Booktalk


Today’s post comes as a result of an urgent request.

A reader Tweeted this:

With pen and pencil I sat down to suggest a few delights but found the list soon out of control. How to choose just six brilliant writers from all the wonders out there?

This particular reader discovered my books through the Smart Women promotion, thanks to other authors she enjoyed. I’ve never met her but I know she’s a jewellery designer and loves beautiful things, she’s an eclectic reader and appreciates well-wrought prose. Finally, when she finds an author she likes, she devours all their work.

So, here are six authors with a body of work to their name, all of whom I can personally recommend. I have also added an example of their writing to start the curious reader on a wonderful journey of words.

Jim Williams

A Renaissance man who apparently turns his hand to all kinds of genres with ease. His prose is witty, erudite and entertaining, sometimes subverting the style with a sly wink. A well-read man who writes well-worth reading books. Highly addictive.

His murder-mystery boxset is a great place to start.

 

Amanda Hodgkinson

A novelist with a poet’s soul, this author makes her words dance like butterflies. Her books are unconnected apart from the beauty of her prose, so start where you like, then relish her short story in the Grand Central collection.

Try 22 Britannia Road or Spilt Milk and you’ll be hypnotised.

Piers Alexander

If surround-sensory, rambunctious historical fiction is your thing, read this man. The Bitter Trade and Scatterwood would not be my traditional fare, but this is a writer who draws you into its world like Süskind’s Perfume.

You cannot stop and don’t want to.

Make your first encounter with Calumny Spinks in The Bitter Trade.

Louise O’Neill

Hardly a hidden gem. Louise is sparkling already, winning YA prizes, rave reviews and readers across the spectrum. Her voice is cool, sharp and simmering with anger against injustice, while remaining articulate and human.

All her work is worth reading but if you liked The Handmaid’s Tale, read Only Ever Yours.

Barbara Scott-Emmett

A writer so versatile and talented, you could spend months engrossed in her work. Crime, erotica, short stories and literary fiction, she messes with your mind in the best kind of way. If you like Euro Crime, get Don’t Look Down for Christmas.

Delirium: the Rimbaud Delusion is an absinthe dream.

 

Jane Davis

A recommendation for all those who don’t know her work, this is a writer with such delicacy of touch when exploring sensitive topics. I love all her books and give them as presents, especially for their glorious covers.

Pick up any one of them and you’ll fall in love, but A Funeral for an Owl is my No.1.

And if you’re still hungry for more, check out the selection over at Bookmuse. We publish two or three new reviews every Wednesday and even recommend the perfect food, drink and audio accompaniments.

Glass of wine, anyone?

 

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A neat way to tip an author?

After spending a few enjoyable hours in a restaurant, we pay our bill and give a little thank-you via a tip. For the waiting staff, this can be as financially valuable and personally gratifying as the wage packet.

Authors love it when you buy their books. Of course they do! It pays the bills and feeds the dogs and gives them time to write more books. But a review lights a flame in an author’s heart.

You got it? We connected! We understand each other!

It makes an author’s day a little brighter.

For more than one reason.

Reason One: People often write to me via email or social media to let me know how much they like The Beatrice Stubbs Series. Here’s one from last week:

Binge reading! JJ Marsh/Beatrice Stubbs are FANTASTIC. They are almost impossible to put down. I started Book 1 on August 2 (thanks to Kindle) and am now half way through Book 6. They are the perfect antidote to the excessive heat – just lie on the sofa and read, read, read!!

It’s heartwarming to hear such a response. Authors love to receive such praise. Thank you so much!

Reason Two: Putting your thoughts in public – eg, Amazon, iBooks, etc – allows other people to discover the books and potentially enjoy them as much as you do. How many word-of-mouth recommendations have you enjoyed? I’ve discovered true gems thanks to tips from friends.

Spread the word. Pay it forward.

Reason Three: The more reviews a book or boxset gets, the more doors open. Take a look at this post by indiesunlimited to get a bit more background. Real live people with personal opinions make all the difference to writers. Your comments support the author with no cost other than a few moments of time.

Reason Four: If you’ve never written a review before, it’s not difficult. You can go the whole hog and do an in-depth analysis or just jot down a couple of lines about why you liked it. You might like this piece by Gillian Hamer, a seasoned reviewer, on how to avoid spoilers and focus on the potential reader.

http://amzn.to/1MxQcYy

Reviewers and recommenders are more valuable to authors than you can imagine.

