In Conversation: Andrew Crofts

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than ​80 books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He has also guided a number of international clients successfully through the minefield of independent publishing. Last year he published his own memoir “Confessions of a Ghostwriter” and this year sees the publication of “Chances” an erotic love story which he ghosted for an anonymous Swiss lady.

Andrew Crofts, image Toby Phillips

Andrew Crofts, image Toby Phillips

When did you first realise you could make your living as an author without your name being a feature on the front cover of the book?

About thirty years ago I was interviewing a business guru for The Director magazine and at the end of the interview he told me he had been commissioned to write a series of business books but didn’t have the time. He wanted to do them for marketing reasons and so suggested that I write them with material that he would give me. He would then get the glory and I would get the money. I was insulted for about ten seconds and then realised this was a brilliant way to gather information quickly, directly from source, and not to have to worry about where the publishing deal was going to be coming from.

Caroline Sanderson (Bookseller Magazine) once wrote about “the Crofts factor”, an​d ​indeed there’s a string of glowing quotes about your work on your website—from all manner of readers, scholars, journalists, reviewers …  If ghostwriting isn’t a silent game, do you then become a collaborator? And what’s the difference?

I could easily be called a collaborator, but “ghostwriter” is a better label I think, both more descriptive and more interesting-sounding. If I advertised myself as a “collaborator for hire” I might be mistaken for some sort of political weasel. 

In your book, Ghostwriting, you devote not a small part of it to the client/writer relationship. Have there been times over the years when you wished you’d read your own book before embarking on a project?

No. Out of a hundred or more relationships only one or two have gone wrong, which I think it a pretty good percentage. I think the percentages of failed marriages would be a great deal higher.

Is there ever a sense that you’re living vicariously? The reality of the writing life is, after all, a lot of sitting behind a keyboard …

Absolutely I am living vicariously, but I get the best of both worlds. I am able to dip into other people’s lives, spending time in places I wouldn’t otherwise get to, all the way from palaces and private islands to brothels and shanty towns, and then escape back to the safety and security of my office at home – retreating inside my own head for weeks on end, like most writers.

You reportedly once said, “I have a horrible feeling that if I’d got the call from Germany in the 1930s I would have hopped on that plane like a Mitford.” Where do you draw the line when it comes to accepting or rejecting a potential project?

There are only two criteria. 1. Is this person interesting enough for me to want to spend several months inside their head? 2. Can the project be made to pay enough for me to live during those months?

I firmly believe that everyone should have the right to tell their story, and to get help doing so if they need it, just like they can get professional legal representation if they are accused of a crime.

Once a book is written people can then praise or criticize it, buy it or boycott it. If we refuse to listen to those we disapprove of how can we ever hope to understand them? If we could understand more about what makes some people into monsters we might be better equipped to deal with them.

Do you think a good writer can cut a good story from any material?

Almost, but it won’t necessarily make a whole book. It might make a newspaper article, a short story, a documentary or drama. Only certain stories lend themselves to the traditional book form.

When you started your writing career, independent publishing would have largely been called ‘vanity’ publishing. What has your relationship with independent publishing been like over the years?

I have always thought that it was a wonderful thing for people to be able to write books, even if they can’t persuade traditional publishers to back them and even if they need the help of a ghost. The only thing that was wrong with ‘vanity’ publishers was that they raised people’s expectations by promising that the books would get into the shops and become best sellers. This was ‘misselling’.

People are much more clued up and realistic these days. If someone wants to write their life story just for their friends, family and descendants I think they should be encouraged to do so, but they must understand that it will cost them money, just like having a portrait painted. Writing a book is fun to do but it is no more or less likely to make the author money than a lottery ticket.

Do you have any particular daily writing habits you could tell us about, or strategies for maintaining the writing (working at a computer) life?

Treat it like any other craft which you want to make a living from. Put in eight or more hours a day, just as you would if you were a carpenter or a florist or an illustrator or a window cleaner. Find out what people want to read/buy and then give it to them. Once you are earning a living you can then indulge in writing what you want in the hope that someone will eventually like it enough to buy it.

What are some interesting aspects of your current projects?

