The Ghost from Haileybury – by Michael Barnes

The most popular series of books sold in Canada was the Hardy Boys. Most people recall Franklin W. Dixon as the author. But that was just a pen name given to ghost writer Leslie McFarlane from Haileybury.

Leslie McFarlane was 23 in 1926 when he answered an ad for a fiction writer.The young cub reporter, formerly of the Sudbury Star and Cobalt Daily Nugget, felt he had it in him to become a book writer but somehow could not get started.

The ad for a fiction writer was placed by an American, Edward Stratemeyer who operated a stable of writers who churned out pulp novels along certain lines and themes.

There have been several such outfits before and since but Strateymeyer was longer lived than most and covered all the bases. Writers like Leslie McFarlane were given an outline of the characters in a series and then a plot for one book.

The ghost writer followed instructions and turned in the manuscipt. If the work was satisfactory, he was paid- in the twenties often no more than $20 a book- and then given the outline for another volume. It was like working in a factory only you worked at home.

The cash was nice for a young chap starting out but there was a major drawback. There were no royalties per book, just that one cash payment. Further, the writer had no further rights. If the book did well, he was out of luck. On the other hand, he received prompt payment for each book he did plus the outline for the next one.

The man who managed the ghost writer stable had some really bright ideas. One was a blurb in each book reminding youngster to read the books that had gone before in the series. This virtually assured many reprints-none of course of any value to the ghost.

Leslie McFarlane from Haileybury found out many things while he toiled in the Stratemeyer stable. One was that many famous series of books- The River Boat Boys, The Tom Swift books, to name a couple, were all done by various writers working for Stratemeyer.

Leslie McFarlane quit his day job as a reporter and never looked back. He had certainly made the right decision for he would write millions of published words over the next thirty years.

He spent a while in a cabin on Lake Ramsay at Sudbury writing books for the writing syndicate. At best he would do two to three books a month. Later he moved back to his home town of Haileybury and began writing a new series which he had been given. It was the Hardy Boys and would make  Franklin W. Dixon world famous- although not of course  Leslie McFarlane.

Once when he was especially hard up, he did a complete Hardy Boy book in five days. Look for it some time. It was called The Secret of the Caves.

McFarlane had hoped to quit the series writing and get on to other things but the Depression came and the pay for the books at least kept him and his family through those lost years.

At times,he did other books at the same time for the same firm, even writing some of the popular girls stories by Carolyn Keen- which were being written by several other writers in the same period.

Leslie McFarlane’s last Hardy Boys book, The Phantom Freighter, was written in 1946. He was just too busy doing other things and by then they did not pay enough.

Later it did rankle that his books had sold 12 million copies while the author for all the years of writing about the Hardy Boys, never received more than $5,000 in total.

But there was one consolation. Leslie McFarlane, the writer from Haileybury, had hooked thousands of youngsters on reading- even if his name was not Franklin W Dixon.

Michael Barnes is a published Canadian author who has written extensively on Northern Ontario.