February Indie Book of the Month; A Funeral For An Owl by Jane Davis

It’s the end of the month, so that means it’s Indie Book of the Month time here on my blog. This is a new feature for 2018, where each month I will highlight the best indie book I read. This month please let me introduce you to another award-winning writer, Jane Davis. I first discovered Jane’s writing when another author I admire, recommended her book An Unchoreographed Life. I read it and loved it; it ticked every box for me as a reader. For this reason I was very keen to read A Funeral For An Owl and it did not disappoint at all. When I read books, I want good writing and a good plot, something to keep me turning the pages, but I also want to feel invested in the characters. I want to feel strongly about them, I want to worry about them and wish I knew them. Jane’s characters satisfy this need for me. It left me feeling I am in safe hands with her as  writer and will enjoy anything she writes because of this.

So, here is the blurb for A Funeral For An Owl;

A schoolyard stabbing sends wingbeats echoing from the past.

One shocking event. Two teachers risk their careers to help a boy who has nothing. Three worlds intersect and collide.

‘If you want to laugh and cry and stamp and cheer – all in the space of a few hours – then this book is the one for you.’ Bookmuse

The best way to avoid trouble, thinks Ayisha Emmanuelle, is to avoid confrontation. As an inner-city schoolteacher, she does a whole lot of avoidance.

14-year-old Shamayal Thomas trusts no one. Not the family, not the gang. And at school, trusting people is forbidden.

Jim Stevens teaches history. Haunted by his own, he still believes everyone can learn from the past. History doesn’t always have to repeat itself.

A powerful exploration of the ache of loss set in a landscape where broken people can heal each other.

Fresh, funny, heartbreaking and real, this original and compassionate study of when to break the rules and why is perfect for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Rachel Joyce and Ali Smith.

“A perfect balance of gritty and feel-good.” society that is supposed to protect the most vulnerable.”

And here is my Amazon/Goodreads review;

“Having previously read another novel by this author, I was keen to read more and A Funeral For An Owl did not disappoint. In fact, it ticked so many boxes for me as a reader that I instantly pre-ordered the author’s new book which is out in the Spring, and I will be working my way through her backlist without a doubt. The plot of this book revolves around Jim, a history teacher who is stabbed while trying to protect a pupil at school, his colleague Ayisha who witnesses the attack, and Shamayal, a fourteen-year-old pupil Jim has befriended. Jim helps the boy one rainy night and a friendship grows between them, which is of course, very much against the rules. On the surface, it may seem like Jim and Shamayal have little in common, but it turns out Jim grew up in the same block of flats on the same notorious council estate and suffered many of the same issues Shymayal is dealing with. They even have a friend in common, Bins, a local misfit who knows everyone on the estate by the nick-names he gives them but is unable to recognise faces. With Jim in hospital, Ayisha comes to his aid and discovers the unlikely friendship between him and the boy. At first, she is very disapproving but as the story continues she finds herself drawn deeper into the lives of Jim and Shamayal. This book does an excellent job of weaving the past with the present. In 1992, Jim was a twelve-year-old boy with a penchant for bird-watching. His father is in prison, his older brother has been thrown out, and the estate is rife with danger from gangs. One day, Jim finds a teenage girl in his bird-spotting place. The mysterious Aimee White provides the thread that holds the past and present together. Jim’s friendship with her, the funeral for the owl and what happened to her, are things that have haunted Jim throughout his life. The reason this book ticked every box for me was that the plot kept me turning the pages, and the characters kept me there as I became increasingly engrossed in their lives. I wanted to find out what happened to Aimee, I wanted Ayisha and Jim to recognise the attraction between them, and I desperately wanted things to turn out well for Shamayal, who was probably my favourite character. A brilliant book, so well-written and compelling. I highly recommend it and this author!”

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Other Indies I’ve Enjoyed This Month;

The Finest Hat In The Whole World by Colleen A. Parkinson

Best Traditionally Published Book of The Month;

Release by Patrick Ness

 

 

Character Interview; Terry Dacosta from ‘Sucker’s and Scallies’ by Kate Rigby

Are you ready for another character interview? This week I am talking to Terry ‘Tez’ Dacosta, who I hope won’t mind me describing him as a bit of a rascal. You can find out more about his turbulent childhood in Suckers and Scallies  by Kate Rigby

1) Tell us what your positive character traits are.

 I’ve got a loads of positive traits, me.  I’m resilient, I bounce back when the going gets tough, you won’t catch me moping about.  I’m driven and I’ll fight my corner and that of my family and those close to me.  Oh yeah and I’m big enough to own up if I’m in the wrong or if someone makes a suggestion, like how I can improve my attitude or my work I’ll always take it on board.

2) What would you say your negative traits are?

