What I’ve ghost written for others

True Crime

True crime is a huge market in America and all of my true crime work has been in American English for American authors and American publishers. Among others, I’ve written these under contract (and under nondisclosure agreements):

  • The autobiography of a man who spent a good deal of his early life in prison and survived while many of his close friends died, the lessons he drew from his life and the peaceful outcome he achieved
  • The story of how an investigator identified a serial murderer, overcame obstacles to obtain her confession and saw her prosecuted and sentenced
  • An account of a cold case investigation into a series of killings in which the perpetrator was finally identified, prosecuted and jailed after thirty years

I can’t give you an extract from any of those because they were all written under nondisclosure agreements, but I can show you a test sample I wrote. Test samples are pieces the writer presents to the author to show he or she can write the book the author wants written. I wrote this one for a man who had been an undercover cop for years and wanted a book about his experiences. It’s American English.

Undercover cops fascinate readers and viewers. No-one who watched Hill Street Blues is likely to forget Sergeant Mick Belker. The Departed is still remembered nearly 20 years after it premiered (having Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in the cast didn’t hurt). Then there’s Donnie Brasco, Reservoir Dogs and Serpico, to name only three of a huge genre. A surprising number of those movies (not Hill Street Blues, which was pure fantasy) were based on true stories. But how close did they really get to the truth? Does the life of a real live undercover cop resemble the one lived by Freddy Newandyke in Reservoir Dogs?

Well… Yes. And then again… No. The movies can show you the essentials – the secrecy, the need for a good cover story, the equally strong need for a big slice of luck. What they can’t convey is the squalor so many undercover cops have to endure, the fear that sometimes turns to terror, and the never-ending conflict between the job they have vowed to do and the one they have been given.

An undercover cop infiltrates a gang by seeming to be one of them. Fine, if the gang is made up of rich criminals exploiting gaps in commercial and banking law, building Ponzi schemes or conning investors with cyber currencies based on nothing at all. The cop can wear nice suits, freshly laundered shirts or blouses and polished shoes. They can shower twice a day and keep their hair clean and sweet smelling.

But what about the cop – and there are far more of these – who has to fit into a world populated by drug dealers? Not the guys at the top of the chain, though they are probably the long term targets – the ones dealing small quantities at neighborhood level. They buy their clothes in thrift shops and they never wash them. For days at a time they don’t wash themselves, either. They smell. Just like the people they move among smell. Why? Because if they turn up washed in clean, well pressed clothes, they’re going to be outed as cops in minutes. And that means they’re going to die.

That’s something they live with always. Talk to anyone who’s spent much time undercover and they’ll tell you there were times when they thought the next moment was going to be their last. An actor in a movie can treat that threat with scorn. “Make my day, punk.” That’s not real life. Undercover cops move among psychopaths and people whose brains have been fried by drugs. People prepared to kill without thought or remorse.

I lived that life for more than twenty years. I did it to keep the public safe, which means I did it for you. I’ve written this book to tell you what it was like and the sacrifices I made on your behalf.

Crime and Mystery Fiction

Police Procedurals

I’ve written these for police in England and Wales, in Scotland (there are differences, not least between English and Scottish law) and in various parts of the States. In fact, I’ve set them in California, Nevada, Oregon, New York, Florida, North London, South London, North Wales, Newcastle on Tyne and Aberdeen. Here’s the opening of one set in Florida. American English, naturally.

Detective Henry Sullivan stood in front of his closet as the light breeze from the overhead fan helped dry his shower-damp skin. He’d made detective and been assigned to the Criminal Investigations Division a little over three years prior, but still looked for his uniform blues almost every morning before remembering he didn’t wear them anymore. In their place were department polos, starched white shirts, and serviceable ties (an ex had called them “boring”), along with several pairs of tactical 5.11s and two decent suits. Decent was probably generous, but with a measly $35 a week uniform allowance, well, the words serviceable probably applied there, too. He followed the rules down to the letter, but it wasn’t always easy. The cool fabric felt good against his skin and he savored the sensation, knowing full well it wouldn’t last. The humidity of late summer in Florida would wilt his collar and stick the shirt to the small of his sweat-soaked back before he even made it to the precinct.

He straightened his tie in the mirror, then turned to his load-out neatly arranged on the dresser, waiting. It was like an altar to his work, lacking only half-burned candles and heavy incense to fully Catholicize the set up. He didn’t always believe in God, but ritual hadn’t failed him yet. With a deep breath, he picked up his service Glock, slid the magazine into place with a click, then chambered a round before holstering the weapon and snapping the guard into place. Hissing and gurgling from the kitchen told him the coffee was finished brewing, so he took a quick glance around the room—an old habit leftover from his teen years growing up under his Pops’ militaristic eye—and, satisfied that nothing was out of place, he prepared to move out.