Last summer I brought out a memoir of my own, Confessions of a Ghostwriter, which was published by The Friday Project, a HarperCollins imprint. The writing of the book and the resulting interviews have led me to think quite deeply about all the changes that have taken place in publishing since I arrived in London in 1970 as a starry-eyed seventeen year-old.

This spring saw the publication of an erotic memoir which I ghosted for a Swiss lady who goes by the name of Penny. The book is called Chances and because Penny has to be anonymous I have been doing most of the talking about it to the media, which is unusual for a ghosted project.

Chances is the true story of the most erotic of love affairs. It started with teenage love at first sight for Penny and James and was shattered a few years later by the realities of adult life and family expectations. Like Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers were forced apart by circumstances and they were sucked into unhappy marriages. Unlike Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, however, they were to be given a second chance, eighteen years after their first meeting, when their marriages collapsed and they found each other again.

Since coming back together they have discovered the most profound secrets of happiness, exploring their sexuality and venturing into areas of experimentation that many imagine but few get to taste for themselves.

The book asks, what if your first love was your soulmate and perfect sexual partner but you made the mistake of letting them go? What if you were reunited with that first love and were then able to fulfil every romantic and erotic dream you had ever had?

And, finally, The Woolf special question: What’s one of your favourite works of fiction, and why?

I think Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham would be right up there. It is the ultimate coming of age story and sums up, I think, how many young people feel when they yearn to lead glamorous, creative lives and find themselves being dragged into ‘normality’, all their illusions about life and love being gradually eroded by reality. I completely identified with it as a young man and it re-enforced my own determination not to allow myself to be knocked off my chosen course.

Notes from the Unexpected: The floating venue with heart

Text and images: D.B. Miller 

Just up from Sechseläutenplatz, where 110,000 blocks of superior Vals quartzite can be trampled underfoot, there is a boat. It is spired, asymmetrical and, weighing in at 85 tons, as aerodynamic as a gingerbread house. But if it’s bobbing on water, it must be a boat. 

Herzbaracke by land

When November comes, and the “Herzbaracke” arrives via tugboat for its four-and-a-half-month Zürich run, any Alemannic reserve goes right out the tinted window—at least, once the 40-odd people constituting a full house come aboard for dinner and a show. On land, it can still take the “captain” a little time to re-adjust. “Even last night,” says Federico Emanuel Pfaffen, “I was told, ‘Don’t talk so loud! Don’t laugh so loud!’ I am so sick of all this uptightness,” he barks, unable to finish the mock tirade in his chair.

Image @libby_ol

Image courtesy: Libby O’Loghlin

Mostly, though, this is a story of love that seeps out of the plush quarters where every nook is spoken for (just ask the taxidermy owl), and love that pulls in the crowds. They cross the gangplank for jazz, classical and folk, for Piaf, tango and swing, or maybe because they can. Nearly two decades ago, after all, Herzbaracke was just a late-night, genie-in-the-wine-bottle vision—but not for long. Getting permission from the authorities for a do-it-yourself, Belle Epoque-themed floating venue was, to hear Federico’s account, a no-brainer. Just another one of his impossible projects made possible by a rather poorly-concealed weapon: “I really like people,” he confesses, stopping there because, every once in a while, less is more. 

Nicole and Federico

Nicole Gabathuler and Federico Emanuel Pfaffen

The “people” embraced by Herzbaracke not only include the cool-headed Zürich types who, undone by the kitchen’s famous soup or the blues in such close proximity, have been known to break character. Federico and co-director Nicole Gabathuler haven’t forgotten about those further down the lake, or out there yonder, who just don’t feel the need to grapple with Waiting for Godot or some such high culture, thank you very much. Different people, different problems—but no matter where the anchor drops, they manage to find each other and, under the right conditions, grow, thrive and create something much bigger than the upright piano dwarfing the stage.

For Federico, it’s just ecology. “We’re not event organizers,” he says. “We’re a biotope.”

“Or a habitat, like a pond,” adds Nicole, in a measured tone at odds with her art. For seven years, she has created the graphics that bring the Herzbaracke aesthetic to life—a burst of swirling waves, butterflies and sighs, an existence unfettered by logic. Over the faint cry of gulls, she says, “It’s a shame there isn’t more room in this culture for the unpredictable. On the other hand, it’s given us the clean design, the typography …” And, as Federico is the first to admit, the boatloads of Herzbaracke fans.

