Joyce Cato discusses the origin of travelling cook Jenny Starling

Deadly Stuff by Joyce CatoJoyce Cato was born in Oxford and went on to work as a secretary before becoming a full-time writer. She returns this month with the latest offering in the Jenny Starling series.

Here, she discusses what made her write such a character.

Having created my own version of an ideal professional police detective in the Hillary Greene series (written under the name of Faith Martin) I found myself yearning for the more nostalgic, classic-style country-house mysteries of the golden age of English crime fiction. Like a lot of readers, I devoured every Agatha Christie novel I could find, from my early teens on, and never forget the delight to be found in coming across a previously unread Dorothy L Sayers or Edmund Crispin.  So, having read everything I could find from that period, I thought, why not write my own!  (Not that I would ever presume or dream to be counted in such esteemed company, naturally!)  Hence Jenny Starling was born – after all, a cook who travelled to country houses and other prime whodunnit destinations, she was just asking to become an amateur sleuth.  Add a dash of humour and a little more modern-day thinking to the mix, and the travelling cook mysteries were born.  And I can only hope that readers have had as much fun reading them as I have had writing them.

Jenny is the only child of a famous celebrity chef, and an eco-warrior mother, who went their separate ways during Jenny’s formative years.  She learned her culinary arts at her capricious Daddy’s knee of course, but also attended a local catering college, where she spent most of her time teaching her tutors how to make a proper Dundee cake.   Her tall, Junoesque figure attracts plenty of male attention, but now firmly in her mid-twenties (or so!) she is dedicatedly single, and likely to remain that way.  Her unrivalled sense of humour and steady head allow her to cope with most of the slings and arrows that outrageous fortune cast her way (usually in the form of murderous mayhem) and her moral compass keeps her (mostly) on the straight and narrow.  Although she doesn’t see herself as a detective, her clever mind and instinctive knowledge of human nature certainly helps her whenever she’s called upon to give the long-suffering local constabulary a helping hand.

– Joyce Cato

Praise for the Jenny Starling series

‘Joyce Cato has created a wonderful protagonist in Jenny Starling.’ – Mystery Women

‘Jenny is an attractive, intelligent Rubenesque heroine, and the cast of characters above and below stairs are captured affectionately and wittily’ – Euro Crime

‘[a] tenacious cook, with a razor-sharp mind’ – Oxford Times

This is the fifth book in the Jenny Starling series:

Birthdays Can Be Murder

A Fatal Fall of Snow

Dying for a Cruise

An Invisible Murder

Deadly Stuff by Joyce Cato is scheduled for publication on 30 April 2014

OUT TODAY: The Invisible Murder by Joyce Cato

The Invisible Murder by Joyce CatoJoyce Cato was born in Oxford and went on to work as a secretary before becoming a full-time writer. This is the fourth book in the Jenny Starling series, the first three, Birthdays Can Be Murder, A Fatal Fall of Snow and Dying for a Cruise were also published by Robert Hale.


When travelling cook Jenny Starling starts her new job for the aristocracy living in a genuine castle, she is thrilled. She envisions nothing more arduous than days spent preparing her beloved recipes. When a fabulous jewelled dagger, one of the castle’s many art treasures, is used to murder a member of the staff and the Lady of the house insists that Jenny – quite literally – helps the police with their enquiries, it seems as if the reluctant sleuth must once again discover the identity of the killer amongst them.

But how was it done, when the murder was committed in front of several impeccable witnesses – none of whom saw a thing?

An Invisible Murder by Joyce Cato is available to buy now with a limited time only discount of 30%

The Invisible Murder by Joyce Cato

Author Interview with Jacquie Walton (Joyce Cato / Maxine Barry / Faith Martin)

A Narrow Return by Faith MartinJacquie Walton was born in Oxford. She began her working life as a secretary but left to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Here she tells us what drew her to crime writing, what it’s like working under different pseudonyms and why she loves her characters.

What drew you to writing Crime Fiction?

I’ve always read crime novels for preference, right from my early teens. Like most, I started off with Agatha Christie, but soon discovered all the greats from the classic British era – Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Wentworth, Margery Allingham et al. And now we have all the great modern thriller/crime writers, like Lee Child, Harlan Coben and Robert Crais. So it was only natural for me to want to write crime.

What do you think is required for a great story to work?

I’ve always liked pace in my reading, and so I try to keep all my novels, be they romance, crime or classic whodunits, really zipping along. I also think a strong central character is absolutely essential. And my favourite character (if I really had to choose one) would be Jenny Starling, with Hillary Greene running a close second. I like Jenny’s humour, competence and humanity, and I really admire Hillary’s strength and intelligence mixed with human fallibility.

You’ve done work under numerous pseudonyms. How is it writing as different people?

I chose my pseudonyms from family members names – thus I have a niece called Maxine and a nephew called Barry (my pen name for romances) another set of the same called Faith and Martin (the Hillary Greene series) and my grandmothers’ maiden names of (Alice) Joyce and (Winifred) Cato for the Jenny Starling series. But all three genres are very different, and I don’t find it all confusing juggling all three. I enjoy writing them all – but the classic whodunits with Jenny Starling are both the most difficult to plot and write, but also, I find, the most enjoyable.

Your Hillary Greene series is set in Oxford. Why did you choose this particular location for this crime series?

I set the Hillary Greene series in Oxford because I’ve lived within twenty miles of the city for all my life, and it’s the only city I know! Plus, I don’t see why Morse should have had all the fun and pleasure of solving crimes within sight of the dreaming spires.

Dying for a Cruise by Joyce CatoWith the digital age upon us and some of your books now out in ebook format, how have you found the transition? Are you an e-convert?

Whilst I am very glad that a lot of my books are going out in ebook format, I don’t own a device that would allow me to ever read them that way, and being a total Luddite when it comes to modern technology, I doubt I ever shall. I think I will always prefer to have the real thing in my hand.

You’ve written romance and crime fiction – which do you find more enjoyable and which do you read in your spare time?

I enjoyed writing the bigger, more glamorous and action-packed romances that really weren’t suitable for the classic Mills & Boon genre, and whilst they were fun to write, (sexy scenes included!) I prefer to stick to crime nowadays. I never read romance in my spare time, only crime – but not the gory or grisly forensic/serial killer type. I prefer escapism in my reading literature.

What do you love to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I have a dog that needs walking a lot, and living in some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (I’m on the edge of the Cotswolds) walking and wildlife watching are my main pastimes.

What can we expect from you in the future?

In the future, I would certainly like to concentrate more on classic whodunits – maybe do a few other titles for the Jenny Starling series, and maybe even create a second character and series, but still keeping to the classic country-house, cosy, twisting-plot, red-herring formula that I know so many readers like as much as I do. I think the ever-popular television series of Agatha Christie and Midsomer Murders-type programmes show just how much-loved they are.

Jacquie Walton writes under the pseudonyms Joyce Cato, Maxine Barry and Faith Martin. Her books can be found on the Robert Hale Ltd website and many of her ebooks – including Beside a Narrow Stream and By a Narrow Margin by Faith Martin – are available to buy at all good ebook retailers.

Out now: A Narrow Return by Faith Martin

Coming soon: Dying for a Cruise by Joyce Cato (available to pre-order now)