Luzern, Switzerland

A year ago today, my mother died.

Edinburgh party

When her time came, she wanted to go quickly, at home and in the arms of her husband. Which is exactly what happened.

For the rest of us, her departure was sudden and shocking. Of course it had to happen, someday. The medical profession had given her mesothelioma everything in its arsenal, but the disease was relentless. We knew we’d lose her someday, but did it have to be so soon?

One year later, after the pain and tears and grief and enormous black hole where she used to be, what remains?

Quite a lot, actually.

Her passion was always for people. She embraced strangers and treasured relationships, whether family or friends. That much was visible at her funeral where far too many guests spilled out of the crematorium.

The colourful celebration of her life

Since she’s been gone, that elastic connection which can stretch so wide has contracted and brought us all together. Close family became closer, extended relatives got in contact and friends’ gentle words of sympathy reminded us that her kindnesses affected more lives than we could have guessed.

In addition to that, her behaviour acts as a benchmark. It’s only now I realise how deep her influence goes. Her sayings, her code of honour, her willingness to leave the house uncleaned to support a friend or rescue an animal, her fierce loyalty to those she loved and equal ferocity to their opponents, all make me more positive, determined and willing to change.

Terry, Mum and Florian above Lake Zurich

She never failed to tell us how proud she was of every one of our achievements – from first pooh in the potty to first grandchild to first book. I still want to run to her when I get a great review and say, ‘Look, Mum, someone liked it!’ She also pulled no punches when she found our behaviour lacking. One phrase often sneaks into my head when I get fractious: Patience is a virtue, and you, young lady, could do with a few more virtues.

Schaffhausen Falls

Most of all, my mother’s legacy was a sense of humour. She could laugh at all kinds of things, especially herself. I would love to think she was somehow present two weeks ago at the Lake of Zug, where her daughters, sons-in-law and husband were helpless with laughter at the classic Cooty stories.

I miss her. We all do. But we have so many precious memories.

Every day she’s gone makes me appreciate what she left behind.

São João – Porto

Rome!

 

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http://amzn.to/2stfJNS (Over the weekend, I had a few surprises from readers.

One was disappointing.

Somebody returned a Beatrice Stubbs Boxset for a refund.

“Nothing in the description said it was an R rating.”

An R rating? In Europe, we understand an X rating, but what does R mean?

I checked the definition and it’s pretty vague, especially when it comes to books. R means restricted. Some sex, violence, nudity and if anyone under 17 cracks the spine*, they should be under supervision. (*not a euphemism)

If my reader didn’t like the first chapter – which does indeed involve some medium to strong language, allusions to sex and a gently twisted murder – s/he has every right to ask for his/her money back. No offence taken.

http://amzn.to/2stgTJaHow to communicate to potential readers that Beatrice Stubbs is neither cozy/cosy nor excessively violent/graphic? Is there a scale one can use to reassure the nervous while enticing the curious?

Hmm.

The second surprise was a new review from an Amazon reader called Roxann.

I hope she’ll forgive me quoting her here:

I loved the entire Beatrice Stubbs series… Great plots, wonderful endearing characters and JJ Marsh’s sense of humor is delightful. READ THEM ALL. I am very sad that the series is only six books….. I miss the characters…..!!!!! Please write more.

Now stop that. I know what you’re thinking.

Eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.

But I do want to mess with Mister In-Between. How do I please both ends of the crime reading spectrum?

http://amzn.to/2rviH5nWhat kind of warnings do I add to my books? Maybe we need a new system.

  • Small x: Bad cuss-words, almost-sex and a few bloodstains
  • Small r: Medium swearing and not all dead bodies are female
  • Small c: No creatures or children injured

I started writing crime not to shock or horrify, but to entertain. I don’t want to give you nightmares. My aim is essentially to reassure that good can prevail; that human beings want to look after each other. If you’re reading a Beatrice Stubbs book before you go to sleep, I hope you’re enthralled and excited and even unnerved, but never disgusted, repulsed or upset.

http://amzn.to/2swPPKftoYes, horrible people and situations exist but beware of gratuitous shocks.

