On 23 March I noted that Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, had 'written a novel', to be published in June. There were, I said, two possibilities in relation to this book. One, that she had written it herself, in which case it wasn't likely to be much good (because, whatever other talents she may possess, she is not an experienced novelist). And two, that she had had it written for her, in which case it might well be better.
Yesterday's Sunday Times carries two references to the Rimington opus, At Risk, which has just been published. Richard Brooks's 'Biteback' column reports that the book 'has an acknowledgement to the novelist and ballet critic Luke Jennings', and adds, 'I wonder how much help he gave.'
A few pages later, we have a review of the book itself, which goes further. The reviewer says bluntly that 'Rimington's memoirs were notoriously soporific but here (thanks perhaps to her collaborator Luke Jennings) the writing is lively'.
So, maybe between them Rimington and Jennings have written a halfway entertaining book. Jennings certainly has the necessary talent as a writer -- see the readers' reviews of Beauty Story on Amazon, for instance -- and Rimington has the espionage expertise, so it looks like a sensible combination of skills. And they both share the same publisher, Hutchinson, who may have effected the introduction.
In case you sense any disapproval of the ghosting process on my part, let me say that it is a form of collaboration of which I wholeheartedly approve, even if the 'author' does no more than lend his or her name to the project. We live in a celebrity-obsessed age, and a novel of x quality plus famous name will go a lot further than a novel of x quality on its own.
Furthermore, there are some ghosted books which are excellent. Take, for instance, Geri Halliwell's first 'autobiography', If Only. This was written for her by a man. I once knew his name, but have forgotten it. Anyway, you only have to read the first page and a half of that book to know that he is a professional.
Another ghosted book of good quality is Baptism of Fire by Frank Collins. The nominal author of this was an SAS man who participated in the operation to release the hostages held in the Iranian Embassy. Subsequently, and rather to his own surprise, he became a Church of England clergyman. Collins's story was written for him by a woman -- and a woman who did not believe in God, at that. Unfortunately Collins's story did not end happily. He committed suicide.
Mark Lucas acted as agent for both of those ghosted books.