Sunday 15 July 2018

Frederic Raphael's WW2 Ghost Writing

Frederic Raphael is an illustrious British screenwriter and novelist (The Glittering Prizes, Darling, Far From the Madding Crowd, Eyes Wide Shut, to name a few...).

Raphael has recently published the first volume of his memoirs, Going Up, which details his early years including — and of course, this is the bit which really fascinates me — his initial struggles and eventual breakthrough as a writer.

It's reassuring to know that even someone as poised, talented and ultimately successful as Frederic Raphael (he won an Oscar for Darling) also had to scuffle and hustle at first. 

In the 1950s, between occasional jobs writing for the stage and movies, he earned a living ghost writing World War 2 memoirs...

The first of these was They Arrived by Moonlight, Jacques Doneux's account of his unnerving adventures as a secret agent behind enemy lines in Europe — escaping from Paris clinging to the underside of a train was just one. 

Raphael polished Doneux's "artless manuscript" with considerable success: "Jacques had scarcely noticed how I had deleted his clichés and with what terse invention I had stocked his lacunae."

(If you're wondering what that last bit means, Doneux had a tendency to understatement, to say the least, so Raphael had to make up stuff to fill in the blanks.)

They Arrived by Moonlight went down so well that soon the publisher was "keen for me to do a second ghosting job about secret agents. They would pay £600..." for him to rewrite They Fought Alone by Maurice Buckmaster.

Raphael met with Buckmaster and asked "how he would like me to deal with events where key details were missing. He smiled and said, 'Oh, my dear Freddie, make up anything that looks plausible'."

Despite, or maybe because of this, They Fought Alone is highly regarded ("as a documentary source"!). It has recently been reprinted and is considered "a classic of secret warfare."

What Freddie describes as "my last ghostly effort" was the memoir of Captain William Richmond Fell, a New Zealander submarine commander and maritime salvage expert. 

(This book is actually called The Sea Surrenders though, unhelpfully, Freddie repeatedly refers to it as The Sea Shall Not Have Them, a much more famous and completely different  book. I know this because I wasted a lot of time on Google finding it out. Freddie's publishers should be hit in the face with a whip cream pie for not checking basic facts.)
"Now a confident cosmetician of gallant prose, I supplied Bill's book with a leaven of nautical dialogue of the kind that first seasoned Noël Coward's  In Which We Serve and was recycled in The Cruel Sea. 'Steady as you go' was a staple line."

William Fell was not very pleased: "I'd sooner not have it printed," he declared. But Raphael cleverly explained his rewrites in terms of a salvage operation, and the mariner got the point. In any case he was sufficiently mollified to allow the book to be published.

For all the fascination these ghost-written memoirs might exert, the one I'm really interested in is Frederic Raphael's own, ectoplasm-free, memoir Going Up which I'll be posting about here soon.

(Image credits: The paperback of They Arrived by Moonlight is from Bid or Buy. The hardcover is from Hedgerow Books via ABE. The vintage paperback of They Fought Alone is from Dead Souls Bookshop in New Zealand. The red hardcover is from Codename Pauline. The reprint is from BiteBack Books, who also, intriguingly publish Freddie's memoir Going Up. The Sea Surrenders is from Pic Click.)

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