Name Jane Davis
Age 49 (and a quarter).
A little about yourself `i.e. your education Family life etc.
I am the middle child of five children, which certainly hones your observational skills. Dismissed as ‘the quiet one’ (have you tried to get a word in edgeways in a household of seven?) I always had a lot more going on inside my head, then ever came out of my mouth.
We lived close to Wimbledon, best known for its association with lawn tennis. These days, Wimbledon is in one of London’s most expensive post codes, but back in those pre-DIY days, it wasn’t nearly so affluent. Apart from the fact that I can longer afford to live in Wimbledon, I haven’t moved far and the changes I’ve seen, both demographically and architecturally, interest me. (More on that later.)
My paternal grandfather was a commercial artist and my maternal grandfather was a musician and composer, whose children all found work in the profession. My uncles, both flautists, played on The Beatles track, Fool on the Hill, while my mother’s various claims to fame include being an expert on Tudor music and performing on the infamous Finger of Fudge advert. As children, we were all encouraged to attend music and ballet lessons, pushed onto the stage and into compulsive exam-taking. My experiences left me with a hatred of classical music, terrible stage fright and panic on entering exam rooms.
In terms of qualifications, I learned early on that I am not an exam person. I left school at the age of 16 with an RE O Level and a life-saving certificate (slight exaggeration) I think it’s important to admit to this, as there are many routes to writing. I’d also like to reassure anyone who doesn’t do very well in exams that this is not the disaster you think it is. Exams are not a measure of intelligence, but of exam technique. I’ve found that hard work and getting on with people are far more important. These days, I have a few boast-worthy credentials. Before I began to write, I was the deputy managing director of a medium sized business. I have since won three awards for my writing: The Daily Mail First Novel Award. Best First Chapter Award and, most recently, Writing Magazine’s Self Published Book of the Year Award 2016.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Something happened in my life when I was in my mid-thirties that I needed to make sense of. I used writing to explore how I felt about it. I think that most writers are trying to create order in a confused world.
I had never attended a creative writing class. (I embarked on a Creative Writing MA in 2012 but quickly abandoned it because it wasn’t right for me and I wasn’t right for it.) I just had a laptop and a little spare time. Guided by instinct, my aim was to write the type of book I liked to read.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
There’s an enormous leap from writing your first novel and having the confidence to call yourself a writer. I think that’s best left to others. The agent who first signed me up said to me, ‘Jane, you are a writer.’ For four years, my 90,000 word manuscript had obsessed me, eating up all of my spare time (it remains unpublished). Finally, I was getting somewhere. And being a writer sounded so much more glamorous than being an insurance broker! Then, after I won The Daily Mail First Novel Award, Joanne Harris called me a writer as did one or two very nice newspaper reviewers. As someone who left school at with a handful of O’ Levels, I always had a nagging fear that I’m going to be found out at any moment. I don’t think the fear ever goes away, but you find a way of channelling it. Rather like making use of nerves when you speak in public.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Like many first novels, mine was semi-autobiographical. Which is why it is a good thing it wasn’t published! The difficulty with baring your own soul is that none of us live in isolation. Other people feature in our stories. Recently, an author called Maria Bento Fernandes was sued for libel by her husband’s family and ordered to pay 53,000 EUR after she revealed intimate details of their family life in a novel. When she appealed against the original charge, the European Court of Human Rights didn’t uphold the original decision, but ruled that the award should stand as the author had ‘failed to respect her in-laws’ ‘right to a private life.’ Christmas at the Fernandes will never be the same again!
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I love this question. It gives the impression that the writing arrives fully formed, when in fact the version the reader sees is an illusion.
I went to hear Pulitzer prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout speak recently. Someone made the comment that she had a very economical style, and she said, ‘You should see the bits I cut’. I think it’s true that style owes much to the bits the reader never gets to see.
The hallmarks of a book written by Jane Davis are multiple points of view and non-linear timelines. I’m excited by cause and effect and unconventionality in all its forms. I like to write about big subjects and give my characters almost impossible moral dilemmas.
Overriding everything else, I have three rules when writing. Whatever my subject-matter, the end-product must be honest, credible and authentic.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I released my seventh novel, My Counterfeit Self, in October. It tells the story of a radical poet and political activist called Lucy Forrester, who’s a cross between Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood. Having been anti-establishment all of her life, she’s horrified to find that she’s been featured on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Lucy’s parents behave so appallingly that she is freed from any feeling of obligation to live up to their expectations. She moves out of the family home and decamps to bohemian Soho. In distancing herself from her parents she adopts a new personality that she hides behind, her counterfeit self. Although she insists that she lays herself bare in her poetry, it’s keeping secrets from those who love her most that is her undoing.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I hope it’s realistic. I want readers to believe that Lucy Forrester exists! At the same time, I didn’t expect a reader to contact me and tell me that I’d written her biography. How could this have happened?
