Stories I’d like to tell

This is another of the pieces I was asked to contribute to my literary agent Andrew Lownie’s website. Along with some of his other ghostwriters I was asked about whom I would like to ghost. Since most of my ghosting is out of the ordinary, so were my choices.


I do most of my work at the junction where ghostwriting meets co-authoring. When the author of a biography has done the research and sketched out the book, but struggles to bring out the qualities that would make it a good read, that’s where I come in. Sometimes doctoring the text is enough; more often I have to immerse myself in the subject’s life, and become a co-author (in ghostly obscurity if necessary). That’s when the job is at its most demanding and its most satisfying.

My current ghosted and co-authored projects include the story of Robert Trimble, a WW2 pilot who undertook a secret mission to rescue POWs on the Eastern Front; a biography of Moura Budberg, the Russian spy who fell in love with a British agent during the Revolution and was haunted for the rest of her life by the shattering betrayal she suffered; the life of Peter Watson, millionaire art patron and doyen of the gay scene in pre-war Paris, murdered in his bath by his jealous lover; and the incredibly moving life of James Barry, a Victorian military surgeon who was revealed after death to have been a woman, forced to disguise herself in order to pursue a career in medicine.

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These extraordinary, little-known lives are rich in drama, adventure and poignancy. There are so many of these stories waiting to be told. I’m constantly on the lookout for them. There are two at the top of my wish-list. I’m charmed by the tale of Joseph Wright, the illiterate Yorkshire millhand who became a professor at Oxford University. Last biographed by his widow in 1932, this extraordinary man is known mainly for teaching Anglo-Saxon to the young JRR Tolkien, rather than for his amazing rise from illiterate poverty to the dreaming spires. And there’s the exhilarating life of merchant seaman Charles Lightoller – going down with the Titanic (and surviving) wasn’t the only, or even the most remarkable, of his life’s adventures.

Those lives – obscure, strange and dramatic – are the lives I most like to write.


The original article, with contributions by other ghosts, is here.

© Jeremy Dronfield 2017