Today I’m delighted to feature author Jane Davis. Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis writes thought-provoking literary page turners with razor sharp dialogue and a strong commercial edge.
Jane spent her twenties and the first half of her thirties chasing promotions in the business world but, frustrated by the lack of a creative outlet, she turned to writing.
Her first novel, Half-Truths and White Lies, won a national award established with the aim of finding the next Joanne Harris. Further recognition followed in 2016 with An Unknown Woman being named Self-Published Book of the Year by Writing Magazine/the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust, as well as being shortlisted in the IAN Awards, and in 2019 with Smash all the Windows winning the inaugural Selfies Book Award. Her novel, At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock was featured by The Lady Magazine as one of their favourite books set in the 1950s, selected as a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice, and shortlisted for the Selfies Book Awards 2021.
Interested in how people behave under pressure, Jane introduces her characters when they are in highly volatile situations and then, in her words, she throws them to the lions. The themes she explores are diverse, ranging from pioneering female photographers, to relatives seeking justice for the victims of a fictional disaster.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey, in what was originally the ticket office for a Victorian pleasure gardens, known locally as ‘the gingerbread house’. Her house frequently features in her fiction. In fact, she burnt it to the ground in the opening chapter of ‘An Unknown Woman’. In her latest release, ‘Small Eden’, she asks the question why one man would choose to open a pleasure gardens at a time when so many others were facing bankruptcy?
When she isn’t writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.
Over to Jane:
Which piece of music/song would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
The Beatles, Fool on the Hill
On an October day in 1967 when I was only 10 days old, my uncles Richard and Christopher Taylor were in a recording studio laying down the flute tracks (and quite possibly recorder tracks) for Fool on this Hill. Despite this family legacy, the Beatles were not the soundtrack to my childhood (although we did have a Pinky and Perky Sing the Beatles album in the house). My father was a policeman and as part of his duties, he had to police Beatles gigs. He was completely put off the band by the hysterical behaviour he witnessed. I always took his stories with a pinch of salt until I heard the very same memories repeated by audience members. In 2010, Bob Geldof told Q magazine: ‘The Beatles was a case of watching females in excelsis. It’s the old cliché, but you couldn’t hear them for all the screaming. I remember looking down at the cinema floor and seeing these rivulets of piss in the aisles… What I associate most with the Beatles is the smell of girls’ urine.’ And so I was that girl at guide camp who couldn’t join in the Beatles singalongs around the camp fire because she didn’t know the lyrics. Fast forward thirty years and I met my partner who hails from Liverpool, and whose father has memories of seeing the Beatles play in the Cavern in his lunchtimes from work, and whose sister is an official Beatles guide (and the only tour guide in the UK to have a Masters Degree in The Beatles!) By the time I went to Paul McCartney’s gig at Anfield in 2009, rest assured I knew all the lyrics!
Fame and Price, Sergeant Jobsworth
Another story from my dad’s days as a policeman. In 1970/71, my father arrested a young man for a parking offence. The young man turned out to be Georgie Fame, then something of a heartthrob. My dad’s version of the story is that the young man said to him, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ and my Dad told him that he hadn’t a clue. In Georgie Fame’s version of the story, my dad told him that he’d seen him on television and knew exactly who he was. This would have been highly unlikely, because my father had absolutely no interest in modern music. He was a Vivaldi man. Either way, George Fame took his revenge by writing the song, Sergeant Jobsworth, released as a B side in 1971.
Flanders and Swan, I’m a Gnu
If the Beatles wasn’t the sound track of my childhood, what was? I remember Peter and the Wolf and the soundtracks to Tubby the Tuba and The Sword in the Stone, but mainly I remember At the Drop of the Hat by Flanders and Swan. They have been much parodied in recent years by the comedians Armstrong and Miller as Brabbins and Fyffe. But in the fifties and the sixties Flanders and Swan were billed as the greatest comic song writers who ever lived. The animal songs were always my favourite and have stood the test of time better than some of the pairs’ other lyrics. And so I give you I’m a Gnu.
