Interview with Jane Davis   Leave a comment

Jane Davis reducedThis week, I welcome Jane Davis to the blog. Jane is an award winning novelist of literary and historical fiction.


Tell us something about yourself, Jane. (Basic bio, as much or as little as you want).

I was born in Wimbledon, home of the lawn tennis club (although I have never been) and the Wombles. You could say that creativity is part of my DNA. 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 world-class flautists, played on the Beatles’ 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 and pushed onto the stage. My experiences left me with a hatred of classical music, terrible stage fright and panic on entering exam rooms.

Being the middle child of a large family has both advantages and disadvantages. Never having your parents’ undivided attention fell into both categories. Rarely finding a place in which it was possible to be quiet was difficult for me. I found solace in reading, which remains one of the only legitimate excuses to be unsociable.

I left school at the age of sixteen. Ignoring only careers’ advice available to convent school girls (that all smart girls should aspire to becoming nurses or schoolteachers) I chose insurance. (It was only a twenty-minute walk from home.)

After suffering from depression throughout my teenage years and my 20s, I developed a keen interest in psychology. I am particularly interested in the influence that position in the family has in determining personality.

Jane Davis CloseupWhat was your first story and how old were you when you wrote it?

If I’m honest, I can’t remember writing stories when I was a child. I was always drawing – in fact, I thought that I would work in something to do with art, but couldn’t work out how you could make a living out of it. I began writing my first novel at the age of thirty-five. It went through many titles but it was After Hilary that stuck. Like many first novels, it was semi-autobiographical. On its strength, I was signed by a literary agent, who was the first person who ever said to me, ‘Jane, you are a writer.’ A small publisher was interested enough to draft a contract but, before it could be signed, the small publisher was bought up by a bigger fish. In retrospect, I’m certain this was the best thing that could have happened. Too personal to ever see the light of day, it took four years to write and went through various structures. I was able to use the lessons I learned when writing my second novel, Half-truths and White Lies, which went on to win the Daily Mail First Novel Award.

jane davis half truthsWhat are you passionate about?

Photography, music, the British countryside, the importance of exercise, history, reading – obviously. I like nothing better than a big biography, because I honestly believe that the truth is far stranger than fiction.

What is something you cannot do without?

I had to think about this when I wrote my novel, An Unknown Woman. It starts with a woman waking up in the night to find that her house is on fire. She and her partner have moments in which to decide which of their possessions they will save. Fifteen years ago, I would have saved my photograph albums – probably before I thought about my passport. These days, it would be my laptop.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Sadly, the more books you release, the less time there is for writing, let alone what you might call ‘spare time’. My working day lasts from 7.00am to 9.00pm. Much of it is taken up with marketing and promotion, and answering the 350 emails that hit my inbox. At the moment I’m in the middle of a beta read of a 145,000 word novel for another author, I have several interviews queuing and I am also producing proofs for new edits of all of my published novels. I do try to fit a five-mile walk into my day and twice a week I go to a keep fit class. In fact, exercise is one of the best ways wake the brain up, so I never leave the house without a notebook.

I do consultancy work one or two days a week (that’s what pays the bills), usually in the City (London), which is a good excuse to put on some smart clothes and make-up.

I also try to read for at least an hour, usually over breakfast and just before I turn the light out, but also when I’m commuting. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my relaxation setting. There are no days off. Today’s a bank holiday but I will work at least until lunchtime. Once I’ve finished for the day, I’m usually ready for bed. But I do try to build in an hour’s wind-down time away from the computer.

I love to catch live music whenever I can and my ideal break would be a walking holiday in the Lake District or in the Brecon Beacons. I’m very lucky that my partner is a superb cook (right now, he’s baking bread and the smell is wafting through the door). Good food, a good bottle of wine and a few friends for company, and I’m happy.

Because I live in Alaska, I’ve been asking this question of almost all of my guests. I’m going to drop you off in a remote Alaska cabin for a month (so no internet, telephone, etc.). It’s summer so you don’t have to worry about freezing to death, I’m providing the food and bug spray (NECESSITY!) What do you spend your time doing? What do you bring with you, and if that includes books, what books would they be?

To be honest, this sounds like bliss! (It is … for a month, not a lifetime!) I would have no option but to get on with my work in progress without all of the usual distractions. As for what I’d bring, a huge supply of stationary, including several notebooks and pens. I would dip into my towering to-read pile that is stacked up by the side of my bed and choose some books purely for pleasure – not those I have been sent to review. I might also re-read a couple of old favourites: The Prince of Tides or some John Irving.

You write about some tough topics — a ballerina forced into prostitution trying to decide what to do with her child, teachers unable to interact with students who really need adults in their lives …. Where do you get your ideas?

I never shy away from big issues. Fiction provides a unique opportunity to explore one or two points of view. It is never going to provide the whole answer, but it does force both writer and reader to walk in another person’s shoes. And, in many ways, it is the exploration and not the answer that is important. The idea that there is a single truth is flawed. I have a sister who is less than a year older than me our memories of the same events differ substantially. There are many different versions of the truth and many layers of memory.

jane davis uncoreographed

Talk about An Unchoreographed Life.

An Unchoreographed Life is the phrase Margot Fonteyne used to describe her tumultuous off-stage existence. It seemed an ideal choice for my story of a ballerina who turns to prostitution when she becomes a single mother.

