J M Simpson – Q&A

J M Simpson is the author of Sea State and Sea Change. The latest book in the series Sea Shaken, was published on 29 September 2022.

She kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Sea Shaken.

Sea Shaken is the third in the Castleby series. Castleby is a fictional seaside town in Pembrokeshire (based heavily on Tenby, with lots of Devon, Dorset and Cornish elements thrown in). The debut novel (Sea State) was set against the backdrop of the local lifeboat crew. It is a close, tight knit community, and we now focus on different characters in each book.

In Sea Shaken, (the third book), we focus on the recovery of one of the major characters, who was badly injured as well as dealing with a returning soldier who is coping with life changing injuries after being missing in action for over two years. Add to this the sinister undercurrent of a series of deaths of elderly people in the local community and you have a book which has a lot going on! A bit of something for everyone! Suspense, intrigue, crime, drama, thrills and a touch of romance.

2. What inspired the book?

A few things! Firstly, the idea for the whole series came to me one night when I watched a lifeboat launch in incredibly stormy seas and I wondered who these men and women were that risked everything they loved to plunge into a stormy sea to save a complete stranger. This concept fascinates me, and this is what gave me the initial idea for the first in the series – Sea State. For this third book I also wanted to shine a light on the mental health of some of our returning soldiers and highlight that perhaps it’s not always a happy ending for some. I did a lot of research, reading various first and second hand accounts from Veterans and speaking to a few. Some of the stories were truly heart rending, and this gave me the idea to incorporate this into a couple of the characters.

3. Do you plan before you start writing or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

For the most part, I only have a very general idea of a few ‘themes’ that I want in the book. I have no idea how the writing process happens for me, but it seems to. When I sit down and write, nobody is more surprised than me when I find myself in a direction I had never dreamed of, or with characters I had never anticipated! So, I think it’s safe to say I am not a planner!

4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that still surprises you?

I made the decision to self-publish the Castleby series, despite having a few offers on the table. So, since Sea State (first in the series) I have had a near vertical learning curve. It is an incredibly hard slog, but I think it’s the time element and the planning of things that need to happen that still surprises me – how long it takes to do it all properly. And by this I mean, edit, then pass to an editor, then review again, tweak, then pass to a proof-reader etc. As well as work with whoever you have chosen to do the book cover (which is probably as crucial as the story!). Then there’s scheduling book/blog tours etc and launch dates! So, to do it properly, the time it takes and how much in advance it needs to be planned was a real surprise to me.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

Day job aside, and when I’m not writing, I’m pretty much thinking always thinking about writing, so it’s always lurking about. I have a long suffering husband, two teenagers and two rescue collies, so life is pretty hectic. I‘m out with the dogs every day for a good hour or so and it is wonderful thinking time for planning and getting perspective on life, the boys are always a joy to take out.

I love to escape to the coast if I can as the coast is like soul food for me and always has been. I grew up in the west country, so I miss the sea very much. So if I to choose anywhere to go to relax, it would be the coast. There are a few places which are absolute favourites of mine, so if I can get to any of those, I feel my ‘social and life’ battery replenishing gently. Equally, I love getting engrossed in a box set where surprisingly I don’t think about writing. We’ve just finished ‘Bad Sisters’ on Apple TV which was brilliantly dark and we’re almost at the end of ‘Shantaram,’ which turned out to be a very pleasant surprise in how good it was.

I love going to the cinema, especially to see a film that’s highly anticipated, like a new bond film. The anticipation as the lights dim and the certification card is shown still makes me smile, because for me, cinema is pure escapism.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

I have no idea whatsoever! I go through phases with books and much as I love to read, I don’t have a huge amount of time to read. There are so many brilliant reads out there its almost impossible to choose. From the classics I’ve always loved Pride and Prejudice and Far From the Madding Crowd. I remember reading ‘A Time to Kill’ by Grisham and being blown away and completely emotionally invested in the story, genuinely feeling such anger. ‘Sleeping With the Enemy’ also affected me very deeply and I have never forgotten that slow building of suspense throughout. I have a very soft spot for ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follet and when I’m in the right mood, I’m a sucker for a Nicholas Sparkes novel, but I have to be in the right mindset for those. I’m a big fan of David Baldacci, but one of his books has always stayed with me, which is ‘One Summer’ a bit of a departure of a novel for him, but it’s a heart-breaking story about terminal illness and grief that then fills you with hope that occasionally a miracle can happen.

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

It’s not so much as what I’ve not been asked; but someone asked me once to tell them something about me that was a little known fact, and I thought this was a great (if not slightly dangerous) question!.

So, here’s my little known fact; I have a PhD, it’s not in anything remotely to do with writing, but it was a hard slog, and I was the first woman to get one in the faculty I was working in at the time. So, this is something that I am extremely proud of, despite it being over 20 years ago. I don’t tend to use or promote it in ‘the writing community’ but might one day, you never know. Years ago, my boss at the time (who pulled no punches), pulled me into his office one day and asked me why I wasn’t using it at work. He told me in no uncertain terms to “make bloody sure you use it Jo, it’s a fantastic achievement and it means that you really do know what the bloody hell you’re talking about”. I’ve never forgotten that.

About the Book

Jesse Stevens lies in a coma after being pulled off a cliff by a psychopath who escaped from prison to find her.
He is in hiding, also hurt from the fall, but fuelled with rage. He needs to make sure she’s dead. If she isn’t, he’ll finish the job once and for all.
Military Intelligence Officer, Sam Jones, missing presumed dead, returns from Afghanistan after two years of brutal torture in captivity. Struggling to cope, Sam has no desire to carry on living, or return to family life, with his wife, Sophie, and son, Marcus. Sophie is desperate to help Sam recover and leans heavily on her friend and ex-forces soldier Foxy for support.

Castleby is plagued by a series of unexplained deaths among the elderly and that of a local fisherman. Inspector Steve Miller works closely with the new local GP, Kate Cooper, to try and find an explanation and they eventually uncover the sinister truth.


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