Ghost in the machine

“You’re putting words into my mouth…” Yes, but in a good way. Over the years I’ve done a little bit of ghostwriting here and there, and always enjoy the process.

I’ve been wearing the sheet with the eye holes this week. For a while I’ve been working with the talented publications people at The Woodland Trust producing news and features copy for its member magazine, Broadleaf, and the package includes a ghosted column.

It’s the job I like best. Here’s how it goes. First off, I have a chat with the interviewee to get to know them and their story. Then we go into a more structured interview, which I record.

The sound files can then be transcribed to produce raw copy. There’s always much more material than I can use, but by taking a sentence or two from here and another one or two from there the story unfolds.

It’s a bit time-consuming, but it is a great way to summon up your interviewee’s tone of voice. Last comes the nail-biting bit – copy approval.

Which can go badly, as I know from painful experience. But for the most part I find people are delighted and find it a little spooky (excuse the pun) to ‘hear’ themselves as text.

My most recent ghosted column was emailed off to the interviewee a few days ago and I’ve been waiting for the reply. It has taken longer than expected and, as time went on, I began to worry.

No need. It turned out that my subject had been away on an off-grid camping trip. Her email began: “Wow, what a brilliant piece – captured it all superbly.”