Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Shameless Exposure

"We'd need a new title," I said. "We can't call it The Scottish Affair because half of your problems happened in Brazil." Caroline knew I'd been working on a second volume of our memoires and had almost finished the first draft. She finally agreed it was right to warn others of the charity tax scam perpetrated by Regina Heart. She didn't mind the publicity surrounding the first book any more. She had worried people wouldn't take her seriously at work, but it turned out that most of the men and all of the women working in Monsaint thought it was great, especially the board members.

"It should be called Shameless Exposure," said Caroline. She came straight out with it. "And the bit from my holiday diary can be the first chapter."
"Hang on a minute, I'm the writer in this household."
"Well you couldn't have written about my trip to Soho because you didn't know anything about it."

Stumped by Caroline's logic, I turned back to the beginning of the diary and imagined it as the start of a book about our experiences last winter at Castle Dunlaggin on the Isle of Mura...

I suppose this is a confession, but it’s a confession of stupidity, not unfaithfulness. It was a genuine mistake. Xena told me about the Orgatron Training Centre, how everyone was going, and how fabulous her orgasms had become. I tapped the address into my phone and it came up with a location in Soho. Did Xena say Old Brompton Road? Did I mishear and type in Brompton Row, or did the phone just anticipate where I wanted to go?
     27 Brompton Row was an old shop front painted black. There was no big sign saying Orgatron Training Centre, but I expected it to be discreet. I spoke my name into a crackling chrome box and was admitted to a dim hallway with period d├ęcor; dado rails, deep skirting boards and red damask wallpaper. I was met by a maid who spoke poor English.
     “Thank goodness you come. Very particular man. Must be red hair.” I had no idea what she was talking about. I had made my appointment for a consultation at the Orgatron Centre a week previously, after Xena had been so enthusiastic about it.
     The maid, a small lady from somewhere like the Philippines, couldn’t answer any of the questions I had lined up. I wanted to know how much the course cost, how long you signed up for, whether you could rent an Orgatron before deciding to buy. She just shook her head as if I was mad and guided me into a dressing room full of theatrical costumes. She gave me an ivory coloured corset, silk stockings, and frilly bloomers. She gestured that I should take off my work clothes. I stripped and started to pull on the bloomers but the maid looked horrified and shouted “No! Must be clean for Chinese man.”
I said I wasn't sure anybody would be interested, but then I turned the page.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Holiday Diary

Caroline is back from kite surfing in California and wanted to tell me all about it. She said Cresta Wave, the woman running the course was amazing. She was a Scottish Duchess or a Dame who had given up her title to follow a spiritual path. Caroline said that Cresta reminded her of Regina, except that Regina wasn't a full-on lesbian. Cresta believed kite surfing was the perfect expression of freedom and a way to connect with The Big One.
"I know Regina was a deluded, power hungry egomaniac, but there was a kernel of truth in her animist beliefs. Especially the stuff about the orgasm. I think you should make it into another book, Robert."

"Did you connect with The Big One in California?" I asked, ignoring her suggestion. The last book had caused so much trouble.
"Not this time," said Caroline. "I had too many bruises." She lifted up the skirt of her dress to reveal centre-forward legs. "I loved it though. We all got really close, living in tents on the beach. I spent the whole week in a bikini. I will definitely do it again. I'm really brown, look." She hitched up the skirt again and pulled her knickers up over a butt cheek to demonstrate the contrast in skin tones. "How was your week?"

I said the Swanwick Writers' Summer School was very like kite surfing, only without the sea, surf, sunshine and women in bikinis. I said a woman called Alexa Radcliffe-Hart had taught me how to write a literary novel, at least in theory. Caroline's suggestion set me thinking.

"Are you serious?" I said, wondering if what C and I referred to as  The Scottish Affair between ourselves could be the basis for a ground-breaking literary novel. "Serious about publicising the events that led to you nearly losing your job and me being almost barred from the bar? You were dead set against it a week ago."

"I had a revelation," said Caroline. "When I finally achieved lift-off and was flying over the waves at fifty miles an hour wondering how to achieve a soft landing, I realised that life is short. I thought it might be very short indeed. I decided it was no good letting the Regina's of this world steal all the limelight. I want people to know." She looked at me hesitantly, almost shyly. "I want you to know, too."
"Know what?"

