and won Big Brother in 2006. He was both the funniest and the nicest boy you could meet, but his memory was just terrible so the publishers brought his mother in.

The day he came out of Big Brother, they took him to a hotel in Covent Garden and locked us in for a week. They wanted the book out as quickly as possible, but the magazines wanted to do photo shoots and there was talk of a record deal and film contracts. It was constantly going on around us. I said to his mum 'You know they are all exploiting him?' She replied 'I have a son with special needs and I have no money. If this buys him a flat then it's all been worth it.' She was absolutely right.

Pete was going out with another housemate called Nikki, and briefly they were the most famous couple in England. I found it all so interesting. Not just the celebrity element but his life with Tourettes.

I have written a few books for stars of the big reality TV shows. There are not many I can talk about, because most like the perception that it's all their own work. With Pete Bennett, a reporter from The Guardian asked Pete what it was like to be a writer.' Pete replied: 'I'm not really. This posh guy came to my hotel with a tape recorder!'

I don't mind the fact that I do not receive the credit for most of my books. If you were Barack Obama's speech writer, and you wrote a cracking speech that got him into the White House, you wouldn't think 'I should be in the White House'. You would think 'I was hired to write a cracking speech and I delivered.' I'm hired to create a book that sells well and I know the terms before I begin .

One advantage to ghost writing is that I don't have to go on the PR trail. I can be on holiday whilst the celebrity is plugging their book on a radio station in Aberdeen!

Most of these authors had the time of their lives writing these books. They were able to talk to somebody who didn't judge them at all; they just wanted to know more. I made some of them a lot of money, publishers made a fuss of them, and they saw a world they would never have otherwise seen.

You have to be interested in the person if you're going to write about them. I would have to say 'no' if I'm not interested enough to spend the next few months thinking solely about them. I have written many books for businessmen, and I enjoy that. It's interesting to sit down and talk to a man who went from being an underprivileged child to building one of the world's biggest corporations.

I'm fortunate that my career has covered both celebrity and business worlds. I still receive three or four enquiries a day, but I can only write three or four books a year.

Sometimes I work for a fee but if I really want to do a book with a person and they have no money then we will come to an agreement on how to split the royalties. That makes it a speculative venture for both of us. If it doesn't sell all we've done is waste our own time. If it does well then we both benefit equally.

You can never really tell how well a book will sell. If it does well, you'll be amazed where money comes in from. Others just die a death and never make a penny.

I wrote a book called Ghostwriting, which was published in 2004. A few years later, Robert Harris wrote 'The Ghost' in which he quotes my book at the beginning of every chapter. Robert's book became a major film, The Ghost Writer, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Ewan McGregor.

I thought Harris showed a very good understanding of the life of a ghost writer, and if I was pleased to be portrayed by Ewan McGregor, imagine how happy Tony Blair was to be played by Pierce Brosnan!

That cemented my reputation (The Independent has referred to Andrew as 'The King of British ghost writers')

My new book, a novella called 'Secrets of the Italian Gardener,' has a ghost writer narrating a story set in a dictatorship which is being overthrown during the Arab Spring. I was spending a lot of time in that part of the world around that period, some of it with the families of the regimes who were about to be so violently overthrown. It seemed like a fertile area for a thriller which would also reflect upon the gulf opening up between the super rich and super powerful and the rest of us.

Ghost writing is eternal. Look at the Bestsellers list and stop to think how many of the people on that list could
seriously write their own book. Some people have criticised people who have admitted using a ghost writer. They say 'David Beckham can't even write his own book!' Give the man a break! He is a footballer, running his own businesses and a family, so where would he have the time to write a book?

Everyone has a book in them. It's just that not everybody will want to read it.

I have lived in West Grinstead with my wife, Susan, for 26 years, and have four children aged between 23 and 29. All of them have featured in my books under various names at some point.

I've never really had personal projects that I wanted to write. It was always the unknown that interested me. If a Pope's mistress were to ring me then that might be interesting! A man who tried to assassinate the Pope did get in touch once though. You never know who the next email will be from!