Tuesday, 2 December 2014


Caroline is, of course, jealous of the all the new people I meet at writers' conferences and events. I'm not allowed to question her extended business lunches or overnight stays in five star hotels, but I have to give detailed descriptions of everyone I've talked to and whether I fancy them or not. I particularly enjoyed telling Caroline about Liam Livings, who writes romantic fiction with gay themes for a wide audience, and who I met at the RNA bash this summer. I know Caroline would love Liam, not just because he's very handsome, but because he would listen quietly to her relationship problems and make a great story out of them. I'm delighted to welcome Liam to this blog, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, And Then That Happened .

I'm always interested to find out how other writers get the words down. Do you write every day?
No. And yes. Let me explain.

In 2014 I’ve written a first draft roughly every other month, and used the other months to edit, do promotion, plan other stories. When I’m writing a first draft I like to try and stay with the story as much as possible, not leaving it for more than 2 days without writing. I did Nanowrimo in 2014 and wrote 61,000 words over 13 days, spread over three weeks. So when that’s happening, I do try to write every day. But when I reach the end I often take a week or so off from this sort of writing, because it’s exhausting. Then I plan, plot, do other things.

When I’m not drafting I’m always doing other parts of *writing* making notes about ideas, planning character biogs, going to my local writers group of the Romantic Novelists’ Association London Chapter meetings to talk to other writers. So even when I’m not sat at my laptop writing, I’m still thinking about writing, reading about writing, so when I do get back to the laptop I’m usually raring to go.

Do you find writing fun while you're doing it?
I love writing; everything about it – plotting, working out characters, getting the ideas, first drafts, http://www.liamlivings.com/blog/my-writing-process-blog-tour even getting edits back and working with an editor to improve the story. I love it all. I’m not creative in any other ways – I can’t sing, draw, paint, dance (ballroom dancing, I can certainly throw some shapes on the dance floor of a night club, but that’s not for now) so being able to express myself through writing is a wonderful gift. Even when I’ve gone through very dark times, writing has helped me through them, just putting a few sentences together on a screen or a piece of paper helped me through some difficult times earlier in 2014 http://www.liamlivings.com/blog/grief-is-the-price-we-pay-for-love-1-of-2 and http://www.liamlivings.com/blog/grief-is-the-price-we-pay-for-love-2-of-2

Who is your favourites(s) of your characters in And Then That Happened?
Dominic was interesting to write. I wanted to have a character who had experienced mental health issues, particularly depression, just as I have. I wanted to include that in his story to show it’s all around us, it’s something people live with on a daily basis. I think it’s important to cover these sort of issues in what many people think are just lightweight fluffy romance stories, because they’re real issues. I aim to make my characters as real and three dimensional as possible, with the imperfections and problems real people have.

Gabe was such fun to write – his grab life by the balls attitude is wonderfully refreshing. He just dives in and thinks later. I’m not at all like that. It was such fun to see how Gabe’s impulsive nature gets him into certain situations, and write about how that affects him, behind all the bravado, and smiles.

And Then That Happened
Should you settle for a nearly perfect happiness or put your heart on the line for more?

It’s 1999 and 28-year-old Dominic’s carefully planned suburban life with his boyfriend Luke is perfect. His job as a nurse, his best friend Matt, his relationship with his parents, everything is just right. He and Luke have been together ten years, seen each other through friends’ deaths and their parents’ ups and downs, and even had a commitment ceremony.

Gabe isn’t happy with his boyfriend, but he stays with him, because, well it’s complicated.

Fate throws Gabe into Dominic’s life. And then that happened. Gabe’s open relationship, impulsive nature, enthusiasm for life and straight talking advice are fascinating to Dominic. They’re friends, they click over a shared love of Goldie Hawn and Gabe shows Dominic there can be more to life than planned and safe. So why can't he take his own advice?

And Then That Happened is about finding a new kind of happiness, even when what you have is already perfect. And how sometimes perfect isn’t quite what it seems.
It’s available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

You can connect with Liam:
Twitter @LiamLivings

Monday, 8 September 2014

Just Romantic Suspense: What makes a good marriage?

Just Romantic Suspense: What makes a good marriage?: With: Robert Fanshaw Thanks, JRS, for having me back to the Blog that puts a slice of danger into the romance sandwich. My wife Carolin...

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Five Things to Love about the Swanwick Writers' Summer School

