After circulating in forums and book blogs for a couple weeks, the news officially broke over the weekend that Youtube star Zoella's debut novel might not be entirely her own work.
Or at least that is what Zoella and her publisher are saying; I am reasonably convinced that Zoella didn't write the book, and that this statement from her publisher only bears a vague relation to the truth:
Spokesperson Tania Vian-Smith told The Bookseller: “Siobhan was part of the editorial team.”
She said: “As with many new writers she got help in bringing that story to life. If you read the book, it is clearly Zoe’s story and an expression of herself… As publishers our role is, and always has been, to find the very best talent and help them tell their story and connect them with readers. Talented YouTube entrepreneurs such as Zoe are brilliant at understanding and entertaining their audience. For her first novel, Girl Online, Zoe has worked with an expert editorial team to help her bring to life her characters and experiences in a heartwarming and compelling story.”
So why is this a big deal?
I mean, ghostwritten novels are not a new idea; many volumes in The Baby-Sitter's Club series were ghosted, and so were Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley books for teenagers.
But this is different. With those series, the name on the cover was actually involved in writing at least some of the books (or at least plotting them). But with this scandal, Penguin Random House had made a big deal about Zoella being the author when in fact she very likely had nothing to do with it, and the real author isn't getting the credit.
What's more, the book in question, Girl Online, sold 78,000 copies in its first week, leading many news sites to write about how a "24-year-old YouTube star has emerged as an unlikely contender to be this Christmas’s best-selling author" (in the words of The Financial Times).
And now it would seem that is not true.
As first uncovered by members of the forum Guru Gossip, the author of Girl Online is very likely writing coach and author Siobhan Curham. GG forum members were some of the first to cotton to the news close to two weeks ago.
I'd like to give a shout out to the member who listed Zoella's public activities (and showed she probably didn't have time to write a book). I'd also like to give credit to the member who found sluggella.tumblr.com, the blog which was the first to break the news on 24 November.
So far as I can see, Sluggella was the first blog to connect the mention of Siobhan Curham in the foreword of Girl Online with Curhan's own blog post from late August which mentions writing an 80,000 novel in 6 weeks. According to The Telegraph, Curhan is thanked on the acknowledgements page:
I want to thank everyone at Penguin for helping me put together my first novel, especially Amy Alward and Siobhan Curham, who were with me every step of the way
Sluggella noted that type of mention is common for contracts with ghost writers which aren't explicitly named on the cover. That blog also found Curhan's blog post about writing a novel in 6 weeks. That post has since been deleted from Curhan's blog, but a copy is still live on Goodreads.
Here's the key section that makes me think Curhan wrote Girl Online:
So, when I was asked this year by a publisher if I could write a book for them and oh yes, please could I write it in six weeks, you can imagine the expletive deleteds that popped into my head.
But part of me was intrigued. The same perverse part of me that's always wondered what it must be like to hang glide over the Niagra Falls.
So, I decided to accept the challenge aaaaaand ... I did it!
I wrote an entire 80,000 word novel in six weeks.
That post was originally published on Curhan's blog but was later deleted - almost as if the publisher was hoping that no one would find it and draw the obvious connection.
Do you know what's also missing from Curhan's blog? Any mention of having assisted with Girl Online. Curhan has an about page which lists her books as well as the books where she was hired as an editorial consultant.
Girl Online is not mentioned in that latter section, and given its immense success it really should have been.
All in all, I believe that Zoella didn't write the book which bears her name. We might not have a smoking gun, but there is enough evidence that I am convinced.
I'm also not terribly surprised. When I first read this summer that a Youtube star had a book deal, I assumed that it would be a memoir and would be ghost written. To find out that the book was a novel, and that it was written by someone else, was only slightly surprising.
Slimy, yes, but not a shock.