Welcome to another Indie Author of The Month post! This time please welcome award-winning author Jane Davis to the blog. I have followed Jane for a while on social media and have read a number of her novels. I enjoyed each one tremendously. Jane has just released a brand new novel, At The Stroke of Nine O’clock, and is here today to tell us all about it, as well as her publishing journey so far, her writing process and advice to aspiring writers. Enjoy!
1.Tell us about your latest release. What is it about and who is it aimed at?
My latest release is called At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock. I haven’t perfected my elevator pitch on this yet. The short answer to the question ‘What is it about?’ is that it’s a timeless story of sex, class and murder.
My inspiration for the book was the discovery that the subjects of three biographies I read back to back each had a connection with Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Great Britain. My fascination with Ruth Ellis stems from my teens, when I first saw the same photographs that were splashed across the front pages that spewed from the presses when production resumed in 1955 after a month-long newspaper strike. With a four-million-pound loss to recoup, the papers needed something sensational to fight back with, and Ruth’s story was newspaper gold. ‘Platinum blonde ex-model shoots racing-boy lover.’ By the end of the day, in every pub and Lyon’s Corner House, around every dinner table, on front doorsteps and over garden fences, talk was of one subject and one subject only.
The reason for my initial fascination with Ruth Ellis is almost as complicated as she herself was. It’s difficult to accuse those who paid £30 for a seat in the Old Bailey’s public gallery of treating personal tragedy as entertainment, without acknowledging something of the same motivation. At the same time there was something truly shocking about the fact that the last hanging in Great Britain took place as recently as 1965. This was the world I inherited.
For me, the tragedy of the Ruth Ellis story is that, because she admitted that she intended to kill David Blakely, the trial lawyers had little interest in why she did it, the very question that has had me gripped. To a writer, cause and effect is everything.
I didn’t want to put myself in Ruth’s head, so instead I explored some of the same issues she faced through my characters, three very different women, who all have a very personal reason to say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ when they learn of Ruth’s fate.
As for who it’s aimed at, one of my readers wrote, ‘Jane Davis straddles the contemporary and historical genres with grace and aplomb, while combining the very best of literary and women’s fiction.’ So my hope is that it will have fairly broad appeal.
2. Tell us about your publishing journey so far.
My publishing journey began before the advent of self-publishing, when the Done Thing for a writer was to secure the services of a literary agent. Which I did. But that agent was unable to place my first novel. (There was an offer and a contract but before I could sign the contract the publisher who had offered the terms was bought up by another publisher, so that was the end of that). There, my journey diverted. Unbeknown to my agent, I entered my second novel in a competition, the aim of which was to find the next Joanne Harris. And I won! Half Truths and White Lies was the result.
Unfortunately (as you may have guessed), I didn’t turn out to be the next Joanne Harris. Transworld published my book under their women’s fiction imprint. I didn’t challenge their decision because I was very green and had no idea of the implications of this. When I submitted my follow-up novel to them, they turned it down because it wasn’t women’s fiction.
There followed several years of trying to find homes for my next three novels. During this time people began to speak about self-publishing in hushed tones. I paid good money for the advice that no self-respecting author would even consider it. But by 2012, I was on the verge of giving up. Before I jacked it all in, I decided that I should see for myself. I booked a ticket for a self-publishing conference. The rest is history.
3. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t put pen to paper until my mid-thirties. I was quite an artistic child, but I left school at the age of 16 without any idea what I wanted to do. (Being an artist didn’t seem like a very practical plan.) In those days what you did was to go to the Job Centre and say, ‘I’d like a job please,’ and they would look through their index cards to see what was available. I was sent to work in an insurance company. I enjoyed being treated like an adult and earning my own money, so I stayed put. When the time came to apply for another job, my experience was in insurance and so those were the jobs I applied for. I chased promotion after promotion but I was also busy doing all of things that you do as a young adult (buying a flat, DIY, doomed relationships). But I found that I craved a creative outlet. I had been mulling an idea around in my head for a while and, on a two bottles of wine evening, I said out loud that I was thinking of writing a book. After that, there really is no option but to do it.
