Real Life "Shades of Grey" - Andrew Crofts

Their enquiry stood out from the others that came through that day. James emailed that he and his girlfriend, Penny, lived in Switzerland and were looking for a ghostwriter to tell their love story. He warned that it would contain sexual elements that many would find shocking, but that there would be many lessons to be learnt from it.

Dear Mr. Crofts, if possible, I think that meeting up with us, seeing who we are, hearing us out, would not be a waste of time.

He told me they would be in London the following weekend and would be staying at the Dorchester in Park Lane. Curiosity got the better of me. “Fifty Shades of Grey” was selling millions of copies a week and female sexuality was the hot topic of the day. Since I was going to be in Mayfair anyway, interviewing an African leader whose memoir I was just finishing off, I suggested I pop into the Dorchester once I was finished.

The African leader had a busier schedule than expected and finding myself free in the middle of the day I sent James a text. He invited me to join them for lunch at Zuma’s, a famous Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge. It seemed that fate was working to make this meeting both pleasant and convenient. Even if nothing came of the book it would be an interesting lunch and would pass the time until my African client was free once more.
The composed, confident couple I found waiting for me at the bar with perfectly chilled glasses of white wine were extremely good looking, but with no hint of arrogance. They managed to be both reserved and charming at the same time, intent on making me feel comfortable in their company despite the very obvious fact that they were completely wrapped up in their adoration of one another.

Plate after plate of tiny, elegant delicacies were presented at the table by discreet waitresses and one chilled bottle of wine followed another as they slowly revealed their fable of true love.

It started with love at first sight when they were little more than children and was shattered a few years later by the realities of adult life and the expectations of their families. Just like Romeo and Juliet the young lovers were forced apart by circumstances but, unlike Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, these two had been given a second chance and they had turned it into something magical and extraordinary and deeply sexual.

By the time the espressos were being served I was hooked and had agreed to fly out to Switzerland the following weekend with a tape machine. That was the start of a journey deep into the lives of a couple who together have discovered some of the most profound secrets of personal happiness.

One of the skills necessary for ghostwriting is the ability to ask very personal questions without causing people to clam up with embarrassment. Exactly how far, I wondered, could I go with my questions this time? How much detail would they be willing to go into?

Initially Penny was more reserved in what she wanted to talk about than James was but gradually, as the three of us spent days together talking, she became more sure of what she wanted to reveal. Because James had done most of the talking initially the first draft of the book had too much of a male slant, but it made it possible for Penny to see what she didn’t want and she started to open up more with her own descriptions of their relationship, both physical and emotional. That was when the book really started to take on a life of its own.


Lee said…
Andrew, this form of writing fascinates me. Do you do it mainly as a source of income? Or does it also give you satisfaction in a way that other forms of writing don't or can't. (This is a serious, not snarky question!)
Andrew Crofts said…
Thanks for asking, Lee. Ghostwriting gives me enormous satisfaction. One of the biggest problems with earning a living as a writer is finding stories that publishers want to buy. By offering to ghost for people I have an unlimited supply of new experiences and new stories being brought to me without me having to spend too long on research. I get to do the two best parts; the listening to interesting people and the writing.
Lydia Bennet said…
I often feel driven to tell people's stories, but they are usually powerless or poor people rather than those with money or status, not that they don't have interesting stories too of course. I'd think it must be strange to write a book and not have your name on it however, does that not bother you, Andrew?
Monu said…
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Andrew Crofts said…
Hi, Lydia, I agree that the stories of the unempowered are often fascinating. I ghosted many of those "misery memoirs" that sat at the top of the charts a few years ago, and wrote a lot of stories for girls sold as child brides etc.
It doesn't worry me in the least whether my name is printed on my work or not, any more than it would if I was Barack Obama's speechwriter or the architect of the Shard. Whenever I have written under my own name not even my mother seemed to notice.
Monu said…
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