I'm just back from the Swanwick Writers' Summer School. Anything that survives 66 years entirely through voluntary effort must have magic ingredients. Magic, as you know, disappears quickly in a puff of smoke, so I resolved to write down what makes Swanwick unique while it was still fresh in my mind. In the event, I had to wait until the power of movement was restored to my body and a semblance of coherent thought returned to my brain. The last afternoon's 'Dregs Party'* on the Hayes Conference Centre lawn, and the unaccustomed exercise of the last night disco, has delayed this post slightly. But here goes:
  1. Dancing with a lion. I was relaxing with a small whisky (okay, a large one) after a hard day's workshopping, when the bar began to fill with characters from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothys, Tin Men, Straw Men, the Wizard himself. The people I was chatting with didn't bat an eyelid. I consulted the programme, and saw that 10.45pm was scheduled for the 'Fancy Dress Disco'. I am full of admiration for people who study their programme carefully enough to arrive prepared with a Wicked Witch of the West outfit, a Dorothy wig, or a full lion suit amongst their changes of clothes. Having initially made excuses about my need for an early night, midnight found me twirling the lion around the dance-floor. It was a new experience for me, but then I've led a sheltered life.
  2. Heritage puddings. The Hayes Conference Centre provides a marvelous venue, deriving charm from its history, ornamental gardens, and traditional dining facilities. Be careful not to sit at the end of a table, or you may end up trying to serve lunch from tureens and platters to people who are in the middle of a detailed description of the underlying themes of their work-in-progress. But oh, the crumble and custard! The food is a comforting, freshly-cooked reminder of a bygone age. Best not to weigh yourself when you get home.
  3. White Badgers. No, not more animal costumes, just a means of identifying guinea-pigs new to the school through the colour of their badge. Not in order to play tricks on them, but so that seasoned Swanickers can be friendly and rescue any lost souls in search of a workshop room. The Summer School also subsidises a number of young writers to attend the school for the first time. Like other first-timers, or White Badgers as they are known, they spend the first day or two wondering if they've made a terrible mistake and hiding away in dark corners. Later in the week, they are to be found improvising plays, sharing their creativity, joining in with the buskers, and providing fresh legs on the disco dance floor.
  4. Technology. The Centre has a number of modern workshop and conference rooms, equipped with the latest presentation aids. Xanthe Wells's carefully prepared slides for her first session describing a creative approach to novel writing failed to appear on the screen, despite the intervention of a series of clever people applying a rational approach to problem solving. Xanthe, undaunted, showed us the way to access the hidden, creative, two-thirds of our mind iceberg; the part, in other words, which needs no Powerpoint slides. Later in the week, Robin de Jongh gave a workshop on how to market ebooks. He got our attention by frightening us with some big numbers; the thousands of ebooks being published each week, and the billions of webpages out there trying to attract attention. He did provide reassurance in the form of a cunning formula which I will share with you. Sales = Audience / Competition. The secret is to write about something so unique and obscure that you won't be lost in the depths of page two hundred of a Google search.
  5. The age range. Nearly three hundred people attend the school, the youngest being nineteen, and the oldest being ninety or thereabouts. I strayed into the lively birthday party of a young eighty-eight year old called Ravey in a lobby. Imagine the comic potential of a group of around fifty such summer schoolers trying to understand Twitter. Enormous respect to children's writer Karin Backmann who boldly attempted to cross the technology age divide and get Swanickers tweeting each other. The trouble is, someone always asks, "What's it for?" And that's like asking, "What is the meaning of life?" A one hour workshop is insufficient to cover such philosophical questions. This was my second time at Swanwick and again I came away having learnt invaluable lessons from people who have been writing for at least a decade longer than I have. The secret to a long writing life? Keep getting the words down, then edit them carefully. David Hough shared his self-editing method in the most useful two hours of my writing education. I was sure he was speaking just to me, and I suspect everyone in the room felt the same. (Please feel free to point out the errors in this piece through the 'Comments' section below. They are all placed deliberately to test you. I wish.)
Did I say five things to love? There must be at least fifty. I haven't mentioned the opportunities for lakeside meditation; the entertaining evening speakers; the poetry, script writing, and storytelling; or crime writer Simon Hall on stage with only a guitar to preserve his modesty. Next year's Writers Summer School is between the 8th and 15th of August. If you are a writer, young, old, aspiring or experienced, put it in your diary now. A week spent in the company of other writers provides a rich diet of inspiration and a cloak of friendship which will last a whole year of being chained to your writing desk or table.

* The Dregs Party is a means for participants to avoid lugging home half-consumed bottles of wine, whisky, gin etc. Some come to Swanwick well prepared. I'm told the Wicked Witch of the West brought her fridge.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Ten new things I learned at the RNA 2014 Conference

I've returned from the Romantic Novelists Association annual conference, held this year at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, with severe jet lag. And I didn't even fly there. But romance is another country, and exposure to new cultures is stimulating and confusing in equal measure. It will take weeks to digest the rich diet of people, information, and Harper Adams farm-grown food, but here are my first ten observations;
  1. The number of men attending the conference (as writers) increased by a hundred per cent over last year, from approx three to approx six. Is there a mutual support group for men writing romance? Maybe the time to form one is now? Get in touch if you thinks so too. Anyway, thanks to the RNA and its female members for making a minority feel so welcome.
  2. Unlike the students, the cows, sheep and pigs do not go home for their holidays. The exotic perfumes worn to the fantastic gala dinner on Saturday night were mixed with the pungent aromas of the barn and silage tank. Thanks are due to the livestock, sadly now passed away, who contributed such excellent roast beef, bacon and sausages to the three good meals a day. The veggie food looked good too.
  3. It's always hot and sunny at the RNA conference. I base this on only two visits, but I am assured this is the case. 
  4. The Aussies have a great attitude. I knew this already from arguing cricket with Erica Hayes on Twitter, but Nikki Logan, President of the Romance Writers of Australia convinced us that the glass is well over half full when it comes to writing and selling great fiction, and was not in the slightest apologetic about a genre which some people feel does not get it's fair respect. Let people think what they want and focus on selling books, said Nikki. Did you think Chemistry was boring? If you want to understand what's going on in readers' brains, it's absolutely bloody fascinating. Sorry if you weren't there, but luckily you can buy her book on the Chemistry of Reading. 
  5. 'Writing is easy.' This quote from Jean Fullerton made at the start of her presentation on not losing the plot was said with irony. Jean illustrated (with rainbows) what a complex pattern a good novel should be. If that one hour could be distilled and sipped over the months it usually takes to write a novel, we would all be best-selling authors and no-one would bother to watch TV again because every evening would be spent reading.
  6. There will be more agents, publishers and industry types at the conference next year, when it is held in a London university conference centre and not in a farmyard. That is not to disparage Harper Adams University, which is a beautiful venue and has an outdoor swimming pool. Cool. Good old Harper Adams bequeathed his dosh to set it up in 1892, and its graduates have a ninety-six per cent employment rate. Lisa Eveleigh, the one agent who did venture north out of the smoke, was generous with her time and insights. 
  7. Kindle Direct Publishing are not the enemy. They can't be, because we drank all their wine, every drop. Self-publishing and ebooks are not a second class carriage on the publication express. This was explored in (at least) two fantastic sessions, the first by Dr Alison Baverstock (with Hazel Gaynor, she of The Girl Who Came Home fame) which was based on Alison's own research into the motivations and demographic of self-publishers; and the second by Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books, who made it sound easy. The self-publishing, that is, not the self-selling. 
  8. Having said that, a good freelance editor and a striking, professional-looking cover are not options to be dispensed with lightly, however limited the budget available. It could be a good time to be a freelance editor like Eleanor Leese .
  9. Liz Harris was intelligent and engaging even at nine o'clock on Sunday morning when most people were reaching for the paracetamol. Her session entitled 'If only I'd known - The Path to Publication' came with a chocolate, laughter, and generous sharing of her experience of the year before first publication when she was also trying to research and write the second book in the deal. After the honeymoon excitement of publication, the relationship of the writer with their writing gets tougher.
  10. Writers are mostly introverts who are now forced onto the social media - Facebook, Twitter, Blogger - in order to (gulp) build a fan base and publicise their work. The new democracy in publishing means that thousands of titles appear every week. Visibility and sales are harder than ever to achieve. It's a good job the actual writing is so rewarding. Many more great talks and conversations happened at the conference, but I've run out of numbers.

