Today it’s my pleasure to welcome fellow author Jane Davis back to the blog. I’ve read and enjoyed all Jane’s novels and you can read my reviews of two of her earlier novels An Unknown Woman here and Smash all the Windows here. Jane also took part in my Virtual Book Festival this time last year and you can read her contribution here. Her books are all quite different from each other, but what they have in common is that they are all intelligent, totally engaging and thought-provoking – and they are shot through with insight into humanity.
And it looks as if her newest one is going to be no exception. So, without further ado it’s over to Jane.
Welcome Jane, it’s lovely to have you back again. Can we begin with you telling us what your new book is all about?
Jane: At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock is about three very different women – a working class seventeen-year-old who is expected to do whatever she needs to do to contribute to the family income, a British actress who has scandalised the world of filmdom by leaving her husband and daughter for Hollywood film director, and a duchess, whose husband’s lack of business acumen has brought her close to financial and social ruin.
The novel is set in the post-war era when class divides and dual standards were very much at play. Sex outside marriage, divorce, and children born outside wedlock were huge taboos but, behind closed doors, all these things were happening, and more. Property and titles were inherited by men. Work-wise, there were few options for women. Having stepped up to the challenge of the running industry and keeping the economy afloat once again during the Second World War, they were once again expected to hand their jobs back to the men and get back in their kitchens.
Each of my characters has dared step outside the restricted confines that society dictated for them. They think that they’ve already been punished for doing so, but they are about to take the next potentially ruinous steps. Each has a past or a secret which mirrors something that happened to Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Great Britain. On hearing about her conviction for murder, each has a personal reason of think, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’
How did you come up with the idea?
Jane: Perhaps it was the time in which Ruth Ellis lived, or the circles she moved in, but what happened was this: the subjects of three biographies I read on the trot each included an anecdote about her. I turned to my bookshelves for a yellowed paperback that has been in my possession for over thirty years. Ruth Ellis: A Case of Diminished Responsibility? I’d forgotten that the book begins with a foreword by co-authors Laurence Marks and Tony Van Den Bergh in which they reveal how, during their research, they both discovered that they had various links to players in Ruth Ellis’s story, if not Ellis herself. One of David Blakely’s other lovers. The partner of a psychiatrist who had treated Ruth Ellis. The brother of the manageress of the Steering Wheel club who had thrown Blakely and Ellis out for having a drunken fight on the premises just days before the shooting. The Catholic priest who, while serving as a prison chaplain sat on the Home Office committee tasked with deciding if Ellis was fit to hang. The list went on.
But even those who had never met Ellis had an opinion about her, and all were affected by her demise, because it brought about a change in the law in the United Kingdom.
How did you come up with the three main characters?
Jane: Much of the inspiration came from the same biographies that inspired the book.
From Ingrid Bergman’s biography, I borrowed the moment when Bergman discovered that the man she left her husband had left her. In fact, when this happened to Bergman, it seemed to come as a relief. Rossellini was quite an obsessive character, threatening to kill himself if she left him.
I needed a character from the upper classes to show how differently a duchess is treated from, say, the hostess of a drinking club. Patrice is able to walk into a police station with a lie and be believed, simply because no one would dare challenge her. From the Duchess of Argyll’s biography, I borrowed information about coming out parties, meeting the queen and how estates were run.
And my working class character, Caroline is not Ruth Ellis, although her story follows Ellis’s the most closely.
What it is about Ruth Ellis’s case that fascinates you so much?
Jane: Part of Ellis’s fascination is that she’s so complex. Ruth was a mass of contradictions. She wasn’t simply the jealous, neurotic woman portrayed in the film Dance With a Stranger. What’s rarely spoken about is her resilience and a resourcefulness. At a time when her father was frequently unemployed, the teenage Ruth often held down two jobs and contributed to the family’s income. It was she who pulled her father from the debris after he’d been felled by falling timber while on fire-fighting duty during the Blitz. And she picked herself up time and time again. After the discovery that the serviceman whose child she’d given birth to and who’d promised to marry her already had a wife and family in Canada. After a short-lived marriage to a violent alcoholic. Between these disastrous relationships, she showed herself to be ambitious, and displayed considerable aptitude. Ruth was the youngest manager to be appointed by West End club owner Maurice Conley. He gave her free rein to change not only the club’s name but to make any other changes she saw fit. Conley may have been a crook but he was also an astute businessman. What he saw in Ruth was potential, and she repaid him by turning the club’s finances around.
The majority of the British Public first read the name Ruth Ellis the day the newspaper strike of 1955 ended. With four million pounds to recoup, the industry needed a big come-back story and Ruth Ellis was newspaper gold. ‘Six revolver shots shattered the Easter Sunday calm of Hampstead and a beautiful platinum blonde stood with her back to the wall. In her hand was a revolver…’ Bam! The public was hooked by the story of the blonde hostess (a divorcee), who shot her racing-boy lover in cold blood. Cliff Davis, another racing driver, was a regular at the club she managed. He described her not only as clued-up and sharp, but “Someone who was never known to ‘blow her top.’” In other words, the last person you’d expect to take a gun and fire it at an unarmed man at close range. So what changed?
To me, part of the tragedy of the case is that, because Ruth admitted her guilt, the lawyers presiding over the trial weren’t interested in why she did it. And that unanswered question is something any writer would find fascinating.
Yes, fascinating indeed. And the book sounds equally fascinating. Thank you so much, Jane, for being a guest on the blog today and telling us about what inspired you to write At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock.
You can read more about the book and about Jane below:
From the back cover
London 1949. The lives of three very different women are about to collide.
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 unite them: when a young woman commits a crime of passion and is condemned to hang, remaining silent isn’t an option.
“Why do I feel an affinity with Ruth Ellis? I know how certain facts can be presented in such a way that there is no way to defend yourself. Not without hurting those you love.”
Buy links for At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock –
the ebook can be bought here
(The paperback will be out on 28th August 2020)
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of nine 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. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and was shortlisted for two further awards. In 2019, her novel Smash all the Windows won the Selfies (best independently-published work of fiction) award at London Book Fair.
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’.
You can find Jane online at the links below:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage