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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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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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.

Later I began to realise how other characters see my MC doesn’t always reflect her true personality. Logical – none of us is consistent or 100% honest. So I developed a second exercise which helped me place her in any given environment. I found these two exercises so beneficial to my work, I thought I’d share them with you.

Have a lovely weekend.

Exercise A: From the Inside

  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)

Exercise B: From the Outside

Looking at your character from the outside is like trying to see yourself as others see you. It’s not easy so here’s a way in.

On the left hand side of a piece of paper, write down five of your character’s key values. What are the things they hold dear? Think conceptually, eg, truth, loyalty, persistence, kindness, etc

Now on the right, write down how those characteristics could be perceived by someone who doesn’t know/is prejudiced against/hates your character. Eg, truth can be seen as rudeness, loyalty as blind devotion, persistence as pig-headedness, kindness as being a sap, etc.

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:

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.

 

 

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.