Archives for September 2009

Mad About Matera

One of the great things about being a writer is the opportunity to travel. I’ve just come back from a three day work trip to Matera in Basilicata, southern Italy. It’s the smallest  and least populated region of Italy and located in the instep of the boot. The city of Matera is unique, perched on one side of a ravine with caves and little churches carved out of the rock and the sassi part of the town is reminiscent of the Holy Land with its houses made of tufa and extending way back into the rock. The city is the setting Mel Gibson used for The Passion of the Christ and going there I could see why. It has an unforgettable atmosphere. I stayed in a B&B in one of the sassi houses and it was immaculate, beautifully restored and so clean I thought I was the first guest, when in fact the owner told me it had been open for over five years!

The region of Basilicata is very little known outside Italy and most Italians have never been there. They are missing out as it has got everything – mountains, beaches, fields, olive groves, vineyards and even a couple of lakes. The food is outstanding and the people outgoing and welcoming. It is an up and comingregion, mark my words.

My midnight return flight from Bari to Pisa was delayed 13 hours because of a problem with the radio. It’s quite disconcerting seeing the pilots of your plane intently studying a book of instructions! I met three great people and we stuck together as the sea of angry passengers descended on the information desk. We found our own hotel and taxi, not easy at one o’clock in the morning. I ended up sitting next to a man called Angelo. I could have been upset by the delays, but I try and view these things philosophically and symbolically. My take on it is this. The region didn’t want me to leave and I had an angel for a companion!

Ghostwriting in Medical Journals

Ghostwriting is a pretty hot topic in the scientific community at the moment. A study has just been released by The Journal of the American Medical Association detailing how widespread ghostwriting is in the medical community. This follows the revelation in the New York Times  in August that a major pharmaceutical company in the US had used ghostwriters to write review papers highlighting the benefits of hormone replacement therapy in women and downplaying the risks. This was done between 1998 and 2005, although the court records have only just been released. Since then the guidelines have been updated, as you can see in this article written back in 2006 by the BMJ.

The danger of using ghostwriters in this way is that general practitioners and others reading these reviews for peer guidance may not be aware that a drugs company has been involved in their production, in some cases paying for the medical ghostwriter's services.

You can read the New York Times article here.

Ghost Twitterers

Well, here's a phenomenon I have come across recently. People making a living ghostwriting on Twitter. Yes, there is now a career category called ghost twittering. I love it!

Just as most celebrities don't write their own books, but employ ghostwriters to do it for them (come on did you really think Jordan wrote Sapphire?)so celebs on Twitter are now doing the same thing.

In case you have been on another planet, Twitter is the hottest of hot ways to keep in touch. Around since 2006, it is a micro blogging site where 'twitterers' (users) keep their 'followers' updated by sending them 'tweets.' These tweets, a response to the simple question 'What are you doing'?' , are limited to 140 characters or fewer. Wikipedia refers to it as 'the SMS of the internet'. It is used by the media – Sky News for example – and politicians like President Obama. And celebs. 

Enter the ghost twitterers. The good ones manage to tweet in the style of their celebrity. Some followers even feel upset that the tweet they're reading wasn't actually typed in by Britney Spears! (Dream on!)

I have two twitter accounts if you are interested – petsinitaly and writerinitaly

Five hundred words down…

They say that for a writer the longest walk is from the chair to the computer and that the scariest thing is a blank page.

I've found that setting small goals is a good way to get writing. A novel needn't feel so daunting if you tell yourself that you are just going to write five hundred words a day. Because everyone can manage five hundred words, right? And it's amazing how they add up and the milestones pass. Five thousand words become ten thousand and pretty soon you've written fifty thousand and you think – how did that happen? As long as you keep plugging away, as long as you stick to it even when you would rather stab yourself in the eyes with needles that write, then you'll get there. It isn't a matter of waiting for the creative muse to strike, because let's face it, that could be a long wait.

So just set your daily goal, sit down and write. Don't be distracted by cleaning the bath plughole, hoovering the cat, de-bobbling your sweater or any of those other suddenly essential tasks that beg to be done before you can even think about writing. Don't correct as you go, don't agonise. Just write your five hundred words (or whatever you think is reasonable, but I'd suggest ten is probably not enough) and then get on with the rest of your day.

Sometimes you really do have to just do it.

Another Kind of Internet Love Story

I recently
started a site,
with the intention of passing on advice to ex-pat pet owners and relating some
of my own animal experiences in 15 years as a Brit living in Italy. I’d had
quite a menagerie in that time and some bizarre tales to tell, including my
period as custodian of four geese, the kittens stolen by foxes, the dog killed
by a porcupine and so on.

What I
hadn’t bargained for were the appelli – the animal appeals, mostly dogs,
each with their own heartbreaking story. This gave the site a life of its own –
it became the focus for the homeless and the destitute, as I posted more sad
stories of dogs kicked out, beaten, thrown from cars and worse. Then something
else happened. I fell for one of those dogs myself.

