Cover reveal!

Bad Apples, the last in The Beatrice Stubbs Series, will be released on Saturday 3 June.

For a taste of what it’s about, see below.

Some people are just rotten to the core.”

Acting DCI Beatrice Stubbs is representing Scotland Yard at a police conference in Portugal. Her task is to investigate a rumour – a ghostwritten exposé of European intelligence agencies – and discover who is behind such a book.

Hardly a dangerous assignment, so she invites family and friends for a holiday. Days at the conference and evenings at the villa should be the perfect work-life balance.

Until one of her colleagues is murdered.

An eclectic alliance of international detectives forms to find the assassin. But are they really on the same side?

Meanwhile, tensions rise at the holiday villa. A clash of egos sours the atmosphere and when a five-year-old child disappears, their idyll turns hellish.

From Lisbon streets to the quays of Porto, Parisian cafés to the green mountains of Gerês, Beatrice learns that trust can be a fatal mistake.

Location is an essential element of my books. Not just mine, all Triskele Books make settings paramount. Our tagline says it all – Time and Place.

I just sent Book 6 off to the proofreader. This will be the last in my European crime series featuring Beatrice Stubbs and I already miss her, Adrian and Matthew.

After briefing my cover designer, I reflected on the influence of place, and why each country, city or landscape was appropriate for each book.  For books one, two and three, I stuck with areas I knew well.  In four and five, much research went into regions I’d only passed through. In book six, I mixed both.

Behind Closed Doors is all about wealthy unscrupulous businessmen and the difference between law and justice. I opted to set it in Switzerland with all its beauty, individuality and stubborn peculiarities.

The story required a financial centre and a culture which left my protagonist uncertain and isolated. Hence Zürich. The city is beautiful and peaceful, yet wields immense invisible power, behind closed doors.


London shares the stage with Wales for Raw Material. The UK capital provides a wonderful variety of experience for those who can afford it and a grinding rat race for those who can’t.

For someone preying on the latter, the London underworld was ideal. The darkness and the bright lights of the city work in parallel with the wild, remote coastline of Pembrokeshire. This book is all about watching and the danger of covetous eyes.


Tread Softly takes place in Spain, more specifically Rioja country and the city of Vitoria. Beatrice is on sabbatical, enjoying gourmet food when she stumbles upon a story of wine fraud. The landscapes of this region are nothing short of breathtaking, especially at harvest time.

As for its wines and cuisine, the research was a joy. Certain elements of Spanish/Basque culture suited my characters, my antagonist in particular.


The Greek islands and a cruise ship form the backdrop for Cold Pressed. Guided by a local detective, Beatrice hops between Santorini, Crete and Rhodes and explores the reality of life beyond tourist brochures.

Open seas and glorious islands juxtaposed against the claustrophobia of a floating hotel proved the perfect balance for this tale of old, cold vengeance.


Human Rites plays out in Germany at Christmastime.

The art crime thread leads us from Berlin to Hamburg. The stalker strand happens on the island of Sylt, in the North Sea, just off the Danish-German border.

In the summer, Sylt is a rich kids’ playground. Which is why I set the book in winter, when the coast is wild and empty, and civilisation seems very far away.


The last in the series, Bad Apples, will be released early May. Here I’m on familiar ground: Portugal.

Some elements are old friends, such as my beloved city of Porto, azuleijo tiles that tell stories, and warm, easy-going people. However the natural park of Peneda-Gerês, and the cities of Braga and Lisbon required a fresh look. Hardly a chore.

The end result, I hope, is an innocent, hypnotic blend of atmosphere, smells, sounds and tastes to lull the reader into ignoring the rotten element in plain sight.

Bad Apples comes out on 6 May, 2017.

Get the boxset of books 1-3 here.

All images courtesy of Julie Lewis

 

 

A recent rash of reviews delighted, surprised and puzzled me.

People from Germany, the USA, Australia and Brazil not only recommend the Beatrice Stubbs series as crime novels but also appreciate the sense of humour.

Despite the horrors of the case involved, there is always a dash of humor throughout the story, with credible characters and dialogue. Whilst Beatrice is the central character, there is a great ensemble cast of personalities that I felt brought this novel vividly to life. More than once I found myself giggling along at the team members’ interactions as they worked and socialized together.

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For me, a sense of humour is fundamental to every aspect of life, love and creativity. Whether writing an epitaph or falling in love or creating a crime series, there must be room for laughter.

it is the characters that made this a truly enjoyable, original read. Their banter and interactions, their quirks and the inimitable sense of humor had me laughing out loud. I particularly loved Beatrice’s odd turns of phrase and her love-hate relationship with Herr Kälin, who ended up growing on me.

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Is there room for comedy in crime in today’s environment of darker and grimmer noir, or does one instantly get labelled as ‘cosy’?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Human Rites by J.J. Marsh when I first started the book.  For some reason, I was afraid it was going to be a cozy mystery.

Advice on book marketing says ‘know your shelf’. What are you like? Dan Brown stalks Lara Croft? Agatha Christie snuggles Alexander McCall Smith? Karin Slaughter splatters Tess Gerritsen?

Beatrice Stubbs isn’t cosy. But neither will she make you gag on your macaroni cheese (apart from one scene in Raw Material – apparently it turned one reader vegetarian).

The books address politics, culture, society and morality, but keep plot and character on centre stage.

Certain bits might raise a laugh, especially if you are of the black-humoured sort.

One reviewer put it best.

The easiest comparisons to make with Marsh’s writing are Golden Age detective writers like Dorothy L Sayers and Margery Allingham. Don’t run away with the idea that this means cosy crimes solved by some old dear in between knitting a bed jacket and planting out her spring bulbs… if you like your crime fiction propelled by wit and intelligence rather than by violence, you will love this book.

So where to find Beatrice Stubbs? Turn left after cosy.Beatrice Stubbs Box Set One_KINDLE KOBO

Colin Bateman on wit and balls. It’s No Crime to Be Funny.

In German, Gift means poison. Be careful what you wish for.

This is a short story from Appearances Greeting a Point of View.

*not for the squeamish*

 

The Reservation

The waiter takes the napkin from the plate, unfolds it and places it across my lap. I stiffen. It’s an oddly intrusive gesture and he doesn’t smile. My companion pre-empts this courtesy by flipping out the linen and tucking it beneath the tablecloth with a flourish. The waiter bows and leaves us to face each other in the saffron glow of an art deco lamp.

My eyes are drawn across the room to a mural of slave girls bathing each other. The scene, less graphic than others which surround us, nonetheless holds a charge. Somehow you know those girls are preparing themselves for the next course.

“It’s quite something, don’t you think?” My companion turns his head to the doorway, where we came in. The entire wall depicts an orgy which, due to the trembling candlelight and shadows cast by passing waiters, convinces me the figures are actually moving; arching, rocking, shuddering.

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“Yes, it is.”

I should be impressed, but I’m embarrassed and intimidated by the other diners, who reek of privilege, radiate confidence. Tables of young men in suits, couples gazing at each other, an elderly group of aristocratic ladies wearing so much jewellery their movements appear weighted. Everyone is dressed as if for an awards ceremony, with the same air of sophisticated anticipation.

“How did you get a table?” I ask, to demonstrate I am not ignorant of the prestige he has afforded me.

He smiles. “I thought you might enjoy it. I could hardly take such an elegant creature to a tea shop, now could I? Shall I order for both of us? I’ve been here several times and I think I know the perfect dishes for you.”

I watch over his shoulder as another waiter spreads a napkin across the lap of a black-clad woman, who wears long satin gloves. She looks up at him and parts her lips. I turn away.

“Please.” I hand back the unopened menu. The door opens to admit more guests. Heads turn, as they do for each new arrival, but on this occasion, they don’t turn back. All eyes follow the party to their table while mouths mutter into nearby ears.