The Sundays, Can’t be Sure
The 1990 album Reading, Writing and Arithmetic is pure magic from start to finish, but Can’t be Sure is the perfect expression of teenage angst laced with a hint of hopefulness (using a literary term, you might call it a coming-of-age song). For a girl who’d left school at the age of sixteen with no definite plans, and fell into a career by chance, lyrically, it was perfect. ‘Live for a job and a perfect behind.’ Shallow, perhaps, but honest. The things that keep you going. I was 23. At the age of 26 I started a glorious doomed year-long love affair with the lead singer of a band which shared a bass player with The Sundays. But that’s another story!
Why does it feel so hard to choose song number 5? Should it be Boo Hewardine’s Patience of Angels? I was a regular at the acoustic room at The Mean Fiddler in Kentish Town in the late 80s and early 90s and sat within touching of him. Should it be Cloudbusting by Kate Bush, the songs that plays on a reel in my head when I go walking? No, I’m going to choose Starlings by Elbow.
I first saw Elbow play before the release of their first album when they were supporting Lowgold, who enjoyed a brief period of popularity after the release of their album Mercury. It was obvious to anyone who saw them that Elbow were something special. I’ve seen them a number of times over the years, and it was at a gig at the Roundhouse in Camden in 2001 that they raised a toast with pints of beer and announced that they’d given it their all but were going to call it a day. A week later they won the Mercury music award and were convinced to keep making music. The Roundhouse is shaped as it sounds, and I was on my feet, listening to Starlings and swaying in shards of light from the disco ball when something happened that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I saw one of my characters from my books. Tom Fellows. He was exactly as I described him in Half-truths and White Lies. The hair, the jawline, even the leather jacket with the picture of the eagle on the back. I had to be held back!
What (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
Walking boots. I climbed my first mountain at the age of 18 and have been hooked ever since. My last two pairs have been from Meindl.
This brings me to number 2, walking socks. Boots may protect your feet from the terrain, but it’s socks that stop you getting blisters. I like Danish Endurance socks.
The internet. I lived for a long time without it, but it’s hard to think of life as an author without the internet. It essential for so many things, from research to staying on touch with my writing group, and during the pandemic, of course, it offered a lifeline.
A camera. I’ve been fascinated by photography since I was in middle school and joined the camera club. Perfect for nerdy children like me. We learned how to use an SLR camera and developed our own black and white photos. I was a slow convert from film to digital, but now I find digital has advantages enormous. Film was so expensive and you were limited by the length of a roll. Now I take hundreds to experimental shots, knowing that I only need keep those I want, and I love the ability to crop, apply filters, and so much more.
Books. Need I say more. I’d be lost without them.
Can you offer a piece of advice for your younger self?
This is a hard one because knowing my younger self, she wouldn’t have listened. When you’re young, everything is so urgent and dramatic.
And I do believe that everyone should be allowed to make their own mistakes, because you learn more from them than you do your successes.
I can’t even say that I would have told myself to stay at school, because studying English Literature destroyed my love of reading, and it took some time for me to find my way back, and longer still until I dared put pen to paper.
It boils down to this:
This [insert details of most recent terrible tragedy] is not the disaster you think it is.
Don’t be in such a terrible rush.
Don’t be on the lookout for the next thing. Try to live in the moment.
Remember this. Every detail of it. How it feels. One day you’ll want to write about it.
More recently, in 2008 when my publisher rejected my novel, A Funeral for an Owl, I should have had the confidence to self-publish immediately, so that I could take the 15,000 readers who’d discovered by first novel with me. Instead, four years later, I had to start again virtually from scratch.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you
My mother played the recorder part on the Finger of Fudge advert. She had performed and recorded music as part of the Taylor Recorder Consort with her father and brothers Richard and Christopher from childhood. Whilst they went on to become flautists, she specialised in Tudor music and can be heard on film soundtracks such as the 1969 film, Anne of a Thousand Days, which featured Richard Burton as Henry VIII.
I once sang There are Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden on stage at the Royal Albert Hall. My parents sent me to private singing lessons to prepare for this great honour, but I had awful stage fright and could barely get the words out.
I was kicked out of the brownies for refusing to play a game called ladders on health and safety grounds. The idea was that two rows of girls sat on the ground with their feet together, forming a ladder, and two girls’ names were called out of line and had to race up the ladder, invariably trampling on people’s legs. A week later I was proved right when someone broke their ankle and the game was banned. I was invited back, but declined. (Little Miss Know It All.)
