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Q&A with Julie Mae Cohen - Bad Men

By Ashleigh Cameron

We are excited to welcome Julie Mae Cohen to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, Bad Men,  released in paperback on the 25th April 2024.

Saffy Huntley-Oliver is an intelligent and glamorous socialite; she also happens to be a proficient serial killer. For the past fifteen years, she's hunted down and dispatched rapists, murderers, domestic abusers—bad men all. But leading a double life has left her lonely—dating’s tough when your boyfriend might turn out to be your next victim. Saffy thinks she's finally found a truly good man in Jonathan Desrosiers, a true-crime podcaster who’s amassed legions of die-hard fans for cracking cold cases and bringing justice to victims­­.

When a decapitated body shows up on Jon's doorstep the morning after his wife leaves him, he becomes the chief suspect for a murder he insists he didn’t commit. Saffy’s crush becomes an obsession as she orchestrates a meet-cute and volunteers to help Jon clear his name, using every trick up her sleeve to find the real killer and get her man—no matter the cost.

Welcome to The Reading Corner, Julie! I must say, diving into Bad Men was an absolute delight! It exuded a wickedly dark charm, proving highly addictive with its twists and turns that had me utterly captivated. Moreover, its profound societal commentary added a powerful, poignant layer to the narrative. Truly a thrilling reading experience which had me laughing and gasping, often simultaneously!

Thank you! I’m delighted that you enjoyed it.

Saffy stands as our strong, fabulous female protagonist – an affluent socialite, unabashed

extrovert, and fiercely protective figure, who happens to be highly skilled at tracking down and murdering truly bad men in her spare time! Her twisted humour and obsessive nature are

endlessly entertaining and oddly charming - as a reader, you can’t help but root for her! Talk me through crafting Saffy, our central character.

Saffy has been living inside my head for a very long time. I really didn’t need to do much to create her—not consciously, anyway. From the moment I started writing Bad Men, her voice was strong and loud and clear in my head. I think the key to understanding Saffy, at least to me, is that although she does terrible things, she is an incredibly happy person. She loves her hobby! And she has buckets of confidence. She had quite a dark childhood but murder has given her a lot of power and self- esteem, and a pleasantly skewed sense of humour. I have never written a character who enjoys herself more than Saffy.

The novel is deeply imbued with poignant social commentary surrounding the patriarchal bias and structures prevalent in our society. During Saffy and Jon’s confrontation about the signed book, she speaks to the impossible hoops women jump through to appease men. It is refreshing to read a female lead so unapologetically self-assured, and the female rage and ensuing acts of revenge taking place feel like a joyous release. Was it important for you to write a narrative that provided a wickedly satisfying outlet?

Oh yes, that was the point of the book, for me. It’s an ironic reversal of the normal killer/victim

dynamic (in real life, as in fiction, most female murder victims are killed by men). Also, Saffy and Jon’s romance is gender-flipped in a lot of ways, with Saffy being the pursuer and Jon the object. My purpose was to turn these conventions on their heads, in a fun way, in order to examine gendered power dynamics.

However it’s worth mentioning that in the scene you mention, about the signed book, Saffy chooses to rant about the patriarchy in order to deflect attention from her real actions. She always has an alternative agenda…

Despite what the title and premise indicate, Saffy’s pursuit extends beyond justice to include

finding love with a good man. Enter Jonathan Desrosiers – could you talk us through shaping our ‘good man’, and love interest, Jon.

Well, he’s not all that good. He means well, and he tries to be kind. But Jon is a true crime podcaster, and the truth is that he’s as obsessed with murder as Saffy is. His wife has just left him because all he does is think about death. Jon is an advocate for victims, and those who have been wrongly accused, and he has caught more than one killer himself—but he does make his living out of the juicy details of other people’s suffering. Unlike Saffy, he does have a conscience, but he’s still morally grey. Also he has great hair and a sexy voice and he looks really good when covered in blood.

Bad Men marks a departure from the genre of your previous novels authored as Julie Cohen. What motivated this deliberate genre shift?

