Just Cuckoo Clocks and Chocolate?

This Guest Post is from the author of Behind Closed Doors, JJ Marsh

 As I type this, the sound of cowbells is coming through the open window. If I look up, I see snow-tipped mountains, verdant meadows sprinkled with wildflowers and a distant blue lake. The classic picture of Switzerland.

          Not the most obvious setting for a crime novel. Or is it? I’ve lived in Zurich for eight years now and I’m still on a voyage of discovery. It’s a beautiful place to live. It’s clean, safe and green and one of the biggest financial centres in the world. As all good crime writers know, money makes motive.
         I had an idea for a plot and I knew Zurich was the right location for the story. My constant feeling about this city, this country, is that I don’t know the half of it. My main character, Beatrice Stubbs, feels the same way.
            Disorientation, exclusion and a sense of being alien is paradoxically a familiar feeling. I’ve lived and worked in many countries and learned to enjoy the adventure of assimilation. I know the correct way to pass the salt in Italy, how to beckon a Thai, why I should study Japanese business cards and how to navigate the complex rules regarding European greeting kisses. But my enthusiasm for cultural knowledge means I have a tendency to cram EVERYTHING I KNOW into my books.

            Behind Closed Doors is the first in my Beatrice Stubbs series. Through testing on fellow authors, editing, endless rewrites and plenty of smart advice, I’ve learned that subtle but accurate detail is the way to go.
            The second book is set in Wales and London. I’m a Brit, so it was easy to make local observations without lecturing my readership. However, my international writing group picked up on lots of ‘errors’, because I hadn’t given sufficient explanation. Example: The Welsh always abbreviate the name David to Dai. It’s not an inconsistency. But it made my readers stumble. Had to be fixed.
            Book Three is all about wine fraud. (Researching that was a whole lot of fun.) The Basque Country of Spain with its unusual language and its fame for Rioja and jaw-dropping beauty made for a fabulous backdrop. San Sebastian is also the gourmet capital of Europe, so I could indulge in descriptions of the excellent cuisine.
            Beta-reader feedback was 99% positive. Finally, I think I’ve learned three things about research:
·        Drip in detail – this is fiction – story comes first
·        Avoid assumptions – think globally
·        Never, ever, send lavish descriptions of food to someone on a diet.

Jill 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 works as a language teacher, forms part of the Nuance Words project and is a regular columnist for Words with JAM magazine. She lives with her husband and three dogs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.

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Thanks for visiting, Jill. You're books sound great, and you are definitely a fascinating person.



Anonymous said…
Thanks for hosting me, Marilyn. I found your site extremely interesting. Wishing you every success!
Patricia Gligor said…
With all the places you've lived, you certainly have a wide variety of locations to choose from when deciding on settings for your novels. How exciting! I personally believe it adds a realistic feel to a story when the author has personal knowledge of the area, either through living or visiting there.
Great interview!
Anonymous said…
Thank you Patricia. I've now realised the best thing to do is set books in places I want to visit, so I just have to go and research!
Jake said…
Another interesting blog. Travelers have some advantages. Thank you for another author for collection. Busy reading & enjoying books from tour.

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