Friday, 20 April 2018

Story of a Novel: Tread Softly by JJ Marsh

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Cover design by JD Smith
Story ideas can come from the slightest of impulses. Previous books originated from moral outrage, a magazine article, or a half-remembered story from my childhood. The trigger for Tread Softly was different.

This was personal.
This was wine.

In 2010, the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France was rocked to its roots by The Red Bicyclette Affair. Several French winemakers were found guilty of selling premium and pricey ‘Pinot Noir’ to a well-known American distributor which was actually a blend of far cheaper Merlot and Shiraz. A €7m fraud and national shame.

Reputations collapsed, viniculturists were jailed and everyone involved (and there were plenty) paid hefty fines for the deception. Yet a certain amount of glee remained at fooling the Americans.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski 
Courtesy of Creative Commons
The story intrigued me so I dug deeper. French inspectors and accountants noticed more Pinot Noir was being exported than the region could actually produce. The numbers didn’t add up and they investigated. Bean-counters and bureaucrats spotted what was going on and raised the alarm.

For the price of a coffee and a croissant, a local wine dealer allowed me to pick his brains. His generosity and expert knowledge gave me enough material for a whole series of books on wine fraud, but I stuck to my initial idea.

What if someone simply performing due diligence pulls a loose thread and unravels a story of corruption woven through every level of society? What happens to the whistleblower?

Once the wine fraud plot took shape, it was a matter of where to set it. Rioja country, in northern Spain, had everything I needed, including some old friends who knew the area and its eponymous export well.

Another element I couldn’t ignore was the Basque Country’s fierce individualism and particular language which is quite different from the classic Spanish Castillian. But far more importantly, the region is known as the gourmet capital of Europe.

With a set of individualistic characters passionate about wine and food, where else?


My insider contacts told me about the growing success of white Rioja, lesser-known delicate cousin to the famous full-bodied red. Like any committed author, I did my research, even taking a trip to San Sebastian and Vitoria to sample their delights for myself. This enabled me to build on the plot and characters with authentic tastes, scents, sounds, textures and visual detail to transport the reader to an autumnal Spanish vineyard or pintxos bar.


I consider it a great compliment that the comment I get most frequently from readers and reviewers is ‘Don’t read this on an empty stomach’. Author Annemarie Neary agrees. “Read this, and you'll be desperate for a seat on a Vitoria balcony with a glass of white Rioja, a plate of pintxos and the next Beatrice Stubbs to accompany them.”


Extract from Tread Softly

At least ninety percent of the men in the bar watched Ana walk to their table. Some even tore their eyes away from the football. She ignored them and sat with her back to the window. She hoicked one foot up to rest on the opposite knee and dropped her voice.

“Enrique’s a good guy. And when it comes to the food and drink of the region, he’ll talk the ears off you.”

“Sounds like we might get along. Although I do wish you’d warn me as to my undercover roles a bit earlier. Acting’s never been my strong point,”said Beatrice.

“But asking questions and eating will give you no bother. Here he comes.”

Enrique joined them with a tray bearing glasses, two carafes of wine; one white, one red, and a selection of tiny canapés.

Beatrice smiled. “Ana tells me you are an expert on local dishes.”

“Not an expert. The expert. I know the best restaurants in San Sebastian, the best wines from the Rioja and the best recipes from Bilbao to Vitoria. What do you want to know?”

Ana’s expression was pleasantly enquiring and innocent, a match for Enrique’s. Beatrice was on her own. Enrique opened his hands, offering his knowledge to her on a plate.

“Well, for a start, can you tell me what these are?” she said, pointing to the little snacks on the tray.

“Good question. Let me introduce you to some of our local delicacies. Salt cod croquettes with nuts. You will love them. Tell me you are not vegetarian.”

Even if Beatrice had been a committed vegan, the hostile expression on Enrique’s face would have forced her to lie. As it was, she shook her head.

“No, I will eat anything.”

Enrique’s approval spread across his face. “Good. British and Americans with their fussy intolerances ...” He waved a hand in front of his face, rolled his eyes and then pointed at a terracotta dish. “This is beautiful. Prawn and bacon topped with a home-made vinaigrette. And Txalupa; mushrooms and cream, covered with cheese in a pastry boat. And the speciality of the house, our secret tuna mix topped with anchovy and chives. Try, please. These are for you.”

