Fact & Fiction in Nothing to Lose – Reality Bites (fact#2)

Reality bites – this sounds like a pun in very bad taste. You will see what I mean if you carry on reading. It is time for my second revelation relating to the storyline in Nothing to Lose: anorexia.

In Nothing to Lose Gillian watches her daughter Tara shed pounds like they’re going out of style. Being a detective, she snoops into Tara’s life (and bedroom) to discover a battery of slimming products. This confirms every mother’s worst fears – that her child is spiralling into an eating disorder and starving herself to death. It is a fearful prospect because it is more a disease of the mind than the body. You can’t cure an anorexic – not until they are ready to accept food and keep it in. And that moment may never come. Anorexia is a catch-twenty-two: the more you try to control it, the more it controls you. Any external intervention against your will meets with a wall of resistance. I know. I’ve been there.

Just like Tara, I was about eighteen, in my first year of university. I had just moved from the sleepy, tranquil world of my childhood in the country to a frenzied, crowded city. I didn’t know what hit me. Life overwhelmed me. It had spun out of my control. I was lost. I was surrounded by strangers; no space to hide, no holes to crawl into. The speed of my life was nauseating. I could not keep up with it. I could not control it. The only thing I could control was food. It wasn’t about dieting, not in the beginning. It was all about re-introducing order into my life. Only later did I start to count calories, and after that, when I stopped counting, I simply couldn’t bring myself to eat. The mere smell of cooking made me feel sick. I think that was where I crossed the line – the point of no return.

Just like Gillian, my mother was beside herself with worry. At first, she thought I was on drugs, but she quickly realised it was all about food. She would find sandwiches buried in the drawers of my desk, steaks languishing on the compost heap, attracting vermin. Once I even managed to pour soup out of my bedroom window right onto my father’s head. My father was in the garden, pruning roses. The soup was bean soup. My mum went into a spasm of hysteria. But even that had no effect on me.

Only when I saw a photo of myself in a bikini did I finally realise I was a walking skeleton. With clothes on, my sharp edges and protruding ribs were well camouflaged.

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But without my clothes… look at this at your own risk.

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I was horrified! I started eating: tentatively and with frequent relapses into 6 ½ stone. You’re never quite out of the danger zone. You’re never quite fully recovered. Any emotional trauma, any change of circumstances, any heightened anxiety and you’re back to square one.

In Nothing to Lose, Tara suffers a similar fate after she is rejected by that good for nothing Charlie Outhwaite.

Nothing to Lose is the second book in the DI Marsh crime series, available now on Amazon and from major bookstores. The book is available at a promotional price of £5.59 at WHSmith

Nothing to Lose cover

Fact and fiction in Nothing to Lose – fact 1

Of course Nothing to Lose is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead (dead is more likely to be the case in crime fiction), or actual events is purely coincidental. And yet something or someone real has to feed the author’s imagination…

In Nothing to Lose my imagination gorges on my fears. Real fears, if fears can be real.

The story starts with a head-on collision resulting in four deaths. That head-on collision, on that particular stretch of that particular country road had happened in my mind many a time before the book was written. Every day, travelling to work in the morning I saw that accident happen over and over again.

It is a treacherous road: after a limited length of dual carriageway where every lunatic frantically overtakes everything that moves (slower than himself), the road narrows abruptly and climbs up a steep hill, facing the morning sun which on a bright day can be blinding. Bear in mind that on the other side of the hill there are equally impatient lunatics keen to get to the top ahead of the pack, hoping that luck is on their side. I could easily be one of them (I don’t suffer Sunday-drivers on a Monday morning gladly), but then I see it happen – the head-on – and I slow down, and stay in line behind the slow coach with a belching exhaust. Call it a premonition.

After Nothing to Lose was written, a head-on collision did indeed occur in that very spot, in the dazzling midday sun. A man, having probably pushed his luck too far, ploughed into the oncoming traffic. He got away with his life. My characters did not. But that is where fiction begins.

Bishops crash

Nothing to Lose is now OUT and can be purchased in all major bookshops, and online on Amazon.

Out now

Announcement of a new arrival – Nothing to Lose is out and about!

Yes, yes, yes! Nothing to Lose is finally out and about! Published today, at the strike of midnight (I fancy), and ready to take its first tentative steps into the big and scary world of crime fiction.

I’ve just been interviewed by Wiltshire Times, but forgot to ask when the interview is scheduled to come out, so watch this space for further announcements about the date.

Great big thank you is due to Accent Press, and particularly my tireless editor, Greg Rees, the publishing manager, Kate Ellis and the marketing manager, Karen Bultiauw for all their help in getting the book pruned and groomed for its grand entrance into the world. My husband, Steve, deserves a special THANK YOU in capital letters for… everything: encouragement, feedback, pointing out the obvious and his unrelenting confidence in me (enough of it for both of us).

Off you go, Nothing to Lose, spread your wings and fly!

Out now

Fresh off the press: Nothing to Lose

P1060670I was thrilled earlier today to discover a little parcel on my doorstep. It contained my author’s copies of Nothing to Lose, a second instalment of DI Marsh mysteries. The cover is amazing and in keeping with the first book, Swimming with Sharks.

The blurb on the back reads:

After a head-on collision resulting in four deaths and a fifth person fighting for his life, DI Gillian Marsh is sent to investigate. Nothing seems to add up. How did four capable drivers end up dead on a quiet, peaceful country road?

As Gillian unpicks the victims’ stories, she edges closer to the truth. But will she be able to face her own truth and help her daughter before it’s too late?

Nothing to Lose will be launched on 7th April 2017, but it can be pre-ordered on Amazon, through the Publisher or from any major bookshops.


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Only 20 days until ‘Nothing to Lose’ is released. It is the second book in the DI Gillian Marsh mysteries. I have two signed copies of the first volume, Swimming with Sharks, for those who would like to catch up with the series. To be in to win, please like my FB Author Page


A remedy for a cold winter night

Watercolour, ‘Water Villa, Meeru Island, The Maldives’ (c) Steve Wylie


Chilled to the bone by the wintry weather, I have no choice but to reach for ‘Swimming with Sharks’ and immerse myself in the sweltering-hot world of a Maldivian island. A gentle touch of heated mystery will go a long way.

I see offers of new paperbacks of ‘Swimming with Sharks’ at a humble £2.74, lower than the kindle price!  For link, click here:   https://www.amazon.co.uk/Swimming-Sharks-Gillian-Marsh-Legat/dp/1783759658/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Clueless in Honolulu – Virginia King

Clueless In Honolulu 1

A big welcome to Virginia King, author of  The First Lie! She is dissecting the process of writing a mystery that has the capacity of taking the reader by surprise. How is it done? Over to you, Virginia…

Virginia King Portrait by Amanda Thorson 200 KB

How does a mystery writer create the unpredictability needed for a mystery to be ‘mysterious’? Experienced reviewers often comment that after you’ve read a few mysteries and thrillers they can start to feel formulaic. Why?

The Limits of Plotting

Here’s the blurb for a writing workshop on plotting:

Time spent planning a story before sitting down to write can prevent a laboured or stalled work. Lack of planning can result in flawed plots, stereotyped characters, clichéd dialogue and derivative style.

Sounds good in theory but exactly the opposite is true for me. In my experience a blue-print is too static. It kills the freshness of an evolving story, especially a mystery. And a character profile is like a straightjacket. Goodbye unpredictability. Any ideas I have at the beginning need to evolve in unexpected ways with the writing, not limit what happens by being set in place at the start.

When prize-winning author Kate Grenville created an outline of her first novel, she wrote later: “A weariness came over me at the thought of fleshing this out. I closed the exercise book and put it away. I never wrote in it again.” Then she says about her process: “I’d … write without a plan, following thoughts and images into the unknown … The criterion was energy.”

The Energy of ‘Clueless’

I approached my psychological mystery The First Lie with no idea what was around each corner. The resulting mystery contains layers I could never have plotted. If the writer is on the edge of their seat wondering what the hell is going to happen next and why, then so is the reader.

Without a plan in mind, I dropped my main character Selkie Moon into Honolulu because the story hadn’t been working when it was set in Sydney. What felt like a ‘crisis of place’ flipped into something edgy and unpredictable. If I’d stuck with a story plotted in Sydney I would have laboured away at a location that lacked spark. The move to Hawaii was exhilarating – and terrifying – for me and for Selkie.

Here are some examples of how Honolulu inspired a ‘clueless’ approach to The First Lie:

The role of the stranger

Selkie is all alone, a malihini (newcomer) in town, bringing an edge to her relationships and experiences. When a voice in a dream says, Someone is trying kill you, she’s forced to investigate what it’s got to do with her. A new friend tells her that in fairy tales it’s the newcomer who heralds the truth. This message becomes the theme of the book.

