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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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Q&A with Jane Davis author of At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock

Author Jane Davis is no stranger to this blog, and it’s a real privilege to host her once again in advance of the publication of her latest novel, “At the Stroke of Nine O’ Clock.”

Jane is not only an exceptional writer and successful self-publisher, she’s a really lovely person who works hard to offer sound, practical advice to authors trying to grope their way through the publishing maze.

I was keen to find out more about this new book, what motivates her to keep writing and her views on the future of the book industry. Her responses are fascinating. Before you read what she has to say, two final things from me:

The pre-order price for the kindle version is just £1.99. Get in now before the price rises. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08B1PCTC1
If that gorgeous book cover doesn’t suck you in, I’ll eat my new manuscript!

What inspires your themes and in particular this book? 

Most of my books have been based on factual events, albeit slightly unexpected ones. One of the things that inspired me to write These Fragile Things was the discovery that a woman in Surbiton – close to where I live – claims she has seen visions of the Virgin Mary every day for the past thirty years. When challenged that that there were too many coincidences in I Stopped Time, I referred the reviewer to the biography of model-turned-photographer-turned-journalist Lee Miller. I see myself as a magpie. I collect obscure facts and think, how can I recycle them?

At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock began in much the same way. I had watched the episode of the BBC arts series Imagine about the actress Ingrid Bergman, and was hooked. I ordered her autobiography and a biography (I like to read both an autobiography and a biography whenever I can). My next two book choices also happened to be biographies about two very different women who had lived through the 1950s. Each contained an anecdote about Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Great Britain to be hanged. It struck me that everyone who lived through this era, which was dominated by dual standards, would have had a very strong reaction to the story of the platinum blonde club hostess who shot her racing-buy lover, and then immediately asked a bystander to call the police. Reactions to Ruth’s plight divided people. Some felt very strongly that her sentence should be carried out, others (many of them to who themselves suffered domestic violence) petitioned the Secretary of State to grant a reprieve. It was the public outcry that followed Ruth’s execution that led to the introduction of the partial defence of diminished responsibility. Although we may like to think that the world is a very different place. Ruth’s story has so many themes that resonate today. Domestic violence, coercive control (behaviour that was only criminalised in 2015), mental health issues, how women are treated by the justice system.

“Women who are violent are monstorised by the system.” “The law doesn’t work well for women in relation to issues of violence. If a woman reacts and fights back, they are often punished more severely than a man that’s violent.” ~ Harriet Wistrich, human rights lawyer, Justice for Women, speaking about Sally Challen in 2019

The list goes on. 

I remain wary of writing about recent history from the point of view of real people. You have to tread so carefully, especially when relatives of victims are still alive. This was the same challenge I faced when writing Smash all the Windows, which was inspired by the result of second inquest to the Hillsborough Disaster. Then, I asked myself what I could add to the material that had already been produced and if a fictional account be welcomed? And what right did I have to tell the story? My decision was to create a fictional disaster to explore the issues faced by the Hillsborough families. Although I haven’t been conscious of it until answering this question, I adopted much the same approach for At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock. Instead of writing from Ruth’s perspective, or including her as a major character, I created three very different women and had them face some of the same struggles that Ruth faced, so that when they learned of her fate, each would have their own reason to say, ‘There but for the grace of God.’

My character whose trajectory most closely follows Ruth’s is seventeen-year-old Caroline Wilby. Like most working-class daughters, she’s expected to help support her family and for her this means leaving the family and everything she knows behind. Alone in a strange city, she must grab any opportunity that comes her way, even if that means putting herself in danger. She is our direct route into the world of afternoon drinking clubs, where hostesses must rely on powers of persuasion and feminine wiles to part male customers from their money. 

Then we have star of the silver screen Ursula Delancy, who we meet when she’s 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. Like Ruth, is pre-judged by those who think they know her because they’ve read about her in the press. And, like Ruth, Ursula appreciates all too keenly that it’s impossible to tell your side of a story without hurting those you love. 

Making up the trio is Patrice Hawtree. Once the most photographed debutante of her generation she is now childless and trapped in a loveless marriage, and her plans to secure the future of her ancient family home are about to be jeopardised by her husband's gambling addiction. 

Although none actually suffers Ruth’s fate, lied to and exploited by men, each finds a way to fight back. But when they defy others’ expectations of them, they must pay the price society demands.

I am really interested how you keep motivated to write and battle with the publishing world as it is today?

The publishing world is constantly evolving – to be honest, the emergence of independent publishing is one of the key drivers of change. We indies have advantages that many traditionally published authors lack. For example, access to real time sales data allows us to react far more quickly to market forces. 

