Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Ghostwriters get into subjects' skins

Published:Friday | March 18, 2016 | 3:00 AM
Professor Mervyn Morris.
Sydney Lowrie
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The theatre was an important theme in the talks on literature given by five writers during a Kingston Book Festival workshop at the Spanish Court Hotel, New Kingston, last Friday. The presentations were in two sessions, A Life to Remember: The Business, Art and Craft of Writing Memoirs; and How to Write and Use Marketing Materials for Book Promotion.

Lecturer and ghostwriter Sydney Lowrie gave a lot of credit to his training in acting at the then Jamaica School of Drama for his ability to empathise with authors whose books he has helped to ghostwrite.

"At the drama school, we were taught method acting, which means you tried to get into the attitude, character and personality of the character you were playing," Lowrie said.

Studying English at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, instilled a love of literature, and Lowrie combined the knowledge gained at the two institutions to develop his writing skills.

"In ghostwriting, what happens is that you become like a method actor. You get into the author's character," he said.

To do that with scientist and entrepreneur Dr Henry Lowe, for whose autobiography Lowrie was ghostwriter, he not only made many audio and video recordings of Lowe speaking, but also interviewed his brothers and mother.

"You want to write a story the audience will read, then the life starts to represent something more than just itself because of the resonance it will have with the audience. You're mediating between the subject and the audience, and you have to get the authentic voice. My acting experience and ability to hear and speak the voice of someone else have helped me," Lowrie said.

He emphasised the importance of getting the historical context and experiences right.

"You put in their achievements, their observations of life at the time and the things that were happening around them, and you relate those memories in a way that not only your Jamaican audience, but also a global audience, can appreciate. We [humanity] all share the same aspirations," Lowrie said.

 

GENERAL FACTS

 

The ghostwriter needs to be descriptive about the little things "throwing a gig, playing marbles, shining a flashlight on a figure so the shadow on the wall became your movie show". But he or she must also get the general facts right "the behaviours of the time, the interactions of children and their elders, the role of the Church and the school, how we related to people in authority".

Focusing on his ghostwriting of the memoir of renowned actress Leonie Forbes, Professor Mervyn Morris said he found it "a learning experience". After "a somewhat deprived and uncertain childhood", Forbes trained as a typist and was employed at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona's, Radio Education Unit, which was run by broadcaster and actor Hugh Morrison.

"One day, somebody who should have turned up for a recording didn't, and Morrison put something in front of her and said 'read this.' She read it and they were impressed," Morris said.

That led to Forbes being employed by the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) and then to getting a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England.

In the course of interviewing Forbes Morris, learnt many intimate details of her life, including details about her several marriages and that she is

psychic. Of particular interest to him was how she created one of her most famous characters, Miss Aggy, in Trevor Rhone's classic play Old Story Time.

A difference between the autobiography and the memoir, Morris said, is that the former gives a general, detailed picture of the subject, while the latter focuses on discrete moments, people and places.

Latoya West Blackwood spoke of her ghostwriting the memoir of Rosie Stone, widow of Professor Carl Stone, and her challenge to find the 'right voice' for the story. West Blackwood said Stone (who was infected with HIV) did not want to come across as the angry wife betrayed and made ill by her husband, but instead wanted to help others in a similar situation.

"As a result, the book had a life outside the usual market, and she was able to deal with international agencies," said West Blackwood.