A Look Behind The Book With Jane Davis.

IMG_2953Award winning novelist Jane Davis is about to publish her eighth book, entitled Smash All The Windows, which has already been described as an “all-round triumph”.

In 2008, Jane’s debut, Half-truths And White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and she was hailed as “one to watch” by The Bookseller.

While she has continued to write compelling fiction it has been on her own terms, which is why I’m delighted to invite her to take centre stage in my latest Behind The Book post so she can tell us about it.

But first, here’s the blurb for her latest book, which is released on Thursday:

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than 13 years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

rsz_smash_all_the_windows_final_final_ebook_cover 325 x 521 for websiteIf someone asked me to describe your new book in three words I would say it was emotional, hard-hitting and gripping, what would your three words be?

The same three words I always aim for. Honest, authentic and true.

Can you talk about how the story came together? What was your initial inspiration?

You can probably sense from the title that the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put to them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. That had me yelling ‘what lives?’ at the television.

I know it’s a work of fiction but it feels very real, not just the way you present the facts but emotionally too. As someone who suffers from claustrophobia parts of it made me feel breathless. Obviously that’s a sign of amazing writing but how much research was also involved?

The answer is ‘a lot’. My favourite description of fiction is made up truth. I didn’t want to be the one to add to the pain I saw on the faces of the Hillsborough families, so I unpicked elements from Hillsborough and other large-scale disasters such as Aberfan and Bethnal Green and then created a fictional disaster, making sure they were all present.

Because writing should always take you outside your comfort-zone, I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators. It helped that I also suffer from claustrophobia, anxiety and vertigo. And it ‘helped’ that I suffered a fall down an escalator at Bank station in 2016. But having chosen an Underground station for my setting, I needed to research how an accident might happen and the particular difficulties that the emergency services would encounter, which meant looking at accident investigations from Kings Cross and London terrorist attacks. In order to demonstrate an element of foreseeability, I documented everything I could about the vulnerabilities of the system and weak spots, and that meant tracking down reports on transport policy, overcrowding, the impact on health, recommendations that haven’t been implemented… the list goes on.

The rule in fiction is that research shouldn’t show up on the page, but I made an exception for Eric, the law student who pieces together the sequence that led to the disaster and, in doing so, overturned a miscarriage of justice. I wanted the reader to really feel that the late nights in front of a screen drove him to the brink of madness.

The story is told from the viewpoint of various characters, male and female, young and older, but they all have distinctive voices. How much prep work do you do in creating such different 3D characters?

I write in what is called ‘close third person’, which means that, instead of writing as a narrator, I’m inside the characters’ heads. I’m not a plotter or a planner. I get to know my characters through writing them. Over the two years that it takes to write a novel, I get to know them pretty well. Of course, it’s helpful to have a character like Jules Roche, my French sculptor, who speaks in broken English and is angry and unguarded, but can also be charismatic and surprisingly vulnerable. It’s far more difficult to create an everyman (or woman) character, like Donovan or Gina or Maggie. These are ordinary people who have found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. I focused on specific characteristics. For Donovan, it was his hidden sorrows. The disaster killed not only his only daughter but his unborn grandchild. It meant the end of his family line. Gina’s son was somewhere he shouldn’t have been at the time of the accident, doing something he shouldn’t have been doing. The disaster not only robbed her of her son and her idea of who her son was, but it also destroyed her idea of who she was. She was not, as she’d thought, a good mother. Maggie’s situation was different. Her daughter was blamed for the disaster, and whilst the verdict overturns this previous ruling, it isn’t popular. She’s someone who’ll always be the outsider.

You won the Daily Mail First Novel Award for Half-truths And White Lies. What was that like? How did you find out?

