Interview with Wiltshire Times

I am talking to Wiltshire Times about Nothing to Lose, book #2 in the DI Marsh series.

I might have a new case for DI Marsh – the mystery of the missing ‘t’. Have a look!

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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

Medicinal value

My teapot and I have suffered minor contusions of late: I’ve been constantly knocked down by bouts of colds and flu, and my teapot’s lid was dropped (by me) and a chunk of it chipped off.

My mother always told me that there was nothing a plaster could not cure, so I plugged the crack in my teapot with a strip of waterproof plaster, and voila it is as good new! See?

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Unfortunately, no amount of plasters could stem my runny nose… Perhaps a bandage? Has anyone tried that remedy?

Ageing disgracefully and with style

I put on the skates, and I am a little girl again: eight or ten at the most. The blades of my skates slice through the ice. I can hear a clank and a swoosh, the wind in my pompom, cheeks burning, cold air in my nostrils, expelled in rapid vapours, forming frosty droplets on my scarf. I’ve lost my gloves – again. My fingers are red numb claws. I perform a pirouette, the spikes of one of my skates are the pivot and I draw a circle with the other foot. The air can’t keep up with me. I halt, let it catch up, and proceed backwards, knees bent slightly, bum defying gravity as I draw curvy patters on the ice. Another twirl, and I launch forward. I used to be able to do this – I lift one leg, an arabesque begins to form, a bit floppy, like a penknife that I can’t quite fully open. But I gather speed – I’m a bird swooping down-

-and down I go.

The spikes on my blade catch on something; I am catapulted – briefly, given just enough time to realise that I’m going face down, crash landing into the unforgiving ice. Just enough time to twist in the air to save my face. Hip first. Knee caught halfway through a protective kick. And then the ribcage slams down.

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Someone asks me if I’m all right. I nod, but I’m lying. Too embarrassed to admit that my vision is blurred and the blood has drained from my brain, leaving me lightheaded and faint. Daughter drags me to a bench. ‘You told me to fall on my bum. Why didn’t you?’

Where was my big, cushioned bum when I needed it…

Today, the day after, I am no longer a little girl of eight or ten at the most. That girl would be back on ice despite those minor bruises. She wouldn’t even remember that fall. She has run away and I am left on my own: an old woman and her swollen knee, her cracked ribcage that hurts with every intake of breath, and a huge purple bruise on her hip. I can’t recall where and when the hip came into it.

Husband offers an anti-inflammatory painkiller and I say no. I refuse to grow old gracefully. Whenever would I take a painkiller after scathing a knee when I was eight! I am not going to start now. I suffer my debilitating aches and pains in dignified reticence.

I will be back to the ice rink next week. Wearing knee pads.

The importance of being idle

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I am not a natural early riser. My alarm clock and I aren’t the best of friends; more like cats and dogs. Every morning the bloody thing growls at me, digs its teeth into the delicate fabric of my dreams and shakes me awake, my dreams shattered in an instant. I fight back, best as I can. I kick and scratch, I hiss, but I stand no chance. In the end the damned yapping ankle-biter wins. I hate the bastard.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are my Fridays: late-rising days. The yapping ankle-biter is where it belongs – in a dog-house. I sleep. Dreams seep into my slowly unfolding reality. Ideas form in my well-rested brain, come and go, sometimes vanishing without a trace, leaving only a hint of themselves, a niggling something that follows me around like a scent of something I once knew, a long time ago, in my childhood. Books and stories write themselves before my closed eyes, and they are out of this world – unique, one-and-only, unimaginable. If only I could remember them…

I love my late-rising days. Idleness breeds creativity. A well-rested brain busies itself with its own occupations, because let’s face, one is never quite perfectly idle. There is always some activity. Only when we go about our daily routines, imposed on us by the circumstances of our everyday obligations, we lose that subtler, more refine side of us, that side that is so ethereal and so elusive that it evaporates on contact with the hard-biting reality (in my case, my hard-biting alarm clock), like camphor. I so love capturing it on those blessed Friday mornings. It feels like stealing, like catching beautiful butterflies in a net. It is bad and frowned up by our labour-intensive reality, but God, it feels amazing!

I can understand now why great writers need to take the risk of abandoning their day-jobs to be able to write. Writing is a take-it-all occupation, which requires late rising and altogether a form of firm detachment from time and place. It is a risky affair, an affair with impropriety, a costly affair at that! But that is the choice one has to made: forsake one’s financial security to capture those elusive snippets of dreams and stitch them into a grand new story. I bet Jane Austin never had to use an alarm clock. I don’t believe Stephen King does, either.

A remedy for a cold winter night

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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=

What speakers do best

I am a proud owner of the first draft of Wide Angle, a Gilbert and Alice mystery. It is a light-hearted look at crime, something one would call cozy crime, the sort you’re not afraid to take to bed with you at night. Murder happens, naturally, but amidst all that bloodshed there is room for quirks and oddities, eccentricities of the highest order and outright silliness – generally speaking: my life and the people that populate it.

Don’t let any writer tell you that any similarity between the characters in their books and any living (or dead) persons is purely coincidental. No such thing as absolute fiction!

To give you an example of the kind of real life incidents you may find yourself cosied up to in bed when reading one of my books:

Yesterday, I asked Daughter to carry a pair of heavy speakers to Husband’s study. My back, you see, is shot due to a spot of aeroball. She obliged (grudgingly) and placed the speakers oddly in the doorway, kind of facing each other, like so:

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I was intrigued and confused by that awkward positioning, but you see, I shouldn’t be at all, because the speakers were doing what speakers do best – they were speaking to each other!

You can see it, can’t you?

 

Clueless in Honolulu – Virginia King

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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…

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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

Description

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