Adrian Harvey of Harvey’s Wine Emporium suggests the perfect wine to complement your read:
"There are myriad possibilities for a book about wine crime. I chose the obvious white Rioja, of course, but a particularly special bottle. I also recommend a passionate, beautiful rosé from Turkey. It’s bold and dry like the exceptional character of Luz."

Marques de Murrieta, Capellanía Reserva, Rioja 2012. The classic white with a soul of a red. Oaky and complex, one could grow dizzy on the bouquet alone. Subtle, surprising and the perfect companion to lighter dishes and bold flavours, this is grace in a glass.

Büyülübag, Iris Rosé 2015. An island vinery in Turkey produces this bone-dry rosé from the Adakarasi grape. Sharp and berry-fruit layers give this delicate blush a confident and delightful structure. Savour every sip and never, ever underestimate a rosé.

Amazon Reviews: 

 

“The novel oozes atmosphere and JJ Marsh captures the sights, sounds and richness of Spain in all its glory. I literally salivated as I read the descriptions of food and wine. JJ Marsh is an extremely talented author and this is a wonderful novel.”

“The research that must have gone into this is breath-taking. The eloquent descriptions of the Rioja region made me want to visit immediately. The images of the local food and wine, were sumptuous. The characters as always were authentic and solid. I love them all and can picture each one. The simple beauty of Ana, the very suave Jaime. Aguirre, charismatic and calculating, all exquisitely crafted.” 


"There are moments of farce and irony, there are scenes of friendship, tenderness and total exasperation - and underlying it all a story of corruption, brutality, manipulation and oppression with all the elements you'd expect to find in a good thriller, including a truly chilling villain.”




Tread Softly is third in The Beatrice Stubbs Series.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Do Fictional Characters Have Ghosts?

 By Jane Davis


 St Mary’s Church in Beddington is normally bolted during the week, but on my mother-in-law’s tenth anniversary, I found the doors unlocked, and so I stepped inside and lit a candle. 

But at the same time as thinking how much Maureen would have liked the building (pointing out that the vicar would never have agreed to play ‘Fat-Bottomed Girls’ at her funeral, as hers did), I was aware of two other presences: Jim and Aimee.

Who are Jim and Aimee? They’re old friends of mine.

There’s something transportative about living in the same neighbourhood all of your life; walking around familiar geography, knee-deep in the history of the place. And superimposed over a street map carried both inside and outside your head (the housing estate that now stands on the site of your old high school), are important milestones. When you learned to ride a bike. Your first kiss. The first flat you owned. But when I started setting fiction within my personal geography, I added an additional strata.

Let me explain. In Smash all the Windows, my character Maggie takes several walks. I work in the City of London so I’m familiar with its streets, so familiar that I was afraid I might neglect the detail. As research for my novel, I walked her routes – from Tower Hill, down the Thames riverside path, over London Bridge, through Borough Market and along Bankside to Tate Modern. I made notes about all of the sights and sounds, notes that made it onto the pages of my book. But now, when I take the same walk, I think, ‘Here’s where Maggie saw the starling’, and ‘Here’s where Maggie bought her copy of the Big Issue’. Her presence is real. Particular locations are now imbued with a certain energy. And by some definitions, such a presence might be called a ghost.


In fact, ghosts are frequent visitors in my daily life. I might park in Shere at the beginning of my favourite walks in the Surrey Hills, and see Sir James Hastings crossing the square from his home, past the war memorial, to the pub he drank in, his elderly German Shepherd called Isambard in tow. (I Stopped Time). I take a short cut through Honeywood Walk in Carshalton and see the tree that caused the collapse of the wall that Judy Jones was buried under (These Fragile Things). I cross the small wooden bridge at the foot of the waterfall in Grove Park and Aimee swirls round, elbows on the rail. (A Funeral for an Owl). I come across a lone stag when out walking in Richmond Park, and somehow it is the stag that blocked Alison’s path, looking her straight in the eye (An Unchoreographed Life).

We live with our characters so long, they’re kin to us. In a way, we know them better than friends and family, because we’ve seen through their eyes and know their every thought. Every single one of these things was a memory of my own, a memory that I’ve since given to a character, and in editing my novels – that constant re-reading – I’ve made the memories more theirs than mine. You might even say that I’m the intruder. Perhaps, inadvertently, I’ve become the ghost.  


