As a author, I’m fascinated by language.

Judicious choice of words lead to the right effect; to wound, amuse, provoke nightmares, yield an insight or offer comfort.

Creative Commons image by Roland Tanglao

The right words are magical. Yet sometimes the wrong words have a power all their own. When someone takes a cliché or well-worn phrase and substitutes an element of their own (whether out of mishearing, imagination or mischief), it creates a whole new concept. Perhaps it even improves on the original.

I’m talking about eggcorns.

“We’re all going to hell in a handbag”

“It’s the lesser of two equals”

“Ever since that remark, he’s been a bit of a social leopard”

“A group of scandally clad ladies”

“She tends to be a pre-Madonna”

I love eggcorns. They’re not strictly correct but somehow better. Symbiotic, natural linguistic phenomena which pulsate with life and creativity. A manifestation of language as alive and evolving and in the hands of its users. Plus they make me smile.

Beatrice Stubbs uses eggcorns. She twists her words, apparently unconsciously. The reader is left to guess how much is manipulation and faux-naiveté is behind these apparent gaffes. Lieutenant Columbo provided much of the inspiration. His apparent shambling incompetence is in fact astute psychological disarmament.

Much of this facet of Beatrice’s character comes from my grandmother. Some of her specials include:

‘Those cakes have sympathetic cream’

‘Can’t eat no more, I’m full as an egg’

‘I knew the dog had been naughty; she looked at me with squeaky eyes’

This week I heard from a reader in Florida. She said she loved Beatrice for many reasons, including, “she’s just like me, using quirky phrases all her own”. Another reader from Devon often sends me suggestions for future eggcorns, brazenly attempting to bribe me into writing another Beatrice book.

I keep a little book full of such discoveries, partly for research and partly for entertainment. If you have any little gems to share, I’d love to hear them.

Here are a few of my favourites:

“This leads me to believe the City of Toledo is a fan of cutting off its nose despite its face.” (University of Toledo Independent Collegian, February 2005)

“This coverage provides for protection from claims for libel, slander and deformation of character.” (Catering Magazine, January 2005)

“Our old Toyota just got us through and then gave up the goat.” (ABC Rural, SA Country Hour, January 2006)

“Most cases of vaginal thrush can be rapidly cured by the use of a peccary.” (Pharma co. report)

“As long as one invokes the hack-kneed platitudes of ‘national security’ or ‘the war on terror’, there is virtually no crime too extreme.” (Al-Jazeera op-ed piece)

“She’s described in reports as a bowl in a china shop.” (CNN, January 2002)

“My face is sore and I don’t like having big pus jewels on my face.” (internet forum)

Images courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr.

 

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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.

How 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?

What 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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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.

 

 

When writing a novel and even more so if you intend to make it into a series, you need to know the character as well as you know yourself. If not better.

Crime writer Sheila Bugler and I worked together on developing a list of questions to dig deeper than hair colour and speech tics to fully flesh out our main characters. (Note: there are hundreds of character questionnaires out there, lots of which may well be more pertinent to your own writing.)

However, Sheila and I were both embarking on a crime series, so we fine-tuned the questions to glean the maximum from our very different female detectives. When we’d finished, we sat down and answered in character. It was probably the most useful exercise I’ve ever done.

 From the Inside Out

  1. Are you typically (insert nationality)?
  2. What makes you easy/hard to get along with?
  3. Describe your earliest memory.
  4. Where do you get your information from? Be specific – TV? Which channel? Gossip? Whose word do you trust?
  5. Who or what is the love of your life?
  6. Who is your hero?
  7. Last book you read – struggle or pleasure?
  8. What do you usually have for breakfast?
  9. In what ways are you like your parents?
  10. If you were an animal, what would you be?
  11. Give an example of one of your rituals.
  12. What are you most afraid of and why?
  13. What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
  14. Are you normal?
  15. What would be your desert island disc and why?
  16. What would you change about your appearance?
  17. When was the last time you indulged yourself? How?
  18. What prejudices do you have, if any?
  19. What makes you laugh?
  20. Do you have any scars? Where did they come from?
  21. What is your most precious possession?
  22. What keeps you awake?
  23. Why do you/don’t you have children?
  24. Who is your best friend?
  25. When did you last lose your temper? Why?
  26. Which items do you always carry with you?
  27. What is your idea of a perfect evening?
  28. What is your greatest regret?
  29. Which characteristics do you look for in a friend?
  30. Describe your most recent achievement.

(With thanks to Sheila Bugler)

Last weekend I flew to London.

My mission?

To launch Bad Apples.

On Friday evening, fellow author Debbie Young and I read extracts from our books at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road, organised by Novel London.

What a brilliant event!

Full house, lots of questions and smooth management by Safeena Chaudhry of Novel London and the Waterstones team.

For me, the best bit was rounding a corner and finding myself on top of Ian McEwan. #firsttimeforeverything

Debbie read from Best Murder in Show.

I read from Bad Apples.

We followed up with a Q&A chaired by superb compere Rohan Quine.

Books, literary people and wine. My idea of a perfect evening.

On Saturday, Triskele Books returned to one of our favourite venues, The English Restaurant, with two exceptional author friends for a quintuple book launch.

I had so much fun, sold out of books and loved catching up with my fellow authors and guests. This must be the tenth book event I’ve done and it was the easiest and most relaxing yet.

So that’s it. The sixth and last in the series is out there. I’m happy and elated, nervous and nostalgic even before I’ve got the first review.

Goodbye Beatrice. We had some great times in superb locations.

I’m going to miss you.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bad-Apples-Beatrice-Stubbs-Marsh/dp/3952479608

Pssst! For blog followers only.

Books 3-5 are bundled up in a brand new boxset.http://amzn.to/2ro4GWA

 

 

 

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:

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Paperbacks will soon be available at all good bookshops.

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

 

 

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 have 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, 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.

Get the boxset of books 1-3 here.

All images courtesy of Julie Lewis

 

 

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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.

http://authl.it/B007V512A4

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.

BCD quote

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.

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.

Human Rites Cover MEDIUM WEB