My guest this week is a lady you probably have not heard of and yet you may have read her books or heard of the books she’s ghostwritten. Out of the 10 books she’s ghostwritten, 4 have been Sunday Times bestsellers and her first book, “Forever In My Heart” by Jade Goody, sold over 100,ooo copies and was No 1 bestseller in 2009. I caught up with Shannon Kyle recently to discover what it is like to be a ghostwriter ….Hi Shannon and welcome….
Lovely to meet you. I am Shannon Kyle, a ghostwriter and journalist.
To date, you have ghostwritten 10 books, including 4 Sunday Times bestsellers for both celebrities and ordinary people with extraordinary stories. That is quite an achievement! What inspired you to become a ghostwriter?
I fell into it by accident. I had worked as a journalist for many years on the tabloids and women’s weekly magazines and was asked to write Jade Goody’s last autobiography, Forever in My Heart. At first Harper Collins were not altogether convinced I should as I’d never written a book before, but thankfully they decided to give me a whirl.
You are also a talented freelance journalist writing true life stories for publications such as Take A Break, Prima, Woman’s Own, The Guardian, The Mirror, Daily Express and Sunday People for over 15 years. Growing up, what were your career ambitions? Did they resemble your careers as a journalist and ghostwriter or did you want to be something totally different?
When I was 15, I won a competition in a local newspaper, The Medway Messenger, to write a ‘letter to the future’ which was then buried in a time capsule under a building site, I can’t actually recall where now! The prize was to have the letter printed, £50 and a trip in a helicopter over the building site. I was so thrilled to read my words in print I decided I’d wanted to be a journalist one day.
As a child what books did you enjoy reading? What genre of books do you enjoy reading now?
As a child I loved reading autobiographies, like Roald Dahl’s Boy-Tales of Childhood and Going Solo, and Anne Frank’s diaries of course. At the time I loved reading ‘true stories’ as I knew events really happened. Today I love reading anything and everything. Recently I have finished Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Olafsdóttir. It’s a comic-noir novel set in Iceland I bought while on a short holiday there and it’s beautifully written and so funny. I’ve also loved Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, a novel so incredible it just took my breath away. The last non-fiction book I read is Confessions of a Ghostwriter by Andrew Crofts, a very enjoyable take on the job of ghosting from one of the best in the business, that was insightful!
Your first book as a ghostwriter was “Forever In My Heart” by Jade Goody that sold over 100,000 copies and was No1 bestseller in 2009. A fantastic start to your “ghostwriting” career but it must have been quite an emotional rollercoaster. What were the highlights and lowlights whilst working on the book alongside Jade and her family?
My own father died of bowel cancer (within two weeks of being diagnosed) just five months before I was asked to write this book. Cancer and grief were very much at the forefront of my mind so I was in a bit of a daze during the writing of Forever in My Heart. The absolute cruelty and unfairness of life was bought up so close, as Jade was only 27 and leaving two little boys behind who were her world. I felt it was a privilege to write this book and was under pressure too as it had to be written within three weeks! I had little time even to eat or sleep. What I took away was the love that surrounded her from her family and friends, and the incredible humour they all kept, including Jade, right till the end. A general low light was the senselessness of it all really. Dying while young is a very cruel senseless business, although through doing it publicly Jade highlighted cervical cancer and by doing this she saved many lives. Young women who wouldn’t have got tested otherwise came forward and had it done. She should also be remembered for that.
Your latest ghostwritten book, “The Race To Truth” by Emma O’Reilly was nominated for the Irish Sports Book Of The Year award 2014. Congratulations! When ghostwriting, do you have a hunch as to what makes a best seller?
Thank you! I don’t think anyone, even publishers know what will definitely make a best seller. One celebrity memoir I wrote was the life story a household name and garnered huge publicity and looked as if it would be a sure thing, but it didn’t sell particularly well. Then I’ve written a memoir of a girl who grew up in a modern day gypsy family and it reached number four on the Sunday Times bestseller list.. it’s so hard to tell. However I do trust my instincts on what makes a good story, I think it’s important to have a nose for that in this job!
Have you ever had ambitions to write and publish your own book under your own name as author? If so, what book genre would you pick?
To date I have made two attempts to write a novel. The first one almost got bought by a big publisher but they pulled out at the last minute. I hope to one day. I hope to write something fictional for the women’s consumer market which is from the heart.
Hypothetically speaking, if you could pick to ‘ghostwrite’ the life story of any historical figure, who would you pick and why?
She isn’t historical yet, but I would love to do Yoko Ono’s autobiography. Being a huge Beatles fan I’d love to have done Linda McCartney’s book too, I identify with her as I’ve been a single mother living in a big city working in media, like she did in New York before she married Paul. I’d also love to interview Queen Elizabeth the First, and of course Anne Frank too.
What, in your opinion, are the best bits of being a ghostwriter? And, dare I say it, the downside?
Without a doubt the best bits is being able to get close to someone and ask them almost any question. I am always discreet and my authors need to be able to trust me. It’s a real privilege to hear people’s first hand stories. Being part of the process of writing a book from that first opening line to the end and seeing it in shops is also very rewarding.
The downside is editing and never quite knowing when the final manuscript is finally finished.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I love Levis and Goldsign jeans. The latter are an American brand and rather pricey so I make them last but they’re so flattering and comfortable. I’ve often got a pair of Converse on, my favourite ones are all white ones bought in a vintage shop. When I am writing I usually wear anything comfortable, even jogging bottoms as I try and go out for a run every day. If I am going out, I have a few Fever of London dresses I absolutely love, but that’s only on a special occasion.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
eBay is the place for bargains. I used to like Brandalley.com too, but try not to get tempted. ASOS is always good and my daughter quite often gets me to look on there for clothes for her. I have a favourite vintage shop in Camden, near where I live, it’s called The Thrift Shop. It’s tiny but a treasure trove of cool things.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I’ve been keeping an eye on eBay for a pair of Chanel sunglasses. I’m hoping for a proper pair a la Audrey Hepburn.
Boots or Shoes?
I’ve been after a pair of good black leather over the knee high boots for a while, but I’ve yet to find the perfect pair. I’ve always been a fan of long black boots, they’re great in the winter time when it rains and you can wear them with jeans or skirts.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers of the blog can learn more about you
Thank you Shannon for sharing with us just a little of your ghostwriting world and I hope you eventually get that novel of yours published! I think it must be interesting to ghostwrite the autobiography of a historical figure like Nell Gwyn or as you say, Shannon, Elizabeth I …. dear reader, which historical figure would you pick to shadow? Do tell!
Photo Credits: Header Pic – published with kind permission from Shannon Kyle; Book Photos – Linda Hobden.