It’s my honour this week to rope in the inimitable JJ Marsh for a Q&A, about her latest novel, Cold Pressed, which is due for release on 1st November (preorder details below).
Jill and I initially met via an online forum for English-speakers in Switzerland. One snowy day we met for a real-life cuppa in a café to share our works-in-progress and discuss the possibility of forming a writers’ group. Seven years and many word-wrangling workshop facilitations, novels, short stories and publishing collaborations later, I continue to be inspired by Jill … for her business head, her razor-sharp analysis of the ever-changing publishing context, and her determination to see books and dreams – her own and others’ – come to life.
Jill, it’s been an action-packed few years for you. Tell us about this latest book – the fourth in the Beatrice Stubbs crime series – and where the inspiration came from.
Cold Pressed is really a tip of the hat to Agatha Christie and all those Golden Age crime writers. The subtitle for this book could be Murder on the Empress Louise. A serial killer is stalking the passengers of a cruise ship as it sails the Greek islands. Beatrice and her Hellenic partner are on the trail, unaware someone has Beatrice in his sights.
The inspiration? Something I saw aged six years old. My family and I were sailing back to Britain on a huge liner after a year in Africa. One day while I was leaning on the railings, staring out at sea, someone fell from an upper deck, limbs wheeling in the air like a Keith Haring painting and hit the water with an insignificant plop. I rushed to raise the alarm but everyone told me I was mistaken. Over-active imagination, they said. Yet that vivid image has never left me.
As a regular columnist for Displaced Nation and also having set each of your novels so far in a different European location, one could say an overarching theme through all your work – both fiction and non-fiction – is a ‘sense of place’. Is this something that became apparent after the fact, or has it always consciously been an area of interest?
Now that’s a question which really made me think. As a child of nomadic parents who voluntarily continued the tradition, I care deeply about place and its effect on a person. I have an insatiable curiosity for culture and all the tiny elements that create ‘otherness’. Places can suggest stories and I root them out like a truffle hound. The books I love the most tend to make a feature of their settings and some have even lured me into visiting. My Places To Visit bucket list is based on novels: Trinidad (Monique Roffey’s The White Woman on a Green Bicycle), The Sundarbans (Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide), Galveston (Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm) and the list goes on … So it’s always been there, but taken me a while to realise its importance.
From a reader’s point of view, some would argue that each book in a series ought to be able to stand on its own, and one shouldn’t have to read Book One in order to read, say, Book Three. What’s your view on this?
Bang on. Each story should stand alone and allow the reader a complete experience in a single book. Yet for readers who do read more than one, I like to thread connections and developments that make them feel they’re in the know. Nothing too exclusive, but occasional details, character layers, or an offhand reference just to repay their loyalty. No matter in which order you read, each book adds a little more to the world of Beatrice Stubbs.
Do you have a favourite crime series as a reader yourself?
Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter books. I’m not keen on gratuitously violent or clichéd crime, so his books – superbly plotted but most of all, driven by character – impressed me deeply. Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal contain some gruesome stuff, but Harris never uses the shock factor because he’s run out of ideas. His psychology, atmosphere and accuracy are impressive, but what I admire most is his ability to create a character with a few strokes of his pen with the same efficiency we judge a person at the supermarket checkout.
You’re shortly heading to the UK to participate in a number of large literary events – Triskele’s Barton’s Bookshop Launch Event, The Indie Author Fair followed by Self Publishing in the Digital Age – having just returned from Frankfurt Book Fair … what do you think have been the most interesting developments in the publishing industry over the past year?
The emergence of self-publishing as a professional industry. Now service providers are offering everything a trade publisher could while the creative controller makes the key decisions and retains the profits. Naturally, not all these services provide best-quality results so authors need to be cautious in their choices. Yet prudent assessment can deliver limitless possibilities – translations, audio books, games, TV/film adaptations …
More importantly, I see the huge growth in self/indie-publishing as a friendly, cooperative, collaborative, generous community. People share ideas, work together on events, tip each other off when an opportunity arises and offer constant advice and encouragement.
At Frankfurt, I spoke to Alison Baverstock, who runs an MA in Publishing Studies at Kingston University. We discussed the sense of support amongst indie authors and she quoted her research, published in The Naked Author. “Quite simply, indie authors are happier.”
Even though she has threatened retirement a few times, it seems like there may still be a few years left in Detective Inspector Beatrice Stubbs… what’s next for her?
There are two more to come in the series. I’ve already written the last in the series. But next up, she’s sharing the stage. On the border between Denmark and Germany, a complex triangle of love, art and power plays out on the island of Sylt. Be careful who you trust.
JJ Marsh has worked as an actor, teacher, writer, director, editor, journalist and cultural trainer all over Europe. Now based in Switzerland, she has published four novels, a book of shorts, co-authored a how-to for indie publishers, as well as produced audio versions of a number of her works. She’s the Swiss representative for the Alliance of Independent Authors, is a regular columnist for Words with JAM magazine, co-founder and -editor of The Woolf quarterly literary journal, and founder member of Triskele Books author collective. She lives with her husband and three dogs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.
Find out more about her European crime series here: http://www.beatrice-stubbs.com/