As Julie Cohen, I currently write issue-driven relationship novels, what we call ‘book club’ fiction, and while I love these books with all my heart, I wanted to write something less serious and more fun. I have never had so much fun writing a novel as I did when writing Bad Men. I still write my more serious novels—I have one coming out next year, a story of memory, family, and misplaced passion—and all of my fiction deals with gender dynamics and issues of power and class. But writing as Julie Mae, I can be more playful and also bloodthirsty.

What aspects of this genre fusion of dark comedy and thriller elements do you find most

compelling and enjoyable to explore in your writing?

With comedy, you can make serious points in a fun way. Bad Men is, of course, a satire as well as a thriller, but the feminism is just as real. I will admit, however, that I really enjoyed planting severed heads in various places in the novel.

With the multiple murders and mysteries unfolding, it’s evident that you left breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. How did you approach mapping out the interconnecting crimes? Did you begin your writing process with a solid plan regarding “who-dunnit,” or did the plot evolve organically as you wrote?

Both! I knew most of the main crimes before I started—who left the dead man on Jon’s doorstop, who is Jon’s stalker, the mystery arsonist, the role of the Bin Bag Killer in the whole thing, how these crimes related to previous crimes that Jon had investigated—but the smaller side-crimes, like Saffy’s previous kills, or the hapless Tory, or the nefarious identity of headless Victim Number Six, I made up as I went along.

The novel effectively switches between the perspectives of our two lead characters, maintaining an air of mystery right up to the very end. How did you go about balancing Saffy’s perspective without revealing too much to spoil the main plot twists?

Well. Saffy is a serial killer, and highly skilled at manipulation. Although she always tells the reader the truth, she doesn’t always tell the whole truth. And she’s still got some secrets when the book ends. But yes, it is a fun novelistic trick to have two perspectives, so that you can swap to another one when the first might give away too much.

From my research, it’s clear that you’re passionate about nurturing and inspiring new writers

through your courses at Novel Gazing. For aspiring writers who may be reading this, what is a

piece of advice you wish someone had shared with you when you were first starting out on your journey to getting published?

I say this every time I speak with new writers: You are going to fail. That failure might consist of choosing the wrong words or the wrong story or not yet having the skills to tell the story you want to tell; it might consist of being rejected by agents and publishers; it might mean you have to fix your manuscript or run into dead ends or fail to be nominated for that award or get terrible reviews. It might consist of all of these things, and more, because there are so many different ways to fail in a creative pursuit. And that’s difficult, but the most important thing to know is that failure is not only inevitable, it is necessary. Every writer, even the most successful, has to fail sometime before they can succeed. Most of us keep failing, too. The trick is to recognise that failure is a necessary part of the process, and not to give up.

I get the sense the door is left ajar for further exploration of Saffy and Jon’s unique crime-fighting- dynamic. What’s next for Julie Mae Cohen? Could fans expect a sequel to Bad Men anytime soon, or will it be something new to sink our teeth into?

Julie Mae Cohen’s next thriller, Eat, Slay, Love will be published by Bonnier Zaffre in hardback this August 2024. It’s the story of three women, total strangers to each other, who discover they are connected by one terrible man—and then who go on to tie him up and keep him captive in a basement. It’s a beautiful story of friendship, female empowerment, kidnap and murder. It’s not related to Bad Men but astute readers will notice a cameo by two of the characters of the previous novel.

I’m hoping to write a sequel to Bad Men, featuring Saffy and Jon and Girl the dog, this year, to

publish in 2025.

And finally, where can our lovely readers get their hands on your brand-new novel?

The paperback of Bad Men is currently available in your local independent bookshop, in Sainsbury’s and Asda, as an exclusive edition in WHSmith Travel, and of course in your local library.

Audiobook, read by the fabulous Nathalie Buscombe, and ebook are also available. If you’re an online shopper, try

Julie Mae Cohen is the darker, funnier side of Julie Cohen - an award-winning, million-copy bestselling author. She is an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Reading and a Vice President of the Romantic Novelists' Association and a founder of their Rainbow Chapter for LGBTQ+ writers. She lives in Berkshire, UK with her teenager and a terrier of dubious origin. Bad Men is her first thriller.


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