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Meet JJ Marsh - crime writer and fellow 'Bookseller' honouree!

JJ Marsh picJJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After graduating in English Literature and Theatre Studies, she worked as an actor, teacher, writer, director, editor, journalist and cultural trainer all over Europe.
Now based in Switzerland, Jill is a founder member of Triskele Books, forms half of The Woolf Quarterly and is a regular columnist for Words with JAM and Displaced Nation. She lives with her husband and three dogs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.

JJ and I met in a distanced way on Facebook – we both belong to the Alliance of Independent Authors – but when she and I were both selected as indie Editor’s Choices in prestigious UK publishing trade magazine ‘The Bookseller’, I decided I needed to investigate further… 

Welcome, JJ! 

Now, I read Cold Pressed, your most recent crime mystery, and enjoyed it very much. Beatrice Stubbs, your heroine… (Or do you prefer “female protagonist”?) Where does she come from? Is she entirely imaginary?

I really had to think about that one. She’s been with me so long, and most definitely a heroine. I’ve always been drawn to writing characters older and wiser than myself. The spark of an independent woman, battling all the pressures that come with age and experience, struck me in the late 90s. I met a woman who personified the unconventional. As I do with every intriguing character, I put her in my notebook.

I just had to find the right vehicle for her. When I decided to tackle the credit crunch and the morality (or lack of) in contemporary capitalism, she became the essence of Beatrice Stubbs. Wholly unrecognisable from the original, but there is a disguised thank-you in every book.

How do you research the procedural background?

By hassling the experts. In Switzerland, I happened to meet a special police officer at a social event. He’s regretted it ever since. Wine vendors, social services, cruise workers, security officers and locals have all added an incredibly generous amount of authenticity to my work.

Zurich at night  (Photo courtesy of   Libby O)

Zurich at night (Photo courtesy of Libby O)

The Internet is handy, but if you connect with an individual who’s excited about the idea? Put it this way – I’m still corresponding with a butcher and a maker of model cars, despite neither element making it into the book.

The area in which I am most scrupulous is the procedures surrounding mental health. Beatrice’s battles with her bipolar condition and conversations with her therapist are carefully researched and checked with two clinical psychologist friends.

Zurich, Spain, the Greek Islands – Beatrice gets around. Why do you set her stories outside the UK?

Locations inspire atmosphere. I’m a massive Europhile and for me, places trigger stories.

San Sebastian harbour

San Sebastian harbour (Photo courtesy of JD Lewis)

Corporate crime and punishment seemed perfect for Zürich. Rioja and revenge – where else but Spain? My homage to the Golden Age had to be on a train or a cruise, so Greece it was. Not all my Beatrice books are set outside the UK – Raw Material is set in Finsbury Park and Pembrokeshire.

My definition of literary genius is writing about places you want to visit. We’re off to a wild island between Denmark and Germany next.

What is the single most important way to establish your characters in the reader’s mind? 

I have to take readers inside my character’s head. None of this looking-in-the-mirror-and-describing-themselves nonsense. Who really does that? The only thing I ever say aloud while looking in the mirror is ‘Oh God, what a mess’.

Athens at night

Athens at night

I deliberately held back physical details of Beatrice’s appearance, so the reader must gain a picture from what other characters say about her.

But you know what she’s thinking. You are in her point of view even when observing from the outside (I write in the third person) and most importantly, you are on her side. It gets really interesting when you are on the sides of opposing characters and you want both, impossibly, to win.

I’d add that over four books (book five in progress) about the same character, she has to develop and be consistent. And most importantly, misbehave.
(Ha! Misbehave? Yes, all heroines should do that at least part of the time.)

Find out more about Beatrice http://www.beatrice-stubbs.com

So what’s Cold Pressed about?

Cold Pressed Santorini. Turquoise seas, ancient ruins and beautiful sunsets.
And a woman thrown from a cliff.
The violent death shocks fellow passengers of the Empress Louise, a grand cruise liner packed with British tourists.
For newly promoted Inspector Nikos Stephanakis, the case poses linguistic and cultural problems. His request for assistance yields unexpected results.

DI Beatrice Stubbs, called in as support, flies to Greece. What with tension at home, the timing couldn’t be better. She anticipates a few days in the sun and a swift resolution.

But when an earlier death at sea proves suspicious and an elderly lady is killed in her cabin, terror spreads like contagion. Murder is aboard.
And someone has Beatrice in his sights.
From the Cyclades to the Dodecanese, Nikos and Beatrice pursue the killer and unearth a secret.
Revenge is a dish best served cold.

“This is J J Marsh’s fourth, snappily written crime mystery featuring the feisty but vulnerable Stubbs, a most appealing character. It’s all highly diverting, and an ideal read for those who like their crime with a lighter, less gruesome touch.” – Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

Fascinated? Buy on Amazon

Thank you, JJ Marsh for joining me on the blog today. Lovely to celebrate success with you!

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