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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Once You Have Good Material Assembled, It Won’t Take Long to Write Your Book


I’ve been making rapid progress with this latest book. Since I began serious work on 26 June, and despite having had two weeks away in Norway, I have got 48,000 written. That’s well past the halfway mark, meaning that I'm averaging 1500 a working day. I am reminded of the days when I was writing corporate histories and could occasionally polish off 3-4000 at a sitting. But I was younger then….

This rapid progress is all down to one thing: starting each day with good research material in front of me. The fellow I’m working with right now has been thinking about his long and adventurous life for some time. I think he started to reflect, seriously, when he was doing time in a very unpleasant Federal Penitentiary. As we searched for a buyer for the book we took great pains to come up with an outline and chapter breakdown. Of course, we have deviated from the original outline – that will always happen - but they’ve been useful guides, and we’ve kept in mind the factors that sold the idea: namely, my subject’s early forays into black-market oil trading in the Niger Delta, a field in which he was the first operator, some twenty-plus years ago. Along the way, he’s kept up his end of the ghosting deal, namely:

(a) sending me substantial chapter outlines on a regular basis;
(b) whenever I ask a question, sending a swift and detailed reply - be it a physical description of a minor character, information on the private banking system in Lichtenstein, where he hid substantial cash deposits, or an explanation of acronyms like AHTSV (Anchor Handling Tug Supply Vessel) or VLCC (Very Large Crude Container).

Having now known my subject for four years – that’s how long ago it was that we first discussed a book about his life in dope-smuggling, deep-sea fishing, treasure-hunting, deep-sea diving, black-market oil trading and running shipping fleets in South America and West Africa – I can often flesh out a chapter purely from my own recollections of the many remarkable stories he has told me. Some of those won’t find a place in the main story, but it’s always a great help to have this accumulated background knowledge when you’re writing a biography. It means that in the course of any narrative section I can get into his head and have him reflect on matters that may be tangential to the plot but are pertinent to his own personality and character. Call it light relief.

Would that all ghost writing were this easy, and this enjoyable. I cannot help but reflect on other projects, when I’ve had to conjure a 6,000 or 8,000-wprd chapter from half a page of notes consisting mostly of ‘He was a fantastic character’, ‘It was unbelievable’, or ‘We had an amazing time.’

Harrumph. An outline of Chapter 13 has this minute arrived in my Inbox, and I am promised Ch. 14 in short order. I must to start on my half of the job.