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Shanghai Cocktail - Take One Missing Expat ...
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Seven female expats decide to write a book about a female expat gone missing in China's party city. Given the expat lifestyle, this could be comic, sorrowful, sordid or morbid.


How to make a "Shanghai Cocktail:" take one missing female expat, add a conspiracy, fold in a few life crises, lots of detail and true experience, add a twist of comedy. Shake well and garnish with a twist of fate.


This is the description of a new and unique book written by seven women expats belonging to "Brits Abroad" (including one Canadian and one Australian) who merged their city experiences to create a mystery novel about a woman missing under suspicious circumstances in Shanghai.


It offers up the familiar sights and many of the familiar funny, touching and aggravating experiences. Some sad and dark ones, as well. And it's told from the point of view of professional women who traveled here because of their husbands' work and had to find their own way, make their own adjustments.


Shanghai Cocktail, written by Lucinda Lee Austin (an anagram of the seven authors' initials - Carrie Bonell, Trudi Clarke, Julie Crofts, Lorna Hinde, Anne Jones, Linda Stanbridge and Debbie Thompson), is going on sale today online and promises a different read in a familiar city.


"It's a novel, but all the situations in the book are things that we have either heard about or experienced ourselves," says co-author Jones of the 320-glossy-page self-published book, selling for 150 yuan (US$20).


It's called Shanghai Cocktail because it's a mixture of Shanghai experiences from seven different expats, a cocktail of viewpoints in China's "party city."


The authors have lived in Shanghai for from two to four years. Their professions range from accountant to architect; one is a teacher, another a midwife. One just had a baby. Two have returned to the UK.


We include experiences like waiting outside the Portman for a taxi, struggling with many bags of shopping," explains co-author Bonell. "As the character in the book reaches the front of the queue, she cannot open the taxi door in time before someone behind her has done it instead and stolen her taxi. As this keeps happening, she ends up losing her cool and catching a bus home," says Bonell.


With a predominantly light-hearted style, the book also deals with some of the more serious issues of expats living in a foreign country, such as loneliness and adapting to a new life. It covers issues faced by many women who come to Shanghai with their spouses and how they adapt, once expectations have been replaced with reality.


"Some do really well, others struggle. We have one character who sits at home taking Prozac and daring herself to go outside while another loves it straight away. Obviously we have covered the drinking and partying culture, but we also have shown that Shanghai can be a lonely place, without your family around for support," Bonell says.


Including a colorful cast of characters, the book is based on one person, Jane, who mysteriously goes missing at a glitzy reception on board the Shanghai Dragon. Her wrist watch is discovered, its face shattered.


"It's a mystery book with predominately women characters, however, there are the odd males, ie, their spouses. I think it was just easier for us to get into the woman's mentality being women ourselves," says Bonell.


One character, Brony, a Welshwoman, walks into a friend's unlocked apartment, thinking he is away. She looks around and snoops in his computer. When she hears him enter, she hides behind the couch ...


The same character is lying awake in bed at 4 AM, waiting for her husband to return. She hears the car drive up and peers out the window to see the driver prop her husband, paralytically drunk, against the gate.


Another character finally decides to leave her husband after she learns that he has been rounded up overnight in a police sweep of prostitutes. Apparently, it was the last straw.


Not all men in the book are heels, however.


The women formed their writing circle in February 2006 initially to work on small projects, eventually developing into the book. They met on a fortnightly basis to brainstorm, then they expanded their characters.


"We all took on different characters, so the book has many different points of view and each one is marked with a cocktail glass so the reader can tell when they change," says co-author Hinde. "We all have an interest in writing and completing this book has been a great experience, we have all learned so much.


"I don't think a group of men could finish a project like this. We just absolutely refused to give up despite our ups and downs as we all had a common end goal. So it was a real bonding experience."


It's premature to consider a sequel but the co-authors say they expect to continue with their writing group and take on smaller projects, keeping in mind that life in Shanghai is so transient - two of their number have already moved back to England.


It took the writing group 14 months, including four months of editing, to complete Shanghai Cocktail. They chose to self-publish as they felt it was very much a project of the moment.


"If we took three to four years finding a publisher, the moment would be gone," continues co-author Stanbridge.


Although it is a novel, Shanghai Cocktail uses local photographs, descriptions of Mandarin and Shanghainese terms and Chinese horoscopes.


"We hope people won't just read it and discard it as it has a little more flavor of the city, which makes it a keeper," Stanbridge says.


The press run is limited; the book is being distributed only in Shanghai and to friends and family of the writers in the UK, Australia and Canada.


At this time, they are testing the market. If the response is good, they will take it further.


All profits benefit community outreach projects, including Heart to Heart Shanghai that provides heart surgery for rural children and Home Sweet Home that offers disabled homeless people a home and a trade.


"The best sense of achievement for us will be when we can hand over the proceeds to these projects - all the hard work will be worth it," says Stanbridge.


(Shanghai Daily August 30, 2007)

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