 Anger is my main one.  I told you I’ll fight your corner but you don’t wanna get on the wrong side of me.  If I’m under attack you will know it. I do have a bit of a short fuse and I’m not gonna make the usual excuses of my upbringing and all that shite. Not like our Jackie who blames our old fella for all his drink problems and his dodgy back and sits about whingeing in groups and that. OK, so I’ve sat about at Anger Management groups but that’s because it’d got out of control and I had to do something about it. I’m not proud of it.  But I think our Jackie is just avoiding responsibilities and blaming others for things that have gone tits up in his life but one thing our ole fella taught us as well as standing up for ourselves was to face up to our responsibilities.  Not go blaming others.

3) What are your current ambitions or dreams?

 My main ambition is to be a better father to my youngest daughter than I was to my first.  I let my first daughter down by being an absent father.

4) What are your fears?

 I’m pretty fearless, me. But I don’t mind admitting that I hate going the dentist. I don’t like someone else being in control that way and inflicting pain on me.  Another thing, I hate standing up in front of an audience and reading out my own stuff. I agreed to do that a couple of times in open mic sessions with some hard line poems I wrote but I was bricking it.  It’s weird that, coz I’ve been in bands before and don’t mind all eyes on me when singing and playing front man.

5) Do you have enemies?

 Do I have enemies! I’ve been Public Enemy Number One at some times in my life. Like when I lived in Jersey and it felt like the whole of St Helier wanted me and our Chas gone from the island (when he was living there an all).  OK, so we did get up to a bit of trouble and my ex’s family hated us and the name Dacosta.  But you get these stuck up people who hate you coz you’re a Scouser and if you get on in life they can’t wait to do you down or they think we’re all on the rob or smackheads and that.  I’m not saying that I’ve not done bad stuff in my time, who hasn’t, but I’ve no need to go on the rob – I earn decent money as a graphic designer.  But yeah, I’m used to having enemies, it comes with the Dacosta territory.

6) Tell us about your best friend

 Our Jackie was always me bezzie. It’s that blood thing, you know.  There’s less than a year between us so we were like twins growing up.  He’s in Ireland these days, mind, so I don’t see a lot of him.  I did have this bezzie called Kit. He was a kind of blood brother, we even did the ritual when we were kids.  He was from a posh family but he was sound.  We bounced ideas off each other.  Good times they were.

7) What’s your biggest secret?

 Well, they’re not such big secrets these days but when I was growing up, we sometimes used to mess around with other lads, me and our Jackie. We were bad lads, I suppose. We roughed Kit up a bit, we were just messing about, experimenting. In those days you didn’t want to be called a shirt lifter but these days it’s no biggie. Gay, straight and all shades in between – who cares? But I do remember the time when you had to keep stuff like that secret or risk being battered.

 8) Do you have any regrets?

My biggest regret which I touched on earlier is not being there for my oldest daughter, Holly. I was too selfish back then.  Her mother and me split up and I didn’t keep in touch. I didn’t really wanna be saddled with a kid.  I just wanted to have a good time, playing in bands, doing mad stuff, you know. So I missed out on her growing up but I’m not gonna let the same thing happen with Ciara, even though me and her mum have split up.

9) Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

 A lot more settled and not so turbulent, I hope.  Seeing a lot more of my daughter and making my latest relationship work.

10)  How would you like to be remembered?

As that tenacious Scouser with a chequered past who proved you all wrong and won you round! Something like that anyway.

Thank you so much Terry! It’s been great fun catching up with you. I’d been wondering what you were up to these days…

 

 

 

What Comes First? The Characters or the Plot?

 

What comes first? The characters of the plot? I guess the answer is different for every writer, and often different for every book. I’ve been thinking about this since one of my daughters showed a rare interest in my writing and asked me what came first; my characters or my plots? My immediate answer was the characters, as this is how it so often feels. But as I went through the novels one by one, I had to admit that it’s different each time. For example, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was an idea that grew into a character, followed by a more complex plot. The Tree of Rebels, which will be my next release, was undoubtedly plot before characters, more so than any other book I’ve written. I’ve blogged before about how difficult this made the process, and how it has taken longer for me to understand my characters and feel comfortable with them. With Elliot Pie (a book only in its first draft) it was the character first, but his character, in being someone who was intrinsically curious about strangers, was the plot. So they evolved simultaneously.

Having thought about it for some time I realised that my novels, This Is Nowhere and The Mess Of Me both have something in common. They were both written in the same way. I had the character first, and then had to create a plot to go with them.

