The ghostwriter who worked with Millie Bobbie Brown on her debut novel has revealed the writing process the pair followed, saying they used Zoom and Whatsapp to bring the book to life.
The Stranger Things star, 19, has been criticised by some for using a ghostwriter to help pen her debut novel, with some saying both of their names should appear on the book’s front cover.
Nineteen Steps, was published yesterday and tells the story of 18-year-old Nellie Morris, who lives with her family in Bethnal Green, in London’s East End, while the Second World War rages on around them.
Brown attended the book launch at the Hackney Empire on Tuesday with fiance Jake Bongiovi and posted a photo of herself with her ghostwriter Kathleen McGurl on her Instagram account, saying: ‘A HUGE thank you to my collaborator – I couldn’t have done this without you!’
The book’s co-author responded, writing: ‘It was fabulous to chat with you before tonight’s show! It was a privilege working with you on this, especially sharing Nanny Ruth’s precious memories.’
On her own website, McGurl, who’s published more than 14 novels in her own name, clarified how the writing process happened.
Under the blog post ‘A new departure’, the writer, who lives in Dorset, revealed she’d been asked by her agent some time ago ‘if I would consider collaborating with a celebrity writing a novel.’
She wrote: ‘I was sent a lot of research that had already been pulled together by Millie and her family, and plenty of ideas, and we had a couple of Zoom calls.’
McGurl continued: ‘And then I knuckled down and wrote the first draft, while Millie continued sending more ideas via WhatsApp. The book went through several drafts since then, as we refined the story.’
After it was revealed that the A-lister had used the services of a ghostwriter, many on social media suggested that McGurl’s name should have also appeared on the front cover of the book – instead there’s a note inside the book which reads ‘with Katherine McGurl’.
Others defended the teenager, saying that many celebrities use ghostwriters.
One wrote: ‘It’s funny to me that a 19 year old female celebrity is getting so much hate when middle-aged male celebrities have been doing this for years.’
Brown, who played Eleven in Stranger Things and also starred in the Enola Holmes film series, has spoken frequently in recent weeks about how her grandmother inspired the book.
She told Woman’s Hour presenter Nuala McGovern this week: ‘I love the history of older people and the stories they do tell, even if they are completely made up, which sometimes they are! But I hope after reading [Nineteen Steps] you go and talk to your grandparents or your parents and learn about your family history.’
Millie’s grandmother Ruth passed away in November 2020 from Alzheimer’s Disease and the actress revealed how she honoured her nan’s passing when recording the audiobook.
The Stranger Things star explained: ‘Losing her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through and I don’t know if I necessarily healed from it fully.
‘So doing the audiobook I was a bit scared of talking it because I’d read it privately so much to myself.
‘I lit a candle and put her picture in front of me and it was a very emotional few weeks of rehashing all of these stories and also tonally getting how she would tell these stories.’
Reflecting on her childhood, Millie said: ‘I was with her for a lot of my childhood by choice. I love my parents but they are not as interesting as her!
‘When she passed away I really wanted to capture her stories. As a child I recorded her and as we went back through those recordings we thought there would be room for a narrative about her life.
‘My nan would talk a lot about the war, especially when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She’d forget what she had for dinner the night before but would remember what she had for dinner on her fifth birthday, things like that were so bizarre.
‘Because I studied and still study Alzheimer’s I really wanted to hone in on that story to make her feel safe and heard. Some I’d heard hundreds of times and some I’d never heard before and I’d say “nan you never told me that” and she’d go “oh I didn’t think you’d care!”‘