Author Interview: Jane Davis shares news of her latest book @janedavisauthor #reading #books #literaryfiction

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)

About Jane:

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:

Website: https://jane-davis.co.uk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage

Twitter: https://twitter.com/janedavisauthor

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/

Book Review: An Unknown Woman by Jane Davis

An Unknown Woman

Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

We like to think we’re more than the material stuff we own. But, honestly, if we lost all our belongings, from the contents of that odds-and-ends drawer in the kitchen, to our most precious heirlooms in a house fire, along with the loss of our home, wouldn’t that be up there as one of the most awful experiences we could suffer? And wouldn’t it affect more than just our material world?

And it’s this theme of loss that Jane Davis explores in this novel.

Her starting point is a devastating house fire in which her characters, Anita and Ed, lose everything they own.

They’re a married couple in their forties, living in Surrey and commuting to their respective jobs in London. Childless by choice, they seem, on the face of it, to have a good life. But when their house burns down it’s not just their possessions they’re stripped of. All aspects of their life are laid bare.

The narrative sees Anita and Ed question everything about their lives and to realise that they may not want the same things after all.

The story is told mainly from Anita’s point of view but significant parts of it are also related through the eyes of Anita’s parents, Ron and Patti, who’re dealing with identity issues of their own. And Ed’s voice comes through too.

The story builds slowly, and along with the exploration of identity, the issues of maternal instinct, post-natal depression, family bonds and marital fidelity are also in the mix. And through it all there’s the question of how we see ourselves and how others see us, and of what it is that makes us who we are.

And the literary element of the story is beautifully overlaid with the warmth and vibrancy that comes from well-fleshed out and sympathetic characters. As a reader you care about the characters. There’s a credibility and authenticity to their story, to their hopes and fears.

Davis has a light touch. She writes with subtlety and nuance. And she does that most important of things, something many writers of literary fiction fail to do, she tells a good story.

Type of Read: Good one for holiday reading, when you can really indulge yourself with great writing, a glass of red and some dark chocolate.

An Unknown Woman is published by Rossdale Print Productions and is available as a paperback and as an e-book.

 

Back Cover Blurb:

If we are what we own, who are we when we own nothing?

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 – choices unavailable to her mother’s generation – her dream job, equal partnership, free of children, living in a quirky old house she adores. She is happy. Their foundations are solid and their future seems secure.

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. She thought she knew who she was. But not any more.

Authentic and heartbreaking, this intoxicating new novel by award-winner Jane Davis is an exploration of identity, not as a fixed point, but as something fragile, shape-shifting and transient.

The reflection in the mirror may look the same. But everything has changed.

Themes: Not Just for Literary Fiction

image via shutterstock
                            image via shutterstock

 

A Fictional Hierarchy    

There seems to be a consensus which says that literary fiction is first and foremost about themes and that commercial fiction has character, plot and setting at the forefront. There also seems to be an apparent hierarchy to the above elements of fiction which places themes above the other three. And this gives rise to a belief that literary fiction, by concentrating mainly on theme, is written by more intelligent authors for more intelligent readers.

An Artificial Divide

But I’ve never really got the divide between literary and commercial fiction. It seems artificial and rather snobbish to me. As a reader I’m looking for a good read and I’ve found great books on both the alleged sides. And, as an author of contemporary fiction, I don’t sit down to write a literary or a commercial book. I set out to write a book.

Basic Story Writing Includes Themes

image copyright Suriya KK via shutterstock.com.

When I was a primary school teacher, teaching my pupils how to write stories, I highlighted all four ingredients: character, plot, setting and theme. I didn’t see one of those elements as more important or requiring more intelligence to develop. And as a professional writer, I still don’t.

What became obvious with my pupils was that everyone differed in their preferred element for getting their story started. Some loved to start with a character and that was what led everything else. Others preferred setting and so on. And there were some who were just plain inspired by whatever.

But what they were all aiming for was to write a good story and to impress their teacher.

And in my own writing, the same four elements are equally crucial when I’m creating a story. I play around with them all in my novels. For me, it’s usually a character who comes first and then, as I get to know that character, the setting and plot suggest themselves and the themes just appear.

But like my pupils, my overall aim is to write a good story that will impress my readers.

 

My Themes

book covers 011

However, although I don’t set out first and foremost to address a particular theme, like I said, themes do appear and they become integral to the whole.

In Change of Life, the characters must deal with the themes of marriage, family life, secrets and mortality as their stories play out. In Displacement it is bereavement, belonging and relationships, as well as the politics of war that drive the plot. And in my children’s novel, The Silver Locket, the story of the three main characters’ time travelling mission deals with friendship, bullying, the loss of a parent, and increasing independence from adults.

And in my work-in-progress, Settlement, which is the sequel to Displacement, the themes are commitment, purpose, love and the politics of peace.

And Finally

There is also, in my adult fiction, an over-riding theme, and that is – there is life after the age of 45. All the main themes of life persist into middle-age and beyond. Life is as messy, interesting, frustrating and wonderful at 60 as it is at 20.

Whether this insight in particular, or my use of theme in general in my writing makes me a literary type author, I’ve no idea and doesn’t particularly concern me. But I hope I do produce a good read.

What themes do you most like to read or write about? And do you differentiate between literary and commercial fiction? Please do leave your comments below.