Click here for Shameless enjoyment

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The One Percent Theory

We're down to the last eight in the World Cup in Brazil, and so far Mr Nim has been right in his 'predictions'. His contacts in FIFA have obliged with denials of any corruption by players or referees. Mr Nim would argue that it's not corruption anyway. He calls it influence. He explained his theory to Caroline when they first met at Prince Lippi's casino in Trieste. Caroline, a novice at gambling, was curious how Mr Nim managed to win such large sums.

Shameless Corruption
“Surely gambling is all about chance. All the things people gamble on are unpredictable. Otherwise there would be no point.”
She saw the smile disappear briefly from Nim’s face. She wondered if she had revealed her gambling naivety.
“Unpredictability is my enemy. That is what I fight against. To be a successful gambler you must reduce the unpredictable and increase the predictable. Sometimes it is a matter of one percent here or there, but adding together the one percents is enough to tip things in your favour.”
She thought of asking him if he gambled on football, but then remembered his advice about not asking direct questions. She tried to remember some of Robert’s moans about football matches when his team had not done well.
“But surely all sports are full of unexpected events. An important player might be injured in the game; the referee might miss something obvious; the goalkeeper might make a mistake.”
“You are right. And that is why I have a team of analysts to examine every aspect of the game; the players, the managers, the officials, the players’ wives and agents, the qualities of the grass on the pitch, everything you can imagine, and in great detail. Gambling is a war of information and the man with the best information wins. One percent here, one percent there, one percent everywhere.”
“I had no idea. So when you said you have good judgement, you mean you have good information.”
“Both are necessary. Even with good information we can fool ourselves, allow greed to cloud our judgement.”
The waiter appeared carrying clean plates and a silver platter containing a whole skinned sea bass. Caroline stifled a groan at the sight of more food, and helped herself to a piece of the delicate pale flesh. The smile returned to Nim’s face.
“I can see you have had enough to eat. After this, let us return to the tables. Tonight I am feeling lucky.”
“Does your one percent theory work here too?”
“Of course. But I cannot tell you how. If I did, I would have to kill you.” He smiled. She laughed. They drank green tea from fine porcelain bowls.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Shameless Corruption and the World Cup

How is the World Cup going for you? Disappointed that England were 'out' even before the last game of the group stages? Horrified by Uruguay biting their way through to the last sixteen? Several of the European teams - Spain, Italy, Croatia - have crashed out early, suggesting that conditions do indeed favour the South and Central American teams.

I'm still here in England while Caroline has gone suspiciously quiet in Rio. The last I heard, Bertrand Cottoneau had promised her tickets for the final at the Maracana Stadium in July. But I was worried when she got involved with a shady character called Mr Nim in Singapore, and traveled with him and his entourage, first class, to Brazil. He must have some kind of hold over her. Why otherwise would she have asked me to bring a million dollars in cash with me when I fly to Brazil? This kind of money movement is beyond my competence, so I phoned Cosimo Baldissi for advice:

“Are you all right, Cosimo? Speak up, I can hardly hear you.”
“I had an accident, Roberto, and it hurts if I laugh or shout.”
“Well this is no laughing matter. I’ve had a peculiar message from Caroline. She says she needs a million dollars urgently.”
“Ah. That much?”
“Is that all you’ve got to say? You know something about it? I know she’s been speaking to you and Bertrand. He’s getting me a ticket for the final.”
“Yes, we’ll all be there. It will be like old times.”
“I hope not. I couldn’t bear a repeat of Copenhagen. Come on Cosimo; tell me what’s going on. Is Caroline in trouble?”
“If I tell you, you will be in danger. For Caroline, the danger is a fate worse than death. For you, just death.” I had to stifle a chuckle at the Italian’s amusing exaggerations.
“I don’t think they give the death penalty for illicit currency movements. I’m sure Caroline has a good reason for needing the money. I just need some advice on how to raise it and how to move it to Brazil.”
“How much has Caroline told you? Did she tell you about my accident?”
“No. She told me about meeting you and Bertrand and going to Brazil via Singapore for a financial directors’ conference. Then she had a problem with her bank account and she used mine to send a lot of money to Bertrand. It was six hundred thousand euros. So why does she need a million dollars now? Caroline’s usually tight with money.”
“She’s trying to help Bertrand. He has many problems. He’s not the same man since Francine left him for New York. And he has to deal with that FIFA man, Cleb Fludder, who promises to retire and then stays on to wreak more havoc. Bertrand says he is destroying the beautiful game, and Cleb thinks Bertrand is after his job. He’s right, of course.”
“I’ve known Caroline to be generous, but not with money. And she doesn’t care about football. It must be something else.”
“Do you know about Caroline’s gambling habit?”
“Sorry Cosimo, Caroline doesn’t gamble. She calculates. You wouldn’t believe the grief she gives me when I bet twenty pounds on the Manchester United score.”
“People change when they are exposed to new experiences. She spent a week with Prince Lippi and picked up a taste for the casino. He introduced her to some high rollers. I expect she needs the money to settle a gambling debt.”
“Impossible. If you think that, you don’t know Caroline. It must be something else. But whatever she needs it for, will you help me?”
“Of course, anything for Caroline. What assets do you have?”
“Assets? Loans, more likely. We don’t even have pensions. Everything’s tied up in the house. We put every penny we had into it and then borrowed a lot more.”
“How much is it worth?”
“Caroline says two million, but she likes to talk it up.”
“You must live in a mansion.”
“No, we live in Surrey. House prices around London are crazy.”
“And the mortgage?”
“Nearly a million.”
“There are companies which will buy a house quickly at a discount. I will email you two names that can be trusted a little bit. Sell the house, and I will help with the transfer of funds. We will need a friendly bank with an operation in Brazil. I will speak to Von Wolfswinkle.” (extract from Shameless Corruption)

For more, and for the result of the World Cup final before it even happens, click below:

eBooks by Robert Fanshaw


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Light shines on Shameless Corruption

Boom! The day has come. No, not the day of the World Cup final. Not yet, anyway. The day has come when you can read about my wife's involvement with the football authorities and the World Cup final in Brazil, before the final even happens.

