We’re very lucky to be able to talk to award-winning indie author Jane Davis about her new book An Unknown Woman.
Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. She spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when Jane achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she had wanted after all. In search of a creative outlet, she turned to writing fiction, but cites the disciplines learnt in the business world as what helped her finish her first 120,000-word novel.
Her first, 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.’ She was hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch.’ Five self-published novels have followed: I Stopped Time, These Fragile Things, A Funeral for an Owl, An Unchoreographed Life and now her latest release, An Unknown Woman. Jane’s favourite description of fiction is that it is ‘made-up truth.’
indieberlin: How did you get into writing?
Jane Davis: I was one of five children – the ‘quiet’ one – I always had far more going on inside my head than came out of my mouth. Having been an artistic child, I made my career in insurance which didn’t offer a creative outlet. Then, in my mid-thirties, something happened that I needed to make sense of, so I wrote I decided to write about it. I pitched my idea to my partner and asked, ‘Do you think anything would want to read a book about that?’ He said, ‘If you write it, I’ll read it.’ So he was my original audience of one. Through writing I discovered that I have a voice.
It took me some time to work out that the common theme running through my novels is the influence that missing persons have in our lives. (This shouldn’t have come as any great surprise to me since the death of a friend was what made me start to write.) In my experience, that influence can actually be greater than that of those who are present. In Half-truths and White Lies it was parents who weren’t around to answer questions. In I Stopped Time, it was an estranged mother. I addressed the theme head-on in A Funeral for an Owl which considers teenage runaways. And in An Unchoreographed Life Belinda grows up without knowing her father.
The idea that there is a single truth is flawed.
Fiction provides the unique opportunity to explore one or two points of view. It is never going to provide the whole answer, but it does force both writer and reader to walk in another person’s shoes. And, in many ways, it’s the exploration and not the answer that is important. The idea that there is a single truth is flawed. I have a sister who’s less than a year older than me our memories of the same events differ substantially. There are many different versions of the truth and many layers of memory.
indieberlin: Describe your latest book in a single sentence.
Jane Davis: I know that I really should have my ten-word pitch for An Unknown Woman nailed by now. It is an exploration of the question, ‘If we are what we own, who are we when we own nothing.’ I read a quote I liked the other day. ‘The writer’s job is to get the main character up the tree, and once they are there, to throw rocks at them.’ I don’t want to give too much away, but my main character Anita finds one hell of a lot of rocks flying in her direction.
Difficult shouldn’t be mistaken with ‘worst’.
indieberlin: What’s the worst thing about your work as an author and what is the best?
Jane Davis: The worst thing is the constant cycle of self-doubt. I don’t know if you saw Joanna Penn’s post about this, but it received a huge number of comments. http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2015/02/17/roller-coaster/
The rest is all a question of timing. On a good day, when the words are flowing, writing new material can be an absolute joy. On a bad day, that blank screen and blinking cursor is terrifying. There can be a great deal of satisfaction in whittling down a jumble into something that begins to flow. I always say that I am five per cent creative and ninety-five per cent logic, and that really comes into play when editing. Difficult shouldn’t be mistaken with ‘worst’. Challenging yourself is good for the soul. But the greatest challenge is to catch those perfect words that are queuing inside your head and get them down on the page without losing the poetry and the magic.
indieberlin: Who or what inspires you / stops your flow?
Jane Davis: Anything and everything inspires me. A news article. A conversation I have overheard. A piece of music. An observation. A nagging doubt. An inscription on a gravestone or a park bench. A recurring nightmare. Something from my past that I can’t leave alone.
It might be on the twentieth edit that I finally get to grips with a point I have been trying to make.
indieberlin: You say that similar to Stephen King you start writing and see where the situation and characters, before you know what the story will be. Do you still do that? And would you say you’ve got a particular system that you use in approaching the creating of fiction?
Jane Davis: Stephen King’s advice from his book On Writing: is to start with a single question beginning with the words, what if? and take the idea as far as it will go. There has to be logic, even with invented words. The pivotal points of the novel reveal themselves to me very slowly during the process of writing. It might be on the twentieth edit that I finally get to grips with a point I have been trying to make. It might be that an editor has a different understanding of the book that takes it in a new direction. Often, it takes a reader to explain to me what they understood by what I had written for me to grasp the idea.
Interview by Noel Maurice and Polly Trope
Buy ebook from Amazon http://goo.gl/EaiKXW
By paperback from Amazon: http://goo.gl/8AnAz7
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.