Smash all the Windows

Smash All the Windows by Jane Davis Today, we welcome Jane Davis, whose latest novel, Smash all the Windows is available from 12 April. Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, I’m going to let Jane speak to you in her own words about her 8th novel and her writing.

For those who aren’t familiar with your writing, what can they expect?

I write about big subjects and give my characters almost impossible moral dilemmas. I don’t allow them a shred of privacy. I know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, the lies they tell, their secret fears. But I only meet them at a particular point on their journeys, usually in a highly volatile or unstable situation, and then I throw them to the lions. How people behave under pressure reveals so much about them.

Can you tell us about your new novel Smash all The Windows?

The novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press’s reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.

For those who don’t know about Hillsborough, a crush occurred during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. A single lie was told about the cause of the disaster: in that moment, Liverpool fans became scapegoats. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set straight.

But you chose not to write about Hillsborough. Why was that?

None of us exists in a vacuum. The pain I saw on the faces of family members as they struggled with the question was raw. I didn’t want to be the one to add to that pain, so I decided to create a fictional disaster. But because I didn’t want to write from a place of comfort, I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators.

The previous year, en route to a Covent Garden book-reading, I’d suffered a fall. The escalator I normally use was out of order. Instead we were diverted to one that was much steeper, but I was totally unprepared for its speed. When I pushed my suitcase full of books in front of me, I was dragged off-balance. Fortunately, no one was directly in front. I escaped relatively unscathed. But the day could have ended very differently.

How does it fit in with your other books and where does it differ?

I think it’s my most contemporary book to date. I’ve written it in the present tense because I wanted the parachute the reader   right into the centre of the action. I also have a far larger cast of characters than I’ve worked with before. My disaster blighted the lives of hundreds of people – survivors, witnesses, families, friends, the police, doctors and nurses who had to deal with the aftermath. There was the potential to add more, but I chose to focus on five family members, their partners and the people they lost in the disaster.

Also, when most injustices are overturned, there is usually an individual in the background. The one who realised that an injustice had been done and who then worked tirelessly behind the scenes in order to construct a case. With the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, that person was Eric, a law student, still some way from qualifying as a solicitor. The outsider in the story, his arrival proves to be a turning point for families, who’ve all but given up in their search for justice. In the midst of all of the heartbreak and human reaction, his conviction reminds the families that they still have a little fight left in them.

Is there an important theme (or themes) that this story illustrates?

In a way this was an odd piece of story-telling, because the reader knows right at the outset what the key event is. The St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster was a large-scale disaster that resulted in the deaths of fifty-eight commuters. The challenge was to show the impact of the event on different individuals and their families, who have re-lived it each day of the eighteen month long inquest. Because the accident takes place in an underground station, we see the various characters travelling towards it.

In fiction, there’s a temptation to try to undo the wrongs of the real world by applying logic, assuming that there is a single ‘truth’. I prefer to ask questions rather than give answers. Who are the victims? Should individuals have been held accountable when large-scale accidents occur, or does this prevent identification of the factors that create circumstances that allow accidents to happen? How should families and friends of victims be treated when they’re searching for or identifying loved ones? Should those same people be allowed to participate fully in inquests? But it’s not a book about technicalities. It’s about human resilience, healing and art.

Have you compared the book to any other writers or novels you’ve read? What’s the same? What’s different?

I hope it will be enjoyed by readers of How to be Both by Ali Smith and How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall. Both have much to say on fragile, precious and unpredictable life is. Both focus on what it means to be human and our innate connection with art. Neither is likely to put you off escalators…

Smash all the Windows will be released on 12 April, but you can pre-order it now for a special pre-publication price, until 12 April. Don’t miss out!

Also, if you’re in the US, you can enter a Goodreads Giveaway for a chance to win one of 100 eBooks. Until 10 March, only.


The Floozy in the Park: history, hats and small islands

The Floozy in the Park by Ellie StevensonAt last! My third novel (ebook version) is finally available.

You can find it on Amazon.

But what’s it about, you ask? Oh, all the usual things, mystery, history and the occasional ghost. We also have an unsolved murder.

But rather than tell you all about it, read my interview with Jane Davis (author) on her blog.

And if you have any questions, please get in touch below.

Obea (Sark)

My Counterfeit Self: an interview with Jane Davis on her latest novel

Today, I’d like to welcome Jane Davis. Jane Davis is the author of seven novels. Her debut, 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.’

Six further novels have earned her a loyal fan base and widespread praise. Her 2016 novel, An Unknown Woman won Writing Magazine’s Self-Published Book of the Year Award. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

Her latest book, My Counterfeit Selfis launched tomorrow (£2.99/$3.99) but get it today at a special pre-order price of £99p/$99c!

Completely gripping, excellently written and so skilfully put together, I can’t recommend My Counterfeit Self highly enough. Isabel Wolff, author of Ghostwritten.