A cauldron of cultures

The Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, American, English, Irish and many other cultures who inhabit Hawaii create opportunities for quirky characters. How about a kahuna who lives in the bus shelter, available for roadside prognostications? She only speaks Hawaiian or pidgin (tricky for me as a non-speaker) so she’s an oracle who gives one-word pronouncements: Pilikia, she warns Selkie. Trouble.

A smorgasbord of mythology

You can’t wander around Hawaii without falling over an old graveyard full of ghosts, or a visionary mirror, or a cursed lava rock, or a character from folklore such as Pele the volcano goddess, who might hitch a ride with you on a dark lonely road. These mythical motifs created layers of clues for the ‘clueless’ author.

One Way to Go ‘Clueless’

My process is to write a scene, letting it create itself and following up any thoughts that pop into my head with research. Then I allow my subconscious to explore everything (usually while I’m asleep).  Most mornings I’m scribbling my overnight thoughts – connections I didn’t know were there, snippets of dialogue that give me new insights into characters, tangents and twists that might work, links to experiences I’ve had or things I’ve read or overheard. Then I weave these ideas into yesterday’s scene. I don’t control the story, but I use my judgement to shape and cut it when I’m redrafting.

Now I’m writing Book Three in this way. Selkie is drawn to an Irish mystery dating back to the 1890s, so I’m ‘clueless’ in County Kerry!

The First Lie is a winner of a B.R.A.G. Medallion.

The First Lie ebook 300 KBThe First Lie by Virginia King


Someone is trying to kill you.

When Selkie Moon flees Sydney to start over in Hawaii, it’s to live life on her own terms. But Life has other plans.

Though she tries to dismiss the warning as just another nightmare, it soon becomes apparent that someone, or something, is stalking her. Attacked by frightening visions and mysterious compulsions, she must piece together the fragmented clues before time runs out.

Virginia King effortlessly blends funky creativity and deep spirituality – with a dash of Celtic folklore – to craft a story of one woman’s fight for truth, and her discovery that the lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous of all.

You can read more about Virginia’s ‘clueless’ writing process in her recent interview about her first draft on Rebecca Bradley’s blog: https://rebeccabradleycrime.com/2016/05/20/whats-your-first-draft-like-virginia-king/

A Free Ghost StoryGhost

This is how I wrote Laying Ghosts, a 24-page standalone haunted house story tangled up in a Russian folktale and a murder ballad dating back to the 1700s. It’s also the prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series and explains to the reader (and the author!) just why Selkie suddenly took off to Hawaii. Download your free copy http://www.selkiemoon.com/#popup


Signed and dusted!

Thank you to everyone who came to support me at the launch of Swimming with Sharks at The Shires Waterstones yesterday. It was amazing to see so many wonderful people: friends (including one I hadn’t seen in 18 years since we both left South Africa), family (including one who can’t read yet – ha, can’t walk either, but was there to hold my hand for a bit until he drifted to sleep), fellow author Alison Knight and my wonderful editor Greg Rees all the way from Cardiff.

And the winner of the champagne pulled out of the bottle by Greg is…. TARAAAA: Sarah Cobb! Congratulations!

Swimming with Sharks links:






A day in the life of DI Marsh – my guest post on Jane Risdon’s blog

Today my Guest Author is ANNA LEGAT. Back in February I was honoured to be a guest on her blog and so today I am returning the favour. Anna is going to tell us something about A Day in the Life of DI Gillian Marsh Anna’s detective. Anna, who is DI Marsh and where can […]

via Meet DI Gillian Marsh – My Guest Author Anna Legat’s unlikely heroine. — Jane Risdon

Extract from Swimming with Sharks: Enter Gillian


Day 9


It is the ninth day today. Gillian Marsh has been living on the edge: getting no sleep, jumping at every telephone ring and following the Six O’clock News for any sign of cataclysms, abductions and acts of international terrorism. Eight days ago her daughter went globe-trotting: Thailand, Australia, South Africa – in that order. Forty days of living on adrenalin and crackers, then back home – hopefully life lessons learned vicariously through other people’s misfortunes. Forty days – like The Flood…

Tara is not alone, she has a friend with her, but that is of little consolation. Both girls are only eighteen and have not seen much of the world outside the sleepy safety of Sexton’s Canning. Although Tara was born in South Africa she does not remember any of its perils; Gillian took her out of there when she was four, when Gillian’s marriage to Tara’s father Deon fell apart amidst tears, the spittle of angry words, and clenched fists. South Africa was not a place for a single mother with a little girl in tow. Gillian returned home with her tail between her legs. Her parents were delighted. Deon, on the other hand, declared the move a personal insult and withdrew into silence. Then, out of nowhere, three years ago, he got in touch, his second marriage in tatters, another ex-wife on the run and a teenage son in a boarding school somewhere in Somerset.