Caroline reached behind her and picked a notebook up off the kitchen table. She handed it to me.
"Before you read it, I need to explain something. Otherwise you'll get the wrong idea." I took the notebook. It had a hard cover and good quality paper. I opened it at random, and there was Caroline's loopy script in flowing felt-tip pen, different colours for different paragraphs, smudged here and there with drops of sea water.

"It started as a diary of the holiday," she said. "But then I started thinking about the spirit guides and Regina's orgatron regime. I know I was stupid to get sucked into it, but it did do something for me. You must have noticed." I had noticed; sex with my wife had been amazing since Scotland.
"So promise you won't hold it against me when you read how I went to the wrong address in Soho? I misheard what Xena said. It honestly was a genuine mistake."

I turned to the beginning of the notebook, intrigued, and wondering if the lady did protest too much.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Summer School (Part Two)

When I left you I was on my way to a two part workshop with the winning title 'Self-Publishing Erotica.' Autumn Barlow, the presenter, generously shared her hard won, down to earth, and totally practical insights into getting erotica and erotic romance out to the hungry readers. It was so professional the hecklers at the back who had come prepared from breakfast with apples and bananas left their fruit unwaved.

The next day was the turn of crime fiction. Add together romance and crime and that's a huge proportion of what is being read today. Sex and violence. Some enterprising authors manage to tread delicate lines and combine the two. How interesting that in this age of complex societies and technological wizardry our main leisure preoccupations are still fear of attack and the fun bit of procreation. It's like we were still sitting round a camp fire hoping the wolves, bears and neighbouring tribes stay away long enough for a good shag on the fur skins.

The Swanwick Writers tribe are nomads who meet up for an annual festival every August. There is no camp fire as such, but the School does have some tribal features. The tribe leader, Diana Wimbs, leads a group of elders who work their fingers to the bone all year so that tribe members can sit around making up and telling stories. There aren't many disputes for the elders to resolve; any problems or outlandish behaviour are just seen as material for the next novel or short story.

Ajay, the eAgent who was midwife to Shameless Ambition, is here at Swanwick with me to make sure I don't drink too much whiskey and say the wrong thing. Unbelievably, he was asked to run a workshop on the Boutique ePublishing Phenomenon. I didn't go myself, but someone who did go said it was a piece of shameless promotion. "Brilliant," I thought, "that's the perfect title for the fourth book in the series."

I asked Ajay how the workshop went.
"It nearly didn't go at all," said Ajay. "John lent me a laptop and set everything up in the lecture theatre. The appointed hour arrived, but no participants. Oh well, I thought, no one is interested in ePublishing. I confess I was a little disappointed. As I was leaving the room, notes under my arm, a man came in. 'Oh well,' I said, 'it's just you and me.' He shook his wise head and pointed to a door on the other side of the corridor.

'We're all in there,' he said. I looked into the other lecture room, and there were rows of expectant faces, wondering where the bloody hell their workshop leader had got to. I had set up in the wrong room. So they nearly didn't get to hear about Caroline's exploits in Frankfurt."

That evening, I got some funny looks from people who came up to me and said, "Oh, so you're Robert Fanshaw..." Fortunately I met another barrister who drinks gin, writes books and didn't look down on me with pity.

The finale, apart from the 'dregs party' and the last night disco (sadly, the pictures are not of sufficient quality) was provided by Deborah Moggach, she of Tulip Fever and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel fame. She told us about her adventures in the screen trade, and how her milkman almost stared in an aborted adaptation of Tulip Fever.

Now there's an idea! In the film of Shameless Ambition, who would you cast in the role of Caroline, or Melody, or Sid, or Von Wolfswinkle? Caroline's already decided the suave lawyer will be played by George C., even though he's considerably older than me.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Summer School

I know some married couples like to do everything together but Caroline says that she needs some space.She says it is a good thing if we develop our own interests, and she has accordingly booked a week in California entitled 'Introduction to Kite Surfing'. Her new friend Amber had told her about it. I said I quite fancied kite surfing but she said it was 'women only' because men show off all the time and I would have to find my own hobby.

I looked at all the activity holidays and summer schools available. There were hundreds, so I narrowed the search by adding 'blondes' and 'beer'. I discovered that Saltaire Brewery makes a five star blond beer. The Prague summer school programme came up trumps on both counts and I applied for 'Crime and Psychology', thinking I might be able to show off my legal training. It was fully booked.