I remember
getting the email. I saw the picture first – a black and white English Setter
(I was later to learn this colour combination is known as a blue Beltane) in a
cage, looking lost and staring at the camera. I read his story and started to
cry. Damn it! This was no good! I didn’t want to get emotionally involved with
the dogs I was supposed to be helping, just tell their stories on the site and
hope that a kind person decided to adopt one.

His name
was Gaspare (GAS- pah- ray), which is an Italian version of Casper, one of the
three Magi. The name sent shivers down my spine, even though that was just what
his rescuers had called him. Still, it seemed a magical name, somehow. He had
been thrown out by a hunter in a village near Avellino, near Naples, southern
Italy. After weeks, perhaps even months, living wild the poor dog was a virtual
skeleton. Desperate for food, he came across a group of villagers having a
picnic. He approached them, tail wagging, in the hope that he would get a scrap
of food. Instead they turned on him. Shouting, screaming, they beat him with
sticks and kicked him. Had it not been for a passing member of an voluntary
animal shelter he would have been killed. At some risk to himself the man intervened
and carried the dog’s broken body to a vet. He had two broken ribs, two broken
teeth and severe nasal bleeding. And that’s when I got the appeal.

I sent an
email. I found out more about him. I printed out his photo and tentatively
broached the idea of a third dog with my ever patient husband. I did the tarot.
I asked the runes. And then fate intervened, my elderly mother broke her hip
and I had to rush to the UK. Gaspare was temporarily forgotten.

When I got
back I searched for him online and discovered he had been driven to Milan
(800km) to his new  family, who kept him
overnight and then decided he wasn’t for them. He was in foster care with a
young couple until a home could be found for him. Poor Gaspare, abandoned
again. My heart bled for him. And then I got an email from the association in
Avellino. Was I still interested?

I fretted
and debated. I had sleepless nights. Was it madness to get another dog? Our two
spayed females were besotted with each other and we had a harmonious
well-balanced household. What was I thinking of trying to throw a rescue dog
into the mix? I couldn’t decide. And then I hit on a solution. Of course, I
would have to go and see him! Once I actually met him, than I would know. And
so I went off on an eight-hour round day trip to Milan. I met Gaspare, I met
his foster carers Daria and Alessandro. I sat on the stairs in their apartment
with a dog’s big head on my knee, sterde into those big brown eyes and fell in

To cut this
shaggy dog story short, Gassie has been with us seven weeks today. He is a
giant, lolloping comedian with a penchant for pyjamas and shoes. He has escaped
countless times under the fence and returned barking at the gate. He has eaten
my fish pond liner and so I have had to rebuild the fishpond but at half its
original size once the chewed liner was cut off. He spends hours in the garden
hunting lizards, upsetting terracotta pots and knocking over tables and chairs
in his fruitless attempts to catch one. He hasn’t got an aggressive bone in his
body, kisses the other dogs at every opportunity and puts two huge paws on my
knee if he thinks I have been at the computer too long. He is big, bonkers, with a heart the size of an ocean and we love him to bits. 


Are Ghostwriters Just Frustrated Writers?

A client recently told me what a British publicist had said when she told her she was getting a ghostwriter (me) to write her book. 'I wouldn't bother. If ghostwriters were any good they'd be writing their own stuff not working for other people.'

Once I had come down off the ceiling I realised that some people do have this misconception. But could there be a grain of truth in it? Are ghostwriters just frustrated writers who have to scratch a crust writing for others? Well, all the ghostwriters I know, myself included, do lots of other things besides ghostwriting. They write articles, novels, business books, poetry… The thing is that some people are just in love with writing. It doesn't matter what kind. It's a privilege to play with words all day.

I decided to ask the UK's top ghostwriter Andrew Crofts for a comment. As well as all the ghostwritten books Andrew has produced, he has a number of successful novels published under his own name.In fact I helped him with the online marketing of his last one The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride. His latest one The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer comes out early next year. This is what he told me:

"I just love writing books of all sorts, but in order to make a living I
need to find material wherever I can. Some of it works in fiction form, some of
it is more suited to ghosting. I think Robert Harris paints a good picture of
why ghosting can be a splendid adventure in his book 'The Ghost' and the quote
from me at the beginning of the book about it being a wonderful way to meet
interesting people pretty much sums up the whole thing.
A few months ago I spent a week on a private island in Bermuda with a
client, I thought that was a very pleasant way to make a living. Over the last
few years I have had more than a dozen books in the Sunday Times top ten
bestsellers, most of them getting to number one or two. I have yet to achieve
that with the fiction, but here's hoping.
If you want to be a full time writer you can't afford to be snobbish about
where the work comes from or what form it is published in."

 And me? Well I enjoy ghostwriting because I love variety and hearing different people's stories. Above all, I love telling those stories. But I do also have a busy career that does not involve ghosting. It does involve writing though. You see, it's all about the writing.