An older man, with silver-grey hair to match his suit, leads the way. On his arm, a distinguished lady with an upswept coiffure. Her makeup is immaculate and her dress catches the light. She turns one way, it’s green. Another, it’s blue. On their heels come a younger pair. I barely notice him as I cannot stop staring at the siren on his arm. Her dress, silver lamé, spotlights her hips, her breasts, the curve of her shoulder. Very little flesh is on show, but her shapely figure is evident, crowned with a perfect blonde chignon. Her escort nods to acquaintances around the room. He is polished, with a pleasant, rather one-sided smile.

Their table is directly to our left, against the wall. The younger woman exudes delight. She gasps at the murals, laughs at herself, clutches her man’s arm, smiles at the waiter and giggles with anticipation as she sits opposite her mother. Mother-in-law?

I stop myself from staring and wonder if that is how I should comport myself. My companion is giving the waiter our order. I listen but it makes no sense. Carpaccio, blini, mille-feuille, Roederer … my attention wanders over his shoulder, back to the woman in satin gloves. A waiter stands beside her, taking the order from her gentleman friend, while she absently caresses the waiter’s buttock and thigh.

I look down at my place setting, using my hands as blinkers. If I look neither left nor right, perhaps I can pass this evening enjoyably.

“Is something wrong? Do you have a headache?” my companion enquires.

An intake of breath makes us both turn. The waiter attending to the glamorous party has summoned the maitre d’. The atmosphere changes, anticipation charges the air like that of a courtroom when the foreman of the jury rises to his feet. People stare openly as the maitre d’ tilts his head, first listening to the waiter and then bending to hear the younger man.

I notice the rest of the table. The older gentleman is beaming, hands on his thighs. Both women’s eyes shine, their excitement visible. The whole restaurant seems to hold its breath.

The maitre d’ straightens with a nod and gives a brief instruction to the attendant waiter. Conversations break out at every table, heads swivelling to either end of the room, checking the doors as if awaiting the star performer. The thrill pulsing around the room affects me too, although I have not the faintest idea why.

“What is it?” I ask my companion, noticing the fresh pink patches on his cheeks. His complexion reminds me of my mother’s best tea-set.

“I don’t know.” He shakes his head but his eyes drop from mine in less than a second. “I mean, I’ve heard rumours, but I can’t believe … ah! Here’s our first course.”

We eat something, thinly sliced, highly priced. It’s not unpleasant. We comment on the fineness of the flavour although I doubt he tastes any more than I. We make the smallest talk imaginable.

While we consume this nothing in particular, two waiters bring a pair of Japanese screens to our neighbouring table. Unfolding them, they place a wall around three sides of the party, the fourth provided by the blacked-out window.

I check my companion in enquiry, but can see his curiosity is equally aroused.  And it appears that is not all. His pupils, dark and intent, fix upon my lips.

The door to the kitchen opens and a man in a pale green overall enters, carrying a black box resembling something a magician might use. Two waiters in his wake hold trays covered with white cloths. They make their way behind the screens and the chatter from the rest of the room erupts, accompanied by the percussion of tines on china.

I want to stand up and call out. “Hush! How can I possibly hear what is going on with all this racket!” But my attention is caught once more by the gloved woman, who, with great ostentation, drops her knife. Their waiter kneels to retrieve it and she kicks him with a high-heeled foot. He crawls under the tablecloth and she slides down in her chair. Her escort stares at her, chewing on a toothpick.

I realise my mouth is open. Fine features and noble expressions on every table now seem flushed and lascivious. One couple are feeding each other with their fingers. Several parties are calling for champagne.

Seconds later, the hush descends once more as one of the waiters slips out from behind the screens. In his hand is a kidney-shaped stainless-steel bowl. He drapes a cloth over it and strides towards the kitchen. The green-clad man emerges with his peculiar black box along with the second waiter and follows. The maitre d’ gives a signal and busboys remove the screens.

The party revealed has changed. The older of the two women has lost her upright posture and her make-up is smudged. Some of the shimmering blonde’s hair has escaped and hangs loose across her face. The senior gentleman, florid and sweaty, pours red wine into their glasses and claps the young man on the back. It is this latter who is the most materially altered. His wholesome colour is entirely gone, leaving his skin grey and lips bloodless. His left hand, in a brilliant white bandage, is held to his chest by a sling.