For more on the novel and links to her work, please see the end of this post.

Now, Jane answers some questions.

What’s your writing style and how do you differentiate your writing from other fellow writers?
I love this question. It gives the impression that the writing arrives fully formed, when in fact the version the reader sees is an illusion.

I have only three rules. Whatever my subject-matter, the end-product must be honest, credible and authentic. The hallmarks of my books are multiple points of view and non-linear timelines. I’m excited by cause and effect and unconventionality in all its forms. I like to write about big subjects and give my characters almost impossible moral dilemmas.

Which of your personal qualities lend themselves to writing?
I come from a large family where the rule was that it was rude to interrupt, so I guess I’ve become a listener and a keen observer. As someone who never has the right words to say at the right time and who plays conversations over and over in her mind (sometime months after they take place), it’s deeply satisfying to be able to put words into characters’ mouths.

How do you go about writing scenes which you know will be particularly challenging?
I’m sure every book or screenplay contains a scene that the author has approached with dread. I know I do! I remember reading that for Anthony McCarten, who wrote the script of The Theory of Everything, it was the one in which Stephen and Jane Hawking acknowledged that their marriage had come to an end. Since Stephen could say very little, he didn’t think it was fair to allow Jane to use words as weapons. McCarten spoke about the need to convey great emotion in very few words. That’s really my first rule of thumb: keep it simple.

Let me be totally upfront: I hate writing sex scenes. There are so many holes you can fall down. This article explains just some of them. And if a writer as experienced as Ben Okri can win the bad sex in fiction award, then what chance do I have? But An Unchoreographed Life tells the story of a ballerina who turns to prostitution when she becomes a single mother, so I do like to set myself challenges.

In the case of These Fragile Things, I chose to write about near-death experience and religious visions. My sister’s advice was that no one but Graham Greene should attempt to write about religion, but it was the book I didn’t seem to be able to avoid writing. It was part of my DNA. My grandfather’s conversion to the Catholic faith shaped my father’s childhood and my own. It was important to me to tackle everything with sensitivity and I chose to have each character representing a distinct point of view, and each believing absolutely in his or her stand-point.

Often, I have to step outside my own experience. I hope that by the time the need arises, I will know my character well enough that he or she can show me the way. In A Funeral for an Owl, I had my character Shamayal, a fourteen-year-old mixed race boy, face the gang members he’s desperately been trying to avoid. To find out how well I did writing my first fight scene, I had it analysed.

Your novels are all very different – which readers like, but publishers are rather dubious about. Have you ever been asked to write something ‘similar’ to your award-winning debut?
Readers often write to me wanting to know what happens next. They seem particularly interested in my secondary characters. With These Fragile Things, they fell in love with Miranda, my main character’s school-friend who is expelled for challenging her head mistress. With An Unchoreographed Life, readers already want to know more about Jean-Francois, one of Alison’s former dance partners. My philosophy is to ‘arrive late, get out early’. If I don’t leave the reader wanting more, I haven’t done my job.

What’s the story behind your latest release?
It’s the story of a radical poet and political activist called Lucy Forrester, who’s a cross between Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood. Having been anti-establishment all of her life, she’s horrified to find that she’s been featured on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. To be honest, the idea of writing about the life of a poet came directly from reader reviews. Several comments that my prose was like poetry. I had no idea if I could actually write poetry but this gave me confidence that I might be able to convince readers that I could see the world as a poet does.

How do you manage time within a novel that spans sixty years?Jane Davis author
When I was writing I Stopped Time, I set up timelines for the twentieth century. I added everything from news stories to the books people were reading to the weather. Now, whenever I write a book, I grab the data from the decades it covers and slot my tailored research into place. For My Counterfeit Self, that included details from biographies of poets, literary critics, even a dress designer. Then, because I like cause and effect to show throughout the book, I tend to deconstruct the timeline. Memories don’t arrive in chronological order. They might show up like photographs or postcards, or sometimes even like unwelcome guests. This way, the reader builds a gradual picture of who the angry old lady we meet in the first chapter is, and what made her that way. The story comes together like a mosaic.

You confess to loving biographies. How much has this influenced your fiction?
The novel is such an ideal medium for ‘big subjects’ because it’s the only narrative form that transports the reader directly inside characters’ heads. By exploring an issue from the standpoint of one or two individuals, giving it context, providing motive, showing cause and effect, we humanise it. Biography also does that, but a biographer has a responsibility to his subjects in a way that a novelist doesn’t. I think it’s fair to say that you can be freer with the truth in fiction. At the same time, I want my fiction to feel real. I want readers to believe that Lucy Forrester exists!

In the book, you talk about success coming at a price, as if another kind of bargain has been struck. Is this a reflection of how you feel about your experience of winning the Daily Mail First Novel Award?
Obviously, it’s unavoidable for a writer to draw on their own experience. I received several reviews that suggested Half-truths and White Lies didn’t deserve to win, that the result was a fix, or that I must have been related to the judges. I wanted to say to those people, ‘I didn’t enter with any expectation of winning.’ You see, I entered out of sheer frustration. I had an agent but my manuscript had been sitting in her in-tray for six months.