4. What is your writing process? (How do you plot a book, come up with characters, find motivation etc?)
Do you know, a couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by an eleven-year-old for a schools project and she asked me that very same question! I had to admit that I don’t have a process. Instead every book seems to require its own approach. Sometimes I start writing with only the germ of an idea. (When writing My Counterfeit Self, for example, I simply decided that I was going to write about the life of a poet, and the only reason I did that was because readers who reviewed my previous book said that my prose was poetic.) Generally, I work on the characters, put myself inside their heads and allow them to take over. Some projects seem to demand extensive research, but I tend to be aware when the research is just a form of a procrastination and it’s time to face the blank page. Several interviewers have put it to me that in XYZ novel, I was trying to get a certain message across. The truth is that, whatever my chosen subject matter, I use the process of writing to explore my feelings on the subject. That doesn’t mean that the views expressed in the book are necessarily my own. Perhaps I need: The view expressed on this novel are the views of the characters and not the author.
5. What has been the most positive thing about your publishing journey so far?
I’m extremely proud of the two awards I’ve won, which acknowledge not only the quality of writing, but self-publishing standards. (Writing Magazine’s Self-Publishing Book of the Year Award 2016 and the Selfies (best independently published work of fiction) Award 2019.) I think it’s so important that professionalism in self-published is honoured, and to recognise that self-publishing doesn’t mean DIY. A team of thirty-five people are behind my books, both professionals and unpaid beta readers who provide invaluable feedback about early drafts.
6. What has been the most negative thing about your publishing journey so far?
I must admit that it was probably having A Funeral for an Owl rejected by Transworld. But it’s a novel I’m incredibly fond of, and self-publishing enabled me to put it out there.
7. Who is your favourite character from your own books and why?
That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child! If forced, I’d have to say Lucy Forrester, my main character from My Counterfeit Self. She’s a cross between Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood. I enjoyed watching her grow from childhood polio victim, from poet to political activist and, in later life, into a reluctant style icon. I was very proud when readers said that they’d Googled her and were surprised to learn that she wasn’t a real person.
8. Where do your ideas come from?
A variety of places. On two occasions now, I’ve been inspired by an episode of the arts series, Imagine. My 2018 novel Smash all the Windows came from a place of outrage. (It was my reaction to a news report.) But I also have a love of photography, and I’m regularly inspired by photographs.
9. What can we expect from you next?
I have an idea for a novel, but the other project that I’ve had on the go for the past eighteen months is the diary I kept about caring for my father who had dementia. (He passed away in April.) I am not quite sure what I should do with it yet, except that I would like to do something.
One in fifteen adults over the age of 65 suffers from some form of dementia. That’s 793,333 people. By the time you reach the age of 80, the odds increase to one in six (approximately 533,333 people). And yet talking about dementia seems to be taboo.
I have so many incredible anecdotes that might provide reassurance to those whose relatives have a diagnosis, but another approach would be to produce a more serious work of non-fiction about how little help is available for the army of unpaid carers who are looking after family members. My 81-year-old mother was my father’s full-time carer (and believe me, it was a 24-four-hour-a-day job), and was not always in good health herself. In October 2018 she was hospitalised with a very serious infection that came about because she had neglected her own healthcare needs. She should have been entitled to a carer herself for six weeks. This was never forthcoming. Instead, she was straight back into the role of caring for my father.
Here is a short extract:
14th October 2018, middle of the night. I am staying at the house because Mum has just come out of hospital. Dad up and dressed.
Dad cutting out newspaper clippings, looks very tired.
Jane: Hello, Dad. I could have sworn I put you to bed two hours ago.
Dad: Where did you come from?