This was back in 2008. I had only found out about the competition by chance. I attended the Winchester Writer’s Conference for the first time in June of that year. There were many different lectures I could have attended, but I chose to go to a lecture given by Jack Sheffield of Teacher, Teacher! fame and a very nice lady from the publishers, Transworld, whose name I forget. She urged everyone with a finished manuscript to submit it, promising that they would all be read. For me, that was the incentive to enter. At that time I had an agent who had come very close to placing my previous novel (the novel that won the award was actually my second), but the manuscript that became Half-truths And White Lies had been sitting in her ‘in’ tray for six months and she hadn’t found time to read it. The closing date for competition entries was only two days later, so it was a case of getting to the Post Office as soon as it opened and praying it would reach them in time.

The timing of the announcement was absolutely perfect. I knew I had made the longlist when I left my job of 23 years in September. Three weeks later, the honeymoon period was well and truly over. Every time I turned on the television there was talk of financial doom and gloom. I began to worry that leaving a secure job at the start of a recession had been a terrible mistake.

I got the call from Transworld when I was at home on my own and, because I was alone, there was no one to ask, ‘Did that just happen?’ I can completely understand the sentiments expressed by Myrrha Stanford-Smith who, at the age of 82, signed a three-book deal with Honno. She says she insisted on putting down the phone, pulling herself together and ringing them back to make sure it was true. I tried ringing my partner but he was in a meeting. I tried my best friend. Another meeting. Eventually I got through to my mother, so she was the first person to know.

Many people (me included) would assume that winning the award meant your writing career was made but I know from reading your incredibly honest (and helpful) “journey as a writer” page on your website that wasn’t the case. Are you able to tell us what happened next?

JDV-AFFAO2015-CS-02AWThe book sold well and I was told that my job was getting on with writing the next one, which was already well underway. But when I presented my publisher with A Funeral For An Owl, they told me that they loved it but they were going to turn it down because it wasn’t a good fit for their women’s fiction imprint. I admit that I was very naïve and I hadn’t thought to discuss what subject-matter I should have been writing about. I’m a woman and a reader, and I’m still not sure what women’s fiction is. This was the year when the shortlist for what was then called the Orange Prize was incredibly diverse: Room dealt with confinement; Grace Williams Says It Loud, disability; The Tiger’s Wife dealt with living in a time of conflict; Annabel dealt with being a hermaphrodite. None of these issues are women’s issues, they’re human issues. Joanne Harris – one the judges for the Daily Mail First Novel Award – has always argued that there’s no such thing as women’s fiction. But somehow I’d been pigeon-holed.

I love that you managed to keep your passion for writing and your confidence in yourself, which led you down the indie route. What are some of the good things about self-publishing?

With Half-truths And White Lies, my publisher was very prescriptive. They asked me to write a different ending, they changed the title (I’d called it Venn Diagrams) and they gave the book a strong cover which was bang on trend, but it wasn’t right for the book. Self-publishing, on the other hand, allows creative freedom and artistic control. I write about subjects I’m passionate about, without worrying about ticking the right boxes or following the latest trend for psychological thrillers, and I get to collaborate with professionals (structural editors, copy editor, typesetters and cover designer) of my choice, people who share my vision. If something isn’t working, I can react to the market and change it. I changed the cover of my first self-published release, I Stopped Time, because I felt the original design wasn’t working hard enough for me.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

That’s a constantly evolving list but I greatly admire Ali Bacon and Sarah Hall both of whom write so beautifully about life and art and landscape. I also love writers who deviate from linear structures. Here I’m thinking of Jennifer Egan and A Visit From The Goon Squad, Emily St John Mandel and Station Eleven and John Ironmonger and The Coincidence Authority or Not Forgetting The Whale. What I love about these books is that, when you reach the end, you can head straight back to the beginning and start again without feeling that you’ve left the story. Because there’s no beginning, middle and end in the traditional sense, the stories are both cyclical and enduring, like one of Escher’s optical illusions. And you might think that the running order is random, but it takes enormous skill to pull off a work like Goon Squad whose chapters can be read in any order you damn well please, because each has to be perfect and complete. In Station Eleven, the reader remains in the present while the book travels between the near past and a near future in which all technology has been wiped away. And then there’s The Coincidence Authority, where you have the feeling that this is the precise order in which the story must be told, because in fiction the big reveal must come near the end but in life it may show up early.