That said, the ease and advantages of self-publishing mean that competition is tougher than ever. According to Just Publishing Advice, between 1670 and 7500 new eBooks are published every day. Although over 6 million eBooks are available on Amazon, there’s very little change to the number of adult readers. This means having to work even harder for every sale. And, of course, I don’t write in the most popular genres.

That said, my writing has never been entirely about money. (I’d be very disappointed if it was!) An email from a reader who shares a personal experience, or leaves a thoughtful review, can make such a difference. Last year’s competition win at the Selfies (a new award for independently-published fiction) was also very motivating, particularly because it acknowledged the quality of self-published books and the professionalism of indie authors. It was also quite a kick that the award ceremony took place at London Book Fair.

We don’t yet know what permanent changes will come about as a result of this year’s pandemic. The importance of independent presses has grown in recent years, as they do so much to nurture new talent, but with margins in publishing being as small as they are, 60% of independent presses surveyed estimate that, without financial support, they will go out of business. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/may/07/majority-of-small-publishers-fear-closure-in-wake-of-coronavirus

This would be a huge loss to the publishing world.

As my collection of books grows, I’m also beginning to see them as my legacy. As someone who doesn’t have children, they are the mark I will leave on the world. So another reason for writing – one that I didn’t think about in my mid-thirties when I started out on this path – is to create a legacy that I can be proud of.

Many writers stick to a series, like the super successful LJ Ross, but I like the fact that all your books are different. 

I think that certain genres naturally lend themselves to series – in fact there are some genres where readers expect a series. Crime (the genre LJ Ross writes in) being probably one of the best examples, but they’re also the norm for sci-fi, fantasy and supernatural novels. I’m not aware of many authors of contemporary or literary fiction who write books in a series. Ali Smith produced her ‘Seasonal Quartet’ (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter), although this was really a collection of standalone books rather than one continuous story broken down into volumes. Having said that, I’m often asked what some of my characters are up to, so who knows? 

At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock will be released on 13 July, but you can pre-order it now for the special price of £1.99p/£1.99 (Price on publication will be £4.99/$4.99). The Universal Link is https://books2read.com/u/brWppZ

Blurb

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.”

Books2Read Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/brWppZ
Amazon Link https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08B1PCTC1
Goodreads link https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53955188-at-the-stroke-of-nine-o-clock

Social media links:

Website: https://jane-davis.co.uk
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage
Twitter: https://twitter.com/janedavisauthor
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/

Bio

Jane 0008Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of nine thought-provoking 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. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards. Smash all the Windows was the inaugural winner of the Selfies (best independently-published work of fiction) award 2019. 

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’.

 

 

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PANDEMIC PARANOIA 

 Should we be taking the coronavirus (COVID 19) panic seriously, or cooling the temperature on the alarming reactions to the impending loo roll crisis?  I didn’t know whether to laugh or scoff at the Australian family who had ordered 2,300 units of the coveted stuff, allegedly by accident, racking up a mind-boggling $3,000 plus. 

 Now, I’ve always kept a well-stocked larder as advised by my wise female ancestors, rotating cans and preserves by date, and buying in bulk when finances allowed. Doing this throughout the year has meant I haven’t had to worry if I got sick, snowed-in, or needed to avoid bumping into scowling locals doing the weekly supermarket dash. 

  The way people are reacting to this latest global crisis is by turning into a drama. Our feeds are clogged with images of empty shelves stripped of pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, disinfectant and hand sanitiser, giving the impression that supermarkets are under siege, and are in need of military protection against  armed robbers. 

 It’s stripping us of our common decency as we imagine ourselves caught up in yet another apocalyptic film set, fighting for survival and let no wo(man) get in our way. 

  The government talks of “battle plans” and the “enemy disease”. Those looking to project their fears look for someone to blame and anyone looking vaguely Chinese is an easy target: #jenesuispasunvirus is already trending on Twitter. Both the powers that be and the media are stoking the flames with their rhetoric. It’s enough to put the wind up even the most level-headed of people. 

 As a long-time sufferer from anxiety, I understand what’s driving this panic. It’s uncertainty- the not-knowing. We’re looking for someone to fix it, and do it now so we can sleep easily at night. 

 At first, I was sucked into by the sensationalist headlines and most of my day was spent in checking the latest figures. “UK cases up 70% in 24 hours!”  OMG. We’re all going to die!

   According to the specialists, the cases will become clusters and go onto join up and explode. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle BUT 80% will experience mild to moderate symptoms, and the recovery doesn’t lie in a huge stash of lavatory paper. 