His shift started in less than an hour, which meant he had exactly three and a half minutes to make and eat a peanut butter sandwich, fill his thermos with coffee, and still get out the door in time to beat the early morning rush hour traffic. The light filtering in through his security blinds turned a lighter gray, and he checked the clock again.     

Three minutes.

A flash of light from his phone drew his attention. Another habit from his patrol days that he had yet to break: choosing a visual cue over an auditory one for his phone while on duty. He took a swig of coffee to wash down the last bite of peanut butter sandwich before answering.

One minute.


“Hank! My dude! You still at your house, man?” Sullivan had known the enthusiastic Craig Donovan since the Academy and still hadn’t convinced him to call him something other than Hank. Or dude.

Sullivan tightened the lid on his thermos with his free hand. “Leaving now. What’s up?”

“You got time to stop by a scene? There’s something here I think you’re going to want to see.”

Zero minutes.

Sullivan pinched the bridge of his nose and suppressed a sigh. He was going to be late.

“Text me the address.”

Psychological thrillers

Once again, I’ve set these all over the place and I’ve used a whole range of motivations. Here’s an extract from one set in London, South Wales, France and Florida. (You think I might be hung up on Florida? Listen, I first went there when I was 21 and living in the Bahamas. It fascinated me. It still does. This one is British English:

Clive Jones would have done better to stick to thieving. His Spanish suppliers were not pleased when they learned he was dumping them in favour of his uncle. Drug supply isn’t about family loyalties; it’s about money, power and fear. To scare Clive back into the fold they contacted Been on his behalf, arranging a delivery he knew nothing about. Then they sent Carver to kill the courier on a lonely Welsh hillside.

Instead of getting the point, Clive thrashed around trying to find out who had topped his cousin. Never imagining it might have been his erstwhile partners, he asked for their help. Cutting their losses, they supplied him with a name. And an address.

Clive came off the aircraft in Orlando and made straight for the Hertz desk. He drove to the place where the Spaniards had said he would receive help. ‘I’m Clive Jones,’ he said in an accent the two Floridians had never heard before. ‘You have a gun for me.’

‘Indeed we do, Mister Jones,’ said the older of the two men. ‘Here it is.’ And raising the Smith & Wesson, he placed a bullet exactly midway between Clive’s eyebrows.

Later, as darkness fell, the men tied a heavy coil of steel wire round Clive’s legs and carried him out of the back of the building to where a boat waited. Eleven hours after leaving Wales for only the third time in his life, Clive went over the side into half a mile of water bluer and warmer than a Welshman could dream of.

John Cooper left the file open for a year or two, and the death of Julie Been and disappearance of her cousin entered Welsh CID folklore. But all memories fade. The Spanish suppliers found other outlets. Someone else began to steal to order for the East European car export trade. And John and Bethan Cooper raised three children, not one of whom even thought of a career with the police.

Historical crime

Settings and times I’ve used: north-east England in the 1760s, American colonies in the 1760s, New York and London in the 1890s, London in the 1920s and Yorkshire in the nineteen sixties. This extract is set in the London docks in 1766. British English:

With the girl lying on top of him, Ned could not have stood up if he had wanted to. Leaning forward to kiss him, she lifted a fire iron and banged it loudly on the wall, then seized his wrists and held them above his head.

The door opened instantly. Peering over his captor’s shoulder, addled by drink and stunned by concupiscence, Ned had a momentary glimpse of Dear and another burly man bursting into the room. Amy lifted herself from her victim just as Dear looped a cord round Ned’s throat, twisted it around the arm of the settle and began to throttle the life out of the young man. Amy and the second man seized his hands and held them as the beating of his feet on the settle weakened. Amy kissed the fingertips of her other hand and held it against the dying man’s cheek.

‘I think I would have deflowered him,’ she said. ‘Seems a waste, really.’

‘There’s plenty here will satisfy you,’ said Dear as he loosened the cord from the now lifeless traveller’s throat.

Amy stroked Ned’s jerkin, bought new for his journey. ‘That’s a nice piece of leather,’ she said. ‘Can I have it for my Jemmy?’

‘And have the runners asking where he got it? We’ll get three shillings for that, no questions asked.’ Dear rummaged through Ned’s pockets. ‘Five pounds, he said. Where…’

‘There’s a belt around his waist.’

‘So there is, my dear daughter. And look. Five shiny sovereigns. Fifty shillings for Captain Marsh for his kindness in sending us the innocent farm boy. Twenty four for Jonah, twenty for me and six for you.’

‘Marsh has his chest,’ Amy pointed out.

‘So he does. Very well, forty shillings for Captain Marsh, twenty-five for me, six for you and Jonah here shall have twenty-nine.’