"Before it happens?" you ask. "But that's not possible!"

Yes, before it happens. And that is down to the wonder of predictive fiction. Shameless Corruption is a romance set against the background of the World Cup and the corruption in world football. My wife, Caroline, infiltrates a Far East betting syndicate to help some business colleagues, and loses more than just her money. She is fascinated by the syndicate leader, Mr Nim; and he is convinced she is his lucky redhead. I won't give the game away and tell you who wins the final, but if you want to know before anyone else does, or before it even takes place, go to Amazon.co.uk  or to Amazon.com if you are in America and the rest of the world. Or any ebook supplier you like.

"How does it feel, Mr Fanshaw?"

It feels fantastic. I'm talking about the book publication there, not about the prospect of my wife ending up in a Macau brothel. SteameReads, the epublishers, have done a brilliant job as always on the editing and production, and have come up a with a cover which captures the sultry mood, the Chinese influences, the heat of Singapore and Brazil. It's a special day in the life of an author when their new book is sent out into the world. You must let me know what you think of it, even if you just read the free first section on Amazon. Goodreads, Amazon, blog comments (see below), email via the My Wife Caroline website ; however you want.

"This isn't the first time you've written about your wife's exploits, is it?"

Not the first time, and possibly not the last. Caroline says she wants to go into politics when she's achieved all her business goals. If she does, I can imagine she would get a lot of support from her influential European colleagues who played such a part in Shameless Ambition, which was the first book in the series. Shameless Exposure covers events on a remote Scottish island which are indelibly stamped on my mind and which show what can happen when otherwise intelligent people jump aboard the latest cult bandwagon.

"Doesn't writing about the intimate details of your marriage put your relationship under pressure?"

I admit Caroline made me go with her to the marriage guidance clinic earlier this year. I think we are a typical modern couple. Writing about our ups and downs makes no difference to the fact that long hours of work mean that we spend less time together than we would ideally like. The books are fast-paced entertainments in the 'active romance' genre and are for women and men to enjoy, whether for the romance, or the intrigue, or the sex and sport. You will laugh, too, providing you see the funny side of life.

"Excuse me while I download a copy..."

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

When Fact Collides with Fiction

One problem with writing contemporary fiction is the danger that the fictional world will collide with real events, trumping the outrageous imaginings of the author. This has been happening almost daily in the revelations of corruption FIFA, with the publication of Shameless Corruption only two weeks away.

What is the 'corruption' referred to in the third book in the Shameless series? Corruption in the higher reaches of world football, corruption led by betting syndicates from the East trying to fix results in the build up to the World Cup, and the corruption created by huge amounts of money swilling around the football world. Elements of all these corruptions run through the story of my wife Caroline's attempt to infiltrate a Chinese betting syndicate in Singapore.

Against these unlikely world events, which turn out after all not just to be likely, but probable, there is the much more personal story of how such corruption changes an individual and leads them to behaviour that in other circumstances would be out of character. Caroline learns how to gamble in order to pass herself off as a 'high roller' in the casinos frequented by Mr Nim and his syndicate members. Even someone as hard-headed about money as Caroline can be tempted by the adrenalin thrill of the large wager. She hates losing money, and that only adds to the excitement for her. She believes that the next big win is just around the corner, and loses more than just her money in a world where huge risks are taken for huge rewards.

Is there a conspiracy at the heart of world football? Will money win out, however blatant the corruption just beneath the surface? And will Caroline give Mr Nim the red card and return to her former life as a married business executive, or take the illicit money and run? I have to hold my hands up here and admit I have a vested interested in the outcome.

If, like Caroline, you would like the answers to these questions, you can join her on her roller-coaster ride through the World Cup finals in just a couple of weeks time. Let's face it, the whole thing is bound to be a blast, whether Nim lands his dirty rotten gamble or whether football's governing bodies come clean and admit to fixing their own competition.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Will she or won't she?

I'm not sleeping well. Caroline's in Singapore and says she is not sleeping well either, blaming the heat. Is she worried about what I'm worried about, or worried about something different?

Caroline has been behaving out of character, which psychologists say is either a) a sign of an undiagnosed physical condition or b) a pending relationship breakdown and divorce, aka a new squeeze.

"Of course you're worried," you say. "Any man would be, in your position."

Ah yes, but there's a complicating factor. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to go to the World Cup final. Unfortunately FIFA keep awarding the finals to far-away places like Brazil, Russia and Qatar and not somewhere convenient like England or Germany.

But Caroline bumped into a business acquaintance when she was in Italy recently, who re-introduced her to the European football supremo, Bertrand Cottoneau. And he has promised her two tickets to the final. I'm finding it hard not to put that in large type capitals, bold, and underlined. I'm sure there's a catch, and that's what I'm worried about. That, and pending relationship breakdown etc.

Will she or won't she? Will she get the tickets from Bertrand, and if she does, will it be me who gets the second ticket?

"What is strange about Caroline's behaviour?" you ask. "I reckon you're being paranoid; like men are when they have a dynamic, attractive, successful wife who earns more than they do."

Have I mentioned the gambling? Having nagged me constantly for four years for 'wasting money' on betting on football scores, Caroline has taken a keen interest in learning all the casino games and has been spending her nights with the high-rollers in Singapore. When she could choose a different night out, she went to the Kranji racetrack to back horses. But what is really out of character is that she is losing money. She always makes it. She's a finance director. She hates losing. That's why her rise to the top of Monsaint Medical Instruments has been so meteoric.

You can see why I'm worried now. Whose money is she losing? I know it isn't mine, because I live my life in a balanced cash flow. It comes in, it goes out, balance = zero.

And now she wants me to funnel about half a million euros, borrowed from a Chinese gentleman, to Cottoneau's account. She say's it's very urgent. My suspicions are well and truly aroused. That's an awful lot to pay for two tickets to a football game, even the World Cup final. Now do you understand why I'm not sleeping well?

