The Case of the Fickle Mermaid

Newest Brothers Grimm Tale Keeps P.J. Brackston’s Readers Laughing

An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with P. J. Brackston
Author of The Case of the Fickle Mermaid: A Brothers Grimm Mystery (Pegasus, 25 January 2016)

Columnist Anna Roins


The Case of the Fickle Mermaid
by P. J. Brackston

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter, comes the third book in the charming adult crime-fantasy series by P. J. Brackston, The Case of the Fickle Mermaid: A Brothers Grimm Mystery (Pegasus, 25 January 2016). Gretel (of the fairytale kind) is 35, still living with her brother, Hans, and now a famous private investigator in Bavaria. She sets sail to solve another murder mystery off the coast of Schleswig-Holstein in this humorous, jaunty adventure.

“Bestseller Brackston (The Witch’s Daughter) melds folktale whimsy with a sardonic adult voice in the rollicking first of a new series set in 1776 Bavaria.”
Publishers Weekly


AUTHORLINK: Thank you for your time today. The Case of the Fickle Mermaid is the third book in your Brother’s Grimm Mystery series and light and entertaining. What made you decide to write fairy-tales for adults? What are your best tips for writing comedy?

BRACKSTON: It’s lovely to be here. When I came up with the idea for the Detective Gretel books I had been writing my other series (my witch books) and felt the need for a change of tone. I love writing comedy. I find it uplifting, both while I’m writing it, and when I think of people reading it. As for tips, well, they say you shouldn’t laugh at your own jokes, but I don’t think that’s true here. If what you are writing makes you laugh while you are writing it and when you read it again, that’s a good sign. Humor is such a subjective thing, you can’t please everyone, so you might as well start with pleasing yourself.

“These days, an author has to be aware of being a ‘brand’.”

AUTHORLINK: Very true. You write under the name of P.J. Brackston for your Brothers Grimm series and Paula Brackston for your historical fantasies, The Witches series, the first of which became a New York Times best-seller being, The Witch’s Daughter (Thomas Dunne Books, 18 January 2011). You also released the book Nutters (Snowbooks Ltd, 1 August 2009) under the name P. J. Davy. What is your reasoning for this?

BRACKSTON: These days, an author has to be aware of being a ‘brand’. It all sounds rather un-creative and business focused, but it’s the way things work. It’s best not to muddy the waters by putting out books that are substantially different under the same name. So it’s really about clarity for booksellers and book buyers.

AUTHORLINK: Understandable. Do you plan out your novels before you start to write, especially with the elements of crime in your Brothers Grimm series?

BRACKSTON: You rightly identify the fact that the crime elements are best planned out in advance, and that’s how I work with these stories. That’s not to say I stick slavishly to an outline. What I tend to do is write a paragraph with the essence of the story, then expand that into a two or three-page outline. After that, I write a chapter by chapter plan for all the important plot points, which is particularly helpful with the subplots and clues for solving the crime. There will be gaps, of course, with some chapters’ complete blanks so I can just Wait and See. I start off following the plan, but stories have a habit of veering off at tangents. Sometimes I follow these new directions, at others I try to pull the thing back to the original pot.

AUTHORLINK: When you first put it to your agent about your idea to write about a grown up, buxom version of Gretel, now detective-extraordinaire from the children’s fairy tales, how did they react? Do you have any ideas about another series?

BRACKSTON: Actually, I had no agent at that point. I didn’t pitch the idea or tell anyone about the new series until I’d written the first book. I then showed it to the agent I have now, the lovely Kate Hordern, and she absolutely got what I was trying to do. Which was such a relief for me! It is wonderful to have someone championing your books who wholeheartedly loves them.

“I find once a character is fully formed in my mind, her (or his) voice should stay pretty consistent. It’s like having a friend you know well.”

AUTHORLINK: That’s wonderful. How do you manage to keep the voice of Gretel authentic throughout the whole book? Its antiquated speech rings true of the 18th century period.

BRACKSTON: I find once a character is fully formed in my mind, her (or his) voice should stay pretty consistent. It’s like having a friend you know well. You can easily imagine what they might say in any given situation, and indeed how they might say it.  My research involved reading a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction, set, written, or about the late seventeen hundred’s. I also watched lots of films set then. What’s interesting about films is just how diverse the approach to language can be. Some screenwriters go to great pains to make the dialogue authentic, which is great, but to our modern ear it can sound stilted and forced, so you need to strike a balance. Gretel is a strange blend of eighteenth century fantasy, fairy tale, and a good pinch of modernity. On top of which, of course, she’s Bavarian! I embrace anachronisms in this series, so there is a fair amount of flexibility. I enjoy writing Gretel precisely because I feel I know her so well. It’s not a struggle to hear her voice in my ear. In fact, it’s often more of a problem switching it off. Put it this way, my family can always tell when I’m writing a Detective Gretel book!


BRACKSTON: I’m told I start to sound like Gretel! The children do a lot of eye rolling, but put up with it. They may not be so understanding if I start picking up some of her other habits, though I am already very fond of my sofa.

