September 24, 2023
Millie Bobby Brown’s first novel, “Nineteen Steps,” released recently, has reignited a discussion about the involvement of ghostwriters in books authored by celebrities. Brown, known for her role in Stranger Things, drew inspiration for her novel from her grandmother’s account of the 1943 Bethnal Green tube disaster. However, the actual writing was carried out by author Kathleen McGurl, with only Brown’s name displayed on the book cover.
Following a tweet by Waterstones, which was later deleted, promoting the book, criticism arose on Twitter, targeting Brown for using a ghostwriter. One user expressed their disappointment, claiming that celebrity-authored books, penned by ghostwriters, have hurt both children’s and adult fiction.
On her Instagram, Brown posted a picture alongside McGurl, acknowledging the author’s contribution with a caption that read, “I couldn’t have done this without you!” This post attracted critical comments, with some arguing that McGurl should receive credit on the book cover and accusing Brown of taking undue credit.
Nonetheless, Brown had her defenders, attributing the backlash to jealousy, ageism, and sexism. Catherine Yardley, author of “Ember,” pointed out that much of the negative response might be influenced by these factors and highlighted the double standards applied, noting that few men face similar levels of criticism.
Brown is not the first celebrity to face scrutiny for employing a ghostwriter. Dr. Hannah Yelin, author of “Celebrity Memoir: From Ghostwriting to Gender Politics,” cited similar instances involving young female stars like Zoë Sugg, as well as other celebrities such as Katie Price and Naomi Campbell, who have also engaged ghostwriters for their fiction works.
Ghostwriting has a longstanding history in the entertainment industry, from political speeches to literary collaborations. Shannon Kyle, founder of the Ghostwriters Agency, pointed out that ghostwriting has been a part of celebrity culture for centuries and commended Brown’s transparency regarding her use of a ghostwriter. She stressed that this transparency does not diminish Brown’s contribution, as the book remains a part of her family’s narrative.
In a prior blog post, Kathleen McGurl revealed that she received research and ideas from Brown and her family. The two collaborators held Zoom meetings, and Brown continued to provide input through WhatsApp, resulting in multiple drafts as they refined the story.
This debate indicates a shifting perception of ghostwriters in a positive direction, according to Kyle. Yardley suggested that publishers should be more forthright about ghostwritten books, while Kyle emphasized the commercial considerations publishers must weigh when making such decisions.
Noteworthy cases of celebrity books involving ghostwriters include Prince Harry’s memoir, “Spare,” which was openly acknowledged as a collaborative endeavor. Despite the controversies surrounding such books, it appears that readers are primarily interested in a compelling narrative, regardless of the actual writer.
In conclusion, the discussion sparked by Millie Bobby Brown’s debut novel underscores the evolving landscape of celebrity-authored books and the changing attitudes towards ghostwriting in the publishing industry.