Jane Davis T

Do you write full-time now? If so what’s your day like? Do you have set office hours?

I work two days a week and write the rest of the time. As with anyone running their own business from home, there are no office hours. My ‘writing time’ includes everything relating to books. I finished writing Smash All The Windows last autumn, but it’s only just coming up for publication some six months later. I receive about 350 emails a day, all of which have to be answered. Much of my time is spent on marketing – not all advertising but writing guest posts and interviews. I do a small amount of self-publishing mentoring, usually by Skype but occasionally in person. This summer I’m giving a series of creative writing ‘masterclasses’ to students preparing for their GCSEs. At the moment there’s preparation to do for pre-launch events. On November 6th I’m compering at Novel London, so I’ve just written the introductions for the speakers and questions to put to them. Next, I’ll be reading entries for a competition that I’m judging. There is no set pattern. I simply do whatever is the most urgent and hope that I don’t drop too many balls.

Can you please share any writing tips for those who might be struggling? 

The only time I ever suffered from writers’ block is when I started a creative writing MA, so my main advice is ignore all of the advice. Every book I read that I love breaks all of the ‘rules’.

quote jane davis

There are many ways to write a novel and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. You learn how to write a novel by writing a novel. My first took me four years and is unpublished. I consider that time well spent.

I love the phrase ‘made up truth’. Jane kindly let me have an advance copy of Smash All The Windows and I actually had to stop reading at one point and Google ‘St Botolph and Old Billingsgate Tube Station’ to see if it was real and if the disaster really did happen (the book is that good). Thank you very much to Jane for sharing her writing journey with us, I was inspired by her answers (I hope you were too).

For more information about Jane you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter or like her Facebook page. Smash All The Windows is released on April 12th but you can pre-order now for the special price of £1.99/$1.99 (price on publication will be £3.99) by clicking here.

If you’ve missed any Behind The Books posts, please check out the archive here.

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A Look Behind The Book With Natalina Reis.

MeWhile Natalina Reis has written other genres, she always comes back to her first love – romance.

Currently working on her sixth novel, Natalina juggles writing with teaching and family life.

Her latest release, Blind Magic, came out in November has been winning lots of praise on Good Reads so I was delighted when she agreed to let me quiz her for my Behind The Book series.

Here’s what she had to say.

You’ve strayed into other genres but always come back to romance. What is it you enjoy?

Romance makes me happy, gives me hope that no matter how bleak things look, there is always hope. Love transcends everything else, even death to a certain extent. And of course, there is always the happy ending.

You wrote your first book at 13. Has writing always been your thing?

Yes, I’ve been writing ever since I knew how. I wrote stories even in elementary school. Being an introvert who had the worst time expressing my feelings, writing offered me a way of doing so. For some reason the written word was always a form of solace, of therapy for my soul.

That first book was a collaboration with your best friend, can you explain how that worked? Do you write together or do you do a bit and then send it to her?

We were both on spring break and we spent our evenings in my room discussing characters and parts of the plot. She would suggest something and I would suggest something else. Once we agreed on what to write, I would write it down as part of the story. It was fun. Even though I haven’t done anything like that since, I still enjoy when my critique partners or friends make suggestions. Some great ideas came out of discussions just like those.

Blind Magic for jpegs_frontcover310In Blind Magic your main character, Marcy, is a witch. What made you want to include that magical element?

Marcy happened as a happy accident to be truthful. She first appeared as a sidekick on Loved You Always where I needed her as comic relief and also as an outrageous way of helping my two main characters out of a very dangerous situation. Turns out Marcy became so much more than that. My sister was also a great inspiration for Marcy’s occupation and beliefs, since she has always been interested in the esoteric.