So on behalf of all of us – Thank You!

 

A friend pointed me to a piece in The Guardian this week, alerting me to the fact my own creation, Beatrice Stubbs, was recommended in the comments. I was pleased to be mentioned and fascinated by the author’s choices.

Drawn like a magnet to lists, I started making one of my own. In doing so, it became clear that the kind of female crime fighter I prefer is a rounded, flawed human being whose greatest asset is her mind.

From The Guardian’s Top Ten, Smilla Jaspersen would have made my list too, as would Claire DeWitt, but here are ten more brilliant women battling injustice, roughly in order of when I discovered them.

Isabel Dalhousie by Alexander McCall Smith

His other heroine, Precious Ramotswe, is more popular, but I return to Isabel Dalhousie again and again.

The setting of Edinburgh, a eclectic collection of endearing characters, our heroine’s sharp self-awareness and the philosophical questioning of moral choices are exactly what I want to read.

Plus she’s an older woman, embracing the ageing process with good grace. No kick-boxing here.

 

Blanche White by Barbara Neely

An African-American maid/housekeeper who has a nose for mysteries, this character is also a social and political commentator on the unjust world in which she lives.

Her strength and intelligence reflect the author’s, a multi-talented mould-breaker who remains an inspiration. This little interview says it all. Wonderful precursor to The Help with layers of analysis couched in tales of mystery.

Harriet Vane by DL Sayers

I was introduced to Harriet by my Triskele colleague, Catriona Troth. ‘Your writing reminds me of Dorothy L. Sayers’, she said. On hearing I’d not read any Sayers, she recommended Gaudy Night, and I’ve never looked back. There is something about The Golden Age of Crime I cannot resist. Plus Sayers, Marsh and Tey characters inhabit a world of steam trains and bicycles without a smartphone to be seen.

Lisbeth Salander by Stieg Larsson

Not a fan of excessive violence or torture in crime fiction, I avoided Larsson’s work for a long time. But when I did finally read The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, I found his depiction of this unconventional personality and mind truly appealing. This character-driven element of his work led me to read more, mostly because of this girl.

Temperance Brennan by Kathy Reichs

Someone gave me a huge box of crime hardbacks as she was leaving the country. Most of them were so clichéd and graphic I gave up on them, with the exception of Val McDermid and Kathy Reichs. The latter introduced me to Tempe. She’s a forensic anthropologist, bilingual and professionally smart if not so much in her personal life. The author wears her expertise lightly, enabling her creation to be expert, flawed and politically astute. She’s also now the subject of a TV series called Bones.

Clarice Starling, by Thomas Harris

Harris is most famous for his unforgettable villain, Hannibal Lecter. But Clarice is a brilliant psychological portrait of a hard-working, vulnerable woman whose determination and persistence enable her to hunt down her man from the smallest of clues. She has a brain and uses all of it.

Ellen Kelly by Sheila Bugler

Sheila is a friend and colleague, whose work I admire enormously.

Like McCall Smith, her setting (South London) is vital, but it’s the damaged, struggling, personable character of Kelly that draws you into the story.

She’s a real woman with a high-pressure job, two kids, and more than one tragedy in her past. After three books, I feel I know this woman and care what happens next.

Start with Hunting Shadows, the first in the series.

 

Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich

Crime is rarely funny, but there is a place for dark, wry humour and Evanovich has it in spades. Dry, sassy, feisty and fierce, Stephanie is forced by financial circumstances into the risky profession of apprehension, or bounty hunting. The wit is sharp, the observations acute, the character and her relationships develop over the series. Plum ages well, like a good tequila.

Cassandra Reilly by Barbara Wilson.

Humour is another feature of this clever translator who odd-jobs as a private investigator is her wise-cracking wit and roving eye. Cassandra sticks in my mind as a powerful creation and a rare lesbian heroine in the genre. Like several other authors on this list, Wilson makes the most of her locations, which range from Barcelona to Venice to Transylvania. She really should be better known.

 

This is a personal list but I’d be keen to hear about other female sleuths I’ve not yet met. Any other smart, unconventional, thought-provoking recommendations warmly welcomed. Holidays are all about discovery.

