The writing game

Amshida Rohayani Ahmad Rani and Noor Jahan Ebrahim speak about being ghost writers

15 Apr 2021 / 10:02 H.

BOTH Amshida Rohayani Ahmad Rani, 52, from Johor Baru and 60-year-old Noor Jahan Ebrahim from Petaling Jaya, Selangor, have something in common. They are ghost writers who write both in English and Bahasa Malaysia.

“Ghost writing simply means writing for other people,“ said Noor Jahan.

“We are the writer but our name does not appear anywhere as the writer. We get paid an agreed sum and usually, the person who pays us to write is the named author.”

Putting more perspective to the term of ghost writing, Amshida explains: “A ghost writer is almost similar to a client who commissions an artist to paint his portrait. The only difference in ghost writing is that the client commissions you to write their book.”

Noor Jahan said everyone has a story to tell, but some experience constraints in terms of time and skills.

“It is a win-win situation where one party gets a book written and another earns a living. If we expect famous and successful people to write their own books, then some great books will never get written.”

Noor Jahan said she had always dreamt of being a writer. But her job as a Human Resource practitioner does not leave her with much room to do anything else after work. When she was 55, she decided to opt for early retirement and pursue her dream.

The first thing she did was to pursue a course related to translation, grammar editing and proof reading at Institiute Terjemahan dan Buku Negara. During the course, she was introduced to the term “ghost writing”. She even took several short workshops on ghost writing, and has been a ghost writer for almost five years now.

As for Amshida, she was working in the transport industry and opted for early retirement at the age of 49 because of health reasons.

“I did not want to remain idle at home. I was looking for something that I could do from home. I was always passionate about writing. My late brother was a creative writer. My father, who was a teacher, also loved to write. But his writing is more for his own consumption.”

Amshida said she started attending writing workshops and slowly built her career as a ghost writer. She is also a certified translator and even started her own company, Zade Writing Services, in 2018.

“In the writing world, I am popularly known by my pen name Zade,” said Amshida.

One wonders how they feel about not having their names on the covers of the books written by them.

“It is really like our Twin Towers building. Everyone praises the beautiful building. But very few people know who is the real architect behind the building. They can’t see us. But they can feel our presence, just like a ghost,” said Amshida.

Noor Jahan makes it a point to write some books under her own name, so it will add some value to her portfolio and give her some self-esteem as a writer. To date, she has written six books, with one published under Projek Lavender, chronicling true stories by cancer survivors and caregivers. The book won the 2019 National Book Award – General (Inspirational Books).

Noor Jahan explains that one of the perks of the job is that she gets to meet successful and positive-minded people who normally would not be in her circle of friends.

“We may also have the chance to travel and our working hours are flexible,” said Noor Jahan.

Amshida said one of her best memories was working with a travelogue writer, where she got to experience his journeys first-hand.

“I have not been to the places that he has visited, yet I could feel the excitement of what the places have to offer,” she said.

“I always make it a point to interview my subject for a few days before writing their book. This interview helps me to understand the subject better. I have to make sure it is his voice the readers hear when they read the book and not mine.”

At the same time, this job is not entirely perfect. There are cases where Amshida heard that some ghost writers did not receive their payment.

“I always make it a point to ask for a deposit before starting work,” she said.

Noor Jahan feels some projects get delayed by the clients. This normally happens after she has given her client the completed 50% of the manuscript.

“Clients are required to go through it and suggest changes. Some clients give the excuse of being busy and take months to come back with the amendments. After a while, they get bored with the project and the book may never see the light of day. I get very emotional when that happens because I am passionate about what I write.”

These days, she stresses to her potential clients that they should be 100% committed to the project.

“Three months for a book of about 200 pages is a reasonable time frame. If the project takes too long, you will lose steam.”

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