They raise their glasses in a toast and I notice much of the clientele silently doing the same. I start as my companion’s leather brogue rubs my foot. He is breathing heavily.

“The staff here are remarkable. Personalised service.”

Behind him, the waiter emerges from beneath the table and rises to his feet. I cannot see the gloved woman’s face. Her companion beckons the waiter, who bends down to him. It looks for a second as if the two men will kiss, but instead the man palms him a tip, which is swiftly pocketed.

Voices rise, laughter bounces off the walls and the businessmen have discarded their ties. One bejewelled aristocrat lifts her dessert bowl and licks out the last chocolately traces. Heat rises from my knees as if I have been drinking gin. My companion’s gaze now moves to my chest. I pick up my beaded bag and inform him I need the ladies’ room.

My voice rings out as all others fall silent. The kitchen door opens and four waiters emerge, carrying covered platters. I cannot get to my feet while everyone is watching. The platters are placed in front of the beautiful foursome, but everyone is staring at the one in front of the young man. The maitre d’ gives a signal and the burnished silver cloches are lifted.

I see quite clearly what is on that plate. Carrots, calabrese, potatoes and green beans surround a small triangular white bowl, containing what appears to be a small chipolata, covered in breadcrumbs and herbs. No one speaks. No one moves. The young man, unable to use his left hand, reaches for his fork. He spears his chipolata, says, ‘Bon appétit,’ and places it in his mouth.

His eyes close as he chews and he releases a long moan of ecstasy as he rocks back and forth.

Applause thunders around the room. I join in, smiling at such vicarious satisfaction. The older man applauds wildly and stands to shake hands with the maitre d’. His left hand is missing two fingers. The distinguished woman has her hands clasped together, but I notice a gap between her first and third knuckle. The gloved woman is no longer gloved. And she has no more than three fingers on either hand.

I stare around the room, spotting more and more missing digits as the room retreats to the end of a telescope.

His voice comes from far away. “It’s quite all right, you know. It’s perfectly legal to eat your own.”

 

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I was supposed to launch my book on Saturday.

Sure, it went live but when it came to tooting the horn and blasting out a fanfare, I just couldn’t.

candlesLike most people, I’d been staring in horror at rolling news reports from Paris till the wee hours of Saturday morning. This on top of the shocking events in Garissa, Kenya and Beirut, Lebanon. Followed by the predictable knee-jerk reactions from people who precede their divisive fear-mongering with phrases like, “I’m not a racist, but…” At least that made my Facebook clear out easier. Closer to home, two friends received seriously worrying health news. Announcing my latest novel not only seemed insensitive and crass, but my heart wasn’t in it. Who cares?

Then I heard that a group of writing colleagues and I had managed to achieve something wonderful with a team effort. News stories of kindness, heroism and strength in the face of terror began appearing below the headlines. Another friend and I hatched a plan to raise a smile from someone who’s not had much to smile about this year. Finally, a fellow author wrote to congratulate me on my new book and share her review. It brought more tears to my eyes, but this time of gratitude. I wrote back and explained my inertia. This was her reply.

Your storytelling and the reading pleasure it gives is like a little candle. And it gets added to all life’s other many little candles of decent, ordinary pleasures to remind us that the darkness doesn’t always have to win.

That hit home. For many years, my mantra has been “Do No Harm”. Don’t wreck the environment, hurt people’s feelings, spread fear and paranoia, judge others (well, apart from their tastes in music), destroy achievements or be cruel to anyone or anything.

Anne’s inspiring comment makes me realise that’s not enough. I need to do more good. To practise random acts of kindness, make art, offer refuge, create beauty, engage and empathise, support and applaud. To light another little candle.

So here’s today’s.

Human Rites, available everywhere as ebook and in print.

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Skittish and excited to announce the new Beatrice Stubbs novel!

Human Rites will be released as an e-book on Saturday November 14th, 2015. The paperback gets a great big launch event on Saturday 28 Nov, along with three more crackers from Triskele Books.

Here’s the cover!

