Celtic Illumination, part 315, Welcome to the big time.
Thankfully we didn’t encounter any more RUC roadblocks on our way home from Glenarm. I returned the hire car and wandered around Warrenpoint saying hello to those I knew and even those I didn’t. My mother took Charles on lots of little shopping trips showing him off to her friends. I managed to get a hold of Brendan and we took the ferry over to Omeath where we had a few pints of the black stuff. Brendan still refused to talk about any of his experiences and claimed that he had no idea that his father blamed me for not just his membership of the IRA but also his imprisonment. I did however give him the name of the fellow who had attacked me and asked if he would look in to it for me. I didn’t explain why I needed to know if this fellow was in the IRA, I just asked him to find out for me as a favour. I wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for what would happen to him if he had only been pretending to be in the IRA.
For the return journey Charles and I took the Belfast to Liverpool boat. We travelled up to Belfast with Pat, who worked there, and caught the morning sailing. It was a pretty uneventful journey and nice to get back home to Irene and the rest of the children but so sad to leave Ireland. In fact the trip probably made me more determined to get back home, so I sat myself down again and tried to work out how to achieve it. At the time in the Republic if any of your income came from the arts, then you were allowed to take it tax free, so the Republic was quiet an attractive proposition for me. I was able to earn a decent wage but it was not a steady income flow, there were bits and pieces from here there and everywhere and nothing was guaranteed. It would have been nice to have one secure source of income.
At the time people like Joan Collins and Jeffrey Archer were receiving multi million pound advances for their books. I think one of them got an eight million pound advance while the other was twelve million. I can’t remember who got what but I do remember Joan Collins saying that she got up every morning and, remaining in her dressing gown, would sit herself down and begin to write. I had to laugh when the publisher told her that her book was rubbish and asked for their advance back. I suppose every writer in the world, not just the UK, secretly wished that they would one day be lucky enough to get such huge advances. I know I did, which I know is strange, as I often comment that artists don’t really care about money, but in this day and age a huge, publicised, advance of the filthy lucre is a very public way of showing that you have made it. Plus it wouldn’t half piss off the golf club crowd.
I was watching the Russell Harty show, a chat show where celebrities tried to promote and sell their wares. Russell was interviewing the supermodel Naomi Campbell and she was promoting her new novel. Most people are aware that stick thin supermodels are quite thick and I was wondering how on earth the woman had produced a book when she said, in answer to a question Russell had asked her. “I might not have written the book, but it is my story.” As you may imagine my ears pricked up and I began to pay some serious attention. I had no interest in Naomi Campbell, I didn’t even rate her as a woman, never mind a novelist, but I now found her to be very interesting. It took a bit of digging in my local library but I eventually discovered the realm of the ghost writer.
Suddenly a new world opened up before me, I had stumbled on the dark art of ghost writers who produced the books that the celebrities pretended to write. So thank you very much Naomi Campbell I knew that I was about to become a ghost writer. In America it is an accepted business but in the UK it was still quite secretive and normally a celebrity’s agent would contact a literary agent and arrange the deal. With me still not having a literary agent I knew I would have to approach this mission from a completely different angle. What I now had to do was work out who I could write for and what could I write. Up until now my writing had been all over the place, not focusing on one genre. And how would I contact anyone, I was certainly starting at the very bottom of this particular market, not knowing anyone or anything really.
I began to watch television but in a completely different way to normal people, I suppose that will come as no surprise to you all. I began to focus on a handful of celebrities; in fact I bought myself a video recording machine that allowed me to transfer material from one video tape to another, so that I would build up my own bank of reference material. One person that caught my eye was an up and coming comedian, Paul O Grady. O Grady was a drag queen who performed as a character known as Lily Savage. Lily Savage was quite funny and becoming more and more popular, but he wasn’t yet at the top of the pile. Every time that he appeared on the television I would record him and I ended up with a three hour tape of just Lily Savage, this was apart from the shows that he had produced on video. I didn’t find his material exceptionally funny, or want to watch it time and time again, I just wanted to be able to fine tune myself to his voice and mannerisms.
I had been writing some Mills and Boon novels before this. Mills and Boon are a great little money earner but they don’t really allow any creativity. Each manuscript has to be exactly fifty five thousand words long and written to their precise formula. So I came up with an idea. I thought Lily Savage could produce her own Mills and Boon type novels. Savage could promote the books by saying that they were real love stories, for real women, written by a real woman. The books would be exactly fifty five thousand words long and would look and feel like Mills and Boon novels. I wasn’t sure if I could get away with that, I’m sure Mills and Boon might have objected, but you never know, they say all publicity is good publicity. On the television Savage was very fast, in a live situation, and quite acerbic. I have to say he was quite good, but the one thing that I did notice was that he had a limited amount of material.
He was very good with off the cuff remarks and put downs but after studying him for some time I realised that he really wasn’t able to come up with new material, which was a golden opportunity for me. As a live act he was foul mouthed, lewd and disgusting, so I decided that the books I would write for him would contain no bad language and no sex. I wasn’t being a prude but believed that I was maximising my potential market. He had already created a fictional family around his character so I could include them in my book all I had to do was come up with a story. I didn’t want to approach him until I was completely sure that I had a decent story for his character. At the same time I had to find out how to make contact with him. He was regularly appearing on a day time television show in Liverpool called This Morning. I knew I could wait outside the television studio and try to talk to him but I felt that I should adopt a more professional approach so began to find out who his agent was.
I was amazed at how helpful people can be. I telephoned the television studios and asked to speak to the person who booked the acts. I simply asked for the contact details for Lily Savage and the person was only too happy to give me all the details, in fact they gave me much more than I asked for as they also gave me the whole background to the company that managed Savage. The company was Well Bred Productions; it had one manager and one client. The client was Paul O Grady, otherwise known as Lily Savage, and the agent or manager was Brendan Murphy, O Grady’s boyfriend. I got a large sheet of paper and drew a grid with twenty spaces on it. Each space would be one chapter in the book I would write for Lily Savage.
The book would have to be set in Liverpool, which was lucky, as I knew certain parts of Liverpool. It would have to be funny, there would have to be a complete story, one of those with a beginning, a middle and an end. One morning I sat down and completed all twenty boxes. I don’t know where the story came from but there it was on my grid, every square with a tiny plot, all I had to do now was write the book. I still wanted to try to be as professional as possible so knew that I should have written at least half of the book before I approached O Grady and Murphy. All the days where I had forced myself into writing my daily word count of seven hundred and fifty words now began to pay off. I was now producing about three thousand words a day, one chapter a day. And not only that, but it was wickedly funny. Once again I wanted to be as professional as I possibly could so I took my telephone to pieces and, thanks to my electronics training in the air force, wired it up to a tape recorder so that I could listen to my telephone calls and learn from any mistakes I might make. All I had to do now was telephone Well Bred Productions, press record and know that I might have made it to the big time.