Sunday, 15 December 2013

Can you see me?

Fidelis Berlin, who has featured in several of my books and plays a large part in the most recent one, Dead Woman Walking, is an old woman. She is in fact about the same age as me, which I admit because there is certainly no point now (if there ever was a point)  in pretending otherwise, since the truth can so easily be found on line. I don't know who first remarked that old women are  invisible, but rather to my surprise,  it seems to be true. For example: last week,  in a train on the way from Cornwall to London, the inspector came along the coach scrupulously  checking everybody's tickets and rail cards -  or rather,  I should say checking everyone else's. But his eyes passed unseeingly over my seat. I was invisible. I would have minded  being ignored if it hadn't given me an idea. As people say to young journalists, every unpleasant experience can be made into good copy.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Pharaohs and Pyramids in Privacy

An amazing trip to Cairo:  a plane in which there were about five seats per passenger,  and a destination in dire need of jumbo-jets full of tourists. But tourism is in suspension in Egypt,  whose economy depends on it. The American State Department's advice, on the day I went there, was not to go, and so  Americans don't go; the British Foreign Office advice is not to go to some places and go cautiously to others. My unofficial advice is to GO NOW! You'll be welcomed with enthusiasm and be able to negotiate massive price reductions in hotels. The Mena House Hotel, 5 stars and in normal times jam-packed with customers, was completely deserted. When we went there for lunch, ours was  literally the only  occupied table in the whole huge dining room. We wandered round a pyramid almost alone. And most exciting of all, we were able to see the Tutankhamun exhibits in private. I've been in the same room as these treasures three times, at the  London exhibitions in 1972 and 2007, and in the very same rooms in  the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but could never see more than little sections framed in other visitors' backs. This time my Egyptologist daughter and I were alone in the room with The Pharaoh's gold mask and coffins and jewels and furniture - an amazing and unforgettable experience. Outside the museum, in Tahrir Square, there were tanks, and an unrepaired hotel burnt out in the revolution of 2011, but few people and no trouble.

While I was away The Spectator Magazine  ran a review of Dead Woman Walking. Andrew Taylor called it "a complex and chilling tale"  and said  that "The quality of the writing shines out."  It was a  very nice surprise to find on my return home.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Next stop:

Back from the Isle of Wight (bad weather, good sessions, both my own and others', and appreciative audiences) and next stop Cairo. I'm going to Egypt to visit my  Egyptologist daughter and her twin daughters. I might even re-read one of my own books, set in Egypt, on the journey. Death Beyond The Nile  features Tamara Hoyland, who was the heroine in six of my novels.  She's a creature born of fantasy, and of her author's discontent, in that she has all the attributes I'd have liked  myself, being brave, beautiful, athletic and above all completely  independent and free. She is an archaeologist and a kind of spy, travelling along the Nile  in an up-market kind of  group. The last book she appeared in was Faith, Hope and Homicide which appeared 21 years ago. In it, Tamara  falls in love. Spying adventures and happy marriage didn't seem compatible, so I wrote no more about Tamara. But her children must be off her hands by now.  I'm toying with the idea of a come-back.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


I love islands: the Scillies, the Hebrides, the Canaries and many others. In my novel No Man's Island, an (imaginary) off-shore part of the United Kingdom declares itself independent, as the Shetlands might have done when the discovery  of North Sea gas gave them the prospect of unimagined wealth.
So I'm thrilled to be going to the Isle of Wight this weekend for its second Literary Festival.  Lots of exciting writers to listen to, meet or at least see, and friends to meet up with. I'm doing a session on crime writing with N.J, (Natasha) Cooper and Jason Goodwin (a chance to mention DEAD WOMAN WALKING) and another about the fifties (pushing  THE FIFTIES MYSTIQUE) with Victoria Glendinning. And I'll have the pleasure of listening to interesting speakers - among others,  Max Hastings, Robin Hanbury Tenison and  Penelope Keith and M.C.Beaton who are doing a joint session. If you're within easy reach, do come!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Some reactions to Dead Woman Walking:

A retired Family Court judge can’t believe that a foreign father taking his small son  home for a visit would be enabled by   his own country’s legal system   to keep the child despite the mother having been awarded custody in the UK. I direct her to the account of just that (“They Are My Children Too” by Catherine Laylle, now Lady Meyer).
That excellent novelist and critic N.J.Cooper  said that the story will stay with her.
The critic for The Western Morning News wonders whether Isabel Arnold might be Jessica Mann’s alter ego.    He may think so; I couldn’t possibly comment.
Nor could I possibly comment on Martin Edwards’ suspicion that “there may be a number of semi-autobiographical elements.”  But I can say how nice it is that he calls it “a novel of ideas, about feminism, family and literature” and adds that it’s a “very well- written as well as a poignant book.” Thank you for those kind words, Martin!
Barry Forshaw, the authority on Nordic Noir, wrote “as ever with this author, the intelligent and complex texture of the novel matches its sheer storytelling nous.” Very welcome praise from one who knows!
The indefatigable Lizzie Hayes of Mystery People said the characterisation is “masterly” and highly recommends the book.
I could quote more, but that’s enough boasting for one day!

Saturday, 7 September 2013


DEAD WOMAN WALKING is really out  at last!
It's a paperback original, very nicely produced by the Cornovia Press and Lulu (print on demand).
The system is ideal for small publishers and probably explains why there are now so many  of them springing up, because it means they are spared the problems that used to make publishing problematic. Firstly, the initial investment is minimised; and equally important, there is no need to guess how many copies to print, and then pay for accomodation to store the volumes. Self-publishers used to pile them under beds.
And paperback originals? They are what the reader prefers. Take it from someone who is sent on average fifty books a month - and that's a conservative figure. Crime novels for review arrive every day. The postman has taken to saying, "More homework for you" as he staggers to the front door with a pile of parcels. Obviously I can't keep them all. But it's very hard to dispose of most hardback fiction because, as second hand book dealers unanimously confirm, nobody wants to read it. The few volumes that might become collectable are sought after - though I have never been any good at guessing which they are. The rest languish unwanted  on the shelves of our local Oxfam bookshop, while the newly published paperbacks often sell the day after I bring them in.
So roll up, roll up and buy DEAD WOMAN WALKING and the second edition of THE FIFTIES MYSTIQUE, both now available  at Amazon, or any other online bookseller, or - better still - get your local bookshop to order (and perhaps even stock) it. If you do - many thanks!

Monday, 26 August 2013


Well and truly let down by Lulu,  still with no word, according to the Cornovia Press, on when they will make it  available, Dead Woman Walking is at least now listed to buy on Amazon, on paper, and very soon as an Ebook. And so is the second print edition of  The Fifties Mystique. So it's possible to get hold of a copy, even though the book hasn't arrived in real, physical bookshops yet. What an obstacle race! If it hadn't been such a lovely summer in Cornwall I'd be weaving straws into my hair by now. As it is, after an afternoon in the garden, in a comfortable chair with a good book, the sun shining and  a plateful of cherries (the best crop ever, cherry growers are saying) even a publisher's delays can't shake my comfortable calm.

Monday, 19 August 2013

DEAD WOMAN WALKING - Update on Pub-date

Having been well and truly punished for the hubris of announcing the publication date of Dead Woman Walking - which is still not available - at least I now understand what's happened.
The book is being published by a small firm, Cornovia Press, which specialises in books with a Cornish connection. Mine is that I have lived in Cornwall for most of my adult  life, and am married to   Cornishman, Charles Thomas. Cornovia  produced my husband's most recent  book beautifully. Gathering The Fragments  is a collection of miscellaneous articles and essays that originally appeared in obscure places or, like a couple  of  funeral addresses, were never printed at all. Incidentally, it's a perfectly delightful volume!

The Cornovia Press, like many other small publishers, is not using conventional print methods, which involve a big outlay of capital and require storage space for the books. Instead the books are produced by Lulu, i.e. print-on-demand. Lulu then offers small publishers a Distribution Deal, which gets supplies of a new book to shops and distributors. Cornovia's experience has been that these distribution deals  have always been active a few days either side of the six week mark, and planned accordingly.

Well, you can guess the episode to follow!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Dead Woman Walking

The publication date of Dead Woman Walking  was supposed to be August 8th. But there's many a slip between promise and performance, and this particular one has taken an almighty tumble. Five days on and there's still no sign that the book's ready to distribute. If anyone - apart from my publisher and me - is waiting for a finished copy all I can say is that it's really coming. Soon.
Which is all I can promise myself too.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Another lovely review

Martin Edwards writes, and writes about, crime  fiction,  and maintains one of the subject's most perceptive blogs, entitled (for reasons that are painfully obvious to his colleagues!) Do  You Write Under Your Own Name? It is a fascinating contribution to the crime fiction's history and criticism - and that he keeps it up so regularly, as well as having a day job as a solicitor, is most impressive. Given that he is so expert in the subject, praise of  a crime novel from Martin is praise indeed. So it's blatant boasting to direct you to his review of Dead Woman Walking. who, though, could resist boasting about this one?

see the post published on Wednesday 7 August.