‘Why more for him?’

The burly man spoke for the first time. ‘Because I’m going to get rid of the body. Less you want to do it?’

Spy Fiction

British English

‘So what do you think?’ asked Manners. ‘Are they going to show?’

‘They come, they don’t come,’ said O’Brien. ‘We can’t exactly ring them up and ask why they’re late.’

‘This is the third time we’ve staked out a place waiting for these guys. You don’t think someone’s having a laugh?’

O’Brien shrugged.

‘The time we waste. It feels like we’re back at school, waiting to go over the wall on Saturday after rugger. Get down to the pub. The one the masters didn’t drink at. You remember those days?’

‘I wasn’t at that kind of school,’ said O’Brien.

‘You didn’t drink?’

‘Sure, we drank. But we didn’t have to hide from the teachers to do it. No-one gave a toss what we got up to when we weren’t in class.’

‘Or play rugger?’

‘Rugby, Charlie. I went to school in south Wales. Of course I played rugby. But that’s what we called it. There’s no rugger in Wales.’

‘Were you any good?’

‘Our school turned out two Welsh internationals in the years I was there.’

‘But you. Were you any good?’

‘Better than you, probably. But not good enough.’

‘You played at university.’

‘If you know that, why are you asking?’

‘Just making conversation, Barry. Sitting here behind somebody else’s net curtain, waiting for someone to arrive at the house opposite so we can take photos, we don’t know who they are or why they’d be here because we’re not senior enough to be told, and it looks like it’s one more wasted evening. What are we going to do if we don’t talk to each other? Are you going to marry Pauline?’


‘Pauline. How long have you been seeing each other?’

O’Brien shrugged. ‘Six months? I’m not counting.’

‘Six months. That’s a long time, Barry. Think how many other women you could have had in that time.’

O’Brien stared at him without speaking.

‘Just making conversation.’

‘You said. It’s easier when you date someone from inside the Department. You don’t need to explain why you have to go out, what you’re doing, why you didn’t know before you left you wouldn’t be back for three days.’

‘They don’t assign the two of you together any more. Now that you’re an item.’

‘No, they don’t. Doesn’t mean they don’t approve, though.’ O’Brien’s mobile beeped. He looked at it and sighed. ‘Abandon.’

Manners put the camera in his bag and stood up. ‘What do you suppose happened?’

‘Same as last time and the time before. Someone tipped us off about this place and whatever they were planning happened somewhere else.’

‘So someone is.’


‘Having a laugh.’

Historical fiction

Historical novelists specialize in their own “period” and I am no exception. You can trust me on anything from 1750 to 1960 (the point at which fiction stops being historical and becomes contemporary) and I also have a good grasp of the years 1530s to 1620 (the later Tudors and Shakespeare’s time). For any other period, I’m not the historical novelist you need.

Settings I’ve used: 1760s/1770s Revolutionary American colonies, 1840s England, 1940s Wartime England

This extract is from a book set in England and America towards the end of the seventeen sixties. American English.

Baby James grew lustily in the clean air of the Wyoming Valley. Hugh was equally robust. They saw a lot of each other, for when they were weaned Sarah and Becky evolved a way of living that allowed them to share the tasks of motherhood. Young Thomas was now seven years old, and had been at school for the past two years. At first, Sarah had taken him, but now he rode on his own pony with older children from a nearby farm, who came for him in the morning and brought him back for dinner in the middle of the day. Becky would take Hugh and Florence to be looked after along with James by Sarah, collecting them in the late afternoon. Next day, Sarah would bring James to be cared for by Becky with Hugh and Florence. This way, both women had time on alternate days to devote to their chores and work on the farm. Any settler, man or woman, who failed to work to the limit of their ability would be frowned on in this frugal and industrious community. God had given them a new country of unlimited potential. Not to devote everything they had to exploiting that potential would be blasphemous.

Thomas was a willing pupil. Where Miles had learned only what he needed to, and that reluctantly, Thomas took to learning with a will. Susannah Maitland, Sarah’s successor as school teacher at the fort, said that she had rarely seen someone with so clear a desire to master his books. And, of course, Sarah was on hand to encourage his reading when he was at home.

Nevertheless, like every other child in the valley, Thomas had to spend time in the fields. Too young for the hard work of fencing, stump removal and plowing, he learned to weed the kitchen garden, scare birds away from the growing corn and bring the cows in from the fields. In another year or so he would also learn how to milk them. And, when he became old enough, Joe would initiate him into the mysteries of smithing.

He grew tall and wiry. Sarah became used to patching and extending his britches, shirt and work smock, or frock, as well as to making new ones.

One bright, sunny day in 1774, Thomas was sent running to bring Joe from the fields. Henry Bein had limped in in a buckboard with a wheel in desperate need of repair. As Joe fired up his forge, Bein asked what he thought of the news from Philadelphia.