“Around here,” he says, getting worked up again, “everything needs to have a function. People don’t see the point of something that has no point … But,” he is smiling now, “that makes us exotic.”

As one half of tonight’s entertainment tunes his cello, Federico fiddles around on stage. A couple pops in for a look, taking a minute to get their bearings. Then the boat rocks, someone breaks into song and the lure of solid ground, in all its enduring, enlightened beauty, slips away.

In Stäfa, Zürich, Rapperswil and Thalwil

(In Zürich until mid-March)

By D.B. Miller
Writer of short stories and essays, along with an occasional Tweet @DBMillerWriter
 Herzbaracke by 'See' 2

Creativity in Tandem: The Husband and Wife Team

Lambert Nagle is the pen name of co-authors Alison Ripley Cubitt and Sean Cubitt. They write thrillers set in sunny climes. Sean’s day job is Professor of Film and Television, Goldsmiths, University of London. He has been published by leading academic publishers. Alison worked in TV and film production for companies including the BBC and Walt Disney, but her passion has always been for writing. She is an author, screenwriter and novelist. Serial expats, Lambert Nagle have lived in Malaysia, Canada, NZ, Australia and are now based in leafy Hampshire.

Here, they tell us a bit about their experiences working as a writing team.


Alex Garland, writing in The Observer, remarked that he had, at last, found his true creative home as a film-maker. Novel writing was lonely, he said, even though The Beach became the must-read book for every gap-year traveller on their way to Asia. The fame that went with writing a best-selling novel became too much and Garland retreated to the anonymous, but more collaborative world of writing screenplays.


Fractured: Revolution Earth Book 1

While he was learning his craft, Garland had to relinquish any notion of authorship. In order to make our creative collaboration work, as co-writers of genre fiction, we too have had to give up the desire for single authorship. It did come up in an early discussion, when we realised that trying to write literary fiction as co-authors was never going to work. Advice on a draft of Revolution Earth from an Australian agent was to forgo the literary fiction end of the thriller genre, and aim for something more commercial.

One of the bonuses of a creative collaboration is that there are none of the feelings of solitude and isolation that Alex Garland experienced. There is someone there to share the joys and frustrations of a writing life.

… co-writing means talking through every aspect, from the plot and characters to the world of the story and the themes we want to bring to life.

If sitting and putting words one after another requires concentration, co-writing means talking through every aspect, from the plot and characters to the world of the story and the themes we want to bring to life. We have to build a coherent voice, so the reader isn’t jolted between two styles. We have to agree that different characters experience a place – Antarctica or an oil refinery – in their own particular ways. This discipline is matched by the pleasure of making all these decisions explicit.

People who have worked with the Coen Brothers (and there is a long history of filmic brothers going all the way back to the Lumieres) love hearing them thinking aloud in a way no solo director would. That’s the joy of collaboration with us too. Though obviously we aren’t brothers, we are inspired by other writing partnerships such as crime-writing duo Nicci French.

We often do our best thinking away from the writing desk.

Both of us enjoy walking, and whether it is in the bridleways of Hampshire or the back alleys of Rome, we are always making notes, sharing ideas, and developing new events, dialogue or story arcs.

Critiquing each other is integral to the collaboration. It isn’t a matter of having a thick skin, but of recognising that sharing the load means sacrificing your ego to the goal of making the best book we can, and getting the job completed. There’s little space for writers’ block when you work as a team.


Creativity in Tandem: How I Became a Co-author

By Pete Morin

Image courtesy Pete Morin

Image courtesy: Pete Morin

I discovered the peculiar art of novel writing in 2007, when I wrote Diary of a Small Fish as a means of grieving my father’s death. It was an exhilarating period of about two-and-a-half years until I finally typed “the end.”

This didn’t daunt me, since I had been schooled that first novels are usually kind of rough sledding. Surely, after I got that under my belt, the next one would go faster! Yes, yes, it would. I set a goal of one year for #2. Twenty eight months later, I finished. I started a third, and took six months to get about 30K in.