For ten years, I was a cub scout leader and a venture scout leader. My revenge on the girl guide movement.
I used to lie about my education – not on CVs, you understand. When I was 26 I was promoted to the board of directors (quite unusual for the time) and I was very well spoken, and people who visited the firm made assumptions. They used to ask if I’d gone to Oxford or Cambridge. Come to think of it, the word ‘university’ didn’t come into it. I tired of explaining that I’d left school at the age of 16 with an RE ‘O’ Level and a life-saving certificate (also a slight lie, but one I enjoyed), and so I’d tell them what they wanted to hear. I had a friend at Oxford and a friend at Cambridge and visited them, so I would vary it, depending on who I’d last visited for the weekend.
Tell us something you’d still like to do or achieve.
I’d like to see a self-published book win a major literary award. 2022 could be the year. Michael Winkler’s Grimmish has just been shortlisted for the prestigious Miles Franklin award. So far, we have had big wins for small indie presses. 2014 was the year in which Eimear McBride won Bailey’s Prize for Fiction (to name but one of many) for her novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing – a novel many agents and publishers had rejected as ‘too challenging’. In fact, McBride spent 9 years trying to get her book published before it was taken up by Galley Press, an indie press who put story before profit. Of her win, McBride said: “I hope that it will serve as an incentive to publishers everywhere to take a look at difficult books and to think again.” Instead of wait for a deal, when his book was rejected, Winkler self-published. If he wins, it will make for some very interesting discussions.
Obviously, I’d like wider recognition for my own writing so that I can commit to writing full-time. I don’t need fame or riches. I’d just like to not have to worry about money.
I’d like to edit and publish the novel that my father wrote. Dad died in 2020, and it’s been sitting on his computer from years before he began to suffer from dementia. I have no idea what kind of shape it’s in, but I know it’s about four generations of women in a French village and about history repeating itself. I’d like to do that for him.
If you’d asked me the same question 20 years ago, I would have said that I’d like to go to India, but we’re living in an age when we know that most of our personal goals are bad for the planet and I see several of the things that were on my bucket list slipping away.
I’ve walked some of Britain’s best long-distance walking routes, including the West Highland Way and Pembrokeshire’s beautiful coastal path, but I’d like to walk the St Michael Alignment, the ley line that runs between Hopton in Norfolk to Land’s End in Cornwall, passing through the Templar’s Cave in Royston, the Avebury megalithic site in Wiltshire and Glastonbury Tor.
I’d like to see a cure for cancer. That’s not too much to ask is it?
Thanks so much for joining me today Jane, I’ve really enjoyed discovering more about you. Plus I’m always extra happy when someone brings me an Elbow track, and Starlings is one of my favourites. This track is pure poetry and contains my favourite line ‘You are the only thing in any room you’re ever in’ which for me sums up pure love and devotion in one line. I also enjoyed listening to Fool on the Hill again, it’s rarely played and takes me back to my own recorder playing days – I learned to play it at school, that definitely ages me! It also makes me think of my own stage fright occasion as well, again, involving the recorder. Move forward to 1985 and the folk club in Stirling, I was performing a Robert Burns tune on the treble recorder with my friend accompanying me on guitar – this was my first and last performance as I just froze and stumbled my way through it. I’ve not picked up a recorder since. Good for you re your Brownies protest, I used to hate the games. I hope you get to achieve some (if not all of your dreams) your Dad’s book sounds interesting and as for a cure for cancer – I can’t think of anything better!
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A boy with his head in the clouds. A man with a head full of dreams.
‘With an eye for precise detail balanced by a sweeping imagination, this beautifully constructed book is built on deep foundations.’ – JJ Marsh, author of the Beatrice Stubbs Series
1884. The symptoms of scarlet fever are easily mistaken for teething, as Robert Cooke and his pregnant wife Freya discover at the cost of their two infant sons. Freya immediately isolates for the safety of their unborn child. Cut off from each other, there is no opportunity for husband and wife to teach each other the language of their loss. By the time they meet again, the subject is taboo. But unspoken grief is a dangerous enemy. It bides its time.