While I was writing My Counterfeit Self, I saw the reaction to Sarah Howes’ win of the TS Eliot Award for her debut collection, Loop of Jade. Even at the awards ceremony, a journalist overheard the comment, “I wonder how long it will be before everyone begins to hate her.” As it turned out, the answer was ‘Not Long’. Private Eye questioned the judging, asking if the award was given “for extra-poetic reasons?” Was it because she was a “young woman with a dual Anglo-Chinese heritage” and could be seen as “a more presentable ambassador for poetry than the distinguished grumpy old men she saw off”.

There’s always a sense of giving with one hand and taking away with the other, ignoring the fact that at the centre of the controversy is someone vulnerable and real.

My Counterfeit Self is an intriguing title. What does it mean to you?
Lucy’s parents behave appallingly and in such a way that she is freed from any feeling of obligation to live up to their expectations. She moves out of the family home and decamps to bohemian Soho. In distancing herself from her parents she adopts a new personality that she hides behind. Although she insists that she lays herself bare in her poetry, it’s keeping secrets from those who love her most that is her undoing.

My Counterfeit Self: from the award-winning author of Half-truths and White Lies, an emotional story of hidden identities, complicated passions and tangled truths.


A compelling portrayal of the bohemian life of an activist poet, the men she loves, and the issues she fights for. Eleanor Steele

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?

Jane lives with her Formula 1 obsessed, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she is not writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.


Sign up to Jane’s newsletter for a free copy of I Stopped Time.

Virtual Book Club Interview: Shadows of the Lost Child

Author Jane Davis BlogThis is just a quick post to say thanks to author Jane Davis for hosting me on the Virtual Book Club pages of her blog.

Here I get the chance to talk a bit about my writing but particularly about my second novel, Shadows of the Lost Child.

The book is a partly historical mystery set in a town loosely based on historic York, with a time travel angle.

The historical aspect explores the dark parts of Edwardian England, with poverty, prostitution and the pawn shop featuring; not to mention The Keepsake Arms, the local pub, where Miranda works.

We also meet Tom, a local boy, and one of the key characters, who comes from a tough part of town but is plucky, resourceful and loyal to his friends.

Then he meets Alice, and is wary but entranced.

Alice comes from the present day, but Tom doesn’t know that…

To find out more about Shadows and my writing, see the post  on Jane’s blog.

And while you’re there, you might also want to check out Jane’s books – they look very intriguing…


Finally, find out more about Shadows of the Lost Child on Pinterest

Or on Amazon. (UK) (United States)


A question of ghosts (and other things)

BooksI’ve recently answered some questions for The Omnivore (you can read the answers here) and that, along with the current book I’m reading (The Ways of the World by Robert Goddard) had me thinking about the questions readers like answered by authors. I’m a bit of a Robert Goddard fan and have read all of his books, and what I particularly like about them is the way he combines history with a puzzle, a bit of a mystery. And keeps readers guessing. I try to do that in my own work.

So here are a few of my answers to questions.

Is the novel you’re writing at the moment also set in the past?

Ship of Haunts was set in three time periods, 1912, 2012 and 1940s Australia. I’m fascinated by the past and always have been, and when I visit places with history, I enjoy tapping into that and learning about how life was then.

My present novel, like Ship of Haunts, is also set in the past and the present. That’s all I can say, at the moment…

Why do you write about ghosts so much?

Ghosts, like the past, have a sense of mystery for me, that idea of the unexplained, the unknown. History can never be known or fully understood, most history is subjective, and filtered through someone else’s eyes. Ghosts, whether they’re real or imaginary are a reflection of people’s perceptions (either our own or the ghost’s!).

Are there any murders in your forthcoming novel?


Would you ever consider writing a series, or more than one book about certain characters?

For writers, I think a series is a wonderful idea as it gives a chance to explore themes already developed, and build on them or take them down routes you didn’t have time for first time round. I personally doubt I’d ever write a series, but I do like the idea of using individual characters or places in new (book) settings. It lends a continuity to the work of the writer.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Urge to Kill (psychological thriller by JJ Franklin)I’ve already had a number of other careers, my main challenge is that there are so many things I’d like to do and not enough time to do all of them. For example, learn French, play the piano.

If I had my life again I’d like to be a pianist or a painter (I can’t draw for toffee).

In this life I’d run a bookshop – it’s one of the few (viable) career avenues I haven’t explored.

So, back to books… as well as historical fiction, I also enjoy crime writing.

And if you’re looking for a page-turning psychological thriller, Urge to Kill by JJ Franklin (also available in paperback) is on special offer for just £0.99 (kindle edition) for the next few days. Try it out!