When I was writing I Stopped Time, a novel that spanned an entire century, I set up timelines, adding everything from news stories to the books people were reading to the weather. Now, whenever I write a book, I grab the data from the decades it covers and slot my tailored research into place. For My Counterfeit Self, that included details from biographies of poets, literary critics, and a dress designer who had connections with the music world.
I knew that Lucy was going to have suffered a severe childhood illness. When I laid my story over the timeline, there was only one real choice. During the 1940s and 1950s, polio was the world’s most feared disease, paralysing or killing half a million people a year.
Lucy was also going to be my rebel with a cause, but what cause should I give her? Again, there was only one logical choice. Fear of the Nuclear Bomb was a hangover from her wartime childhood. Talk of a third world war – the war to end all wars – permeated her adolescence. Watching black and white footage of Rod Stewart taking part in the first of the CND march from Trafalgar Square to Aldermaston, I had no trouble imagining Lucy Forrester at the centre of it all. And, of course, if you’ve campaigned for CND your entire adult life, it seems natural that you would take up the cause of the atomic veterans when their plight was highlighted.
When her parents behaved appallingly (and, here, I borrowed an episode from a biography, because you can’t make this stuff up), freed from the expectations of her family, Lucy decamps to bohemian Soho. And this is where my beta readers gave invaluable encouragement and insight. Several had lived the life I was describing. Marrying your gay best friend certainly wasn’t unusual in the 50s and 60s.
Put like that and it makes sense. Perhaps if you’ve done your research correctly, the life that you create may already have been taken.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The poetry! The idea of writing about the life of a poet came from readers. So many reviews had commented that my prose was like poetry, it gave me confidence that I could convince readers I could see the world the way a poet does. As for the poetry, I decided that the worst possible thing I could do for the book would be to write it myself. Instead, I commissioned a poet to write several pieces. Unfortunately, that arrangement fell through at the eleventh hour. By that time, my copy editor had done his worst and encouraged me to have a stab at it. After all, I knew how Lucy thought. This was hugely daunting. The novel refers to Lucy as Britain’s greatest living poet, for goodness sake! I thought, I’ll only be able to get away with this if I limit myself to writing Lucy’s childhood poems. So that’s what I did. I think they’re just about passable as the work of a ten-year-old.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Aside to adding to my knowledge of recent history, writing is a journey inwards and so you always learn more about myself. I think you always have to make it personal. I drew on my experience as a writer, my insecurities, the constant fear of being ‘found out’ as a fake, the small triumphs, the disappointments.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think that it’s up to readers what they take from any novel. Each reader brings his or own experience to the table and it helps them navigate and translate what they see on the page. Some readers have called Lucy ‘fiercely moral’ which I rather like. (My mother thoroughly disapproves of her.) Though Lucy is firmly anti-nuclear, she champions the cause of the British Nuclear Veterans, whose members are not – or not necessarily. Whatever their view on the matter, I would like readers to be aware that Britain is out of step with other nations who have compensated their nuclear veterans.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
I am hugely interested in cause and effect. One of my favourite authors is John Irving and the first novel of his that I read was A Prayer for Owen Meany. Irving overlays the story of Owen Meany, (a boy brought up to believe that he was the product of a virgin birth), with the somewhat dull present-day life of his best friend, John. Talk about cause and effect!
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I expect fiction to challenge me and the novels that I find the most satisfying deviate from strict chronological order – and here I’m thinking of A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mantel and The Coincidence Authority by John Ironmonger.