Deon wants to get to know his daughter. It is his right – who is Gillian to argue? For years, she has been feeling guilty for depriving Tara of a father. Those days are gone.

It was great when Deon came to visit and met Tara. They hit it off straight away, father and daughter, like two peas in a pod. But Gillian knew the day would come when Tara would want to go and see her father on his turf. She hoped it wouldn’t be too soon. Her prayers had not been answered. Tara decided to run to her dad as soon as she turned eighteen. There was no stopping her. She is a foolhardy girl, and her friend Sasha is bad news. It is their gap year. They are adults. They do as they please. Gillian is in for forty long days of sheer dread.

She will keep herself busy. The other option is to go mad with worry. For the past eight days she has been mulling over the mortal dangers her daughter is facing: human traffickers, tsunamis, food poisoning, AIDS-infected syringes buried in sand, sharks and enraged elephants. Gillian will put it out of mind. Next week she is going to London: three-weeks of training. She has been putting it off, citing the demands of single parenthood, but with Tara gone she has run out of excuses. Her promotion to the rank of detective inspector has been hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles. She will have to let it fall.

Her desk is the windmill of her mind with the sawdust of closed but undocumented casework threatening to suffocate her. She will have to deal with it in the next two days. Anything would be better than her single-finger typing. She often thinks of the keyboard as her personal punch bag. It is a battered old thing, but indestructible if you consider the amount of coffee spilled over it and the flurry of invectives thrown at it, all in vain.

Any distraction from her worst fears and even worse desk jobs is a good distraction, so when PC Miller ushers in an elderly couple, who in loud tandem demand to speak to someone in authority, Gillian is at hand to lend a sympathetic ear.


“She told us she’d be back yesterday, lunch time.”

“Did she say lunchtime, dear?”

“She did. She said by lunchtime, actually. The plane, she said, was landing at 8:40 at Heathrow, terminal 4. I have taken it all down. Flight number, the date, the time… I’ve got it here.” Mrs Devonshire’s bird-claw hand submits a notepad bearing the flight details recorded in an immaculate cursive handwriting. “If you could take a copy. I’d like my notebook back, please.

“The problem, you see, is that Miss Eagles knows we’re going away tomorrow. We told her straightaway when she came to ask if we’d look after Fritz. We said, it’s fine, we don’t mind taking care of Fritz, but we’ll be off on Friday morning. How fortunate, she said, that I’ll be back before you leave, otherwise I’d have to take Fritz to a cattery. He wouldn’t like that, I said. Eunice would never part with him. Eunice, you understand, was Miss Eagle’s aunt. Sadly, she passed away last year. We’ve always been good friends with Eunice. We’ve been neighbours for forty years. Miss Eagles moved into Eunice’s cottage, what… would you say five months ago, dear? Maybe four… I lose count.”

“She told us to call her Nicola,” Mr Devonshire gazes pleadingly at his wife. He has a narrow face with pale, arched brows that give him a look of permanent bewilderment.

“We couldn’t, dear, not right away… We’ve only known her for five minutes. Well, I couldn’t anyway. You can call her what you like, though I simply wouldn’t go as far as the first-name basis… I’m particular that way. Anyway, we don’t want to bore the police with details.” At this point Mrs Devonshire’s attention returns to Gillian. “As I was saying, Miss Eagles was very excited about her holiday. She’s never been to the Maldives, she said. Neither have we, I told her, small world! We had a giggle, didn’t we dear?”

Mr Devonshire nods agreement and pats his wife’s hand with affection. Gillian is copying the details from the notebook: a flight from Colombo, UL4016, lands 8:40am, Wednesday 6th February, mob: 078 45291022… “Have you tried calling her on her mobile? She left you her number.”

“Well, no!” Mrs Devonshire looks horrified. “The cost is prohibitive even if she weren’t abroad, which she may well be, considering that she isn’t here, don’t you think? We thought the police should be making the telephone calls, especially the ones abroad… We are pensioners, and like I said, we’ve only known her for five minutes…”

“We wouldn’t want to intrude on her privacy.”