I will be in a better position to give you the full story in three weeks time when  Shameless Corruption is published by Steam eReads , global publishers of quality ebooks.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


You can tell the same story a hundred different ways. And that is what happened when I sat down to write the cover blurb for Shameless Corruption. Or should I call it 'product description'? Either way, it's the bit that people might read first and think, "Wow, I want to read that," or, "I don't think so!"

Writing blurbs is teaching me more about writing novels than any other practice. It forces me to get to the essence, to cut through the waffle and say out loud, "This is about..."

It should be simple, and like most things that should be simple, it's a difficult process to mistress. I might start with a synopsis, something written to inform a potential publisher, or even myself, who the characters are and what happens in their story.

Then I write the novel, which does take a little time. Then I edit it a few times, which takes a while too. When I go back and look at the synopsis, I realise I have written a different book to the one outlined in the synopsis. I rewrite the synopsis to reflect the completed novel, and send it to the publisher, fingers crossed. I then enter the shadow of the valley of doubt while I await a response. The publisher won't like it. The whole project is misconceived. I have completely failed to tell the story I wanted to tell etc. etc.

I give up hope and start working on a new project. My energy starts to return. I don't care anymore about Shameless Corruption. 

Then an email arrives accepting the novel for epublication, and a date is agreed. Way-hay! I need a blurb now, and I need it fast. I read Shameless Corruption (yet) again. I ask myself, 'what is it about'? I consult the synopsis. Useless. I go through the book, picking out key events, change points for the main characters, emotional highs and lows, choices faced. I cut 65,000 words down to 400, then 300, then 200. Still none of the 20 versions completely satisfy but I have narrowed it down to three main angles. Is it:

   a) To help some business colleagues, Caroline infiltrates a plot to fix the result of the World Cup and ends up in the thrall of the syndicate leader;
   b) To her surprise, Caroline finds the casino exciting, and her reckless gambling takes her to a dark place;
   c) Caroline has until the final whistle of the World Cup to choose between two men, one a dangerously wealthy gambler, the other her husband.

I consult a friend who has worked in films and on games, and she reads my blurbs, confirming they don't cut the mustard. She helps me find the key point, the crux, the choice Caroline makes to go this way or that way. Another ten versions, and I'm still not sure which one will appeal to 'readers', whoever they may be. So I test the blurbs out with a group of writing friends, getting them to tell me which blurbs and phrases work for them. That was REALLY helpful.  And even more helpful, they told me which phrases were likely to make them give the book a miss. Of course, one 200 word piece is not going to impress everybody, but at last I was getting close to something I was happy with.

They told me that angle (c) is the way to go, especially since the choice is not as obvious as it seems. If she chooses to turn down the wealthy man, she risks a lifetime of servitude in a Macau brothel.

I sent the new blurb off to the publisher. Almost by return, I got an enthusiastic, "fantastic. That's great, Robert, but could you get that down to one sentence?"

Bangs head on desk.

The 200 word version is HERE on my author website. Does my blurb work for you? If you have blurb experiences to recount, or snappy blurbs to share, just hit the comment button.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Fashion show

You look back and you think, 'How did that happen?' How did Caroline get addicted to gambling? With a bit of perspective, I can see that she was bored at work. She normally puts every ounce of her energy into her career, and I guess that energy found a new outlet when she agreed to help some business colleagues that she met at a Milan fashion show. Here's a sneak preview from Shameless Corruption which will be published in June.

With the third wave of models, lights flashed on and off and dry ice swirled across the stage, giving the stunned audience glimpses of the fashion future. Nipples poked through holes in flimsy bras or were brazenly displayed on a balcony quarter cups. Thongs framed perfect bottoms and only half concealed the models’ shaven crotches. Assorted chokers, bracelets, anklets and chains hinted at dungeons and danger.
Caroline was on the edge of her seat, staring open mouthed at the parade of near naked women. She couldn’t relate to the women or the clothing. There was nothing real about it. Cosimo leaned over and spoke into her ear above the loud music, pointing at a pair of knickers constructed of loops of material which followed the contours of the model’s arse.
“I would like to see that piece on you. Your derriere would do it justice.”
“In your dreams, Cosimo. They only make this stuff in tiny sizes.” Caroline imagined the loops of silver material gracing her rear, but then saw herself getting caught on a door handle and pulling the whole thing off.
Cosimo poured more champagne into Caroline’s glass and harangued the ex-footballer turned fashionista. “Such a waste, Giovanni. Why can’t you make clothes for a normal, beautiful woman?”
Giovanni laughed. “Patience, my friend. We have a short break now, then you will see the exotic range. Those models have a real woman’s figure.”
...Before Bertrand could drag Caroline off for a private meeting, lights started flashing and a drum roll built to a crescendo. While the audience fixed their eyes expectantly on the stage, ten models appeared on the floor of the hall, one for each of the tables. Photographers crowded in to capture the moment the models climbed on the tables, firing a frenzy of rapid flashes. The stunt allowed the audience a close up view of Giovanni’s exotic range as the models turned, bent, and gyrated to the beat of the drums.
As Giovanni had promised, the models had breasts, thighs, and hips, of sufficient curvature to display the sculpted underwear. A scientist would have marvelled at the properties of modern fabrics, infused with exactly the correct percentage of Lycra to stay intimate with the skin. An economist would have been impressed at the use of such a small amount of material in an expensive item of clothing. An artist would have been proud to have painted such designs straight on to the models’ bodies.
Close to their audience, the models engaged the eyes of the watchers. They put on a burlesque show, hooking their fingers into the magic fabric and sliding the bottoms down a little way, and pushing out their breasts. The ten models in different outfits moved from table to table, giving each party an eyeful of the latest exotic fashions. Cosimo insisted on helping the models down from their table, chattering away to them in Italian; anxious, he explained to Giovanni, that they should not sprain an ankle.
One very attractive model had red hair like Caroline’s, only cut in a bob. She smiled at Caroline and gave her a wink. Her outfit was black, with high waisted bottoms and a full cupped bra, but with sheer triangular cut outs in random places, figure shaping but hinting at availability. It was Caroline’s turn to lean over to Cosimo.
“Now that’s more my thing. I could even wear it under a business suit.”
Cosimo pointed at Caroline and then at the model. “Giovanni, she likes this one. Can she have it?”
“Of course, but she must try it for size first.” Giovanni stood and spoke in the model Letizia’s ear. “Please take my guest Caroline to the changing area when you have circled every table.”