By this point, the indie revolution was in full thrust, and hundreds of novelists, both Big Name and small, were cranking out novels every 3-4 months. What did they have that I didn’t?

It was obvious to me. I can invent a story, but I just can’t put the tale together with facility. I was taking weeks, sometimes, to figure out what came next.

“Oh, you’re a pantser, that’s your problem!” you say. “Do an outline, plan your story.”

Easy for you to say. My mind isn’t made for outlines.

Some writers are storytellers, and some are story makers. Think about your five favorite authors. Are they all equally good at making the story as they are at writing them? I love John Grisham’s stories, but I don’t think he’s a terrific teller. I’m a teller.

After three efforts, I decided that if I was going to write fast, I needed some help in this fine art of story building. I needed a plotting fiend who would collaborate with me in both the invention and creation of the novel.

I took to my blog to solicit interest. I did not awake with a full in-box of offers. I did, however, get a message from an old friend I’d met on Authonomy [writers’ forum] years before, at the beginning of my journey.

Susanne O’Leary is a Swedish-born citizen of Ireland, married to a career Irish diplomat. We’d spent way too much time in the Authonomy forums (with hundreds of others). She had a sharp wit and could get prickly at times. She wrote romantic comedy, and she assured me that if I needed help putting a plot together, she was my pick.

Wait, what? Why would I ever consider writing with someone in a totally different genre?

Well, I wondered that myself. She had a plausible answer—I was interested in writing political/legal suspense. Dirty politicians, crafty lawyers. She had an interest in Irish politics (married to a diplomat, you’d not be surprised) and loved the idea of a Boston-Dublin political potboiler. Why not a story involving Irish politicians on both sides of the pond, featuring a return of Small Fish’s hero, Paul Forte? And in Ireland, a co-hero: a brassy redheaded political editor of a Dublin newspaper, Finola McGee. We would knit two stories together, Paul’s and Finola’s, as they intersected, and the scenes would jump back and forth between them.

Oh, gee, I thought. That sounds like it could be fun. Let’s run this out a bit and see where it goes, and if we can get half the story sketched out and I felt good about it, what the hell? One thing that clinched it for me: Susanne had co-authored two novels (Virtual Strangers and Virtual Suspects) with fellow Swede Ola Saltin (another acquaintance from Authonomy), both done as send-ups to the traditionally murder mystery. Their humor was wicked, and although Ola’s style was dramatically different than Susanne’s, they managed to pull it off quite well.

Four days later, we’d set up about half the story, with comfort that there would be no breakdowns along the way.


The Full Irish cover, courtesy Pete Morin and Susanne O’Leary

We began our project from scratch on May 1, 2014. We finished the rough draft by the end of July, sent our final draft to an editor on October 1, and went live with Full Irish on December 1st. Six months, door-to-door.

I won’t say the process was flawless, seamless, without a bit of head butting or a few cross words. But I will say this: Susanne and I had made a commitment to get it done, and we had no trouble overcoming whatever disagreements came up. The principal concern at the outset would have to be, were our styles were sufficient compatible? At the beginning, we were concerned about this, but we set the concern aside, agreed that “all first drafts are shit,” and just forged on until we had a finished story, rugged as it was.

As the rewriting progressed, we had a critical discussion about whether or not I should edit her scenes and she edit mine. I held firmly to the yes until I got my way. And I worked very hard to revise Susanne’s scenes to preserve the distinct Irishness of it, while shaving and shaping to bring the two styles closer together. It was dicey at the beginning, as some of the scenes went back and forth with quite a bit of red and blue. But Susanne is a professional, she’s published a hell of a lot more than I have, and she was quite gracious about my editorial intrusions.

While there were some polite disagreements, in the end it seemed we were remarkably in sympathy on all of the important elements of a final product—especially the cover.

We were excited enough about our experience that we’re currently more than 40K words into the next one.

I would say that co-writing is an ideal arrangement for writers who have absolutely no problem taking or giving criticism, fighting for your position, and having the emotional and intellectual maturity to be able to compromise or even cede completely. Remarkably (somewhat) Susanne and I seem to have lucked out*.