“No. But we are leaving tomorrow. We’ve had a holiday home booked for months. The same holiday home we book every year. We go every year, you understand, without fail. We couldn’t cancel if we wanted. It just wouldn’t do! On the other hand, we simply can’t walk away from it, can we dear? We owe it to dear old Eunice, don’t we, to look after that girl.”

Gillian feels a cold sweat run down her spine. She is thinking of Tara. What a bad idea it was to let her go. God, what a damn stupid idea!

“How old is Miss Eagles?”

“Oh, we don’t know, do we dear? We wouldn’t dream of asking. She isn’t a spring chicken. I don’t want to sound rude, you understand, but she is… what I call beyond the childbearing age.”

“A bit frumpy, lots of layers on her, like a sheep dog,” Mr Devonshire adds with surprising competence. “Late thirties. Tallish. Mid-built. Brown hair, sort of – wiry and bouncy. Pleasant manner…”

“Dear, you’re talking of her as if she were dead! She may still be alive, just… delayed, or detained somewhere. I dare not speculate…” Mrs Devonshire covers her mouth, stifling a gasp. “Though I’d say she’s more in her forties, early forties – that’s what I mean by beyond the childbearing age. It takes a woman to know these things. Does her age have any bearing on her disappearance?”

“No, not that I know of. It’s just that you called her a girl.”

Mr Devonshire smiles. “If you were our age…”

“Let’s not detract from the matter at hand, dear. You see, Miss Eagles is missing. We are going away tomorrow, and that leaves us with the small problem of Fritz.”


“Fritz, the cat. We’ve been looking after him, didn’t you hear me? He used to belong to Eunice, and when she passed away Miss Eagles took over, very kindly – she could’ve sent him to an animal shelter.”

“Most people would…”

“Now, we’ve been looking after him in her absence. Not much trouble, wet food at night and cat biscuits for breakfast. Quite a pleasure looking after old Fritz, isn’t it dear?”

Mr Devonshire smiles at the idea of old Fritz. “So it is.”

“But now, since we’re going away, we can’t leave Fritz on his own until Miss Eagle’s return, can we? What, if the worst comes to the worst and she doesn’t return? I know we shouldn’t be thinking on those lines, but we can’t take that risk – we can’t leave Fritz alone. We couldn’t do that to dear old Eunice, could we?”

“No, we couldn’t.”

“Now, where is he, dear?”

“I left him with the officer on duty, at the Reception Desk downstairs.”

“So there! Fritz is at the Reception Desk. Please, bear in mind that he is not used to being confined. He’s a free spirited young man.”

“You mean the cat? You left the cat with PC Miller downstairs?”

“We couldn’t leave him all on his own in an empty house to fend for himself, could we?” There is unmistakable admonishment in Mrs Devonshire’s tone. “His owner has gone missing. We are reporting her missing, do you understand? You are the person in authority, are you not?”

Gillian agrees and assures the old lady that steps will be taken to track down Fritz’s owner. She shows the elderly duo out and waits for them to say their goodbyes to Fritz, who is yowling in his cage, much to PC Miller’s dismay. Gillian shakes her head, silently prohibiting the constable from querying the animal’s presence at the station.

On the step outside Sexton’s Canning Police Station, Mr Devonshire grabs hold of Gillian’s hand and presses a large key into it. “It’s to the cottage. We’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning, but I will be putting a note in the door for Nicola to contact you for the key and the cat, if you don’t mind.”

Scan_20160430“No, not at all. We’ll look after Fritz.” This probably breaks every rule in the book, but what do you say to an elderly couple expecting your help? Direct them to the nearest RSPCA?

“That’s good.” He shuffles away, his head leaning towards his left shoulder. He catches up with his wife by a red station wagon where she is strapped into the passenger seat, ready to go. They have a brief exchange and, hurriedly, Mr Devonshire waves to Gillian to wait. He shuffles back, this time with a page from Mrs Devonshire’s precious notebook. “Our telephone number in France. As soon as you know what’s happened to Nicola, let us know, will you? We promised Eunice we’d look after the girl.”

And then you promised the girl to look after the cat, Gillian smiles under her breath, but says nothing out loud other than to wish the old man a good holiday, and not to worry – she will be in touch.


Swimming with Sharks (Accent Press) was released on 28th April 2016.