 

 

I want to go to (back to) Portugal.

After spending four happy years living in the country, whenever I return my joy in the place and the people is undiminished.

To remind myself of its many wonders, I like to immerse myself in books about the place.

If you’re a Lusophile or willing to be converted, here are five portals to Portugal.

Sea of Straw

By Julia Sutton

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sea-Straw-Julia-Sutton-x/dp/099328633X

This is a love story between two people and one country.

Insights on the Salazar regime in such recent history come as a shock, yet the reader basks in the sensory, detailed settings, the gradual growth of our characters and an awareness of being given a Technicolor vision of a time, a place and a human bond.

 

Night Train to Lisbon

By Pascal Mercier

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Night-Train-Lisbon-Pascal-Mercier/dp/1843547139In Night Train, a chance meeting with a Portuguese woman on a bridge provokes Gregorius, a Swiss teacher of Classics, to follow his curiosity.

It leads him to a book, ‘Um Ourives das Palavras’ (A Goldsmith of Words), written by Amadeu de Prado.

In an uncharacteristic act of spontaneity, Gregorius walks away from his life and boards a night train to Lisbon, just to discover more about the author.

A treat for the mind. One of the best books I have read in a long time.‘ Isabel Allende.

 

 

 

The Book of Disquiet

By Fernando Pessoa

To understand the adventurous spirit balanced by introspective nature of the Portuguese, you have to read Pessoa.

His philosophical notes and nuances are by turn wry and melancholy, much like listening to a fadista. Beautiful, painful and the definition of saudades.

“the sort of book one makes friends with and cannot bear to be parted with”

 

 

 

 

The High Mountains of Portugal

By Yann Martel

“Lost in Portugal.
Lost to grief.
With nothing but a chimpanzee.

As ever, Yann Martel proves unpredictable in this odd combination of experiences, both human and animal.

Three short stories linked by theme and metaphor draw the reader into considering grief, meaning, history and the significance of communication.

 

 

 

Bad Apples

By JJ Marsh

I know, it’s one of mine. But this book represents thanks, beijinhos and abraços to Portugal. It’s crime, of the character-driven kind, and all about what makes this country and culture so exceptional. It also has francesinhas. Oh yes. Come to Portugal – you won’t forget it.

“Like the great wines that appear in its pages I suspect this gem of a series will only improve with age.”

 

 

Good news for writers!

Creative Spark is back.

Starting Friday, Triskele Books is offering ten weeks of free writing exercises for you to flex your creative musculature.

For a little refresher, take a peek at last year’s content.

It’s all on the Triskele Books blog but I recommend starting with Week 1 – Emma Darwin and Story Fundamentals.

Terrific advice from the professionals.

Honest to goodness FREE – we don’t even ask you to sign up.

Now that is what you call generosity.

 

Good news for readers!

Behind Closed Doors, the first in the Beatrice Stubbs series, is currently £0.99.

One week only, folks! Signed paperback for anyone who gets the tie reference on the cover.

Or you could just avoid that horrible terror of running-out-of-things-to-read-on-holiday/vacation/Ferien/vacaciones/gwyliau/vacances and grab yourself the boxset.

That way you get Switzerland, Wales, London AND Spain all in one go.

Adventures all over Europe from the comfort of your own hammock.

 

Good news for Bookclubs!

Jane Davis, an exceptional author in her own right (I just managed to resist that pun – hello, Maturity) talks to authors about why their books would make great bookclub reads.

Jane’s works are classic examples of the enjoyable and discussable. Recently, she asked me why Bad Apples would work.

Read the post here but you may want to pour yourself a glass of red first.

(In the picture, that is water. Not gin.)

Incidentally, I visit bookclubs often and can also do a Q&A via Skype.

 

Good news for Cultural Connoisseurs

Follow your nose and root around on The Woolf.

I co-edit this Swiss-lit magazine which features artists, writers, tattooists, composers, performers, jewellers and all manner of creative adventurers.

Plus a Gallery like none other.

Plus original poetry, prose and performance.

Go exploring. I guarantee gems.

 

Till next post, in which I shall tackle a thorny issue – author ethics.