AUTHORLINK: That sounds fun for them. So far you’ve had about equal numbers of men and women reading the Brothers Grimm books. Do you think this is because your pseudonym is gender-free? If so, why would that make a difference?

BRACKSTON: That’s an interesting statistic! Sadly, I do think some male readers are put off books if they are written by a woman. And yes, it was a deliberate choice to make my pen name androgynous.

AUTHORLINK: Interesting. You change your storytelling voice when you write for each series. You once said that one doesn’t have to hide or find your writer’s voice, but that you have to, “Stay true to the style you have chosen, make your character’s voice authentic and consistent and distinct, and the illusion of your story, of the fictional world you have created, will be maintained.’’ How difficult or easy was this for you when you started out?

BRACKSTON: I’m not sure I was conscious of doing this when I started out, it was just how I wrote. I did spend some time being baffled by all the talk of ‘voice’, and was a bit worried that I hadn’t got one. Then I discovered that was because I could have as many as I wanted, which is much more fun!

“I’ve always written, I just never thought it was a proper job! I didn’t write my first novel until I was in my thirties.”

AUTHORLINK: Absolutely. Did you always want to be a writer? How old were you when you wrote your first book? If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

BRACKSTON: I’ve always written, I just never thought it was a proper job! I didn’t write my first novel until I was in my thirties. I left home at 16, so I’d had twenty odd years of doing other things to earn a living by the time I became a writer. I had lots of interesting experiences and met people from different walks of life which means I have a wealth of material stored in the dusty recesses of my mind. But nothing was as much fun as writing!

AUTHORLINK: In what ways do you feel your writing has improved in the last ten years? Has teaching creative writing helped your writing?

BRACKSTON: I don’t think a writer ever stops learning. I’m always finding new ways of doing things, or coming up with a complex idea, or reading something that makes me think wow! I must try that! I’d get bored if I wasn’t challenging myself. You have to think each book you write is an improvement, even in a small way. And I suppose I’m more confident, though it depends which day you ask me, and what sort of writing session I’ve just had.

Teaching creative writing was definitely a big part of the way I developed my own work. There’s nothing like trying to explain something new to someone else to make you really think about it. And sometimes I’d give a student a piece of advice or a suggestion that would make me realize I could benefit from it too! It’s not fair to expect someone else to try something it you’re not prepared to give it a go yourself, after all. And I miss it! I loved discussing the nuts and bolts of the craft, but more than that I was often inspired by the bravery, originality and creativity of the students. Being published there is a danger you can lose the freedom you had before. Once you have a commission, there’s always a tussle between creative fulfilment and contractual fulfilment!

AUTHORLINK:Interesting point.So are you no longer teaching then?

BRACKSTON: I don’t have time at the moment, as my writing schedule is pretty full. I’m currently writing two series, and I try to find time for experimental and speculative projects too.

“I’ve discovered that writing, for me is a kind of meditation. While I’m writing I am absolutely focused. I can’t think of anything else. “

AUTHORLINK: And on a final note, what was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books and what would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

BRACKSTON: I’ve discovered that writing, for me is a kind of meditation. While I’m writing I am absolutely focused. I can’t think of anything else. My mind, my imagination, my emotions, all are totally immersed in my fictional world. The hours I spend writing, therefore, are respite from the worries and demands of everyday life. Which is probably why I become quite depressed if I don’t write for more than a couple of weeks. >

“My writing quirk? Hmmm… I drink a lot of rooibos tea these days. I’m a bit of tea nut. . .”

My writing quirk? Hmmm… I drink a lot of rooibos tea these days. I’m a bit of tea nut, but it has to be decaffeinated nowadays or I’m a mess by the end of the day. I get very jittery when I’m near the end of a book. I develop this fear, somewhere near the last chapter, that something will happen to stop me finishing it, and then the book won’t properly exist. I sometimes write morning noon and night at that point, just so I have a complete draft. And then, of course, the rewrites begin…

AUTHORLINK: Ms Brackston, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today about your writing process. It was really enjoyable talking to you. All the best for The Case of the Fickle Mermaid.

BRACKSTON: My pleasure. Thank you.

About the Author:

PJ Brackston also writes historical fantasies as Paula Brackston.

Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success.

When not hunched over her keyboard in her tiny office under the stairs, Paula is dragged outside by her children to play Swedish tennis on the vertiginous slopes which surround them. She also enjoys being walked by the dog, hacking through weeds in the vegetable patch, or sitting by the pond with a glass of wine. Most of the inspiration for her writing comes from stomping about on the mountains being serenaded by skylarks and buzzards.

In 2007 Paula was short listed in the Creme de la Crime search for new writers. In 2010 her book ‘Nutters’ (writing as PJ Davy) was short listed for the Mind Book Award, and she was selected by the BBC under their New Welsh Writers scheme.

About Anna Roins:

Anna Roins is a lawyer, previously of the Australian Government Solicitor, as well as a freelance journalist who writes about social and community issues and has edited dissertations, websites, and books.

She has continued her studies in creative literature with The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London.

Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with best-selling authors.

You can find out more about Anna Roins at and

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