Ghost Writing came to me in an email. My name had been put forward to a young Limerick lady, Patricia Ingle, who was setting out to write her story after an unfortunate life-changing event and was recruiting a writer to assist.
Unsure of all that might be involved, I went along for the interview and found myself instantly drawn to the story Patricia wanted to write. Aged 19, she was working in a pet shop, doing what she’d dreamed of and working with animals. But her dream turned into a cruel nightmare when she contracted a rare virus from parrots and ended up on a life support machine fighting for her life.
Despite the odds being stacked against her and the experts preparing her family for the worst, Patricia survived her ordeal but was locked in for a period of months before very slowly coming out of her coma and coming to terms with a horrific set of circumstances facing her for the rest of her life. She spent almost three years in hospital and had to engage a legal team to help her be released home. Her illness has left her unable to eat or drink, balance, touch, breathe unassisted, or speak without a speaking valve.
Sitting for an hour or so with Patricia and her family on that first afternoon in September 2014, I listened in awe to a brief summary of her personal story, intrigued and inspired in equal measures and adjusting to the communication challenges as well as I could. Because Patricia has a tracheostomy, hearing her story was challenging – but far from impossible. She was able to wear a speaking valve for short periods of times which allowed her to voice her thoughts. It also allowed me to hear her speak. And outside of that her amazing family supported us by lip-reading Patricia as well as telling parts of the story themselves.
But when the phone call came six weeks later saying they’d like me to be the writer to help get the story from Patricia’s head onto the page and write her book, I must admit I felt a mixture of excitement and terror! Would I be able to do Patricia justice? How on earth would I turn this story into a book? Was I good enough? Would communication be a problem? But I gave the only answer I could – a resounding ‘yes’! Up to now I’d been making things up, writing fiction and fully in charge of where the story came from and where it was going. But I knew after that one meeting that I wanted to try. I was ready to take on the challenge.
Before I move to the actual nitty-gritty of the drafting and writing process, I must be honest and say that being committed and fully believing in the story is a must to make a ghost writing project work. Taking on the responsibility to share another individual’s story should not be taken lightly. Being practical, in the same way as writing a novel, it is important to commit to the people involved in the story because it is likely that as a ghost writer you will work very closely with the person, her family and the story being told for at least a year, if not more. And in my heart I knew I was hooked. Patricia was a person I wanted to work with. She was a person I wanted to help in the only way I knew how – writing.
I’ve no doubt there are other ways to transfer a story onto the page but I can only share the way it worked for me. It started with face to face meetings – hours on end where I sat in Patricia’s house with my laptop and typed and typed as she and her parents and sisters recounted her story, starting at the beginning and telling me as much as would fit in a day. Distance was another complication as I live in Cork and work Monday to Friday and Patricia lives in Limerick. But we scheduled long hours for Saturdays and this worked for both of us. In all, I think I spent approximately 12 Saturdays in Patricia’s house, spread over a period of probably 9 months. My spell check was put to a lot of use as the words flew across the screen but I got the gist of the tale as well as the voices of this family I was getting to know.
Voice is a key part in ghost writing. Remembering it is somebody else’s story is another. And ensuring that you are writing what you’re asked to write and not what you think you should be writing is very important.
But the story I was writing was very complex and relying on the family’s memory wasn’t enough. To support the conversations and meetings I had, I received a huge amount of documentation and newspaper articles as well as DVDs from the Ingle family. This material I worked with when I came home and it was crucial to making the story the best it could be – as well as ensuring it was as accurate as it should be.
I was also introduced to Patricia’s solicitor who I had a few meetings with where we discussed the intricacies of the story, as well as the timeline involved. She also shared an enormous amount of written material to support events as they had occurred.
As well as face to face meetings, Patricia and I shared emails. Her parents also emailed and sent text messages as well as making phone calls towards the end of the project. If I needed further clarification on any aspect, I sent off an email straight away, copying Patricia and her dad, and mostly had an instant response. This helped me keep on top of the story and also gave full ownership to Patricia and her family – as it should be seeing as it was her story, not mine.
Gathering the material and stories was extremely interesting. Piecing it all together and putting it into date order was extremely difficult because of the enormity of it. As I started to put shape on it, I kept in close contact with Patricia, never forgetting I was writing for her predominantly.
