Everyone around the boardroom table was entirely in agreement; at no stage and no time was anyone allowed to admit out loud or in writing that our celebrity was not a real person. Never mind that the celebrity in question was made of felt, this was the merchandising business, there had to be rules. The lawyers insisted.
My job, as the chosen ghostwriter, was to produce an autobiography which would fill in this celebrity’s back story, his early life before he found fame, and exactly what happened to him in the “wilderness years” before his comeback as a potentially money-making merchandising vehicle. There were many careers resting on the outcome of this exercise, most of them sitting round that table in their shirt-sleeves – brainstorming and sipping mineral water.
I had been hired by the distinguished publisher who had agreed to bring the eventual book out under his distinguished imprint. It was a nice job for both of us. For me it felt a bit like being given a licence to write fiction, (although of course it wasn’t fiction because the lawyers said so and the story must therefore be spoken of at all times as non-fiction, even though I was going to be making it up).
One of the golden rules of writing both fiction and non-fiction must be to be fundamentally truthful in your writing, and if you aren’t going to be truthful then you’d better be as entertaining as hell. But of course "truthful" was the option to go for here, because the lawyers said so.
Our hero had found fame in the seventies and we all know how badly celebrities were allowed to behave in those days. Now, it seemed to me, was the time for him to ’fess up to every little indiscretion, (this was before the really heinous and unamusing revelations of the period started to emerge). I was also sure readers would understand exactly why he went off the rails during the wilderness years – wouldn’t everyone if subjected to the pressures of sudden fame and fortune? To hold on to the readers’ sympathies I felt we must come clean about the addictions and the dodgy business deals that he had become involved in during those years at the same time as dropping the names of all the celebrities he had mingled with.
Once the manuscript was finished and both the distinguished publisher and I were happy that we had done full justice to the whole Greek tragedy of this celebrity’s rise and fall and resurrection, there was another meeting in the same boardroom. We arrived, feeling extremely pleased with ourselves, but now the men and women in shirtsleeves were no longer smiling. The celebrity, apparently, was not happy with the way he had come across. The ghost was going to have to be replaced by someone who understood what was expected of them.
“The thing we have to remember,” the distinguished publisher sighed as we stood on the street outside, forlornly scouring the horizon for a taxi to whisk us away from the scene of our humiliation, “is that nobody around that table has ever commissioned anything bigger than a fridge magnet.”
I felt better for his wise words.