Thursday, June 1, 2023

Author interview with Jacqui Black / Book review 'The Romanov brooch affair '


This month's author interview is with Jacqui Black, the author of two books (the first already published, the second due to be published on the 3rd June 2023), both cosy murder mysteries in her Donaldson-Gilks Mystery Series. So let's meet Jacqui:

'At school I enjoyed English and English Literature classes, devouring such classics as Dickens Oliver Twist, Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, and Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim.  

Mathematics classes, on the other hand, were sheer torture. I recall, with agonising clarity, how I repeatedly informed my teacher I’d never learn the mysterious art of trigonometry or the other perplexing formulas he taught with such patient diligence.

He’d have been completely bemused to learn I subsequently trained as an accountant and spent 35 years in a commercial environment. Life’s funny like that. Always throwing you the unexpected.

When I took early retirement, I thought I’d have a go at writing a novel of my own. After all, they say everyone has at least one book in them. But what should I write about?

I’ve always been interested in the arts, specifically old black and white films between the 1930’s, and 1960’s. My particular favourites feature Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, and films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Having reflected for a while, it suddenly became obvious; I’d write a cosy murder mystery.  Simple!'

I'm not sure it's quite that easy but what a great can-do attitude 😄 Jacqui has just started using Twitter so it would be lovely if you could follow her there @JacquiBlackAuth , and she has produced a tweetable for you (tweet here):

'If you’re looking to relax, or simply want to get away from the stress of everyday life for a while, why not dip into the novels of Jacqui Black, an exciting new author in the Cosy Murder Mystery genre.'

Jacqui published her first novel in 2021 and as this is a second career, I wondered how easy she found the world of writing and publishing?

'The writing element is the most enjoyable, and the least problematic. I’m a ‘pantser’ so, I write an outline of approximately eight pages and then sit down at my laptop and start at chapter one. Sometimes the characters take on a life of their own, and I wander away from my original outline. I find that very exciting. From time to time even I don’t know where the story is going. Usually, it’s all the better for that. Writing is a slow process, I spend three hours a day with my head down, trying to complete at least one chapter a week. It doesn’t always work out that way, other mundane things seem to barge in, such as housework, shopping, etc.

Getting a traditional publisher and/or agent is hard. When I completed FATHOM, I spent months approaching agents and publishers with a book synopsis and query letter. Most didn’t reply. Those that did were polite, but all declined. Very few offered encouragement or advice. It doesn’t do a lot for your self-esteem.

A nagging thought kept running through my mind. ‘This is a damn good book, and it deserves to be read.’  So, I started looking at self-publishing on Amazon. It helped that I have a commercial background. Some of the admin takes a bit of getting to grips with, especially when it comes to the promotional and marketing side of things.

My advice to any budding author is take it slowly, do your business research, have a publishing plan, and be doggedly persistent. I would also add you simply MUST have your book professionally edited and a professionally designed cover. There are a lot of novels to compete with out there. Yours absolutely has to stand out.

I’m very aware that becoming a bestselling author is a VERY slow affair. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that, just maybe, in twenty years’ time, I might become an overnight success!'

I love that, although twenty years? That sounds a bit tough! Having a business background seems a valuable tool for any writer, so does she have any advice for fledgling authors?  

'My background is certainly an advantage when it comes to the business element of being an author.  And it is a business. I apportion my available time; part of the day writing, the remainder carrying out admin. I would recommend doing what you can for yourself, outsourcing everything else. Not only will this method keep you sane, but it will also free up precious time to write.
Also, I find it’s good business strategy to keep everything under review. I constantly ask myself, ‘Can I do this more efficiently/profitably?’  
The Alliance of Independent Authors have several self-help guides which I have found useful.'

Great advice! What does she enjoy the most about writing?

'The escapism. Switching off the humdrum of real life and entering an enchanted world where I can control everything. It’s very cathartic being able to ensure mean-spirited characters get their comeuppance in life.'

Hear, hear (and why doesn't that happen in real life?)! Does Jacqui have a favourite novel?

I don’t have a favourite novel, as such; I love them all. My favourite authors include Agatha Christie (naturally), Dorothy L Sayers, PG Wodehouse and more recently, John Mortimer, Sue Townsend and CJ Sansom.

When I read and re-read them, I always marvel at how clever the author has been in the construction and development of the story and their characters.'

The book I'm reviewing is the second in the series and I asked for a brief synopsis (tweet here):

'THE ROMANOV BROOCH AFFAIR - A Russian gem – A Royal secret – Has a member of the Imperial family escaped a horrifying fate?  Discover the answer in a riveting new cosy murder mystery novel by Jacqui Black.'

And here's an extract from the novel itself (tweet here):

‘Have you heard the news, Pyotr?’ a diminutive grey-haired man in a postman’s uniform called out, his outline framed over the open top of a stable door.  Bouncing from foot to foot, his eyes gleamed with intrigue …….'

What inspired her to write this book?

'My stories are based around real-life conspiracy theories, which I find absolutely fascinating.   I take elements from the theory and incorporate them into a fictional story.  THE ROMANOV BROOCH AFFAIR is the second in a series which I believe has all the essentials for a good read; murder, mystery, glamour, myths and legends, and a soupcon of romance.'

Who doesn't love a good conspiracy? Does she find herself actively seeking them out now, for future books?

'I’ve loved conspiracy theories since I can’t remember when, and I’m constantly looking for new ones. It’s the mystery element, coupled with amazement at their audacity, that draws me in.