‘Why, nothing,’ said Joe, ‘For I know of no news.’

‘Your son has not told you? They speak of it at the school.’

‘Of what, Henry?’

‘There is to be a Continental Congress.’

‘Yes? And what is that?’

‘Those who think themselves our betters want freedom from the Crown. That is not what they say, but it is what they mean.’

‘Those who think themselves our betters,’ repeated Joe, heating the new iron strip to melting point in the furnace. ‘I remember using exactly those words when I was in England. I didn’t like the idea then and I don’t like it now.’

‘You do right,’ said Bein. ‘My family came here because they accepted no man as their better.’

‘And I for the same reason.’

‘Will you take the British part?’

Joe began to bend the glowing metal around the wooden rim. ‘Never. And I do not take the suggestion kindly.’

‘It may come to a fight.’

‘I’ll be ready.’ He turned to look squarely at Bein. ‘Wherever the threat comes from.’

Science fiction

This is a huge genre. Amazon lists no fewer than twenty subgenres, and I think they’ve missed some. I haven’t written all of them and there are a number I wouldn’t want to write, but I have written Alternative/multiple universes, Time travel, Dystopian and (not the same as dystopian) Life in the Future. I’ve also written a cross-genre book, a Time travel/Western, which is interesting (at least to me) because I’ve never written a Western. (I’m a huge fan of Louis L’Amour, so if anyone out there is looking for someone to ghost write a Western, get in touch).

This is an extract from a time travel book I ghost wrote. I can use it because I offered the author a number of alternatives and he chose a different one, so I’m not giving anything away by putting it here. To make it clear, the protagonist has no idea that he has just travelled backwards 2000 years from the 21st century. American English.

Time Travel

What was that? A noise, coming this way. It sounds human. Maybe someone will be able to tell him where the hell he is. A drumbeat. Chanting, though not in any language he ever heard. And then, before him, people like none he’s ever seen. There must be a way to wake out of this dream? But he can’t find it.

Don’t let them be cannibals. That’s all he asks. And, even if they are, it looks like they’re not going to eat him because when they stop, all but one fall to their knees with arms outstretched towards him and their foreheads touching the sand. The one still on his feet steps out in front of the others.

He speaks. And Kotter knows he’s never heard this language before, yet he understands. The chief is welcoming him the way Southern Baptists might welcome the second coming of Christ. The men stand, lift Kotter on their shoulders and carry him, chanting all the while, and Kotter understands each word. Our God has come to earth. Praise him. Glorify him.

These people think he is a god. Sometime soon he will wake from this dream and he will tell people, ‘Whatever you may think of me, there are two hundred men on a distant island in what I think must have been the South Pacific who believe I am a god.’ When he wakes from the dream. There’s no sign that’s going to happen any time soon.

The Book of the Film

I’ve done a surprising number of these – surprising because people usually think of the opposite: the film of the book, where a book is successful and a movie company decides to film it. I’ve found increasing demand for a book to be made from a screenplay because the franchise owners want to develop more assets they can sell and make money from. Movie people talk to each other and I guess my name has become known for doing this.

Turning a book into a screenplay is a particular skill. And so is turning a screenplay into a book. Movie scripts are generally timed at a page a minute, so a movie that is going to run an hour and a half will have ninety pages. The book of the same movie might well have 350 pages. All those extra words come from the need to show readers things the movie also has to show them – but a movie director has resources the book’s author doesn’t have.

Blake Snyder, in his excellent book on writing movie scripts Save the Cat, reminds us of a scene in Sea of Love. Al Pacino plays a cop. He and his cop buddies have lured a bunch of parole violators who mistakenly believe they are about to meet the NY Yankees. But when Pacino sees that one of the targets has brought his son with him, he flashes his badge and the crook – with his son – does a quick about turn and leaves the stadium. Pacino says, “Catch you later.”

That scene has shown us what Pacino does for a living, but also that he has a human side because he didn’t want to arrest someone when their son was watching. We also know it’s not the end of the story – Pacino will, as he says, catch the guy later. We warm to Pacino and we understand his motivations. It took a few seconds to show all of that in the movie – to convey it in words in a book might take five pages. And that’s how it works. An actor’s raised eyebrow can give us the equivalent of pages of internal dialogue. Someone’s clothes, a shot of a wall, the exterior of a house can in moments tell us things that in a book the writer has to get across in dialogue and description. And the writer has to do that without ever forgetting the single most important tool in a writer’s toolbox: Show, Don’t Tell.

And that’s why the Book of the Film has become big business for me. But please don’t expect any extracts here, because everything I have done has been under a nondisclosure agreement and you’d only need a sentence or two to identify the movie and, therefore, the book.