So here I am at the Swanwick Writers Summer School in Derbyshire. The Romantic Novelists Association conference in Sheffield (see post 16th July) had introduced me to the wonderfully twisted minds of writers and, having blundered into their world through the inadvertent publication of Shameless Ambition, I realised I could learn a thing or two.

Swanwick Writers is an institution, 65 years in the making, the longest continuously running writers' summer school in the universe. It bears many of the features of an institution, and school is the right word. Classes run from dawn to dusk and some of the workshop leaders are not averse working participants' fingers to the bone and with old fashioned discipline: "I hope you're coming to the next session on Writing Literary Novels, Robert. I will notice if you're not there." Meals happen on the dot, and there is mashed potato in a silver pan that is served by the person at the top of the table. People are swooning with nostalgia and staggering under the weight of puddings.

Alison Chisholm's brilliant workshop, Writing Autobiography, was a great help. Those of you who know Caroline, Antonia, and the others already realise that my books are  thinly disguised memoir with some of the names changed. I learnt yet more things I shouldn't have done. I really should have run the draft past Von Wolfswinkle and then the legal problems might have been avoided.

The beer here is Mansfield Bitter from Bank's Brewery in Wolverhampton. A notable blond is Syd Moore, author of Witch Hunt and The Drowning Pool, and a champion of Essex girls. She read us extracts from her ghost themed novels last night and had everyone feeling totally spooked, especially when the lights went out. People say you should read your writing out loud to see if it works: well, that worked! Afterwards, people were recounting their ghostly experiences and as darkness descended over The Hayes Conference Centre, it seemed to turn into a medieval castle with Gothic features. I had to check under my bed.

More to come. Monday morning and I have to dash to to the session on Erotic publishing.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Two for the Price of One

By the time I'd had my shower Caroline was curled up in bed and nearly asleep. I decided to risk extreme grumpiness and engaged my wife in conversation.
"What happened next?" I asked. "You were going to tell me about the maid and the champagne."

"Oh God, Robert, I'm really tired. I didn't get much sleep last night. Can I tell you about it in the morning?"
"I didn't get much sleep last night either worrying about what you were up to."
"I wish you wouldn't worry. There's no need to. I'm not suddenly going to run off with another woman, or two other women as it turned out."

Caroline turned over and talked to the bedside table.
"Yes, it turned out to be a BOGOF. No money involved, of course, unless you count the £200,000 for the software upgrade. It was a while before I realised what was going on. At first I thought the blond was a real hotel maid. But then, the maid made a mess of opening the champagne and some splashed on my dress. Amber got really cross and started ordering the maid around.

"She told the maid to pat the wet patches on my dress with a towel. Well, she didn't just pat my breasts, she fondled them, and then the maid said I'd better take the dress off so she could get it cleaned by the morning. I turned around and Amber unzipped me and helped me out of the dress.

"Then Amber said, 'Lucy, I think you should show Caroline how sorry you are for spilling champagne all over her.' I twigged then that Lucy wasn't a real maid. Amber had brought her friend with her on the business trip. It turns out they share a house and a liking for night-time adventures. Day-time too, by the sound of things.

"Lucy had a lovely way of saying 'sorry'. It took ages and involved lots of kisses all over my body. I began to feel all gooey inside. I said 'Do you mind if I take off my underwear and lie on the bed? I'm feeling very relaxed.'

"I don't remember much about the next couple of hours except soft brown skin and soft white skin, and a moment when the three of us were in a jumble and there was this amazing cascade of hair on the pillows, red, black, and blond."

I asked: "What was the sex like? You know, without a penis." Caroline turned around and faced me.
"You see that misses the point entirely," said Caroline. "Sex is so much more than fiddling with the naughty bits. It was a lovely, sensual experience; there was lots of laughter and a little bit of something close to pain. There, satisfied now?"

"Not exactly," I said. "Now that you're properly awake..."

Thanks to Annie Oakfield for the loan of Amber and Lucy.

Who are these people?

The world is divided into voyeurs and exhibitionists... It takes one of each to make a good marriage.

Robert and Caroline Fanshaw are an ambitious young couple trying to make their way in a complex world.

What happens when their private affairs collide with world events and the big issues of our times? Drama, comedy and x-rated scenes.

email fanshawrobert@gmail.com