Publication Details, Smash all the Windows:
 
It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.
It will take courage to learn how to live again.

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

Smash all the Windows will be released on 12 April, but you can pre-order it now for the special price of 99p/99c (Price increases to £1.99 on 12 March. Price on publication will be £3.99).

Smash all the Windows is available at all of these retailers.
 
From 13 February to 10 March, US readers can also enter a Goodreads Giveaway for a chance to win one of 100 eBooks.

About Jane Davis

Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight novels.
Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.

Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards.

Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.



CONTACT DETAILS

Press enquiries: janerossdale@btinternet.com
High resolution photos available from https://jane-davis.co.uk/media-kit/




Friday, 6 April 2018

BOOKCLUB: The Chalky Sea by Clare Flynn


In July 1940, Gwen Collingwood drops her husband at the railway station, knowing she may never see him again. Two days later her humdrum world is torn apart when the sleepy English seaside town where she lives is subjected to the first of many heavy bombing attacks.

In Ontario, Canada, Jim Armstrong is debating whether to volunteer. His decision becomes clear when he uncovers the secret his fiancée has been keeping from him. A few weeks later he is on a ship bound for England.

Gwen is forced to confront the truth she has concealed about her past and her own feelings. Jim battles with a bewildering and hostile world far removed from the cosy life of his Canadian farm. War brings horror and loss to each of them – can it also bring change and salvation?


This month Triskele colleagues, Gillian Hamer (GH) and Jill Marsh (JJ) discuss our March book of the month - The Chalky Sea by Clare Flynn. Read Gillian's review of the book here.

 
Much of the novel switches back and forth between two separate POV - from Canada/ Aldershot (Jim's story) and the Eastbourne thread (Gwen's story). How did this work for you?

(GH) I found the alternating chapters really easy to follow and the author did well to give each character their own style and voice. I felt it was a given that the two threads would eventually come together, and it was one reason I found myself hooked, waiting for that to happen. I liked how these two characters were literally worlds apart and yet ultimately shared so many similarities. It was very well plotted and that made the story effortless to read.

(JJ) Agreed. Jim's story was such a world away from Gwen's that you are curious to see what will happen when their worlds collide. One thing I found interesting is that when they meet, neither is the person we knew at the outset. War has changed them both. Thus we meet two new formed individuals with personal pain and and history, adapting to a new environment.

Both of the lead characters (Jim and Gwen) had hidden secrets and baggage they carried with them - did you enjoy how this helped develop them into much more layered characters?

(GH) I think it's wonderful when you get to know a really complex character, but are also shown enough of the back story that you understand them. We saw how Jim's secular world was shattered and with Gwen, although we didn't witness the trauma of her past, we knew through her interaction with her husband, Roger, that she was carrying the weight of many issues. The repercussions of both incidents played through over and again with both characters throughout the book and made them much more believable and rounded.

(JJ) The circumstances of war force characters to change and drop much of their cultural conditioning. That can be cruel and unfair, but with these people, adversity offers opportunity. This goes for the entire cast, who adapt to love, loss and moments of tenderness under bombardment. Jim has a bruised innocence whereas Gwen's stoicism is classic stiff upper lip. The almost incredible meeting of wounded optimists is deeply touching.

Pauline was an interesting character and cleverly thought out by the author as a way of contrasting Gwen's personality. What did you think about their relationship?

(JJ) She could have so easily been a 'device' but in these hands, she comes alive. Her gutsy and brave attitude to her circumstances gave her daughters something to hold on to. Her interaction with Gwen reminded me of Sarah Waters's book, The Paying Guests. The typically distant classes are housed under one roof and learn understanding from each other. Attitudes to children, to sex and to manners become more about practicality than 'what the neighbours think'.


(GH) Pauline was a delight, a real breath of fresh air, who despite her own tragedy, blew in through Gwen's life and completely changed her perspective of everything - love, life, loss and finally Pauline learnt Gwen acceptance. Their friendship was a real joy and opened Gwen up to become the woman we see at the end of the book. It was a friendship based on mutual need, but although Gwen seemed to give more to Pauline in terms of material help, it was Pauline's spirit and generosity that was the biggest gift.

I thought Jim was a really strong character, some of his internal thoughts were very in depth - one line I highlighted - "they had stolen his future and tainted his past, but the present would be his alone." What moment did you feel he had finally shaken off his past and started to live?