I wrote the book in the year when the number of sex-workers in London returned to a level not seen since the eighteenth century, when a working class girl only had two career choices: a domestic or a prostitute – and quite often both, since girls under the age of sixteen were only paid in bed and board, but found themselves turfed out onto the streets when they hit the age they were entitled to a salary. At the same time, a hypocritical change in the law was proposed, which seemed designed to enable the government to get hold of taxes more easily without giving sex workers any protection.

I grew up within the footprint of Nelson’s paradise estate. The story of his mistress, Emma Hamilton, has always fascinated me. Although poverty forced her into to prostitution, she later became a muse for artists such as George Romney and Joshua Reynolds and a fashionista by bucking the tight-laced trends of the day. Cast aside by an aristocratic lover, she went on to marry his uncle. Completely self-educated, Emma continually reinvented herself, mixing in diplomatic circles and becoming confidante of both Marie Antoinette and the Queen of Naples. Then, after Nelson was killed, she disappeared from view and died destitute.

Added to the mix, I was gripped by a 2008 court case, when, in an interesting twist, it was ruled that a prostitute had been living off the immoral earnings of one of her clients. Salacious headlines focused on the prostitute’s replies when asked to justify her charge of £20,000 a week. But the case also challenged perceptions of who was likely to be a prostitute. The answer turned out to be that she might well be the ordinary middle-aged woman with the husband and two teenage children who lives next door.

Jane Davis A Funeral for an Owl cover reducedTalk about A Funeral for an Owl.

I describe this book as an updated version of A Kestrel for a Knave (Your readers might be more familiar with the film-version, Kes). A boy misfit from one side of the tracks (Jim) meets a girl misfit from the other side of the tracks (Aimee) through their interest in bird-watching. Much of the action takes place over a single summer holiday and it’s unlikely the friendship would have lasted had the girl, Aimee, not gone missing.

My angle is that some of the rules that have been put in place with the best of intentions – to protect – actually deprive the most vulnerable children of confidential counsel from someone they trust. I appreciate that not everyone will agree with that view, and in the light of the many child abuse cases that have only come to our attention in the two years since I published the book, it’s certainly easy to argue in favour of them. But, when I was growing up, we had a wonderful teacher who operated an open-house and provided a safe place for those who were struggling at home, no questions asked. It was surprising who would turn up at her door. Today, in an environment when any relationship between teachers and pupils outside the classroom is taboo, she would be sacked. I think that’s terribly sad.

I agree with you. Based on my experiences as an administrator in a community mental health setting — social workers like to keep the work for themselves, but teachers, pastors and youth ministers are the ones more likely to reach kids where they need to be reached, which is at a very human day-to-day level that cannot be provided in an office. Yet nowadays, they are always suspect if they are involved in a student’s personal life. It’s a horrible shame of missed opportunity. Talk about An Unknown Woman.

Jane Davis An Unknown Woman final reducedAn Unknown Woman is very personal to me. In 2013, I took the decision to cut back on paid work, which meant selling the car and ridding myself of a lot of material baggage along the way. The book is in part an exploration of how our material possessions inform our identities. It begins with a couple standing in the road outside their house watching it burn to the ground. It is very recognisably my house. Then in February 2014, life reflected art/fiction when my sister lost her house and everything in it to the winter floods.

In the book, I ask the question, ‘If we are who we own, who are we when we have nothing?’ It’s quite a reflective novel. Anita has to revisit her past before she can move forwards. But when she goes home in search of comfort, she not only encounters one of those people who has caused her harm in the past, but stumbles upon the secret that her mother has kept hidden.

Jane Davis TimeTalk about I Stopped Time.

I Stopped Time is my homage to the pioneers of photography, so it is a real work of love. Jacques Henri Lartique, a self-taught photographer whose collection spans over seven decades, kept intricate notes of his experimentation with what was still a new medium when he was given his first camera as a boy. They became my sourcebook.

The story is about a reclusive man in the autumn of his life who finds a way to forgive the mother who remained an absent figure for his entire life. He can’t do that on his own, because, in order to explain her absence in a time when nobody explained anything to children, he had set her up as the villain of his childhood. In comes a young student, Jenny Jones, who, let’s face it, is an unlikely friend, but, while he is trying to put up barriers, she recognises what they have in common and tears them down.

What are your literary plans for the future?

I’m returning to a historical theme for my next book. My main character is a Vivienne Westwood/Edith Sitwell hybrid who, at the end of a long life of being an anti-establishment poet, is horrified to find herself on the New Year’s Honours List. We go back to see what brought her to this place. As I can’t write poetry for toffee, I have commissioned someone else to write the poems for me and I’m very excited to find out where this is going to take me.

Jane Davis RedLinks

Author Biography

Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. She spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when Jane achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she had wanted after all. In search of a creative outlet, she turned to writing fiction, but cites the disciplines learnt in the business world as what helps her finish her first 120,000-word novel.

Her first, 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.’ She was hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch.’ Five self-published novels have followed: I Stopped Time, These Fragile Things, A Funeral for an Owl, An Unchoreographed Life and now her latest release, An Unknown Woman.

Website (You’ll find excerpts from all my novels, plus book club questions.


Twitter @janedavisauthor


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Posted June 3, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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