I know little about ghostwriting, other than having once, nearly 30 years ago now, ghostwritten a ghost, my subject having shot himself three weeks into our work on his memoirs. On our last day together he had asked how I thought the book would go if he was found murdered, a question I felt intended to drag me into yet another interminable conversation about the people he believed were out to kill him—the banks, the CIA—and so, in order to check what I thought was simply one more diversion, I’d answered that I thought it would be a bestseller.
We had just come close to a fist fight that had only ended when I noticed the gun he was carrying in a shoulder holster as we tussled and shoved each other in a publisher’s office. The gun frightened me and he knew it, but then he frightened me in a way I had never felt frightened before.
His name was John Friedrich, he was Australia’s greatest conman and corporate criminal, and he was about to go to trial for embezzling a billion dollars in today’s terms. With the money, he had set up a sort of secret army with purported CIA connections, a large company employing over 500 people purportedly engaged in top-end search and rescue, industrial safety and security operations, which had gone belly up.
Following the collapse, there ensued the largest manhunt in Australia’s history as Friedrich was hunted across the continent, and, once caught, the concurrence of criminality and celebrity had inevitably led to a very large advance from a publisher for Friedrich’s memoirs.
Being indisposed to leaving any record, Friedrich failed to produce a manuscript and frightened off in quick succession a series of ghostwriters set to work with him. In desperation, the publisher told Friedrich that if he wouldn’t work with the publisher’s choice of ghostwriter, he should find his own. Friedrich knew no writers. But his bodyguard—a Tasmanian—said he had a mate who wanted to be a writer.
And in this way, late one night in Tasmania, where I was working as a builder’s laborer trying to write my first novel, I received a phone call from Australia’s most wanted offering me $10,000 to ghostwrite his memoir in the six weeks left before he went to trial.
After Friedrich shot himself dead, his suicide was front-page news and top of the TV news bulletins. The publishers were everywhere, saying Friedrich had left a tell-all memoir that answered all the many questions now being asked, but refusing to divulge any details prior to publication. As well they wouldn’t, because I was sitting in a Hobart pub desperately trying to make them up. Most writers’ first novels are criticised as autobiography. My first autobiography, though, was quickly degenerating into a novel. The book came out and was an immediate failure. To be frank, it’s not much of a book, or as much of a book as someone who has never written a book can write in six weeks about their subject when their subject kills himself before saying what his life was.
Still, I gained a lot from it, not least money, which was good, if only, as the old joke goes, for financial reasons. With the $10,000, I was able to stop laboring for six months and finish my first novel, Death of a River Guide. ... [mehr] https://lithub.com/richard-flanagan-on-social-media-and-the-death-of-a-private-life/