Jane’s maternal grandfather was a composer whose children all became professional musicians. Jane’s mother, an expert on Tudor music, is greatly frustrated that her children cite her descant recorder performance on the Finger of Fudge advert as an example of her work. Optimistic that she has passed on her musical genes, the Davis children were encouraged to attend music lessons, forced through practical exams and pushed onto the stage at every opportunity. Jane’s experiences left her with terrible stage fright.
During her formative years, Jane’s varied achievements included obtaining a Blue Peter badge for naming Goldie the Labrador, having two pieces of art displayed in the Vision On gallery, playing James Galway’s golden flute and – to her eternal shame – failing the interview for Crackerjack because she didn’t know the names of all of the Beatles. Peaking too early, at the age of eleven, Jane received an award for being the top performing pupil at her Middle school.
Reading provided a necessary retreat in a noisy household. Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, Norman Lindsey’s The Magic Pudding and C S Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe were all devoured by torchlight under the bedcovers.
Armed with only ten O levels and a life-saving certificate Jane exchanged convent school for the world of insurance and stoically clawed her way up to the position of Deputy Managing Director.
Craving the creative outlet that her occupation failed to supply, Jane experimented with photography, mountain-climbing and amateur dramatics.
In October 2008, her novel, Half-truths and White Lies, was selected as the winning entry of the Daily Mail First Novel Award. Published by Black Swan in April 2009, it was described by Joanne Harris, one of six judges, as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ Half-Truths and White Lies met with an extremely positive reaction from readers, with an average rating of 4.5 stars on Amazon. It has been produced as an audio book, and a German translation has been recently published by Diana Verlag. Further reviews can be found on her website www.jane-davis.co.uk under ‘Press.’
What inspires you to write?
I watched a programme in which Rick Stein (TV chef) described how he came to become a chef as a food enthusiast. I came to writing as an enthusiastic reader and a lover of words. If we are to believe Sir Terry Pratchett, becoming a writer is a process of osmosis. You simply read until you overflow and then you become a writer.
Attending the Christening of a friend’s baby in the mid-nineties proved pivotal. It was a conveyor belt affair where the priest could barely remember the names of the children. Sitting in the row in front of her with three boys in height descending order – and with the Nike emblem shaved into the backs of their heads -was the man who had been charged with the manslaughter of a school friend in 1985. Perhaps not quite a pillar of the community, there he was, not only with his freedom but with a growing family. The emotion from that incident fuelled an intense period of writing.
These days, I tend to think it is sheer dog-mindedness, but writing does give us a unique ability to create order in a disorderly world.
Tell us about your writing process.
There is a school of thought that tells you that must have a clear idea of where the plot will take you before you start writing. If that was the case, I would never have put pen to paper. I choose to take the advice of authors who say exactly the opposite:
Debby Holt claims that there are plot-driven novels and character-driven novels. Hers fall into the
latter category and I’m with her.
Stephen King’s advice from his book On Writing: is to start with a single question and see how that
idea develops. The question always begins ‘what if’ and his usually follow the lines of ‘What if aliens
landed in Arizona or what if zombies invaded my hometown?
Sir Terry Pratchett uses a method that he calls The Valley of the Clouds. In the valley of the clouds
there are mountains but you can only see the very tops of the peaks. It is your job as an author to
work out how to get to the mountains.
I subscribe to the idea that you have a clear idea about your characters, put them in a ‘What if?’ scenario and take the idea to its natural conclusion. If you’re lucky and you’re characters are right, they will take
control and do the hard work for you. I am aware that this approach will not work for everyone. I always go through spells of self doubt when I know what the end is going to be, but I have no idea how to get from C to D.
I would say that by far the longest amount of time is spent on editing. Perhaps ‘plotters’ can reduce this proportion, but I fear that having a rigid outline would restrict my characters, and I prefer them to be spontaneous.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I am a walker and I do find, particularly when I’m on a long walk and when the oxygen is pumping, that I can hear my characters far more clearly than I can when I am seated at my computer. The dialogue in my head is always perfect. What goes down on paper is always something of a disappointment. But that is where editing comes in.