 This is no time to be complacent. The threat is real. It’s fast-moving and it’s invisible. We now know that there are asymptomatic carriers. They could be sitting next to us at work, serving our coffee or indeed ourselves. 

 So what to do?  Ignore the hype and spin and stick with the facts. My go-to source is Dr John Campbell. An elderly unassuming, calm, rational presenter from Carlisle (UK) who has decades of experience teaching nurses under his belt. He provides concrete evidence and explains basic science in bite-sized pieces. 

 Panic ensues when we feel we are out of control. Life is riddled with uncertainties and part of being human is being able to develop resilience so that whatever crisis befalls us, we have coping skills. It’s normal to want to be safe at all times, but that’s not reality. 

 There’s little we can do other than follow the medical guidelines, one of which is to thoroughly wash our hands whilst singing Happy Birthday. Having survived the polio epidemic in 1962, ( and measles) I know something about hand hygiene. My father was a TB nurse and this routine was drilled into me. I’m surprised my hands have any skin left. 

 So, we keep calm and carry on, and hope that hourly hand washing doesn’t lead to an outbreak of germophobia. The last thing we want to do is replace one fear with another. 

Angelena Boden

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Generations at War

The last time I heard the term, “Generation Gap” was in reference to the 1960s. The explosion of personal expression through music, fashion, style, language and a shift in values were so far removed from the experience of the “silent generation” that raised the “baby boomers” that it created a chasm in understanding between the two generations. Our parents were “square”. We were “cool”. They stayed silent. We spoke out. 

  Is the generation gap back, or is there something more sinister going on?  Let’s explore.  There’s a story behind every generation’s experience of life, from trauma to joy, disappointment to unimagined leaps forward, failures and successes. Yet, this seems to be lost in the echo chambers of social media. 

   According to my Twitter feed, those of us born between 1946 -64 are getting pelted with rocks for raping the planet and triggering the climate crisis, pillaging the job market, saddling our children’s generation with debt and making it impossible for them to buy a home.  They are angry with us because, allegedly, we never had it so good and they aren’t going to do as well. 

 We had free university education, access to apprenticeships, a steady climb up the career ladder all the while garnering prosperity and personal freedoms. I experienced little of the daily grind my mother endured to keep the house running and the family fed and clothed. With labour-saving gadgets and packet foods, I had time to pursue a career and raise children.

   If today’s media are to be believed we are in the middle of an incendiary generation war because we are out of touch with the digital generations and are trying to impose a structure and set of values on them that are no longer viable. We criticise them for being lazy, self- indulgent and narcissistic. Messages such as hard work brings rewards (we need to rethink that myth), stay loyal to one company and they will be loyal to you, (not with zero-hour contracts), marry and settle down (with what money?), are no longer relevant in this fast-moving world. 

 Since the financial crash of 2008 it’s been much harder to start out on the road to adulthood than it was in our time although that being said, there were challenging events during the 70s – The Winter of Discontent, recession, oil crisis, high unemployment, inflation,  15% interest rates and the threat of nuclear war was never far away. And, the Beatles disbanded! 

   Historical facts get lost and distorted in the retelling, and with the current wave of fake news disseminated by social media it’s become impossible to have rational conversations without getting het up. It’s not surprising that the Millennials are angry with us. They feel misunderstood by a generation that is out of touch, but hasn’t that always been the case?

   To improve intergenerational understanding we need to communicate, clearly, honestly and frequently and refrain from using labels as put-downs – snowflake, boomer, and zoomer.   This means sitting down calmly without an agenda and asking the right questions, actively listening and not pumping out advice beginning with “Well in my day…” 

  Like every generation before us, we wanted our own children to do better than us and that’s natural but we made the mistake of overpromising over protecting. Helicopter parenting has entered the lexicon as something negative and destructive to the self-esteem and mental health of our children. They’ve been cajoled, threatened and even bribed to work hard and do better than their peers. Achieve, achieve, achieve. I never heard these words from my parents. They didn’t know the first thing about universities.

 But, there’s been a huge price to pay for this constant pressure. In the USA, three quarters of millennials have had to leave a job because of mental illness. On both sides of the pond, there had been a dramatic rise in depression, anxiety and suicide as well as a rise in alcoholism and suicide. 

 When I started my professional life, I had a secretary to look after my administration. Nowadays, employees are expected to do their own, thus adding to their workload. So many are suffering from burnout from long hours and lengthy commutes. Minimum wage, rents on a tiny flat or house share, poor diets, lack of sleep, rise of mobile phones, social media, loneliness, rapid changes, insecurity, and a sense of hopelessness is destroying the lives of the generation in whom we’d placed so much faith. Because they struggle under these unrealistic pressures, they are condemned for being weak. We need to cut them some slack.
   On a personal note, I made sure my daughters knew that it was going to be tough out in the work place and skilled them up to be resilient and accept failure. It was the best gift I could have given them. 