The Nasties accentuate the negative, fan fear and distort perception.

This piece by Rene Denfeld sums up why I write crime from the female perspective.

Women can be so much more than victims.

Beatrice Stubbs knows all about the negative but strives, at least, for the in-between.

If you’ve read a Beatrice book – whether you’ve loved or hated – how would you describe it?

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

 

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!

 

Reblogged from TripFiction.com – the right book for the right place at the right time.

 

Sometimes you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

For me, it was Portugal in 1991.

A country of history and culture, discovery and adventure, with a personality all its own.

The cities, the people, the food, the music (overlooking that year’s particular obsession with Bryan Adams), the SuperBock, the landscape,and the light.

Oh, that light.

Image by Libby O’Loghlin

Porto was my home for four happy years, with a six-month interlude in Lisbon. Young, adventurous and enthusiastic, I learnt the language and went exploring. Each place boasts its own delights:

Porto works, Lisbon plays.

Coimbra sings, Braga prays.

Image by JJ Marsh

Certain memories are indelible:

A psychedelic sunset behind a student choir in Coimbra.

Falling off the Castelo do São Jorge in Lisbon.

A frisky old goat in Aveiro who tried to grope me from his zimmerframe.

Bom Jesus in Braga, a religious pilgrimage site to scare a sinner.

The unspoilt verdant vistas of Gerês, the natural park of the north.

And Porto. With its wine, sardines, songs, football matches and the festival of São João, where the population spills onto the streets to laugh and dance and hit each other on the head with squeaky hammers.

Portugal pulls me back, again and again, always one of my special places. Hence choosing it as the location for Bad Apples, the last in The Beatrice Stubbs Series.

Why? Well…

Image by JD Smith

There’s an atmosphere, tangible as soon as you get off the plane/train. You’re impatient to dive in. All your senses come alive.

Meander through the streets, absorbing the cobbled pavements, crumbling walls, rusting balconies and that patina of aged wood and cracked leather inside the rattling trams.

Inhale the scent of manjericão or sweet basil, a waft of roasting chestnuts and the startling pungency of dried salted cod.

Eat fresh seafood, drink effervescent white wine (vinho verde) or aged tawny port and relish the coffee at any time of day.

Wander into a café. Listen to commentators and clientele yelling about the football. Or slip into a shadowy fado bar to hear the emotional laments of the heartbroken women of a seafaring nation.

Image by Libby O’Loghlin

 

Feast your eyes on the fruit market, its riot of colour reflected in lines of washing hung from apartment windows.

Stop and stare at the epic tales depicted in the azuleijo tiles on all kinds of public buildings.

Watch the leaves turn the same shade as the rooftops softened in November sunlight.

Gaze at the waves rolling in and out, each a promise and a threat.

 

 

Image by JD Smith

 

Leave the traffic and the city and hike up the river or into the national parks.

Explore Gerês or the undiscovered glory of the Alentejo or simply stagger, slack-jawed around Sintra and learn the meaning of green.

The Portuguese are legendary explorers while the joys of their own country seem under-appreciated by the rest of Europe.

That’s fine with me.

Let’s keep it our little secret.

 

Writer, journalist, teacher, actor, director and cultural trainer, Jill has lived and worked all over Europe.
Now based in Switzerland, Jill is a founder member of Triskele Books, European correspondent for Words with JAM magazine, co-edits Swiss literary hub The Woolf and is a reviewer for Bookmuse.
Author of the Beatrice Stubbs series: Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material, Tread Softly, Cold Pressed, Human Rites  and Bad Apples.
Short-story collection Appearances Greeting a Point of View is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

 

 

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.

 

 

David Gaughran does it again. How scammers are twisting the bestseller charts.

 

David Gaughran

On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts.

The Kindle Store is officially broken.

This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action.

Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

I wrote at the start of June about how scammers were taking over Amazon’s free charts. That post led to a phone conversation with KDP’s Executive Customer Relations.

Repeated assurances were given that the entire leadership team at Amazon was taking the scammer problem very seriously indeed. But it was also stressed that the…

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