Saturday 1 July 2017

The Hippo Hands Over . . . . to Robert Rees

I'm handing over to Robert Rees, author of A Season in the Sun today and he's going to tell us what inspired him to write his book.

Robert Rees was born in Berkshire and educated at Eton College and Trinity College Cambridge. He retired from the City of London in 2007 and now works in the music and drama media industry. He regularly writes, directs and composes music for local amateur productions. Robert lives with his wife, bestselling author Deborah Lawrenson, and daughter Madeleine in Kent.

     What inspired me to write my book “A Season in the Sun” – The Evolution of Henry Fanshawe

I had never really intended to be a writer when I retired from the City in 2007. By discipline I was a scientist, but not a particularly notable one. At university it became clear that the queue in front of me for Nobel Prizes was far longer than the queue behind me, and anyway, I couldn’t stand the practicals. There was a wonderful subject for those disenchanted like me, called History and Philosophy of Science, in the last year. It taught me, after many years of figures, how to write again, and gave me an interest in the subject which I have never lost. 

Similarly, in my years of project finance and banking, (though I loved the atmosphere) I found the area interesting only when there was something new to be invented or some grand design to be funded. I remember upon becoming a director of a major bank that we had to take a psychometric test, to establish that we weren’t mad or likely to abscond to Brazil with everyone’s life savings. The besuited man over the desk looked at me, then down at my results, then up at me again, before telling me that of all the potential candidates he had analysed, he could not remember one less suited to the job. It is amazing what we will do for money.

So in 2007 I was looking forward to a complete change – mainly on the music side, which I have studied and loved for years. I took lessons, started writing music, and, as it turned out crucially, applied to play piano for my local acting group. They were putting on “Aladdin” for the Xmas panto and needed a pianist. Having looked through the script (average) and the songs (dreadful) I wondered if I could not rewrite the songs using the words already there. It was the first time I had tried this since my university days, but seemed to go OK. The show was successful and I tasted the utter pleasure of hearing something I had written performed and appreciated. It was an addictive cocktail.

The next year, having been unable to find a decent script for “Jack and the Beanstalk”, I left for the summer hols having decided to try and write one. Plans for a book on the History of Science were shelved in exchange for bad puns, silly names and slapstick. I found myself enjoying this anarchy enormously, though my wife and daughter, regularly forced to listen to excerpts, may have been less enthusiastic. Still, by the autumn, Giant Underpants, Jack O’Bean (geddit?), and Baron Landscape were ready to be unleashed upon the poor unsuspecting public of Penshurst, with original songs and a new script. This has become a biennial event, and three pantos later I still enjoy writing and performing it immensely.

So to the more serious art of novel writing. Many years back, I and my wife honeymooned in the Seychelles, which I still regard as the most beautiful of islands. We have been back there a few times, and in about 2010, we visited again. On one jaunt in a jeep around the island, I noticed something new – a group of boys playing cricket on a square of grass rough-hewn from the surrounding rain forest. It set me thinking – how new was this sport to the Seychelles? Was there a league? A little research confirmed its novelty, and the germs of idea began to spout. In its nascent state, could a village team ever win the national trophy (all Brits love an underdog!). Could the cloud of match fixing drift over from India to complicate proceedings? Could a pompous and grumpy old banker and cricket nut from England somehow find himself in the position of having a team of talented amateurs to manage? 

Like all ideas, this was initially put aside and relegated to the unconscious, where it lay for some years, making bad friends and generally hanging around in dubious company. Then one summer when a pantomime was not required, I was chatting with my wife (who is a proper novelist!) about the idea, and she suggested I give it a try. I started to piece together how it could work. Maybe the scientist in me enjoyed the pattern forming that is at the base of all art and science. Maybe it was the practice doing pantomime that led to pleasure of writing dialogue. It was certainly the characters, so wonderful and varied, that I had met in the City of London, who contributed to the main hero. Henry Fanshawe, a middle aged, slightly overweight banker with a love of cricket and fine wine. Apt to be gruff, with the messiest desk in the city, but full of bonhomie and generosity for his fellow travellers. So many of my friends went into this melange that I slightly worry about returning to the City in the future.

The novel was completed a few years ago, and then handed to parents (they liked it, but of course they would say that!), brother (disturbingly quiet reaction), daughter (corrected my punctuation with an industry that marks her out as a pedagogue of the future) and lastly my wife, who having ripped the first section to shreds, then gave me the most valuable and constructive criticism I have had. It took around six months to recast.

All that was last year, and after the new draft attracted positive comment from friends and family, I took the plunge and sent it to Troubador, with whom we have a previous connection through one of my wife’s earlier novels. They select, so there is an element at least of some standard being applied. But the printing is paid for by the author, so it is a slightly hybrid approach. This suited me, as I am well aware of the extreme difficulty of getting a publisher nowadays, and of the time and trouble taken. With the limited market for a first time author (hopefully not too limited) it was just not worth toiling round the market. Troubador will also edit, copy edit and market. If it works, it may get taken up by someone. If not, well I enjoyed every moment of it.

I must go now, Henry Fanshawe is on the phone. He was at Taunton yesterday watching England lose narrowly to South Africa, and it seems that the qualities of Somerset Cider have worked their usual magic on him. Apparently he was escorted from the ground after haranguing the umpire on a decision, and he wants me to nip down and pick him up from the local constabulary (and no doubt pay the fine). Honestly, I can’t take him anywhere!

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 I love it when the authors character's drop by and interrupt their creators and Henry certainly sounds like a character! 
If after reading that you're intruigued and want to know more about A Season in the Sun here's the blurb:

Henry Fanshawe, the last family member of Fanshawes Commodities in the City of London, leads a quiet life trading spices in a large dealing room. His day consists of ignoring requests to tidy his desk, making money and spending it on his three great loves: French landscape paintings, fine wine, and cricket. But the new City does not agree with him, and he finds himself falsely accused of financial chicanery, and summarily dismissed. In a stroke of extremely good fortune, a legacy from an elderly aunt allows Henry to move to the Seychelles - though there are strings attached. He must manage her Village Cricket Club, and propel it through the formative years of the Seychelles Cricket league to the position of greatness it deserves. For his colourful and talented team of amateurs, who include a depressive ex-county opener, a drug-taking fast bowler, and the local Chief of Police, this would be difficult enough a task. But in addition there are darker forces within Seychelles cricket, forces from the murky world of gambling who wish to twist the beautiful game to their illicit ends. Henry's first season in the sun becomes a high stakes contest of amateur talent against organised crime, leading to a thrilling climax...A Season in the Sun combines cricket, crime and comedy in the beautiful surroundings of a south sea island. Similar in style to PG Wodehouse and William Boyd, it will appeal to fans of suspense and sporting pursuits alike.

You can find out more about Robert and connect with him using the links below:

 I'd like to thank Robert for taking the time to stop by today and for writing a great guest post. I'd also like to wish him every success with A Season in the Sun.

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