What I love about all of these books is that when you reach the end, you can head straight back to the beginning and start again without feeling that you’ve left the book. Because there is no beginning, middle and end in the traditional sense, the story is both cyclical and enduring, like one of Escher’s optical illusions. And you might think that the running order is random, but it takes enormous skill to pull off a work like Goon Squad whose chapters can be read in any order you damn well please, because each has to be perfect and complete. In Station Eleven, the flow is cyclical and the reader remains in the present while the book travels between the near past and the near future in which all technology has been wiped away. And then there is The Coincidence Authority, where you have the feeling of perfect order, that this is the precise order in which the story must be told, because in fiction the big reveal must come near the end but in life it may show up early.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The worst thing about being in any creative profession is the constant cycle of self-doubt. Joanna Penn has written an excellent post about this received a huge number of comments. http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2015/02/17/roller-coaster/
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I’m a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. It’s far more relevant to me than the Society of Authors because it’s aimed specifically at author/publishers and the challenges that they face. There is a fantastic Facebook forum which is my go to place to ask for help or advice. Whatever problem I may have run into, I can be guaranteed that other members have run into it to.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
You won’t find any research trips in my business expenses. My novels are set in my personal geography, and so it already has many strata. I’ll let Ron explain. (Taken from An Unknown Woman)
There was something transportative about living in the same city all of your life; walking around familiar geography, knee-deep in the history of the place. And superimposed over a street map carried both inside and outside his head (the then and the now), were the milestones of his own life.’
When you write characters into what is already your personal backdrop, you create yet another layer. Recently, I found myself in St Mary’s Church in Beddington lighting a candle for my mother-in-law’s anniversary, but I also felt the presence of Jim and Aimee, two on my characters from A Funeral for an Owl.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My design process is a collaboration. I usually come up with the concept and source the photographs, then I commission Andrew Candy execute the design. Having said that, the cover he produces is often a surprise because he brings his professional vision to the table!
Rather than start from scratch, I chose to use elements from the cover of Half-truths and White Lies as building blocks: the font and the strong photographic image, repeated on the spine. The brief I gave Andrew Candy was that my books should look like a set you’d want to collect. I was thinking of my own bookshelves: the novels of John Irving; Frank Herbert’s Dune series; classic Penguin paperbacks. I wanted that certain something that would make people say, ‘Oh, another Jane Davis.’
This year Andrew’s design for my 2015 novel An Unknown Woman won two separate awards.
The exception is the cover for I Stopped Time. I decided to give the book a makeover in 2015 and commissioned Jessica Bell to design the cover for me. I was interested to see how different the end result would be. She was extremely easy to work with and really understands branding. I would recommend her without reservation.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
If you enjoy a book, please do leave a review. Authors need a minimum number of reviews before they can advertise. Now that Amazon has removed its rule about minimum number of words, this is easier than ever and will only take a moment of your time.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’ve just finished reading a book by one of my favourite authors, Maggie O’Farrell. It is her latest, This Must Be The Place, and it didn’t disappoint. I have just read the first chapter of The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. I actually struggled with her first novel, but this one is already nominate for so many awards that I felt I must give it a go. So far so good. It’s very different in terms of subject-matter. It’s a historical novel that blurs the boundaries between mythology and facts. It’s great to see an author flexing her wings without the constraints of pigeon-holing.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Honestly, no. I have very few memories before the age of five and I know that I was reading well before then.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Reading, obviously. Aside from that, I’m a keen walker and photographer, hobbies I can combine. I like to contemplate life from the top of a mountain, but if I can’t get away then I head for the Surrey Hills, close to where I live.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Knowing what I know now, if I had been an exam person, I would love to have been an archeologist.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
The West Wing, House, The Good Wife, BBC4 documentaries, especially anything about archeology.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Food: Thai curries, smoked salmon, dark chocolate, a good carrot cake.
Colors: Blues, turquoise, right through to lime green.
Music: Tom Waits, Elbow, Placebo, Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My website is www.jane-davis.co.uk. Readers who visit and sign up my newsletter will receive a free copy of her novel, I Stopped Time. http://eepurl.com/bugqnr I promise not to bombard subscribers with junk.
Jane Davis is the author of seven novels. Her debut, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ The Bookseller featured her in their ‘One to Watch’ section. Six further novels have earned her a loyal fan base and wide-spread praise, as well as comparisons to Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood and Maggie O’Farrell. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey, with her Formula 1 obsessed, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she is not writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.
Social Media Links
My website: www.jane-davis.co.uk
(Anyone who signs up to www.jane-davis.co.uk/newsletter receives a free copy of my novel, I Stopped Time.)
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+JaneDavisAuthor/posts
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Davis/e/B0034P156Q
Universal Book Links
I Stopped Time https://books2read.com/u/3JK0BA
These Fragile Things https://books2read.com/u/mdKNaO
A Funeral for an Owl https://books2read.com/u/3neOPR
An Unchoroegraphed Life https://books2read.com/u/4jKw7X
An Unknown Woman https://books2read.com/u/mgKr6q
My Counterfeit Self https://books2read.com/u/3kZveg