A decade later and now a successful businessman, Robert decides to create a pleasure garden in memory of his sons, in the very same place he found refuge as a boy – a disused chalk quarry in Surrey’s Carshalton. But instead of sharing his vision with his wife, he widens the gulf between them by keeping her in the dark. It is another woman who translates his dreams. An obscure yet talented artist called Florence Hoddy, who lives alone with her unmarried brother, painting only what she sees from her window…
At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock
London 1949. The lives of three very different women are about to collide.
‘This is the first time I have come across this author, and what a revelation! She writes stunning prose that keeps the pages turning.’ Historical Novel Society, Editor’s Choice.
Like most working-class daughters, Caroline Wilby is expected to help support her family. Alone in a strange city, she must grab any opportunity that comes her way. Even if that means putting herself in danger.
Star of the silver screen, Ursula Delancy, has just been abandoned by the man she left her husband for. Already hounded by the press, it won’t be long before she’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Patrice Hawtree was once the most photographed debutante of her generation. Now childless and trapped in a loveless marriage, her plans to secure the future of her ancient family home are about to be jeopardised by her husband’s gambling addiction.
Each believes she has already lost in life, not knowing how far she still has to fall.
Six years later, one cause will reunite them: when a young woman commits a crime of passion and is condemned to hang, remaining silent isn’t an option.
Smash All the Windows
It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.
It will take courage to learn how to live again.
For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.
Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.
If only it were that simple
My Counterfeit Self
A rose garden. A woman with white hair. An embossed envelope from the palace.Lucy Forrester, for services to literature, you are nominated for a New Year’s Honour.Her hands shake. But it’s not excitement. It’s rage. For five decades, she’s performed angry poems, attacked government policy on everything from Suez to Trident, chained herself to embassy railings, marched, chanted and held placards high. Lucy knows who she is. Rebel, activist, word-wielder, thorn in the side of the establishment. Not a national bloody treasure.Whatever this is – a parting gesture, a final act of revenge, or the cruellest of jokes – it can only be the work of one man. Dominic Marchmont, outspoken literary critic and her on/off lover of fifty years, whose funeral begins in under an hour.Perhaps, suggests husband Ralph, the invitation isn’t the insult it seems? What if Dominic – the man they both loved – has left her an opportunity?
The London Collection
Three full-length novels linked only by their setting… London
My Counterfeit Self, Smash all the Windows and At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock
An Unknown Woman
Fire destroyed her present. Secrets destroyed her past.
Look in the mirror and ask yourself a question. Who are you? Do you know the answer?
At the age of forty-six, Anita Hall knows exactly who she is. She has lived with partner Ed for fifteen years and is proud of the life they’ve built. They go out into the world separately: Ed with one eye on the future in the world of finance; Anita with one foot in the past, a curator at Hampton Court Palace. This is the life she has chosen – a dream job, equal partnership, living in a quirky old house she adores. She is happy. Their foundations are solid and their future seems secure. But that was before the fire.
Anita stands in the middle of the road watching her home and everything inside it burn to the ground. She and Ed have nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Fifteen years of memories gone up in smoke.
Before she can come to terms with the magnitude of her loss, hairline cracks begin to appear in her perfect relationship. And returning to her childhood home in search of comfort, she stumbles upon the secret her mother has kept hidden, a taboo so unspeakable it can only be written down.
The reflection in the mirror may look the same. But everything has changed. Anita thought she knew who she was. But not any more. And when your life goes up in smoke, you can never go home.
An Unchoreographed Life
You can’t have it all. So what must you choose to lose? And will it be worth the sacrifice?
Six-year-old Belinda Brabbage has amassed a wealth of wisdom. She knows all the best hiding places, how to zap monsters with her pig-shaped torch and why never to accept lifts from strangers – even ones who offer Fizzy Fish. But Belinda’s mummy isn’t like the other mothers who gather at the school gates. She’s… different somehow. Mummy doesn’t like to be plagued with questions. But when she isn’t concentrating, she drops nuggets of information. Belinda collects them all, sure a pattern will emerge. It’s only a matter of time.
