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
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
Hailed 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’.