Interview with Jane Davis
website: Jane Davis
Genre: Jane writes Quality Women’s Fiction
My name is Jane Davis. I received a strict Victorian upbringing in 1970’s suburbia, the middle child of five born. And as one of five I have a keen interest in how your position in the family influences character and personality. My father was a policeman who worked shifts, but my mother came from a musical family. Her father was a composer and her brothers went on to become flautists in the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony orchestra. She was called Christine and her brother was called Christopher and, for a while, they both used the professional name, Chris Taylor. Her brother, the more ruthless of the two, stole jobs that should have come her way, but, a recorder player, she became something of an expert in Tudor music and it is her you hear playing on the infamous Finger of Fudge advert. My mother also taught music at home. Combined with the fact that, among the children we had a guitar player, a violin player, a flautist, an oboe player and a trumpet player, our house was always a noisy place. We were put through the torture of practical music exams and forced onto the stage from an early age, which resulted in a life-long fear of exams and stage fright. I found refuge in reading, one of the few indulgences that allows legitimate ‘time out’. I was a reasonable student but I realised exams were not for me. The day that my friends returned to the sixth-form college, I walked straight into my first job in insurance. I was lucky in that my second job proved to be a company I could grow with and I worked my way up from claims clerk to deputy managing director. In October 2008, after writing as a hobby for a number of years, my novel, Half-truths and White Lies, was selected as the winning entry of the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was published by Black Swan in April 2009.
Novels by Jane Davis:
Half-truths and White Lies: “Firstly, it’s about the struggle of a young woman to find her own identity after she loses her parents in a horrific motor accident. It’s also a story of two sisters who were treated very differently by their parents, one labelled as beautiful and as clever, and the impact those labels had on them. It’s a story about that very confusing word called love and the particular situation which might happen when we cross the line between friendship and something more, and all of the messy repercussions that follow.”
It’s about the impulsive choices and decisions we make and how the impact of those decisions resonate through time. It’s about the secrets between a group of family and friends, and the lengths they will go to keep them hidden. It’s the story of what one man will go to, in order to undo the damage he’s done. And it’s about forgiveness, because it’s amazing what friendship is capable of doing to survive. But of course, there’s no one character who knows the whole of the truth at the beginning. And our starting point is this very volatile situation in the aftermath of the accident when the characters are at their most vulnerable. Anything could give.” (Jane Davis, in conversation with Jen Campbell.)
I Stopped Time: “Can you think of a really good memory? Perhaps you can see it when you close your eyes. Now, imagine you could take it out and look at it whenever you wanted to!” Turn of the century Brighton. A spark is ignited when wide-eyed Lottie Pye enters Mr Parker’s photographic studio and discovers the new medium that will shape her life, becoming a passion.
2009: Disgraced politician Sir James Hastings has resigned himself to living out his retirement in a secluded Surrey village. He doesn’t react when he learns that the mother who abandoned him as a baby has died at the age of 108: he presumed she had died many years ago. Brought up by his father, a charismatic war-hero turned racing driver, young James, torn between self-blame and longing, eventually dismissed her as the ‘villain’ of his childhood. But, when he inherits her life’s work – a photography collection spanning over six decades – he is forced to confront his past. Assisted by student Jenny Jones, who has recently lost her own mother to cancer, Sir James is persuaded to look at the photographs as if he is seeing through his mother’s eyes. And there he discovers an extraordinary tale of courage and sacrifice.
“Three. I have three stories,” Lottie tells her solicitor while putting her affairs in order. “But it was Oscar Wilde who said that a story is almost certainly a lie.”
‘A classy and engaging novel’ – Hilary Johnson
These Fragile Things: As Streatham, South London, still reels from the riots in neighbouring Brixton, Graham Jones, an ordinary father, grows fearful for his teenage daughter Judy who faces a world where the pace of change appears to be accelerating. But even he cannot predict what will happen next. A series of events is about to be unleashed over which he will have no control, and the lives of his family will change forever. When Judy claims to be seeing visions he will call it a miracle, and, to his wife’s horror, the hungry press will label their daughter ‘The Miracle Girl.’ Elaine, present when she came close to losing her daughter a first time – knowing it was the paramedics and surgeons who saved her – will demand a medical explanation. But Judy, refusing to become caught in this emotional tug-of-war, is adamant. She must tread her own path, wherever it takes her. Delusion, deception, diabolic…or is it just possible that Judy’s apparitions are authentic?