*not to be confused with ‘lucked in’, depending on which country you inhabit …

In Conversation: Martina Bisaz

Born and raised in the beautiful canton of Grisons, Switzerland, Martina Bisaz moved to Zürich to study architecture, but shortly afterwards switched to the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, where she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Scientific Visualization. Since then, she’s been freelancing, and working for the archaeology department of Zürich University as a scientific illustrator. Libby O’Loghlin asks her about her Instagram collaborations and how she fell into photography.

Martina and her Fiat

Martina and her Fiat. Image courtesy: Martina Bisaz.

What initially attracted you to study scientific illustration, and when did you start taking photographs?

Archaeological illustration by Martina Bisaz

Image courtesy Martina Bisaz

I always loved to draw, since I was a little kid. And at first I didn’t even know that this ‘subject’ existed. I found out at a diploma exhibition at school, and was fascinated by those drawings and paintings. That’s when I decided I want to study this, and nothing else. Photography was also a little part of my study. I think that’s when I started to be more and more interested in it. But the big change happened when I started to use Instagram.

You have a very recognisable little Fiat that features in many of your images on Instagram … tell us a bit about how the car became a feature … and how you ended up with nearly 130K followers on Instagram.


Image courtesy Martina Bisaz

I started to post pictures of my Fiat quite at the beginning of my Instagram career, and I realised people loved that little cutie. And one day, about a year later, Instagram contacted me and asked me if they could feature my account. And of course I said yes! That’s how my follower number went up to about 60K.

While photography is often a solitary pursuit, you seem to regularly travel with one or two other people. Who are your main travel companions, and do you end up in their posts too?

I don’t really have a main companion. Whenever there are friends from Instagram visiting Switzerland, I try to show them some beautiful spots and sometimes I happen to be in their photos as well. Or I could visit places or countries, sponsored by their tourism boards, where I meet old or new friends. That is always a lot of fun.

Can you explain a bit about what an Instagram ‘collab’ is, who your collaborators are, and how you connected? Have you ever met any of your collaborators in real life?

An Instagram collab can be, for example when you just swap pictures with someone else on Instagram and edit it and post it and mention the other person. It’s like a promotion for that person. Or, someone wants to make an edit with one of your photos, and then you also post what he edited. They mostly write a comment on your post and ask if they could do a collab with you. Then you continue by email. Yes, I have met some in real life, that’s the great part of it. You make so many friends, and some of them become your best friends also in real life.

It seems like you’re always on the move, capturing mountains and nature, rain, hail and shine … How often do you travel within Switzerland? And do you have some locations you like to return to?

Image courtesy Martina Bisaz

It seems like I am always on the move, but that’s not always the case. When I go somewhere, I take so many pictures, that I have photos for the next month to post! And on the weekend I am often at my parents’ house, which is in the most beautiful mountain village of Switzerland. So it looks like I’m always on holidays!

I want to return to the Matterhorn. Been there three times, but I have only seen it once. The other two times it was cloudy, which was really, really upsetting, especially after travelling like four hours through the whole of Switzerland.

Summer or winter: which do you prefer for taking pictures?

Image courtesy Martina Bisaz

Image courtesy Martina Bisaz

That’s a tough question. Winter can be amazing for pictures, but also difficult to get to places. Unless you take the ski lift or you do ski tours. That’s why I prefer summer, or autumn for better light, because I can actually go outdoors and hike wherever I want, to places and mountains I can’t reach in winter.

And The Woolf special question: What is one of your favourite works of fiction, and why?

What a question! I always remember Der Medicus [in English: The Physician]which I read when I was a teenager. The reason why I like it, hmmm … I think all the science and medical discoveries simply fascinated me and I actually finished the whole book!


Instagram: @kitkat_ch

Gallery: Tandem

Zürich-based Martina Bisaz is known for her Instagramming collaborations and landscapes that often include her little Fiat car.

Read the full interview with Martina.

