“The music industry is a place full of damaged people.’ Joel McIver, Bass Player, Editor and Co-writer of autobiographies with such people as Woody Woodmansey, Glenn Hughes and Cannibal Corpse, told the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society this Tuesday night, ‘Being a geek is a good thing.’
After acquiring a degree in German, for no other reason than he was good at it, Joel began his career as a journalist on the magazine: The Record Collector. At the time, the publishers wanted a German speaking journalist! The Record Collector gave Joel a platform from which he could pitch book ideas whilst being taken seriously by the publisher. In 2004 his book, Justice for All: The Truth About Metallica, found a niche selling close to 50,000 copies and translating into nine languages. Joel left his job and became a full-time writer.
“It sounds weird,” he confesses, “when, at your writers’ circle, you say you’re writing an autobiography.” But the fact is, Joel’s subjects simply do not have the time to sit and write an 80,000-word memoir.
Co-writing differs from ghost writing in that, the writing and research is all the author’s work. This Joel does, using around 50-60 hours of interview, subsequently crafting it together, with a start and a finish. A ghost writer will receive no credit on the book’s cover.
“To sit in front of a blank screen and fill it with…anything…that’s where the burden comes in.” Joel declares. He has tried writing fiction: “It is bad sixth form!” he admits.
Entirely from the subject’s point of view, an autobiography must, in the same way a fictional character speaks with their own articulation, portray that subject’s voice. Joel conducts his interviews in an informal atmosphere, perhaps in a cottage deep in in the forest, sitting in front of a roaring fire with a bottle of whisky. Thus, the vibe of the interview is one of conversation, which when transcribed, comes through in the writing. Joel recollects writing an autobiography with a Brazilian rock star for whom English was not his first language: with no polishing, the subject’s strong accent was evident in the finished product; his voice was in the writing.
“It is an honour,” Joel announces, “to sit down with these people and talk about their lives.” These are the people whose faces were in the posters on his walls.
The autobiography writer must exercise judgement, steer the book. When tackling a project, Joel asks not only himself, but the subject as well; “Who wins from telling this story?” To get back at someone or for the money are not good reasons for writing the book.
He also makes a point of avoiding details, too depressing or disgusting; addictions can affect anybody and although this evasive action does not include the ‘sad’, most readers will have experienced bereavement. Not everybody wants to read about misery or debauchery, even for those that do, it will become monotonous, they will tire of it after a few chapters.
Joel went on to explain how he and Woody Woodmansey felt that whilst they were “committing history to paper”, they did so with the intention of surpassing the account that general media will circulate. “It may sound pretentious,” Joel said, appeasing us with: “But you guys will know what I mean…”
With a background in journalism, which is to entertain, Joel sets out to do just this with his writing. When writing an autobiography, you are trying to capture the person’s personality for prosperity.
Joel is currently working on an autobiography of whom he wouldn’t be persuaded to tell; suffice to say that “they” were a phenomenon in the Eighties…and have some juicy stories to tell. “Be patient,” he says, “it takes about a year to produce these books.”
Report by L Nightingale.