Time is Alison’s enemy. This hand to mouth existence of hers was only supposed to be temporary. But there’s one clock she can’t re-set. Belinda is growing up. Soon she’ll recognise the ballerina in the photograph album. She’ll understand who her mother was, who she could have been – and what she does to pay their rent. With options running out, Alison consults a blind clairvoyant, whose visions of pelicans and bookshelves appear to herald change. Then a chance meeting with an affluent couple affords a glimpse of the life Alison so desperately wants for her daughter. But can she trust their offer of friendship?
I Stopped Time
What if the villain of your childhood turned out to be someone really rather extraordinary?
Edwardian Brighton. A wide-eyed girl enters Mr Parker’s photographic studio and receives her first lesson about the brand new medium that will shape her future: “Can you think of a really good memory? Perhaps you can see it when you close your eyes. Now think how much better it would be if you could take it out and look at whenever you wanted to!”
2009: Disgraced politician Sir James Hastings is resigned to living out his retirement in a secluded village in the Surrey Hills. He is unmoved when he learns his mother has died at the age of 108. In his mind, he buried her when she abandoned him as a child. Brought up by his father, a charismatic war-hero turned racing-driver, the young James, torn between self-blame and longing, eventually dismissed her as the ‘villain’ of his childhood. Now he inherits her life’s work – an incredible photography collection spanning six decades – and is forced to confront the realisation that his version of the past isn’t even half the story.
Journey across a century of change as one man explores the world through this mother’s eyes and reassembles his own family history.
These Fragile Things
Life can change in a split second. And nothing you can do will stop it.
As a London suburb reels from riots in neighbouring Brixton, Graham Jones finds fatherhood a frightening place. How can he protect his daughter from the onslaught of change? But the future holds more fear than he can possibly imagine. One afternoon, a wall collapses, burying thirteen-year-old Judy beneath it. Rescuers who recover her shattered body from the rubble are amazed. “She’s alive,” they tell her shaking mother, Elaine. “And we’ll do everything we can to keep her that way.” With Judy’s life hanging in the balance, Graham’s anxieties seem trivial. The unimaginable has happened. Who can he turn to? While his wife puts her trust in medics, Graham’s answer is to pray – and, in his desperation, he isn’t beyond bargaining.
When Judy not only pulls through but defies medical predictions, Graham tells anyone who is prepared to listen about his miracle. Soon headline-hungry journalists are writing about ‘The Miracle Girl’. Elaine knows this is a tough label for any teenager to live up to, let alone one who’s battling physical and psychological scars. She has always understood that love is all we can cling to in this whirling confusion of a world. At odds with her husband, under siege from the press, pushed to breaking point by an onslaught of miracle seekers, she seeks solace in the arms of strangers.
Meanwhile, refusing to be drawn into her parents’ emotional tug-of-war, Judy treads her own path. But we all of us live on a knife edge. And things are about to get far, far worse.
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.
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.
Second Chapter – collection
Davis conjours a fresh new voice and style for every story, be it a man’s rediscovery of his mother through her photographs, a haunting tale of a young girl and her visions or the plight of a missing teenager.
I Stopped Time – Wouldn’t you feel cheated if the woman you’d imagined was the villain of your childhood turned out to be someone rather extraordinary? Journey across a century of change as one man explores the world through this mother’s eyes and reassembles his own family history.
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. A powerful exploration of the ache of loss, set in a landscape where broken people can find each other.
These Fragile Things – Life can change in a split second. And there will be nothing you can do to stop it. When Judy not only survives a traumatic accident, but defies medical predictions and learns to walk again, her father Graham tells anyone who is prepared to listen about his miracle. Soon headline-hungry journalists are writing about ‘The Miracle Girl’. But Judy’ mother Elaine knows this is a tough label for any teenager to live up to. Let alone one who’s battling psychological scars.
Half Truths & White Lies
When Tom Fellows proclaims that a Venn diagram is a far better way of illustrating modern family ties than a traditional tree, his young daughter Andrea has no idea that he is referring to their own situation.It is only when she loses both parents in a shocking car accident that she takes an interest in her own genealogy and begins to realize that her perfect upbringing was not all that it seemed…
Half-truths & White Lies is a beautifully crafted, thought-provoking novel that questions the influence of the people who are missing from our lives. It examines the thin line between love and friendship, looking at our complex emotional needs. It also explores how one woman’s life is dictated by her desire for children, whilst another’s is shaped by her decision not to have them.