Conspiracy theories are everywhere - in history, politics, high finance, Royalty, even friends and family can provide good story ideas. If something particularly interests me, I’ll search out a few documentaries on the subject. I keep a pad for notes and then delve much deeper until I’m happy I have a good solid factual framework around which I can weave a new fictional novel.'

As her books are set in the past, is her priority historical accuracy or is she happy with portraying a general gist?

'Historical accuracy is important, and I try to keep it as truthful as possible. To my mind, it’s these supplementary details which preserve my novels authenticity. My aim is for the reader to question the accepted official version of events. Is it possible the authorities concealed what really happened all those years ago?  However, when necessary, I do use broad brushstrokes to help the plot flow and keep reader interest.'

And how does she select the names of her characters?

It depends on the character’s circumstances. If they are British, something usually presents itself. I look for names that have a connection with the person, i.e. what they do for a living, a trait in their character. For example, in my first novel, FATHOM, I named the gardener ‘Herbert Digweed’ and the chauffeur ‘Edwin Speed.’ If they are from another country, I look up country specific names on the internet, then review their English meaning hoping for something appropriate.'

If she could go back in time, what would she tell her younger writing self?

'To start writing earlier and don’t be afraid to self-publish.  

Having said that, your life experiences make you the author you are. I’ve had such a lot of wonderful and not so wonderful adventures. I’m sure you know the saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ It’s so true, and it gives you an enormous archive you can channel into your writing.'

That does beg the question, how much of Jacqui is in her characters?

'That’s a difficult one. Veronica, one of my principal protagonists, endures the stifling social conventions of the early 1900’s. To some extent her fictional experiences are loosely based on my own in the 1980’s. Being a young woman in commerce I was viewed as somewhat of a novelty. In those days there was a certain expectation young girls would marry and have a family. When I left school, the careers teacher suggested just two options:  working at the local factory, or training as a secretary.  I chose the latter. When I became an accountant, I discovered some of my employers had difficulty dealing with a financially educated woman. 
Other character traits are observed from people’s behaviour. If I think a certain mannerism suits a particular character, I use it. Further research on the internet may be necessary if I need to better understand what drives a personality.'

Does Jacqui read reviews of her books and if so, how does she deal with them?

'I do read my reviews. I find it gives you a boost to know someone appreciates your work. Bad reviews are part of the publishing process. It hurts, but you must develop a thick skin. I tell myself, ‘You can’t please all the people, all of the time.’ It’s a matter of personal choice.

I also read reviews of other authors in my genre. I find this helps to include plenty of the positive suggestions and avoid readers ‘pet hates’, which can be very constructive for me, when creating my own novels.'

What a great way of using reviews! Please remember to do your bit and write reviews too (and if you're not sure how, read here)! I finished by asking if there's anything she’d like to say to you, her readers?

'Thank you for spending your precious time and money to read my novels.  I really do appreciate it.  If you found enjoyment in them, please tell your friends and family.'



I was privileged to read a copy of this book before its release on the 3rd June. I don't usually read cosy murder mysteries but the title of this novel intrigued me. I loved the idea of a novel linked to the 'missing' crown jewels, after the Romanov family were killed by Bolshevik revolutionaries, and was interested to see where this would take me.

A short prologue starts in Russia where we learn about the death of the Tsar and his family, before we launch into the main part of the novel, set one year later, initially in London. 

Here we meet Lancelot Donaldson-Gilks, our protagonist, who is reading about the recent sale of a 'Fabergé ruby and diamond brooch in the shape of the Russian Imperial eagles.'  He's fascinated about the secret identity of the seller, but then notices that Nessie has been spotted again. This isn't great news because he's about to head north on the train, to his family's estate which borders Loch Ness, so the area will be busy. He's meeting up with his extended family for 'The Glorious Twelfth' where they'll partake in the first grouse shoot of the year. 

The family arrive at Braemuir Castle and we experience all the fun (and politics!) that a family get-together can bring. Add in a dash of royalty joining the shoot, along with their entourage including foreign dignitaries, a dead body being removed from the train, another found floating in Loch Ness, and the Chief Superintendent of Scotland Yard just happening to be in Braemuir, and you can can see we're in for an adventure!

Jacqui is very good at making history come alive, from the formal dialogue with household staff to specific procedures of the day. She's able to bring great ambience to her fiction and when the story moves to Scotland, she delights in showing us the wonderful scenery. One of the many examples is,

'White-tailed eagles wheeled gracefully above dense pine forests, granite boulders littered the ice-cold burns snaking across heather-clad moors, and thick bracken made a good hiding place for red deer, a stag’s bellow the only indication of their presence' 

I loved the language, ‘just because a dead body’s been found doesn’t mean skulduggery’s involved’, and the rich characters, such as newspaper reporter Veronica, who is strong and stands up to the normally dominant men,  ‘That’s the sort of cynical remark I’d expect from the bourgeoisie’. 

There's a great mix of real facts scattered throughout the fiction, it was one of those books where you felt you learnt a bit about the period in addition to working out the mystery.

I don't want to say any more about the plot because I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I will say it that it's a fun romp. It has some lovely twists and turns, and I enjoyed trying to work out what was going on, whilst soaking up the rich atmosphere. 

If you enjoy a gentle, rather than gritty, murder mystery, then I recommend 'The Romanov Brooch Affair'. Cosy is a great description of the style as you will want to snuggle down and absorb the setting, experiencing another era when the world was a very different place, and it's charming.

If you'd like to find out more about the author, please visit her links below:

Website: (you can order her book exclusively here)



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