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Small Fortune

Some people have commented via social media that I can't be a real lawyer because I never blog about my work*. That supposition is what we lawyers call a non sequitur. Let me demonstrate. Some of my clients also accuse me, when a case is lost, that I'm not a real lawyer. I counter with the correction that incompetence is every bit as real as competence. What they mean is qualified. It is perfectly possible to be incompetent and qualified at the same time. I'm not saying I'm incompetent, not at all, but that quality is all around for us to see. I choose to write about other people's incompetence and not my own, not from a position of superiority, but because we can derive amusement, and even comfort, from the trials of others.

Of course, people will also ask, "Is Robert Fanshaw a real writer?" or, "Is his wife really the finance director of Monsaint Medical Instruments?" Or, as somebody remarked yesterday, "If Caroline didn't realise that gambling is dangerously addictive then she's pretty stupid."

I to leapt to her defence at this criticism. There's a lot you could say about Caroline, but she's no more stupid than you or I. She's very good with numbers and can calculate odds quicker than I can. So stupidity does not explain her sudden fascination with different forms of gambling. She started with a little light roulette, moved onto blackjack, learnt to play high-stakes poker, and then she texted me from the Kranji racecourse, the HQ of the Singapore Turf Club. She gave me a tip she had received from a Chinese acquaintance, a certain Mr Nim, for a guaranteed winner in the last race. Mr Nim was so certain that Caroline placed a small fortune on it.

The horse's name, in case you follow racing, is Oceans Flow. Look out for it. Really, it's a good horse. I hope it wins you some money. If you want to find out how it ran on that fateful evening in Singapore, you can look up the racing results, or wait until June for the full story, when Shameless Corruption storms up the straight of the Amazon ebook charts.

I've been drafting up some 'blurbs' for the publisher. Here's part of one...

Caroline’s marriage is already in trouble when she infiltrates a gambling syndicate that is planning to fix the result of the World Cup. Introduced to the suave Mr Nim, she learns to gamble with the high rollers, but when beginner's luck runs out, loses far more than just her money...

*The reason I don't write about commercial law is that if it bores me, it would bore you even more.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Shameless Corruption

I have some news for followers of the adventures of my wife, Caroline. Shameless Corruption, the third novel in the Shameless series, will be published by Steam eReads in June this year. The publishers also handled the first two novels, Shameless Ambition and Shameless Exposure , all available as reasonably priced ebooks from Amazon . Each novel stands alone  and you don't have to read them in any particular order. But Ambition and Exposure are a useful, lightly fictionalised background to the current predicament Caroline and I find ourselves in. If you want to experience the full impact of Shameless Corruption, you are advised to get reading.

As I have hinted in previous posts, Caroline and I are having problems with our relationship. Between you and me, I'm not sure we will still be living together by the end of the World Cup tournament in Brazil. The 'D' word is in the air. My instinct is not to talk about it, but the counsellor at Marital Solutions said it would be good if I discussed things more with trusted friends. I know I can trust you, dear reader, but please bear in mind this is only one side of the story. Caroline would probably explain it differently.

Neither of us have been saints during the four years we have been married (to which a quick glance at the books above will attest). But when Caroline was promoted to Finance Director of Monsaint Medical Instruments, it was not the job either of us expected. We both thought she would be crunching numbers at their HQ in Stratford, East London. But Ivan, the former FD of Monsaint, who got the top job, wouldn't let go of the numbers, and has used Caroline as a kind of deputy chief executive, sending her on all the trips abroad he didn't want to make himself. Monsaint has operations in Europe and South America, and next on the agenda is China and the Far East, so I have hardly seen Caroline for three days in a row over the last six months, and when I do, she is 'too tired' for the things most married people do. My work is based in London, a commute from where we live in Guildford, and I generally get my clients to come to me because I work in the London courts. I'm just saying it's not me who is away all the time.

When Caroline gets tired she struggles to control her tendency to pick faults with others, i.e. me. I try not to accuse her of nagging, but that is what it is. For years she has complained about me going to football matches (Manchester United - there's no need to feel sorry for me) and having modest wagers, nothing more than a hundred pounds, on the outcome of certain matches and the occasional horse race.

So it's a little ironic, isn't it, that she called me the other day from Italy, where she was meant to be renegotiating Monsaint's bank loans, to say she was staying another few days to learn how to play high-stakes poker from her 'friend' and casino owner, Prince Lippi?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Always Read the Brochure

I didn’t dare risk revealing my ignorance by asking a question. I was still wondering what I had been so honest about in the profile that Caroline must have completed for me. Was it the football or the jealousy? Or did I have a failing of which I was not yet aware?
“No? So let’s start with what matters. How long is it since you last had sex? With each other, I mean.”
Caroline stared straight ahead. “I think it was when we were on holiday in the Caribbean. Last October.”
“Is that your recollection, Robert?”
I looked at Caroline. “What about that time in December you came home drunk from the Monsaint Christmas party?”
“If you say we did, then we did. But it’s not proper sex if I don’t remember it, is it?”
“Let’s not worry about details,” said Valerie. “It’s clear from what both of you are saying that your sexual relationship has ground to a halt. You’ve both been very brave to admit that by coming here. Can you tell me, one at a time, why you think that has happened? Caroline first.”
“I think… Of course we’re both very busy at work and the opportunities have been limited.”
“Go on.”
“I think Robert’s gone off me. He’s more interested in Manchester United. He keeps making hurtful comments about my appearance, my weight.”
“What comments?” I said, but got no further. Valerie told me to wait my turn.
“Go on, Caroline.”
“Robert makes no allowance for the pressures of my job. He thinks I swan off abroad for the fun of it when actually I’m working really, really hard. He expects me to jump into bed the minute I get back home but I need time to relax first.”
Valerie nodded. “I understand. Now you, Robert. How do you explain the recent lack of sex in your relationship with Caroline?”
I looked at Caroline and wondered if I dared tell the truth, that I was wracked by a crippling jealousy, the image of Caroline in the arms of another man. The lack of opportunity was a smokescreen; it hadn’t stopped us in the first few years of our marriage. I had no idea which comments about Caroline’s appearance she had misunderstood. I thought she was drop-dead gorgeous. The trouble was, so did certain other men in her life.
“I can’t explain it.” Well, I couldn’t. I couldn’t explain how she had allowed herself to be seduced by an old boyfriend. Not just seduced, but painted naked in loving detail for the whole world to see. How she brushed off my concerns as me being old-fashioned, and how even now she went all misty-eyed when recalling those evenings in his studio in Whitechapel. Valerie fixed me with her sympathetic smile and told me not to worry; that most men find it hard to talk about their difficulties in the bedroom.
“No, you misunderstand. I don’t have difficulties in the bedroom, I…”
“I mean, everything works all right. It’s just that Caroline’s mind seems to be somewhere else. She doesn’t seem interested.”
“I see. Thank you, Robert. Thank you Caroline. I know this isn’t easy. But as you know from the literature, we don’t focus too much on analysing the past. The most important thing is the present and the future. And we know from our research that the key is to re-establish physical intimacy, starting from today. But not with each other. First we must rule out any physical, organic or behavioural problems. Are you happy to proceed with the session?” Caroline nodded. I wished, not for the first time, that I’d read the brochure, but I nodded assent.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Caroline drags me to marital therapy