Friday, 9 August 2013

An unsolved mystery

Having mentioned the disappearance of  the post I wrote about Any Questions, I should probably mention its reappearance. How, where from and why I don't know - but dated Sunday 28th July, there it is!


I have realised that I'm something of a jinx on publication dates.
For example: The day the paperback edition of one of my best reviewed and best-selling novels was due to come out,  the distributor's computer broke down. It was  out of action for 6 weeks, so  by the time the book was available, all the pre-publicity and reviews were forgotten. Predictably, the sales figures were disappointing. Then, when  offered the next book, the publisher turned it down because  because the paperback of the last book hadn't sold!
Some other similar episodes should have taught me to predict and promise more cautiously. I should have known that it was tempting fate to announce August 8th as the publication date of DEAD WOMAN WALKING. And fate hasn't resisted temptation: the book is not ready or available yet after all. But this time I'm not saying when it actually will be available - because if I did, it wouldn't!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Life's Minor Mysteries

One of the minor mysteries of cyber-life: last week, after appearing on Radio 4’s Any Questions programme, I wrote a long post about the experience. It disappeared into cyberspace at some point between then and now. Can it have been censored? Hardly: it was a very innocent piece! Perhaps if I rewrote it with the addition of a little vitriol, the cyber-censors would leave it up. But rewriting is no fun. I will do some more posting and  boasting,  instead, because Dead  Woman Walking, though not officially published for another week, has already had reviews worth reading.
N. J. Cooper, herself one of today's best crime writers, and  most original commentators on the subject of crime fiction, has written an interesting piece about my book in the online book review magazine, Book Oxygen - a site that anyone interested in contemporary writing should follow.
And here is Lizzie Hayes, in  Mystery People.

 The characterisation is masterly, gives the reader the person without the need for description. Isobel recounts at one point: "When I left him, Hector blamed 'those bra-burning harpies' and if he could he would have cited the woman’s movement as the co-respondent in our divorce."
As the story progress more and more layers are stripped away from the characters, and a sad but gripping tale of mystery and vengeance is revealed. If the novel has a message it is that one should be careful of making decisions that not only effect but can change and destroy lives. This book is highly recommended.

Thanks, N.J.Cooper and Lizzie Hayes: you've made my day, week, month or even year!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A Bit of  a Boost and a Bit of a Boast

My new book, Dead Woman Walking, to be published on 8th August,  has had a couple of lovely advance reviews.
One (unsigned) appears in the Western Morning News today (30 July):

The other is from the on-line magazine Crime Time, and is by the expert on crime fiction, Barry Forshaw. Here it is:

Apart from a distinguished career as a crime writer and social historian, Jessica Mann has long been one of the most acute critics of the crime fiction genre. In this economical but authoritative novel, Mann (who has written 21 crime novels and four non-fiction titles) demonstrates that her skill in the field of malign human behaviour remains as ironclad as ever.
Gillian Butler left Edinburgh five decades ago – or at least that is what her friends have always believed. But when her lifeless body is discovered, it becomes imperative to remember who last saw her alive – and, accordingly, a vividly drawn dramatis personae is paraded before our eyes. The reader is invited to draw their own conclusions about how she died. As ever with this author, the intelligent (and complex) texture of the novel matches its sheer storytelling nous.
Dead Woman Walking by Jessica Mann is published by the Cornovia Press