 Looking back, people I knew worked for companies who looked after them, thus engendering loyalty and commitment on both sides. Companies like Cadbury, which was one of my key clients for many years, provided training, continuing education, social activities and good housing. Employees felt they belonged and were happy. 

 How many millennials can say this? Even when they enter graduate trainee schemes with blue chip companies, they are driven to exhaustion either because of the hours they need to work or because of fear of losing their job because of poor performance. They are in effect slaves to the share-holders. I know of several smart, generous, good young men and women – doctors, solicitors, teachers who took their own lives because they couldn’t see a way out. 

 So, what can we, the wise elders do to help? I have four simple suggestions.

  1. Mentor a young person. Help them to cut a path to where they would like to be while managing expectations. Tell stories about your own difficulties and how you reached your goals. Collude in a blog, book, or writing competition. 
  2. Treat them as assets and not a nuisance. Think about what they can teach you. 
  3. Include them. Value their ideas. Mix with them socially rather than sticking with your own tribe. Reassure them that things do pass and new opportunities will arise providing they look out for their health. 
  4. Take their worries seriously. Depression and anxiety are real issues. It’s not helpful to say people had it worse during the war. They are at war. Not with us but with themselves.

 Wishing you all a peaceful 2020. 

Angelena Boden

www.angelenaboden.com

 

 

    

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No Sex please, We're Married

Sex can be a lot of work. There’s so much stuff involved. Leg shaving, bikini waxing and what about all that ooo-ing and ahhhh-ing to sap the oxygen out of the lungs? Then there’s the warm up that seems more like a complicated game of twister. Foot this way, hand that way, head between legs – and as for all that tweaking, twizzling and nibbling – it’s blooming exhausting!

No wonder more married couples are opting for happy, cuddly, celibacy over a bowl of chocolate ice cream meant solely for eating. Thing is, nobody talks about a sexless marriage. If the bedroom chandeliers are not hanging off their wires, then it’s a failure on all fronts, or rears. We’ll admit to anything, but no sex? Never. We’d rather confess to extra-marital affairs or swinging parties than crisp white sheets with only crisp crumbs to show we’ve lain on them. 

Lust gets boring after a while. I’d rather go to bed with an apple and a copy of Dante’s Inferno. In Latin. The bliss of separate beds, bedrooms or even houses does not mean the fun has gone. Far from it. Love Skyping, or FaceApping can still be thrilling even when your once Olympic –level gymnast partner is mountaineering in deepest Wales.

Not that you will care what this crusty old woman has to say, but I think it’s about time the big magazines pulled up their Big Pants and ran real life stories on this wicked behaviour. #celibacyrocks

Ok, there are some of you out there, going at it as if the world is about to end ( as it very well might at the time of writing this) and if the infamous “Last Fling of the Ovary” is to be believed, there could be some interesting results from this frantic replay of The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

But for many of us older marrieds, snuggling up on the sofa to watch a rom-com, (providing there’s nothing yucky in it), is preferable to having to dream up excuses about hoovering the cat before bedtime or emptying the loft.

There comes a stage in life when sex is no longer the cornerstone of a relationship, but an annoying little cockroach sneaking out from the cracks. You side-glance it and hope it will go away.

I suppose it is a teeny bit strange that low or no libido types don’t share the urges or interest of the rest of the planet, but have managed to produce a sprog or two, but then it’s nobody else’s business. Neither should it be something to be ashamed off. I’m not interested in shagging. So what?

There may well be a host of physical and psychological reasons why celibacy is better for a couple, but that’s not under discussion here.

On a final note, at the time of writing this, the Russian consumer health watchdog has advised people to avoid kissing and hugging to avoid the spread of the corona virus (COVID-19). They don’t even have any cases of infection, but best to be on the safe side, eh?. It’s a good spin on the tired, old excuse, of “Not tonight, I’ve got a headache”, not that I’ve ever understood what role the head plays in nightly romps. But then, I’ve never been interested enough to ask.

On a less cynical note, it’s soon Valentines’ Day. For me, that doesn’t mean forced roses or saccharine cards with Gooey Eyed Teddy Bears on the front.

It means my new book, LOVE BYTES BACK is published and no, before you ask, it is not erotica! I wouldn’t be able to write that stuff for laughing! J

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