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Human Rites

Adrian Harvey, London wine merchant, has lost the Christmas spirit. Someone is stalking him, stealing his post and vandalising his shop. When the police question him after an anonymous tip-off, he’s more than anxious. He’s scared. And who is that nun?

When long time neighbour and friend, DI Beatrice Stubbs is dispatched to Germany to investigate a series of apparently related art thefts, Adrian seizes the chance to flee the city. He follows her to Hamburg to do some Christmas shopping and visit his ex. Yet that stalker is still on his heels.

While Beatrice is on the trail of a violent gang of mercenary thieves, Adrian runs from danger to the remote island of Sylt. But when danger catches up, he has run too far. From the icy streets of Hamburg, to the canals of Amsterdam, and the snowswept beaches of Sylt, Beatrice and Adrian discover how a virtue taken to extremes can lead to deadly sin.

Here’s what Anne Stormont, author of Displacement, had to say:

Enthralling! The menace of Du Maurier meets the darkness and intrigue of Nordic Noir. Keep the lights on and your wits about you.

Available November 14, everywhere!

Or get in early. Order from Amazon now and get it on release day.

 

 

 

IMG_1106I’ve just finished book five! Yes, by the end of November I will publish the fifth in the Beatrice Stubbs Series – Human Rites.

Writing a crime series is a curious endeavour. There’s all the tricky stuff of how much backstory, as each book is a standalone adventure, yet there must be an overall arc for those following the series. Each plot needs to be new and different, but bear the hallmarks of a Beatrice Stubbs novel.

As luck would have it, my Triskele Books colleagues and I have recently embarked on a creative writing course. We decided that amongst all the practical elements of publishing as a collective: writing, reading, critiquing, blogging, reviewing, marketing and networking, we had precious little time to focus on improving our writing.

So we scouted around and collected our favourite writing exercises to flex some writing muscles we might have neglected. We published one of the first in Words with JAM: A Character Interview

Not only has it been great fun, but interesting to see what the others thought and extremely helpful for my work. As I wrote the last scene of Human Rites, I reflected on the importance of character development over a series.

Despite the hefty cast of characters in each of these novels, only certain people remain constant in all. And they are the drivers of the overall arc. It is the interaction between individuals the reader knows and loves/hates that creates dramatic tension. I like Yvonne Grace’s visual analogy of a bicycle wheel, where you need to plait the spokes to make the characters’ stories intersect. Another successful writer I know uses grids to plot the development of character over a series. Maybe because I have a musician husband I found the system of musical notation a handy tool.

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Like an orchestral score, each character has five horizontal stave lines while vertical bar lines represent the books. Usually, I allow three bars per book, indicating the three-act structure. I plot the emotional journey of every character over the course of each book, which gives me an easy overview. That enables me to see where one character is left stagnating in misery and needs some light relief. Or where I’ve played treble notes throughout and forgotten my bass line.

It’s also a good way of keeping track of the harmonies. Who’s up when the other is down? Where do they collide on the same note?

Another benefit of those whole book-in-three-bars system is the degree of change from the start of each adventure and the overall rhythm of ups and downs. If DI Stubbs starts each story full of enthusiasm and ends embittered and sad, the pattern becomes monotonous. Vice versa, where the reader leaves one book and begins the next should not have a jarring discord in character outlook.

Character relationships play a huge part in subtext. By doing in-depth character work, such as Beatrice Stubbs Box Set One_KINDLE KOBOthe questionnaire above for all your key players, you can use the detail only you know about these people to drop little breadcrumbs across the stories. So that when a secret emerges, the loyal reader is rewarded with a join-the-dots moment.

Lastly, how do they grow? What has changed between Books One and Two? How would s/he do things differently after the experience of Book Three? Use your reader’s emotional intelligence and memory. Of course he’s afraid of the attic after that spider episode in Book Four. Naturally she’s gone off rare steak because of what happened at the end of Book Two.

As I said, I’m curious. If you are writing a series, be it crime, fantasy, sci-fi or any genre at all, how do you track character development?

 

Orchestral score image courtesy of Creative Commons

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