Ghostwriter worked on prize-winning memoir

Ghostwriter worked on prize-winning memoir

Publishers Allen and Unwin have confirmed they hired a ''ghostwriter'' to work on Anh Do's bestselling memoir, which picked up three awards at Monday's Australian Book Industry Awards.

But the publishers said the final product bore no resemblance to the original ghostwritten manuscript handed to them.

The Happiest Refugee, which tells the tale of Do's journey from Vietnam to Australia on a rickety boat, was ghostwritten by former senior editor of The Sydney Morning Herald Michael Visontay.

Do told The Canberra Times yesterday he asked his publishers to hire someone to help him talk over his book because he was busy.

''Basically this guy interviewed me and transcribed the interviews and it just really, really helped me,'' Do said. ''They sent ... all these interviews transcribed and it was lots of me talking and I have used that, and then wrote the book from that. The book, the finished product, is nothing like the manuscript, the transcription given to me.''

Allen and Unwin confirmed they employed Visontay to ghostwrite Do's memoir.

But Allen and Unwin publisher Jane Palfreyman said the final memoir was completely different to Visontay's original manuscript. ''Anh and I had an initial meeting where we talked about a book, he started talking about a ghostwriter straight away and I said 'Are you sure you can't write it in your own words, because that is obviously ideal'.

''He said he just wouldn't have the time. But then when it came in he found the time, basically because he didn't feel right about it going out without the right voice.''

She said Visontay had been acknowledged in the credits of the book and was receiving royalties from its sales as ''a gesture of good faith''. The book contains a one-line reference to Visontay in the ''acknowledgments'' section of the book.

''To my friend Michael Visontay, who taught me how to write a book and helped me with structure and form,'' it reads.

The Happiest Refugee won book of the year, newcomer of the year and biography of the year at the Australian Book Industry Awards on Monday night.

Do told ABC radio yesterday he had problems reading and writing at school and was a slow learner.

Writing the book showed he had overcome his weaknesses. ''I was in the special needs group, you know, and my mum took me and we bought a big box of books from St Vinnies. And mum helped me turn that weakness around,'' he said. ''To win book of the year after being a kid who had issues with reading and writing means maybe I'm not so bad at it.''

The ABIAs are run by the Australian Publishers' Association and judge books according to their commercial success and impact on the publishing scene. The winning entries are judged by a large group of booksellers and publishers. Chief executive officer of the Australian Publishers' Association Marie McCaskill said ghostwritten books were allowed to win the awards.

Visontay said he did not wish to comment.