‘A brilliantly imaginative and quirkily fresh take on the world. Brimful of originality and creativity.’ The Literary Consultancy
‘An elegant and understated prose style with a very satisfying rhythm. This is really very good writing indeed.’ Debi Alper
‘Leaves one panting to read more.’ Jill Foulston
Personal Experiences in Publishing: Even with hard graft, luck always plays a significant role in life. In June 2008, I attended the Winchester Writers’ Conference on the recommendation of my agent, Teresa Chris. It was a stroke of luck that I chose a lecture hosted by Transworld and Jack Sheffield, author of Teacher, Teacher! It was there that I learned about the Daily Mail First Novel Award, only two days before the closing date for entries. On the closing date itself, I wrapped a copy of my manuscript in brown paper and carried it to the post office, praying that the deadline would be flexible. My real incentive for entering was not the thought of winning; it was the promise that all entries would be read. In common with most unpublished writers, I have struggled to find professionals who were prepared to read my writing. Earlier that month, frustrated, I had handed my notice in at work. It was a job I had been doing since the age of eighteen. I was one of the lucky ones. I had joined a small company that I could grow with and a boss who looked beyond formal qualifications and focused on ability. The previous November, I had been promoted to the position of deputy managing director. But the truth is that we don’t always wish for the things that make us happy. In the past, I have always dreaded meeting new people. It is only a matter of time before someone looks at you meaningfully and asks, “And what do you do?” I have never thought that my job as an insurance broker said much about who I am. My brother-in-law (a naval architect no less) worked out how to deal with this nonsense a long time ago. He describes himself as a biscuit designer and, if pressed, he tells his assailant that he designed the Hovis digestive. And then he modestly accepts all of the praise that follows. My plan on leaving my job was to give myself a two-year sabbatical, with the challenge of trying to get my work published. I had started to write at the age of 35 as a creative outlet. In the short space of time, I went from not knowing if I had anything to write about to not being able to stop writing.
The timing of Transworld’s announcement was absolutely perfect. I had already been notified that my novel had been short-listed in the final six, but I hadn’t wanted to build my hopes up too much. A month after leaving my job, the honeymoon period was well and truly over. I am not one of life’s natural risk-takers. I like security and monthly pay packets and I have a healthy fear of poverty. Every time that I turned on the television there was talk of financial doom and gloom. Full of self-doubt, I began to worry that I had made a foolish mistake. I received the call from Transworld when I was at home on my own and, because I was alone, I wasn’t quite sure how to react. There was no one to ask, ‘Did that just happen?’ I have always been a bit of a daydreamer. Half an hour later, when I had tried and failed to contact my partner, my mother and various friends by phone, I began to think that I might have imagined it. Winning the competition was about more than seeing my book in print: it is about validation, about taking risks and about throwing caution to the wind.
The best advice I have received was from Debi Alper and that was that writers need to develop the hind of a rhino. There will be a lot of set-backs along the way, a lot of rejection letters, and you need to be in it for the long haul. In writing, no experience is wasted.
In terms of influences, I can only describe the authors whose work I keep coming back to. In The Book Thief, Marcus Zuzak tackles extremely sensitive subject matter with originality and simplicity, which is perfection. I got to the very end before I learned that he is the author of several award-winning children’s books, and it explained much about his writing style and his deep understanding of his main characters. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy stays relevant and contains the most perfectly flawed heroine; innocent, naïve, wronged, and ultimately, deadly. I feel that I catch glimpses of the England that he describes when I am out walking in the mountains. The Prince of Tides by Pat Barker is a difficult, rich and rewarding read. Don’t be put off by the film which focused on everything that is romantic in the book, detouring neatly round the more shocking elements of the storyline, leaving very two-dimensional characters. My favourite author is John Irving and it would be difficult to include only one of his novels in a shortlist. I am torn between Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Both are life-changing. I particularly love John Irving’s use of themes and challenging viewpoints. I have never been to New England, but I feel that I know the area well through his writing. E. Annie Proulx wrote the most extraordinary main character in Quoyle in The Shipping News but her use of language is so full of warmth and humour and sadness that we cannot help but love him. Finally, I love Martin Davies‘ novel, The Unicorn Road, which takes the reader on an epic journey.
Advice to new authors: a) Get started. Sometimes a novel starts with one small idea. You don’t have to work out what is going to happen at the end before you begin. Get the characters right and the rest will follow. b) Be disciplined. When I was working full-time, I found it useful to set aside specific periods of time for writing. I stuck to my schedule and aimed to write one chapter a week. In a year’s time, I had a first draft. I believe that the difference between success and failure can be as simple as sticking to something and finishing it. c) Take the advice that is offered. You may be at the top of your profession at the moment but the chances are that, like me, you will know very little about the world of publishing. If two agents take the time to write to you in person and express the opinion that your work is unmarketable – particularly if they have been kind enough to compliment you on your writing ability – it is unlikely that both are wrong! d) Finally, read as much as you can. Keep an eye on the trends and what is selling. Unless you have written something brilliant and original enough to start a new trend, your work will need to sit neatly with what else is out there.
My best experience in writing: Serendipity: the moment when a seemingly inconsequential line written without much thought suddenly becomes pivotal.
My worst experience when writing: Typos. I read about Gaiman’s Law yesterday: after months of proof-reading, an author when opening his or her new paperback will instantly zone in on the only typo.
I am proud to say I have few credentials, from a Catholic upbringing, which Hilary Mantel claims is essential to all writers, and a love of reading, the process by which Terry Pratchett claims writers are made. My hope is that I can be an inspiration to other people to get writing. I don’t have a degree and have never attended a creative writing class. I just had a bit of spare time on my hands, a second-hand laptop, and enough will power to stick at it.
Where people can buy your book and your web-site:
I want to thank Jane for participating and wish the best in her future accomplishments.
To find out how you can participate go to Questionnaire for Authors under Writer’s Corner.