Please note that this article is unsuitable for readers under the age of 18.
Can You Keep a Secret? stemmed from an article I wrote about year and a half ago for the online magazine JOE.ie. I was a staff journalist with the Irish men’s website at the time and we noticed that we would get a spike in hits whenever we did a story on any aspect of what people get up to behind closed doors. We did our best to capitalise, interviewing all sorts of different types of people involved in adult entertainment and the associated industries, but whenever we tried to crack the secret world of swinging, we were blanked. After months of getting the knock-back, Katie came into the picture. She had been involved in swinging for some time and she was more than happy to bring us along to a swinger’s party.
It was a crazy, slightly terrifying night but after apologising to my eyeballs for what I put them through, I went home and wrote the article. Not only did it get a massive number of hits but it also caught the attention of other media outlets. Myself and Katie were hauled onto Newstalk, 98fm, Spin 103.8, i102 and a string of other radio stations to talk about it.
I thought that was the end of it until about six months later, when I got in touch with a publisher about an unrelated book I was working on called, Banged Up Abroad: True Stories of the Irish Men and Women Jailed in the World’s Toughest Prisons. The publisher came across the story I did about Katie, and suggested that it would make a cracking book. It hadn’t actually occurred to me before but I agreed.
I approached Katie and she was happy to come onboard. And then the publisher made a suggestion: he wanted a book about Katie – but he didn’t want me to write it. He explained that the received wisdom in the publishing world was that men should ghostwrite for men, and women for women. Facing being cut out of the loop, naturally, I disagreed. I felt that because Katie was my contact and I had gotten her to agree to the project, I should at least be given a crack at writing it. In the end, we agreed that I would knock together some sample chapters and we would take it from there.
Unfortunately, the publisher then took on another vaguely similar project which left mine surplus to requirements. We were dropped before he had even seen the sample chapters myself and Katie had been working on. To be honest, I don’t think the guy was comfortable with even the concept of a guy ghostwriting for a girl.Spurred on by that bitter sting of rejection, I started pitching the project to other publishers and after a couple of expressions of interest we signed a contract with the good people at Y Books. They loved the writing, enjoyed the story and felt if marketed in the right way, the book could do very well. So now I had to write the book.
To start off, I gave Katie some a book to read which I felt was along the lines of what I thought we should do. Girl With a One Track Mind told the story of a sexually liberated woman who bounced from one casual relationship to another and wrote about it all in a light, relaxed kind of way. As well as giving Katie an idea of the tone we were shooting for, it also gave Katie an idea of the level of detail I would need if I was going to be able to properly describe the various events in her life.
So, then we started meeting in person for interviews which normally lasted about two hours. The venue was generally Katie’s place where I felt she would be most comfortable talking about what were some extremely personal topics. I kept the first two interviews quite relaxed, and we basically skipped around from one subject to another in broad terms in order to get an idea of what we should cover in more detail.Katie had proved an excellent interviewee when on radio and it was the same when working on the book – she would talk about literally anything. I had known her for some time by this point and we were, basically, friends. As a result, Katie was comfortable enough, right from the beginning, for me to probe deeply into the themes of the book – her upbringing, her sex life and her psychology.
One thing quickly became clear – this was going to be different from Girl With a One Track Mind. There were deep reasons behind why Katie’s sex life went in the direction it did and I felt we had to explore them. There was plenty of room for fun, sexually-charged accounts of her wild adventures on the underground sex scene, but I felt the book would be a vastly more appealing read if it went that bit deeper.I had dozens of hours of interview time clocked up by the time the writing started in earnest. Still, it was difficult clicking into the mindset of a girl. Harder still was the fact that the story begins when Katie was a child and I had to try and get my head around, and then put across in print, how she would have viewed the things that were happening around her.
I was helped by the fact that after so many interviews and so much time, I knew Katie very well. I found that writing for short periods didn’t work – I needed to dedicate at least two or three hours to it at a go. I’m not the first to make this comparison I’m sure but I would imagine it’s a bit like acting. You’ve to get yourself into someone else’s head and then project what you think they would have thought and felt. Interviews do a lot of the work for you, but faded memories and the fact that you can’t have your interviewee sitting next to you as you type mean it’s never possible to get the level of detail you would want. You have to colour places, people and events sometimes with only a bare outline to go on. Katie’s experiences can only be describe as varied, often putting Fifty Shades of Grey, quite literally, in the shade. Writing this type of material from her point of view was a challenge.
I’ve a nine-to-five job in journalism to work around so writing has to take place in the evenings. After throwing some food down my neck I try to get started as soon after arriving home as possible. I’ve discovered if leave it too late, I tend to get set upon by Come Dine With Me or some other rubbish and end up not doing a tap. When I make it to my laptop then I clock up maybe three or four hours some evenings before knocking it on the head.
I normally start off each stint with a recap of what I wrote last and this tends to involve some fairly heavy editing. Unfortunately, I can always think of a better version of practically every sentence I’ve ever written. As well as stripping out errors and fine tuning language, when I was writing Can You Keep a Secret?, this process also helped me click back into the story at the point where I had left off.
In longer sessions I would clock up maybe 2,000 words. That said, I wouldn’t write every night, and not all shifts would be as long as each other. It helped that I was dealing with a really interesting story. It would have made for long days otherwise.
I was very lucky in that Katie was willing to let me use as much creative licence as I felt was needed and whenever I referred various bits of the book back to her to see if she felt it accurately reflected how things happened, she was happy with what she read.This is the first book I’ve finished so I’m still learning the trade, but my publisher was delighted with it. Crucially, so was Katie. She’s read it twice and counting, and tells me all the time how much she loves it. Can You Keep a Secret has already hit No. 2 in the iBook charts, but regardless of how the sales go, Katie will walk away with an interesting memento from a bizarre time in her life, while I’ll have had the chance to develop my writing via what has been a challenging, but very worthwhile project.