Spirit Willing, Flesh Weak

Headline Little Black Dress
September 4, 2006 (Paperback)

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Rosie Fox is a liar. A really, really good liar. But when you're a stage psychic who's not actually psychic, you have to be. Then one night, while pretending to commune with the dead relatives and pets of her audience, Rosie makes a startling prediction - which tragically comes true. Suddenly she's trapped in a media frenzy, spearheaded by the impossibly handsome journalist Harry Blake, a man intent on kick-starting his stalled career by exposing Rosie as a fraud. Yet when his interest in her goes from professional to personal, she thinks she can trust him not to blow her cover - but maybe she's making a huge mistake.

More About Spirit Willing, Flesh Weak

Here it is next to Martina Cole, Jenny Colgan and Jackie Collins...

As a fiction writer I love the idea of creating illusion and belief out of thin air. As a romance writer I believe that even illusion can reflect profound human experience.

I did quite a bit of research for writing Rosie Fox, who's a fake spirit medium, and this research tended to fall into two camps: researching "real" psychics, and researching "fake" psychics.


For the "real" side, I attended several services at the Spiritualist Church in Reading. Although I'm not a religious person I find religion of any sort very interesting, and the people at the church were consistently welcoming and kind, with a strong faith. I'd like to thank them, even though they didn't know they were harboring a writer in their midst.

Fox sisters

The history of the Spiritualist movement is, in many ways, the history of the emotional life of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and as this is a special interest of mine (I wrote my MPhil thesis on this period), I spent a lot of time researching it. (And named my heroine after the Fox sisters, who helped start it, pictured on right.)

I also went and had my tarot cards read. This was an immensely enjoyable experience for me. The reader was warm, interesting, and engaging, and it was totally worth the money to have a nice person talk entirely about me and my problems for an hour. It was sort of like therapy. She taped the session and I've always meant to check back over her predictions to see if any of them have come true, but the tape won't work. A lot of what she said was wrong, and a lot of what she said she could have deduced easily from my manner, clothing, and the information I gave her. But I liked her an awful lot and I would probably pay to talk with her again.

When I was, briefly, a reporter for the Brown Daily Herald, I went and had my palm read for an article. That woman was terrible, and I've looked back at predictions she made and not one of them has come true in any way at all, nor are they likely to. My predominant impression of that reading was that her young son came in and kicked me in the middle of it.

I also spent several happy hours watching "psychic" Sylvia Browne on the Montel Williams show. I can't write my opinion of Sylvia Browne here, because I think it unwise. Let's just say I don't think I'd pay money to talk with her. I'd rather be kicked by a small boy.


Although I enjoyed my time with the "real" psychics, my book is about a fraud, and my heart lies with the joyful fakers, the illusionists, the entertainers, the rational magicians.

full facts of cold reading

I thanked some of them specifically in the book, particularly Ian Rowland. His book, The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading, was invaluable to me in learning how a fake psychic does it. It's an outstanding book and I recommend you buy it.

My female readers may like to know that Ian is single, entertaining, could "possibly be considered non-hideous", and enjoys the finer things in life such as treating females to exquisite food and wine. I can vouch that he is charming and an excellent writer. And hey, magicians are inherently sexy. That's why I made my hero, Harry, good at sleight of hand.


Speaking of sexy magicians, I also spent a lot of time staring at Derren Brown, and reading about Harry Houdini, particularly Ruth Brandon's The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. Many people will think I'm weird to consider Houdini sexy, but the man escaped from manacles. Good God.

I am also consistently amused, challenged, and informed by the weekly newsletter and forum at James Randi's website, www.randi.org.

Finally, after I finished Spirit Willing, I read a book that made me so jealous I could hardly think straight. I love it, love it, love it, and it is called Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold. It's about magicians, trickery, and the redemptive power of love.

Other Covers

tubino nero charmante leugen

Published as Tubino Nero in Italian by Sperling & Kupfer, and Charmante Leugen in Dutch by De Kern.

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"With sensitivity, skill and wit, Cohen carves out a heart-warming conclusion that will bring a tear to your eye." -The Star (Malaysia)

"This book was fresh, it was funny, and it was romantic. However, there was so much more to it than this. It was serious, it was heartbreaking, and it had so many different layers." Romance reviewed


I think it was adrenaline as much as anything else that led me to the lady in the back row. It had been a good show, a great show, and as always with a great show, I felt a little like I’d inhaled a tankful of helium–without the squeaky voice. Excited, light on my feet, as if I was about to float up into the spotlit air any minute.

So I flew past the rows of chairs to the back of the audience, faces swivelling to follow me. My bracelets jingled. I stopped next to the woman on the end of the row.

She was thin, dressed in beige, with straight mousy shoulder-length hair and brown eyes. Hard to tell the age of somebody so immune to fashion and makeup: she could be mid-forties to mid-fifties. Even though the walls around her were black, she seemed to blend into the background. The most interesting things about her were her left hand and the space in front of her feet. Her left hand was a rather plain prop for a large emerald-and-diamond engagement ring and a heavy gold wedding band. And near her feet was a canvas tote bag that I could see was full of books.

So, where to start with this woman? “Hi, I’m Rosie,” I said.

“I’m Moira,” she replied. A small voice, shy.

“Do you have anyone that you’re trying to get in touch with, Moira?”

“Well, um, not really,” she said. “Maybe my brother. Or my mother-in-law.”

Man, what kind of person would want to get in touch with her mother-in-law from beyond the grave? I decided to go with her brother as the much safer bet. I screwed my eyes shut, showing I was concentrating hard.

“I feel a male presence trying to get through,” I said, “but it’s not very clear yet. Would you mind giving me your hand, Moira, maybe to make the connection stronger?”

Her hand in mine was bony but warm, except for her rings which felt cold and hard. I held it and tried to figure out whether her brother had died as a boy or a man.

“I’m getting a picture of brown eyes, and a few freckles, and I think he wants to tell you about something that happened in January?” I began, and opened my eyes to look at her brown-eyed, lightly freckled face.

And then, holding her hand and looking into this stranger’s face, it happened. I’m not sure even now how it happened. It didn’t feel any different from anything else that had happened that evening–there wasn’t a crash of lightning or any sort of major flash of insight in my head. I felt totally like me, totally normal, like I was opening my mouth to say the sort of thing I was so used to saying.

But I didn’t.

I opened my mouth, and I said, “Don’t get on the nine twenty-seven train to Swansea.”
Just like that.

I closed my mouth and dropped Moira’s hand. I didn’t feel normal then. I felt practically blind, nearly deaf, and not at all like the usual Rosie Fox I knew and often loved.

“Oh my God,” I said. “Really. Don’t take the nine twenty-seven train to Swansea.”

And then I turned and ran out of the theatre.

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