Jane: I was asleep in the bedroom at the back.
Dad: Yes, but who are you?
Jane: I’m Jane. Your daughter.
Dad: Jane? (Incredulous)
Jane: Come on, let me show you. (I take Dad to the hall and point to my photograph.)
Dad: That’s you?
Jane: That’s me. 26 years ago.
Dad: Are you sure? (Looks closely at me.) But your hair is all funny. (Tries to flatten it down.)
Jane: I expect I need to brush it.
Dad: He’s one of mine (points to Bernard). Birmingham.
Jane: To be fair, I think we’re all yours. Bernard, Anne…
Dad: Oh, Anne is very good.
Jane: Jane, Louise…
Dad: Yes, Louise. She came.
Jane: …and Daniel.
Jane: That’s right. Daniel in Edinburgh.
Dad: (Happy now) Shall we have a nice cup of coffee and some of the little round things? (He means biscuits.)
Jane: I think we should both go to bed. It’s the middle of the night.
Dad: I know. It’s ridiculous!
Jane: It’s very dark outside.
Dad: Because of the rain. (For the last two days, I have been telling Dad it is dark in the daytime because it has been raining. Now I regret it.)
Jane: How about it? Shall we go upstairs to bed?
Dad: Shhhh. If you have some blankets, you can still be very cosy. Come on, let me show you. (Shows me his recliner in the sitting room.) You sleep here.
Jane: How about you sit down, Dad, and I’ll do the blankets for you?
Dad: But when is the coffee?
Jane: You sit down and I’ll tuck you in and make you a nice coffee.
Dad: Oh, (nonchalant), I suppose so.
Dad is fast asleep by the time I bring his coffee.
2.30 a.m. Dad is ‘restoring’ one of his father’s self-portraits with Blu-tack.
Jane: Hello, I see you’re up again.
Dad: We have to put it in the holes. One, two three, four, five, six, seven. And we press it in and then we leave it for a few days.
Jane: Perhaps we could do that in the morning. It’s the middle the night.
Dad: Yes! (Very happy)
Jane: I really think you should try and have some sleep, otherwise you’ll be very tired tomorrow.
Dad: (Holds my head and gives me a Latin blessing). You worry too much.
Jane: I probably do.
Dad: Where is the person who makes the porridge?
Jane: Mum? I hope she’s fast asleep.
Mum: (Standing on staircase.) No, she isn’t!
Now we are all up in the kitchen and it is the middle of the night. I decide that one of us really has to go to bed so that Dad does not think we should all be up. Mum insists it is me.
Next day, Dad up bright and breezy at 6.00am. Meanwhile Mum and I are exhausted.
10. Tell us three fun facts about you
I was kicked out of the brownies for refusing to play the game of ladders on health and safety grounds. (I was right. Someone broke their ankle the following week.) I got my revenge by becoming a Cub Scout leader.
I once played James Galway’s golden flute.
My mother plays recorder on the Finger of Fudge advert. (My apologies to persons of a certain age for the earworm.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nC9BBLSZZdQ
11. What is the best advice you could give to aspiring writers?
I learned so much from the process of writing my first novel, my advice is just do it!
A huge thanks to Jane for coming on the blog to talk about her new release. If you are keen to find out more, you can find her bio below followed by her book and social media links!
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of nine thought-provoking novels.
Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards. Smash all the Windows was the inaugural winner of the Selfies (best independently-published work of fiction) award 2019.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.
Links and Social Media;
Books2Read Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/brWppZ Amazon Link https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08B1PCTC1 Smashwords link https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1027278 Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/at-the-stroke-of-nine-o-clock Apple https://books.apple.com/gb/book/at-the-stroke-of-nine-oclock/id1518038645 Goodreads link https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53955188-at-the-stroke-of-nine-o-clockMy social media links are: Website: https://jane-davis.co.uk Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage Twitter: https://twitter.com/janedavisauthor Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/