• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

How I Became a Ghost Writer (Part 1) by Shane Dunphy

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Shane Dunphy

Shane Dunphy

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I fought the idea of becoming a ghost writer for a long time.

My first book, Wednesday’s Child, told the story of a year I spent doing community based child protection work, and much to my surprise (and, if I’m honest, the surprise of my publishers) went to the top of the non-fiction charts in Ireland and (to even greater shock) hit the London Times Top 10.  It is a book about real people going through real pain, and after it was published I was inundated with letters, emails and phone calls by people who wanted me to help them write their stories. I was actually stopped on the street by prospective co-authors more than once.

And I said a gentle but firm ‘no’ every time.

Back then, at the very start of my publishing career I had enough stories of my own that I wanted to tell, and I was quickly learning as a fledgling writer that there were quite a few skills and tricks of the trade to learn if I was to tell them well.

But the requests kept on coming.  And I couldn’t continue to say no: it was making me feel bad.

To try and address the issue I took on a second job as a journalist (in reality it was a third job, as I was also teaching college full time – looking back, I wonder where I found the time to sleep) which gave me the opportunity to get some of these stories out into the world.  For a time I was writing several thousand words a week for many different publications, both broadsheet and tabloid, but it reached a point where something had to give – I just couldn’t sustain being an author, a teacher, a journalist and a husband and father all at the same time.  It was draining me both physically and emotionally, and I eventually started turning down requests to do articles and offers to do radio and TV work (few of which paid enough to make them a great loss, anyway).

And if I’m really honest, it felt as if someone had taken a weight from my shoulders.  It had been a hectic few years, and I’d learned a lot, but it was time to slow down and focus on what I really loved, which was my books and my teaching.

And as it happened, my writing career was about to change, anyway.

I’ve written elsewhere on this site about how what I call ‘misery lit’ isn’t really seen as respectable in certain circles of the book world, and if I’m honest, I don’t believe that many Irish writers or literary journalists ever saw me as a ‘proper’ author while I was writing the Wednesday’s Child series, which eventually ran to nine books.  Odd, considering that every title in the series was a bestseller in the UK, and most hit the Top 10 in Ireland.   I had very loyal readers in Australia, South Africa and Canada, and sold a lot of books, but it was only when my editor at Hachette, Ciara Doorley suggested I  have a go at writing crime fiction that the Irish publishing world started to see me as a real writer.

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s truly ironic that it was my reputation as a fiction author that brought me the first ghost writing project I felt motivated to accept.

Claire Bridle is a book blogger I came to know and respect due to her promoting my crime novels on her site. The Dunnigan books led Claire to my non-fiction material, which she was good enough to let me know she really enjoyed.  One afternoon in the December of 2018 I received a message from Claire, telling me she had a friend who was interested in writing a book about her experiences of surviving familial sexual abuse.  Would I, Claire wanted to know, have a chat with her about it?

And I’m not going to pretend otherwise – my heart fell.

“Why don’t you just have a chat with her?” Claire asked.  “All she’s looking for is some advice.”

Out of respect and courtesy to Claire, I said I’d meet her friend.  Before doing so, I researched her case: Stephanie Hickey and her sister, Deirdre, had, in the summer of 2018, brought charges against their brother-in-law, Bartholomew Prendergast, for sexually abusing them both during their early teens.  Prendergast, who had initially protested his innocence, had dramatically changed his plea to guilty halfway through the trial, and had been sentenced to ten years, a very lengthy custodial sentence by Irish standards for a case of historic abuse.

The case piqued my interest (there must have been absolutely damning evidence against to produce that kind of prison stretch, and I thought it would be fascinating to write about the experiences of an ordinary person trapped within the child protection system (all my books non-fiction books were written from the point-of-view of an insider: me!), but I was still inclined to say no.

Then I met Stephanie.

(c) Shane Dunphy

Parts 2 and 3 of this article to follow.

About Running from the Shadows by Stephanie Hickey:

In Running from the Shadows Stephanie Hickey tells, in her own words, how she survived abuse at the hands of a trusted family member and of how running, a simple physical activity helped her achieve mindfulness, but also to rediscover love and faith in her body – to reclaim it.

Charting her life growing up in the rolling countryside of Waterford in the safety of her beloved family to the moment her childhood was shattered, to the court case where she waived her anonymity, to how she was able to reclaim a sense of herself through the sport which became like a therapy, Running from the Shadows is told with humour, strength and incredible courage — a book that reveals how, even when things seem at their bleakest, a run through the Irish countryside, can bring you back into the light.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Shane Dunphy is an Irish and London Times bestseller, and the movie adaptation of his memoir, The Boy They Tried to Hide, is in development with Hollywood production company Rumble Films. His series of non-fiction titles, relating the years he spent as a child protection worker, have been internationally successful and sold in translation across several territories. These include the Number 1 bestseller Wednesday’s Child, and The Girl Who Couldn’t Smile, which spent five weeks on the London Times Top 10 list. Shane Dunphy also writes as S.A. Dunphy.

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