Disco diva, early supermodel, muse for Warhol, New Wave androgyne, Bond villain and gay icon, Grace Jones has had quite a life. It’s little surprise that her autobiography, with typical contrariness entitled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, was one of the most anticipated books of this year.
Diligence and attention to detail have never been La Jones’ strong suit, so she was always going to use a ghostwriter – but his identity was a major surprise in music circles. Paul Morley is the most stylistically idiosyncratic and divisive music writer of his generation. Would he really be able to subjugate his instantly recognisable voice to Jones’s?
“Have I ever shown you how I used to inject smack into my dick?”
He did, and did so brilliantly. Retaining the showiness of his own prose, Morley finessed it to capture his subject’s legendary flounce and flamboyance.
Morley brilliantly got inside Jones’ head, and it’s a skill I’ve also tried to develop during an intensive second career as a ghostwriter (after, like Morley, spending years as a music journalist).
The task is to capture the celebrity’s essence: to identify the quirks and peccadilloes of their character and set them down on paper.
Sometimes they make it easy for you. Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, with whom I wrote the staggeringly salacious The Heroin Dairies, was not so much an open book as an open vein, desperate to share stories of his past heroic debauchery and degradation.
“Hey, Ian,” he would casually ask as we sat in the Hollywood sunshine next to his swimming pool, tastefully shaped like a vagina, “Have I ever shown you how I used to inject smack into my dick?” At which point, that book pretty much wrote itself.
David Essex was a different matter. A true old-school East End gentleman, the singer-turned-EastEnder had a natural reluctance to engage in the kiss-and-tell talk that is the lifeblood of so many celebrity autobiographies. Asked to talk about why his first marriage, to his childhood sweetheart, had ended in divorce, he would recoil in horror: “I don’t really want to talk about that, Ian. It’s a bit… personal.”
I had to gently explain to David that stories that were “a bit… personal” were exactly what fans who bought their hero’s memoirs were desperate to read. This was a point that was more readily grasped by another of my writing partners, Westlife singer Shane Filan.
Westlife may have been the most child-friendly of boybands but, as we wrote My Side Of Life, it became clear that Filan had endured – and survived, just about – vertiginous highs and lows. Filan lost his pop-star fortune in the global crash after ill-advised investments in Irish property. And, as he told me about the phone call that told him he was to be declared bankrupt, owing £18m, he appeared to be thinking aloud; speaking in tongues.
“I hung up the phone and burst into tears. I am bankrupt. My whole life flashed before my eyes. My kids were upstairs fast asleep in their beds. For them, life was great: Daddy is a pop star. They didn’t know everything had just vanished beneath them.”
So maybe Morley got lucky with Grace Jones, a woman with a million stories and a fantastic way of telling them. But I’ll Never Write My Memoirs works so well because he did what the word ‘ghostwriting’ implies: he got into her spirit.
Loaded freelance reporter Ian Gittins writes about music for several newspapers and websites. He is also a best-selling author who specialises in ghostwriting autobiographies. Follow him on Twitter at @iangittins