Unveiled: Author who ghostwrote a meerkat's memoir

Publisher is outed as the pen of Aleksandr Orlov

The ghostwriter who stands to make a fortune out of penning the literary sensation of the moment – the autobiography of a cravat-wearing Russian meerkat – can today be revealed as Val Hudson, a former publisher at various leading houses such as HarperCollins and Headline.

Ebury Press has shrouded in secrecy the backroom deals to bring out A Simples Life: My Life & Times. The book is billed as being written by Aleksandr Orlov, the cute meerkat who appears in the Comparethemarket.com adverts, spinning far-fetched tales about his family history and liberally sprinkling his prose with his catchphrase "Simples".

So far, the marketing ploy has worked to perfection. A Simples Life is currently number two in the Amazon bestseller list, crushing the autobiographies of Tony Blair and Keith Richards. It is expected to be the Christmas number one, providing welcome free publicity for the price website that spawned Orlov. Comparethemarket.com is estimated to have garnered at least £10m in boosted revenue.

The publishing industry has been alive with rumours and speculation as to who the real author of the book might be. Val Hudson left her post with the Headline publishing group last year.

The book itself makes no mention of the real author, and yesterday Ms Hudson was more than slightly reticent. "I can't talk about it," she said and hung up when contacted by The IoS. Her friends said that in recent months she has been "vague" about what she has been doing, answering queries with: "A bit of this, a bit of that."

There is no doubting her credentials, however. Ms Hudson has spent 25 years in the publishing industry with a string of best-selling biographies to her name. In the 1980s as a junior publisher she bought the rights to a tie-in book for the Australian soap Neighbours on the cheap.

"I was then so frightened of telling my boss that I went back and sold the serial rights first – The Sun paid £20,000 and Today £10,000," Ms Hudson told the publishing website BookBrunch. "It was the mid-1980s. I think the advance was double my salary." The book went on to sell 350,000 copies.

She was behind the best-selling biography of Billy Connolly, written by his wife, Pamela Stephenson, and has also worked with Lauren Bacall and Cliff Richard – whose autobiography sold 200,000 copies in hardback. Ms Hudson was also responsible for humour books before leaving Headline during a restructuring last year.

Friends described her yesterday as "witty" and "funny", though some said she could be "edgy" and "aloof".

Liz Thomson, the founder of BookBrunch, said: "Val is a publisher of the old school, when it was about long lunches and wooing people, and she understands the business. She's able to take an idea and pursue it. She's a fun person, very witty and very dry."