Making Tracks: Spring 2015

Goings-on this Spring in the city of Zürich and beyond

Partial image courtesy Martina Bisaz

Partial image courtesy Martina Bisaz

Roadmaps for Writers: 21-22 March


WriteCon is back! With a choice of two Saturday workshops:

1. Nail Your Novel, with Roz Morris; or

2. Routes to Publication, with JJ Marsh (ALLi Ambassador to Switzerland), Sophie Schmidt (epubli Berlin), Andrew Rushton (Nord Süd Verlag – children’s publishers) and Richard Harvell (Bergli Books).

Sunday Panel Discussion Roadmaps for Writers – includes all the above plus Hadi Barkat (CEO of Helvetiq). Meet experts in the fields of fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, games and the cultural landscape.

Ask questions and make the most of individual advisory slots (sign up on the day).

For more detail and booking info:

Who’s Coming To Town?

 Highlights at Kaufleuten Kultur this quarter:

  • AL Kennedy – 9 March
  • Hanif Kureshi – 17 March
  • Doris Knecht – 15 April

And many more … browse the site.

Also, Literaturhaus plays host to Lydia Davis – 7 May

Literary festival in Solothurn

Solothurn Literaturtage takes place from 15-17 May. Events, talks and oodles of books! This site is available in English and the full programme is published four weeks before the event.

SCBWI Zürich Meetup

The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has their Zürich members’ meet-up on 29th March. Upstairs at the Starbucks opposite the Hauptbahnhof. 14.00-15.00. Discussion topic will be Tips & Tricks for Revising.

For Geneva writers

21 March: Writing Folktales. Geneva Writers’ Group. More info here:

22  March: Creative Writing Workshop for Teens (ages 12-17).Geneva Writers’ Group Workshop, held at Dynamic Learning, Avenue Adrien-Jeandin 29, 1226 Thônex. 35 CHF. Instructor: Katie Hayoz. Learn about the basic rules of writing fiction and then decide which ones were made to be broken. To register send an email to the Geneva Writers’ Group (email details here: with Teen Workshop in the subject line.

Writers on Board

Join a group of writers on the slow boat to Rapperswil, writing on the way there, discussing the work on the way back.

“We meet on Sunday at 13:15 at Bürkliplatz next to the yellow mailbox and take the big round trip to Rapperswil departing 13:30, which will be back in Zurich at 17:15. We write individually on the way up and talk (in English) on the way back. For convenience we treat ourselves to first class. The most economic ticket is the ZVV 9 o’clock pass. Apart from pen and paper or notebook, bring a little money to buy your own beverages.”

Upcoming dates are Sundays, and 15th March, 19th April, 17th May, 21st June, 19th July, 16th August, 20th September, 18th October, 15th November, and 13th December 2015.

Any questions, contact: buchsara [at]

Success Stories

Congratulations to Paul Knott, fellow Zürich-based writer, on the publication of his book, The Accidental Diplomat!

cover 216pp_Walk on Water cover 216ppPart political intrigue, part amusing travelogue, The Accidental Diplomat is a memoir that bridges the chasm between John Le Carré and Johnny English.
Paul Knott is an ordinary Northern lad who began his working life in a hut on Hull’s King George Dock, before making an improbable career change to join Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service.
Closely involved in significant world events, his globetrotting story offers an illuminating insight into the most discreet of the UK’s great offices of state, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It blends the political and personal to paint a vivid picture of the exciting and often absurd life of a Crown emissary.
Knott’s first posting to Romania after Ceauşescu is a punishment for insubordination, after which his inspiring and uproarious journey sees him abducted at gunpoint by hospitality terrorists in Dubai, endure James Bond moments in the police-state of Uzbekistan, and visit Ukraine, Belgium and finally Russia – a land of contradictions that proves both appealing and appalling, not least when a former spy is murdered in London.

For Swiss-based readers, the book can be bought directly from Paul: via or e-mail for the discounted and postage free price of CHF18.00.

It is also available online from the UK publisher The Scratching Shed, from Hessle Bookshop or  Politicos and of course, from Amazon.

Paul Knott Small PicturePaul Knott began his working life in a hut on Hull’s King George Dock. He made an improbable career switch to Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service and spent twenty years globetrotting as a British diplomat.

After two decades of excitement, Paul currently lives quietly on a Swiss hillside with the Kenyan wife he met in Uzbekistan and their kids. He is still wondering how he got there.