I’m not sure this is the best way to write a book, but it’s just the way it worked with these two. With This Is Nowhere, I had the character in my head for some time, and with the character came the whole feel and tone of the book. Slightly sombre, dark around the edges, yet gentle, confused, struggling through mystery. I knew the character was a male in his late twenties or early thirties, and I knew he was rootless and aimless, a drifter. He had never grown up, but why was that? I knew he had a bad relationship with his father but the rest of that came much later. I knew he had a recurring stomach ailment, and had turned his back on the religion he had been brought up with. I had images in my head of a boy running across a sun baked field, though running from what I had no idea. The whole thing seemed to evolve in my head through feelings and images. I got the idea for the plot involving his missing mother when I was walking my dogs in the woods one day. I’m pretty sure, though it is hard to recall now, that my daughter had spoken to me about a missing persons case, and that had set something off in my head. What if this drifter was to return to his small home town in order to find out what happened to his mother, who vanished when he was a child?

With The Mess Of Me it was harder. In this case, I would probably not advise coming up with the character before the plot, although in all honesty I had absolutely no control over this!

Lou Carling started talking to me when I was about half way through writing The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. This was fantastic to me at the time. Having had a long break from writing, in tackling The Boy I was giving it all a go again, seeing if I still had the urge and the passion. When Lou started talking and grumbling, I was overjoyed because I had that feeling again. Of fireworks and ideas exploding in my head, of panic and excitement knotting in my belly, of wanting to hurry home to the laptop, of needing to scrawl notes onto scrap paper so I wouldn’t lose a thing. Essentially, Lou let me know that it was back. Writing was back.

I let her babble on for a while, mostly because she really amused me. She had just finished her GCSE’s and had a long summer before A-Levels ahead of her. She was deeply cynical about everything and everyone, and had a rather filthy mouth. Her best friend was a boy called Joe, a lanky, hazel eyed boy whose mother was her mother’s best friend. I could see Lou and hear her. In fact she barely left me alone. She would have constant conversations in my head, really interesting little nuggets of dialogue I just had to scribble down for later. But I had no plot. What was this book going to be about? What was going to happen to her? What did she want? What did she fear?

It took a while, but I got there in the end purely by listening to her, and being witness to the world that started to build around her. The claustrophobic council estate, growing up without money, feeling exasperated and embarrassed by her family. Hating everyone, especially herself.

I’m happy to admit that large parts of Lou are based on me, on my own experiences, on my own views and feelings growing up. In many ways, she is the character closest to me, at that age anyway. But I allowed her more freedom, letting her express herself when I was too shy to. Immensely liberating, I can tell you. The plot I ended up with actually came from a strange childhood memory.

When I was young, my mother had a friend who had five sons. She was a larger than life kind of woman, large in build and large in voice. She would sweep you in for a cuddle and nearly break your bones. She used to make jokes about swapping my mum’s daughters for her sons, and I used to think she was serious, and I was just a little bit afraid of her. I loved going to her house to play though. With her two youngest sons, me and my sister and brother used to trespass onto the grounds of their local school and play games with their pet dog. We would climb and hide in trees and bushes and behind walls and the dog would look for us. I can also remember playing with a huge mound of cardboard boxes in their back garden, making dens out of them, climbing up them and leaping off to crush the boxes below.

Her three older sons were teenagers when we were small. They flitted in and out of the background, and as I was so shy I probably never spoke to any of them. I watched them get the odd clip around the ear. One even had his mouth washed out with soap one day. But they were like mysteries to me. Part of my life, and yet totally unknown. They could have been anyone. They could have had any kind of life without me knowing. I had no idea who they were, where they went to, what they did, or what they dreamed about.

One day we were coming up the front path and one of the teenage boys was sat on the doorstep with his head in his hands looking absolutely miserable. In the cool dark of the kitchen, I overheard my mother’s friend telling my mum he was in so much trouble. They muttered and murmured in there for some time, while he remained on the doorstep. I never did find out what he’d done wrong.

So somehow, for some reason, this all crept into Lou’s world. The house full of boys. The mother on the warpath, driven to distraction by her unruly brood. Having these people you’ve grown up with, and yet never really know. Mysteries that unravel just out of reach and over the heads of young children who are told to go out and play.

The drug running storyline was of course utterly fabricated. It could have been anything really, the trouble the boys were in. Everything else from here on was pure imagination!

In many ways the drug running activities of Joe’s older brothers, and the way both Joe and Lou get pulled into it all, is a sub-plot to the main one, which is simply Lou’s journey over that summer. Her determination to lose weight and get skinny. Her finding herself, without it sounding too much of a cliche, was central to it all.

So that’s the story of The Mess Of Me. Where it came from and how it happened. It is probably my most character driven book, with the plot almost taking a back seat to the characters.

What about you? As a reader, do you ever wonder what came first, the plot or the characters? Can you ever tell?

What about you writers? Is it always the plot first, the characters later? Or the other way around? Which way does it happen for you, and does it make it harder to write if it happens in a way you are not used to?

Feel free to comment below!