 

 

 

The reading at Waterstones. With huge thanks to Novel London

Jane Davis invited me to Virtual Book Club and asked why the Beatrice Stubbs books suit book clubbers. (The answer is wine, in case you’re wondering.)

http://jane-davis.co.uk/2017/06/05/virtual-book-club-jj-marsh-introduces-bad-apples/

Do check out Jane’s novels. They are a gift to the intelligent reader.

And Boxset Two is out now. Travel to Greece, Germany and Portugal without the stress.

https://www.amazon.com/Beatrice-Stubbs-Boxset-Two-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B071P8MW2T

Have a fabulous Sunday.

Is it me, or is there a whiff of optimism in the air?

The final book in The Beatrice Stubbs Series is ready for preorder!

Ebook release: 26 May

Paperback: 3 June

Come along to hear me read, answer questions and sign copies with fellow crime writer Debbie Young on Friday 2 June at Waterstones, Tottenham Court Road. http://bit.ly/2qOn3zE

And here, an exclusive for my blog followers, are the first two pages of Bad Apples.

*****

Extract from Rogue by Anonymous

Bears, clowns, cats, butterflies, demons and angels cavort along the banks of the canal, dancing, laughing and twirling their capes in ceaseless balletic arcs. Music drifts through the night air from the square up ahead, growing louder and more frenetic as I approach. My feet stamp along with the beat.

A black and white chequered mask looms out of the crowd. Man or woman? I have no way of telling. It points directly at me and beckons. A strange force compels me forward. As if under a spell, I have no choice but to follow. The light-footed creature tiptoes onto a tiny bridge, stands in the middle, claps silently in time to the music then runs backwards, drawing its arms together, suggesting an embrace.

Aroused and afraid of losing sight of this hypnotic stranger, I cleave from the crowd and speed up, breaking into a run over the ancient stone edifice after the disappearing figure. A flash of white down an alleyway catches my eye and I give chase, my breath ephemeral clouds in the February chill. Moonlight barely penetrates these tiny backstreets, and when it does, merely illuminates skeins of gauzy mist rising from the Venetian waters, creating a theatrical dry ice effect. A whistle from above makes me look up.

The china-faced harlequin, high above me on a crumbling balcony, lit by an arcane street lamp, genuflects in an elaborate bow. I tilt my head back as far as it will go and stare up at the apparition. How did it get up there so fast? Impossible, unless whoever it is has wings. And how am I supposed to follow? I pace backwards across the deserted street until my back grazes the stone wall and fix my attention on the balcony – a stage no bigger than a dining-table – as the performance begins.

The harlequin spreads its arms wide, revealing the dramatic scarlet lining of its black and white cape. Each arm makes a sweeping gesture, once left, once right, acknowledging a vast imaginary audience. The head rolls in figures of eight, apparently seeking someone in the crowd. Then with catlike precision, the mask looks directly at me. One hand floats to its mouth and it blows me a kiss. I press my fingers to my mouth, offer them upwards and blow one in return.

The harlequin clutches at its heart with one hand; the other reaches out to snatch the kiss from the ether. The clenched fist remains in the air while the head is bowed in gratitude. Long hair, black as midnight, spills around the frozen features. This is a woman, I am now sure. With a slow, ritualistic gesture, the figure brings her fist to her mouth and raises her chin in ecstasy.

Once more the arms widen, as if receiving rapturous applause, and then the figure bows to the left, right and centre. She brings both hands to her painted mouth and blows an expansive kiss to her public. Her arms mime a giant heart shape as she embraces her watchers and holds them close. She repeats the gesture, her beautifully chiselled mask somehow evoking modesty, pride, love and passion without a single movement. The third time her hands return to her heart, they are no longer empty.

In the left, a single red rose, striking against the white diamond on the front of her cape. In the right, a handgun, aimed upwards beneath her chin. She kisses the rose and lets it fall from the balcony to the street below. I watch it tumble to the ground, its petals scattering on the cobbles. The shocking report of a gunshot whips my head upwards.

Against a blood-spattered backdrop, her body crumples over the stone balustrade. Long black hair dangles from the remnants of her blasted skull and the white diamonds of her cape turn dark. Something breaks at my feet. Her mask, cracked into shards. I lift one to the light. Her mouth, painted in a silent, frozen smile.

*****

Order your copy here:

Amazon

Smashwords

Kobo

Paperbacks will soon be available at all good bookshops.

PS: If you want one of the secret signed copies, get in touch.

 

 

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