But the more of the story I got written, the more I began to consider the reader. I applied my experience in novel writing at this point. I suggested we write it like a novel rather than merely narrating the story. Patricia, her family and others involved became the characters in the story. I wrote in present tense, allowing their experiences to create tension and emotion and keep the reader engaged and wanting more.
I shared segments with the family as I completed them, taking their feedback and comments and putting in the information as instructed. Because that is the reality of ghost writing – you are a ‘ghost’ doing a job for somebody else and it’s important that this isn’t forgotten.
As the story took shape, I continually referred to the material received, verifying accuracy in all parts. But I needed reassurance that I was on the right track. I worried a lot about doing the story justice, about getting it right for this amazing young woman whose story I was in charge of writing.
On one visit to Patricia’s house, I read the story aloud for approximately eight hours, covering the first 100 pages. I have never been so relieved as I was that day when Patricia – and her family – reacted with tears in their eyes. They loved the style. They loved how I was writing it. They were invested in every word. They recognised themselves. They recognised the circumstances they had lived through. And I loved their reaction. I had succeeded and captured the essence of being a ghost writer. My voice was invisible.
The entire project took a little less than two years from that initial interview in Patricia’s house in Limerick to the date of the book launch. There were breaks where we didn’t meet but mostly the story was alive in my head, the voices coming to life and my familiarity increasing on a continuous basis. I felt enormous responsibility throughout the entire period. As much work went into verifying every word as gathering every word, ensuring all parties involved – including Patricia’s solicitor – were happy. I gathered a number of feedback and edit reports, again trawling through the lengthy manuscript until all changes were implemented and eventually we reached the point where it was ready for publication. And ready for the public eye. In this case, Patricia and her family released my name as ghost writer which made it easier to help with promoting the book and supporting sales. But this is not always the case and I’ve no doubt it can depend on the relationship between author and ghost writer that can evolve throughout the process.
The book we have written is called I Am Free – the author, Patricia Ingle; the ghost writer, me, Mary Malone.
I Am Free is Patricia’s story. I Am Free is my first ghost writing experience – and what a journey until the book arrived in Ireland’s bookshops on September 5th 2016, the eve of Patricia’s 28th birthday.
Whether I would take on such a project again, I honestly can’t say. It would entirely depend on the story I was being asked to write, and the person who was asking me to write it.
My name is nowhere to be seen on this book, yet the experience of ghost writing and being trusted with another person’s life story is something I will forever hold dear.
(c) Mary Malone
About I am Free
I Am Free is Patricia Ingle’s memoir, the story of an inspirational young Limerick woman who at the tender age of 19 contracted a rare airborne brain infection that left her in a locked-in state of complete paralysis and incarcerated in hospital for 1,069 days.
Medical experts gave little in the way of hope, gravely concerned about the lack of brain activity showing on Patricia’s scans and her inability to breathe unassisted.
But Patricia’s family refused to accept she would die. For five long months they rallied around her in the Intensive Trauma Unit in Cork University Hospital, speaking to her as though she were awake, playing music in her ears and keeping her up to date on the latest news and events.
Eventually her eyelids flickered. Their determined belief was materialised as she showed gradual signs of life and recognition. They couldn’t believe it. She was going to pull through. She would come back to them.
But their initial euphoria was replaced with fear. Their daughter, despite being intellectually intact, had suffered severe brain damage and would live the rest of her life overcoming the difficulties brought about as a result.
I Am Free is a story of a young woman who maintains her wicked sense of humour and smiles through all the pain and frustration life has thrown at her.
As Patricia Ingle approaches her 28th birthday, she’s excited to release her memoir, I Am Free. Sharing her experiences, she inspires confidence and hope in others as she continues to make progress and amaze experts.
The Judge presiding over Patricia’s High Court hearing described Patricia as “the most impressive witness ever to come before the court”.
An expert in the Oxford Centre for Enablement said, “I’ve seen your scans – you’re not supposed to be here!”
“Patricia is an uplifting inspiration for everyone she meets and a perfect example of how personal determination and the backing of an amazing family can transform even the most hopeless of outlooks into the brightest of futures.” Susie Elliott, Patricia’s Solicitor.
www.motherandson.ie for detail of the books and where it can be purchased.
www.marymalone.ie for detail on me and my other writing.