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Any Questions

It's such a long time since I was last on Radio 4's Any Questions programme that when I read an email inviting me to the programme at  St.Endellion Church in Cornwall on July 26, I thought I was being asked to be a member of the audience.  But no: this was an invitation  to join the panel: Lord (Roy) Hattersley, now aged 80, former senior Labour politician; Jacob Rees Mogg, a Conservative MP ,  Philip Collins, a Times columnist - and me!
The form hasn't changed. One is picked up by car and delivered by 6, in this case to a hotel near Port Isaac, to meet the chairman, Jonathon Dimbleby,  and  the team over dinner. Everybody is ultra-friendly and convivial though  (perhaps excepting Roy Hattersley) not quite concealing their stage fright. I realised later that the others - or at least the two politicians - had access to some kind of party briefing book, giving the proper responses to any potential question. I had had a long telephone conversation with the programme's producer, who had listed the 10 subjects most  likely to come up, suggesting that I prepared opinions on them. So I was all ready with wit and wisdom about such hot topics as  Britain's relationship with the EU, British interests in the Middle East, the UK's nuclear deterrent, discrimination against women in the BBC  and so on.
Not one of them came up.
The church was packed full, and presumably  the audience had handed in a pile of questions on all these and many other subjects,  but  to my dismay (and terror) I was quite unprepared for those chosen for the live programme.  The Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury and payday loans; the  internal politics of the Labour party and  unions; the alleged economic recovery. None of these were subjects on which  a non-economist, non-Anglican, non-socialist has much useful to contribute.  Mercifully we moved  on to the easier topics of royal-baby-mania and house prices in second-home-land, and those I could talk about. On the whole, I'd say it was fun, but not  my finest hour.
But  was it good publicity? Will anyone look for and buy my books as a result of hearing me on Any Questions?
And to that question I have no answer at all.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

New Edition, New Book

The Fifties Mystique sold out within less than a year of publication. (I don't know how many copies were printed.) Quartet Books decided not to reprint, so for a while the book has been unobtainable. The only copy on Amazon UK is listed at £5000, which is presumably code meaning "not available".
However, there is an E-version, and  within about a month a second, print edition, published by The Cornovia Press, will come out. So, to all the frustrated readers who have written to me asking how to get hold of the book: it's coming soon. And so is my new novel.
           Dead Woman Walking is also published by The Cornovia Press.
           By pure, unplanned coincidence, my  advance copies of Dead Woman Walking arrived here on the 75th anniversary of the House of Commons vote that permitted Jewish children to be taken from Germany to safety in the United Kingdom. Many people had volunteered to help, either by fostering  children and  giving them homes, or by escorting the children on the long train journey. This rescue of Jewish children was a generous, charitable gesture by this country, unmatched anywhere else in the world. The scheme continued until war broke out; by then, about ten thousand children had been brought out of Germany to safety.
           One of the several parallel story-lines in  Dead Woman Walking  concerns  a character who appeared  in several of my previous crime novels, Dr Fidelis Berlin. As a small child she  was brought to  England on a Kindertransport . On arrival, it was discovered that there was no identification pinned to her clothes.   Now in old age, she has belatedly decided to try to discover her true identity.
           Another strand of the book is based on  the first years of my adult, married life, when we lived in Edinburgh's New Town. I'm indebted to Martin Edwards, author of the crime-fiction blog
Do You Write Under Your Own Name?, for the suggestion that I should return to the characters in my very first novel, A Charitable End.
             Dead Woman Walking will be available in (some) shops  on August 8th.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


As I conversed with the brilliantly perceptive and acute Professor Helen Taylor at the Fowey Festival, the huge tent was flapping and twisting in  the gale force wind, so noisily that it must have been hard to hear what we said. But the audience was large and responsive, so the session was fun  for me - and, I hope, for them.
Kind Andrew, the manager of Waterstones in Truro, was running the bookshop. He'd very kindly made a huge effort to find some copies of the  (already out of print) The Fifties Mystique,  and managed to scrape up a couple of dozen, as well as some of my novels. I'm glad to say that they were all sold - in fact, according to Andrew, more of my books were sold than of the far more famous speaker who came after me that day, and of nearly all the othr speakers that week.|More due to the fact that I was on my home ground than anything  else, but a rare enough experience for me to feel it's (just) OK  to boast!
As the publishers aren't reprinting (why, oh why?) I'm hoping to do it myself as a print-on-demand book. But so far the programmes - Lulu, Create-Space etc. - have defeated me. But watch this space.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Fowey Lit Fest.

In the week  when I'm due to speak about The Fifties  Mystique at the Fowey Literary Festival - on Thursday 9 May , at 11.45 -  I've just received the perversely timed information that the print edition  has sold out. Luckily the e-book edition is now available  -  though somebody has yet to solve the technical problem of providing an author's autograph for an electronic book - and another print edition should be available quite soon.

Product Details
            If you're anywhere within reach of Fowey this week and next, the Lit Fest is well worth a visit. Freed this year from its association with Daphne du Maurier, it has an interesting programme, and its setting is ravishingly pretty. There can be few places as charming  at this time of year. 

I'm going to be speaking on day two, after a session about Fifty Shades of Feminism, a collection of essays exploring "the many shades of being a woman", and just hope that, by the time it's my turn, the audience won’t have had enough feminism for one day.