What advice would you give other writers?
One of the most difficult things you will do as a writer is have the confidence and the trust to allow another person to read what you have written for the first time. Author Debi Alper’s advice to me was ‘Develop the hind of a rhino’ and that certainly helps because, if you are starting out, beleve me, you will have your fair share of rejections.
But there are huge positives about being a writer in the here and now. We have a huge amount of options. I think one of the key things if you intend to publish is to decide what your goals are. Both J K Rowling and Stephen King have spoken about the pleasure of writing with anonimity, without a publisher’s deadline, without any pre-conceived expectations from a waiting public. Remember that writing is a priviledge and a pleasure, but if you are writing with a view to traditional publication, understand that you may have to make compromises, such as sticking to the same genre, which you may feel will stifle your creativity and – as I was advised to do – dismember a few bodies and scatter them around your location. The current market in the UK is incredibly commercial and is looking for high concept books, with ‘dark family secrets.’ But two years ago it was vampires. Don’t stick to a trend and miss the boat.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
My first novel Half Truths and White Lies won the Daily Mail First Novel Award. It was actually my second novel. I had a literary agent was very nearly almost sucessful in placing my first (unpublished) and hadn’t had time to read the manucript. It was by chance that I heard about the Winchester Writer’s conference a week before it was held in 2008. And it was by chance that I chose to attend a lecture held by Jack Sheffield of Teacher Teacher fame. Because if those two things hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have learned about the Daily Mail competition – two days before the deadline for entries.
The competition was open to any writer over the age of 16 who had not had a novel published
previously and had a completed manuscript of between 80,000 and 120,000 words.
I entered, not with the thought of winning, but because, like so many new writers, I was having
difficulty persuading anyone in the industry to read my work. Transworld promised to read each
manuscript in its entirety. Winning was an incredible experience and my novel was released in April 2009.
I had thought that the win would open doors for me, but this was not my experience. Transworld chose to market my book as women’s fiction, but then declined my next novel because it didn’t fall into the same genre. I then tried to write something which I thought was commercial only to have that rejected. Then I went completely against the grain and wrote a literary novel I really believed in, in the hope that my passion for it might appeal. This novel did result in considerable interest, but only if I was prepared to make changes that were unpalatable to me. (It has a religious theme and I wanted to treat the subject-matter with respect.) After 4 years of resisting self-publishing, I attended a conference on Self-publishing in the Digital Age which totally convinced me. I am now embracing it as a positive choice, which will give me freedom to develop as a writer, without pigeon-holing myself. I used Amazon Create Space, initially releasing e-books, followed recently by paperbacks. So far the venture has not made a profit but I have a vehicle to release work I can be proud of because I made a decision not to compromise my integrity, it is being read and those who read it are givng it 4 and 5 star reviews, which I am delighted about. My advice to authors going down the self-publishing route is never stint on editorial and proof-reading. I tried to minimise costs on the latter and it was a false economy.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I am incredibly positive about the options available to authors, but the challenge is getting discovered once you have your work out there. There is no secret formula. It is a case of trying everything (Neil Gaiman refers to this blowing dandelion clocks) and seeing what sticks.
Self-publishing is no longer the poor relation and in fact it is being recognised that much of the innovative writing is there to be found. It is no coincidence that one of the category winners of the first international novel competition open to self-published novels was won by a…self-published novel. The Folio Award is also open to SP, but it does cost £4000 to enter.
Traditional publishers need to wake up to what readers want. This refreshingly honest extract is from a recent exchange with a literary agent, who wanted to represent me subject to some changes: “I completely respect your decision [not to make changes to the story line] and it [self-publishing] is obviously working well for you. These stories are quite incredible, and you’re delving into deeper psychological territory than most fiction dares. It’s really commendable, and on a personal note, I do find it frustrating how commercialised the market is at times. I’ll refrain from the cliché we each have our cross to bear in this context, and I really hope we get to meet.”
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer
What genres do you write?
Literary, historical, women’s.
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print