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Dead authors write on

20 August 2007

After last week's look at brand name authors whose books are written by others, this week News Review investigates those who continue their writing careers from beyond the grave.

V C Andrews' creepy family novels have come out with great speed, although the lady herself died in 1986. Flowers in the Attic was published in 1976 and became an instant popular success, reaching the top of the bestseller lists in only two weeks. Since 1990 Andrew Neiderman has continued Andrews' own prolific output with further series of gothic stories. All but eight of her output were penned by Neiderman but the actual writer is not credited. It must feel strange to devote your life to writing books which go out under someone else's name.

Some more literary writers have had posthumous success with books commissioned by their estates - Ernest Hemingway is an example of this. Then there is the entirely above-board practice of commissioning another often well-known writer to carry on the story that has been a bestseller - Geraldine McCaughrean's Peter Pan in Scarlet and Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett are successful examples of this.

And then there is Robert Ludlum, who died six years ago, and who is about to bring out the thirteenth book published since his death. His agent Henry Morrison says that this continuation of his name is what Ludlum wanted. Apparently he said: 'I don't want my name to disappear. I've spent 30 years writing books and building an audience.'

Fortunately the author met another client of Morrison's, Eric van Lustbader, at the agent's Christmas party in 1980, and the two got on like a house on fire. Lustbader says: 'We talked for hours about characters and story arcs and how to fashion a book in three acts, where one act outdoes the next one. We talked about being the only thriller writers who knew anything about characters and wrote about characters in our books.'

Other people in the industry endorse the view that it's OK to write from beyond the grave. Morrison, the architect of the latest books, says: 'I don't think anyone objects as long as you maintain the quality of the book.'

Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of Publishers' Weekly, comments: 'Publishing does look to the past to see what will work in the future. Series and big-name authors have tended to work well. Publishers, like executives in other creative fields, want Nos. 2, 3 and 4 to work as well as No. 1. And instead of going off to find the new Ludlum, they figure they've got this formula and will continue to use it.' Her conclusion on Ludlum is that: 'It seems like more of a posthumous factory than anybody I can think of, and more of a well-oiled machine than V.C. Andrews's.'

But for the rest of us it continues to seem slightly strange that an author's output can continue from beyond the grave.