The trees on Fulham Broadway had a sprinkle of white blossom, but it was with little hope that I climbed the stairs behind Caroline up to the first floor office of the Marital Solutions Counselling and Therapy Clinic. The place had been recommended to Caroline by her friend Xena, and Caroline had dragged me there for what she described as my last chance.

We were met by a receptionist in a white coat and directed towards a waiting room, the walls decorated with posters about erectile dysfunction. Clinic literature showing naked couples having air-brushsed sex was scattered on occasional tables beside the pale green chairs. Thankfully we were the only couple in the waiting room, but I still felt I had to talk in a whisper.

“Are you sure this is a good idea, Caroline? In my experience talking about things makes things worse, not better.”
“According to Xena, it’s not just about talking. They have male and female therapists who help you overcome problems with a physical or emotional cause. They say they can get you started again.”
“Couldn’t we go to an expensive hotel for the weekend? Wouldn’t a couple of days in bed with room service do the trick?”
“And what happened when we tried to find a weekend in between my business trips? You said you were going to a football match.”
“It wasn’t any football match. It’s the one that will decide the season.”
“You don’t have any insight, do you? We have to do something now or there’s no point in living together any longer.”
“I don’t know how you can say…” The sense of injustice that surged in me every time Caroline spoke was thankfully stemmed by the appearance of a woman with a mass of frizzy hair held up with a colourful headband.
“Good morning,” she announced, like she really believed it. “My name is Sheila Mavistock and I will be your counselor for the initial diagnostic sessions. You must be Caroline and Robert? I’ve so been looking forward to meeting you. You sound like wonderful people from your profiles.” Profiles? I didn’t recall completing a profile. Caroline gave me the look which said, Don’t say anything.
Sheila gave me a warm smile. “It’s unusual for a man to be so honest. That’s a good sign. I’m sure we’ll be able to help. Come this way.”  She led us to a room which was a cross between a lounge and a library. Shelves with psychology books lined the walls, heavy curtains framed the windows, and musty old sofas completed the look of Carl Jung’s study. She pointed us to a deep red damask three-seater sofa. We sat at either end.
“Time is precious so I’m going to assume you’ve read about our programme. It’s designed for busy, successful people and is proven to work by our own dedicated research team. The references are in the brochure at the back. Do you have any questions before we start?”

For more Shameless stories go to My author page

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

How Strong is your Relationship?

"Something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Fanshaw?" Danny, my after-work swift drink partner from accounts, often sprinkles his observations with lines from Dylan. It is his way of showing concern, even though he disguises it heavily with laughter and sarcasm. He had picked up on my worries about Caroline.

To reassure me further, he explained how people who work with numbers all the time have to let their hair down occasionally and it doesn't usually mean anything. Judging by the average length of his relationships, in Danny's case it never means anything. I'm not a worrier by nature, but I had made the mistake of completing a 'How Strong is your Relationship?' quiz in a glossy women's mag while waiting for my annual check-up at the dentist. I scored 'mostly Bs', which, according to Hermione Glissop, means my marriage to Caroline is hanging by a thread and I must take positive action immediately.

So when Caroline came home for the weekend, briefly interrupting her visits to Monsaint's business operations across Europe, I took Step One, which, according to Hermione, is to discuss your worries with your partner without accusing them of anything, thus avoiding 'the cycle of defensiveness.'

"I'm worried about you, Caroline."
"No you're not. You're worried about the World Cup tickets."
"The tickets would be fantastic. But what I'm really looking forward to is seeing a bit of Brazil, with you."
"The bit of Brazil in the vicinity of Maracana Stadium?"
"Yes, of course, that as well. I just think it would do us good to spend a bit more time together."
"I'm not sure how much time I'll have. You know I've got to visit the distribution centre in Sao Paulo? That's my justification for being over there."
"This is why I'm worried about you. You don't seem to have time for anything but your job."
"But I love my job, Robert. At least I do when Ivan will let me get on and actually bloody do it. Which reminds me, I'm going to have to go back to Italy next week. Von Wolfswinkle is over in Europe and it's an opportunity to open discussions with him about refinancing the company's loans."
I sighed. "Let's not talk about next week, you've only just got home."

I steered the conversation away from work and mentioned my visit to the dentist. I told Caroline about the magazine relationship quiz and that it said I needed to work on my marriage. You see, I do sometimes take responsibility.
"You don't believe that rubbish, do you?" said Caroline. Five minutes later she had the quiz page up on her tablet.
"Robert, can you pour me another glass of wine while I answer these questions?"
Five minutes later. "Do you remember Xena? Well she was telling me about these people in Fulham who help busy couples re-establish their relationships. I think I'd better make us an appointment."

For more adventures with my wife Caroline see http://goo.gl/l56y7Q

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

77 Days

77 days until the World Cup starts and I'm worried about Caroline getting the tickets. That's a normal thing, isn't it, to worry about your partner? Especially when she does something she has previously nagged me relentlessly for. If your partner does something out of character it makes you think they are changing. Oh my God, what if Caroline changes into someone different? What if the new Caroline is someone I don't like? Or worse, what if she turns into someone who doesn't like me?