(GH)  I think his acknowledgement of his feelings for Gwen and yet his understanding that he could not plan a future with her showed that he was finally coming to understand not everything in life was quite so black and white. His relationship with his brother, Walt, even while over in the U.K. had stopped him moving on, but at the end of the book he seemed to have accepted that sometimes you had to do what was the right thing at the time.

(JJ) For me, Jim is still on that journey, processing everything he's experienced. He's still in the oven, not yet baked. Old-fashioned honour is one thing, but flying across the ocean to fight a war is another. At the heart of this guy is a very brave person carrying a wound. He'll carry a lot more by the end of this novel and the way he deals with them make him the person he is. He hasn't yet shaken off his past but he can certainly see a future.

What were the main changes you saw in Gwen's personality and how did the author show this?

(GH) Oh, there was so many changes in Gwen! When she acknowledged that while she hated the fighting, she actually had enjoyed the person she had become in the war was a real eye opener for her. Finally, after mundane years where suicide had often been in her mind, she had a purpose and that drove her finally let go and live. Remembering her abject horror on seeing Pauline kissing one of the Canadian soldiers, you would hardly believe where she allowed her own feelings to take her a short time later. I can imagine WWII reshaped many women like Gwen and this felt totally real to me.

(JJ) Sex. Gwen's relationship with Roger was practical and unsatisfactory in every sense. When she begins to see other women enjoy and take pleasure from sex, it shocks and surprises her. This rang true as so many of my grandparents' generation 'lay back and thought of England'. Her gradual awakening to sex as mutual satisfaction and in combination with that, a consciousness of her own power, comes as an incredible liberation. Sex and sexuality have changed her forever.

The use of location is a main focus for Triskele Books, how did the authors descriptions of war ravaged Eastbourne work for you?

(GH)  I really enjoyed it and thought the author did a superb job of bringing the location to life. It's clear it's an area the author knows well, and it must have been fascinating trying to make as many details as accurate as possible. I thought some of the best parts were the times when the bombs weren't dropping and life could begin to get back to normal, and people could take strolls along the promenade and children could play in the parks. The setting of the house on the hill giving views across the town and across the ocean - a real vantage point - was a clever device.

(JJ) All the locations felt vibrant, not just Eastbourne. The impact the war had on daily life is everywhere, from rationing to propaganda, and the reminder of Eastbourne's natural beauty brings the destruction into sharp relief. Flynn seems to be a sensory writer, giving the reader a fuller picture of the sights, sounds, smells, feelings and tastes of a world in a state of flux.

Research is a minefield in the genre of historical fiction, how do you feel the author handled it here?

(JJ) Impressively well. Not only the detail of wartime facts and figures, but period detail like manners and behaviour, the increased sense of social position and even the fashions of the day appeared accurate and plausible. So much so that combined with the sensory touches, it was like watching a BBC period drama - everything fitted perfectly.

(GH)  As mentioned above, it must have taken a lot of hard work to get this story to flow so effortlessly. The details of the battles, planes, the dates and times of bombing and the routines in the army barracks at Aldershot all felt completely believable to me. There were no massive dumps of information that slowed the pace of the story, it was all cleverly woven into the narrative so it became part of the book.

What were your feelings at the end of the book towards Jim and Gwen?

(GH)  My predominant feeling was one of hope. I hope they both get the happiness they deserve in peace time. But then this is fiction, and it wouldn't make much of a story if they all did get to live happy ever after!

(JJ) My prevailing feeling was one of curiosity. By the end, we feel we know what could happen next, but as Gilly says, stories never run smoothly. I want to see what they do with the gifts and knowledge they have gained in The Chalky Sea and how it will affect their futures.

'The Canadians' series continues with The Alien Corn - will you read it and what are your hopes for the characters in the next book?

(GH) Yes, definitely. I'm just interested to see where the story goes next. If Jim returns home to his farm and how he'll handle the past. And if Gwen can finally accept Roger as a proper husband. The war has changed them as people so it will be really interesting to see how they adapt.

(JJ) Of course I'll read it. I know Jim will do the right thing by Joan, but is it the right thing for both of them? And what of Gwen now she's sexually awoken? Her marriage is going to change for sure. And will this be a fondly remembered wartime romance or something neither of them can get over?