I was in the pub, after work on Tuesday waiting for the football to come on, with a friend called Danny. We spent the first drink talking about the problems at Manchester United, and the second drink discussing the merits of different football managers, having a huge laugh at the horrible idea of Arsene Wenger as the manager of United. This led to a list of other unsuitable managers for the greatest club on Earth, and we came to the conclusion that it might as well be David Moyes because everyone else is either too inexperienced for a big club, closely associated with an enemy, or already exposed as lacking sufficient vision.

Out of the blue, Danny asked me a personal question. "How is Caroline?"
Of course I was suspicious. "She's fine, thanks."
He persisted. "Does she like Italy?"
A couple of weeks ago I had mentioned, before a European game I think it was, that Caroline was going on one of her work trips, starting in Milan; and that she might be able to get tickets for the World Cup in Brazil because she was meeting up with Bertrand Cottoneau, that guy who used to play for France and is now a top bureaucrat in the European Football Federation. I know Danny was interested in the World Cup tickets, not in Caroline's welfare, but I actually responded to his personal question with a personal answer.

"Good question. I have only heard from her once. I think she might be hiding something from me."
"Yes," said Danny, "but did she say she has met Cottoneau? Can she still get free tickets for the final?"

I took a sip of my drink. "She says she can, but there's no free lunches, are there? I'm worried what she's having to do to get them. Bertrand has some dodgy friends. She met up with him at a lingerie fashion show, and now she says she is going to a casino in Trieste. Caroline in a casino! I mean, the grief I get from her when I bet on the football. She thinks gambling is a stupid waste of money."

He told me not to worry because in business you have to pretend you like people you can't stand. And in any case, if she got tickets for the final, whatever she did was worth it. Can you tell Danny isn't married?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Caroline asks awkward questions

It's always interesting when Caroline reads one of my books for the first time. Official advice to writers is not to take notice of praise or criticism from someone close to you - it's impossible for them to be objective. How true, especially when the central character is that very person...

Caroline:  I want some straight answers, Robert. I notice that you gloss over your first visit to Castle Dunlaggin and in particular your relationship with the models Joni, Greta, and Georgina. Did something happen you’re not telling me about?

Robert:  When I’m writing a book I can’t include everything that happened, much as I might like to. I don’t deny that I found them very attractive, Georgina in particular. She was so symmetrical, perfect she said for bikini shoots. The flowing robes worn by the acolytes sat well on her tall frame. She said she only there to lose weight, but she looked good to me. Joni, on the other hand, took the programme very seriously. She really believed in the spirit guides.

Caroline:  Why on earth did you go there in the first place? Don’t you feel embarrassed that you were taken in by Regina Heart’s bogus cult?

Robert:  I wouldn’t say I was taken in by it. My legal training means I try to keep an open mind. I leave judging people down to the judge. I often take cases which seem far fetched, but the client deserves to be represented. It’s easy to judge these things with hindsight, but at the time the Orgatron training regime was gaining converts all over the world. Don’t pretend you weren’t tempted. If not, why did you audition for high priestess?

Caroline:  I’m the one asking the questions, Robert. And it wasn’t an audition. It was ordeal. He was the quite biggest, roughest man I have ever seen. Where was I? Oh yes; how did you persuade Angus to ferry you back to the island on the night of the solstice moon ceremony?

Robert:  Double malt whiskies were the key. Good man, Angus. He knew I’d drown if I tried to go across alone. We nearly did drown when the boat smashed into the slipway.

Caroline: Bogus philosophy aside, do you think anyone benefited from Regina’s orgatron training?

Robert: I’d have to say yes. Wouldn’t you? I mean, sex is fantastic since you did the practice. And Jocasta says she is a changed woman. I thought at the time that Regina was being much too harsh with Jocasta, but the sessions in the dungeon and on the rack seemed to cure her completely.

Caroline: I'm going for a bath and then to bed, and I want you to tell me again exactly what Regina did to Jocasta...

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Dancing to Regina's Tune

We go through life imagining we are in control, making choices based on preferences and evidence. But when we look back, we can see how we were dancing to someone else's tune. I thought it was just coincidence when Forbes-Brown lobbed me a lucrative piece of work up in Scotland for a client I had met before, but that was to underestimate Regina Heart's ability to play a long game.

Robert stood alone on the wooden jetty wondering if the torn information notice pinned to a post was correct. He listened intently but there was no sound apart from the gentle lapping of six inch waves on the shingle beach. He had stayed the night in a decent hotel in Blackwaterside, once a hunting lodge for royalty and lairds. He was the only guest and had used the solitude to prepare for his meeting with Regina Heart. It was his favourite part of the job – taking instructions directly from the client – but he felt uneasy. The last time he had seen this particular client she had been locked in a cage in a torn latex dress.
Forbes-Brown had insisted he travel to see Regina. “When the case is worth thousands, the client comes to us. When it’s worth millions, we go to them. Most people would jump at the chance for a couple of days in Scotland sampling a few malts. What’s the matter with you, Robert?”
“No, I’m fine. I’ll go. I was trying to save your costs.”
“You’re not questioning my judgement? This young woman has been badly treated by a big company. I want to do something for her.”
“She’s not exactly young, Forbes-Brown.”
“She is from where I stand. Not that I’ve met her in the flesh. We spoke on the phone, but there was something in her manner. I don’t know, she had a lovely melodic voice… and she sent me a picture, to my phone. Damned clever, that.”
“I know what you mean. I mean I know the kind of person. Why don’t you take instructions yourself?”
“Look here Robert, I can’t spend all day listening to your twaddle. There’s no risk anyway. The company will settle out of court. They won’t want dirty linen washed in public. Even you couldn’t fuck this one up.”
“I just think if it comes out that my wife works for the company being sued the plaintiff might feel she’s not had a fair shot, especially if she loses.”
“She can’t possibly lose. It’s just a question of how much. Your connection to a junior executive in Monsaint won’t come out. Why would it? Sometimes your attitude… It’s a straightforward case with a big fee. What more do you want? There are plenty of other barristers I could give it to.”

“I’ll get in touch with Castle Dunlaggin right away.”

This is an extract from SHAMELESS EXPOSURE . This, and other books by Robert Fanshaw published by Steam eReads are available from Amazon.

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