Did you already have an idea for Marcy’s story when you were writing Loved You Always?

I never expected to love her so much and I definitely didn’t expect the readers would fall in love with her as hard as they did. There were so many requests to write Marcy’s own story that eventually I gave in and wrote it. She is one of my favorite characters.

Blind Magic is winning a lot of praise. How does it feel to know your readers have connected with your story?

It’s amazing. As a writer I love all my characters, but to have others love and connect with them as well is heartwarming and makes everything worthwhile. One of my favorite parts of the publishing process is the beta readers’ comments as they read the book. Marcy got a lot of oohs and aahs. She really touched a chord in many readers’ hearts (and so did her man, Oliver) and I’m still shocked (in a good way) by the reactions.

You don’t just write about male/female relationships, in Lavender Fields your main character, Sky, an angel of death, falls in love with another man. Can you talk about what made you want to explore that angle?

I wanted to write a story that my son, who is gay, could identify with. But most of all I just wanted to write a love story. It just happened that the two main characters are both men. All my books have a few things in common, and one of those is the theme of diversity and universal love. In fact I wrote my first M/M romance when I was about 19 years old (a story that will never see the light of day!).

Let’s go right back to the beginning and talk about your first published book, We Will Always Have The Closet. How long did it take to write? Did you submit it to many publishers?

I wrote The Closet in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month. I polished it, hired an editor and on a whim participated on a Twitter Pitmad and was shocked to have a publisher request the full manuscript. I was offered a contract shortly after and I think I’m still in shock.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a romantic comedy that started as a short story. It’s called Fictional-Ish and it’s set in Scotland where I lived for four years a long time ago. It’s a friends to lovers, second chance story with a lot of humor and, as in most of my stories, a bit of mystery drama.

Do you have any tips for writers?

Write, never stop writing no matter how much you doubt yourself. And don’t get too stuck on what the “experts” say because writing is as individual as humans are and what works for one writer may not work for another.

natalina quote

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What fabulous answers, a huge thank you to Natalina for taking part. I love that she wrote a story for her son and her writing tips couldn’t be more relevant to me this week when I’m having yet another crisis of confidence. I’m definitely going to be taking note.

If you’d like to connect with Natalina you can do so in various ways. On Twitter, Instagram,  Facebook, and, of course, you can buy her books via Amazon.

A Look Behind The Book With Ian Wilfred.

FullSizeRender 2.jpgIan Wilfred describes his perfect day as going for a walk on the beach with his dog, coming back and enjoying a lovely hot coffee and then writing.

Swap the dog for Freya and coffee for a hot chocolate and Ian and I are on the same page but we also have something else in common – having both adopted Norfolk as our home county.

Ian is the author of three books (so far), after publishing his debut in 2013 and then two more last year. I was so pleased when he agreed to be my first Behind The Book interviewee of 2018.

I hope you enjoy his answers as much as I did.

Can we begin by talking about when you first started writing? Have you written since you were a child or is it a more recent discovery?

My first serious writing started in 2012 and led to me publishing Putting Right The Past in 2013. It all came about as I gave up work to become my dad’s full time carer and, with a lot of time on my hands, I thought this is the perfect time to get started. I had always written little bits but no one had ever seen any of it.

You mention you’re a fan of Mills and Boon. I also love them and think they are totally underrated (as a lot of romantic fiction is). What do you like about them?

Oh yes, I’ve always loved Mills and Boon, their books seem to have been in my life as long as I can remember. Back in November I was very lucky to have lunch with the Norfolk chapter of The Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) and at the lunch were two Mills and Boon authors who between them have written 200 books – I was a little star struck. Also, I’m really looking forward to seeing the new look Mills and Boon as 2018 is the year they are having a big makeover. Exciting times ahead, I think.

Was it Mills and Boon that inspired you to write romance/women’s fiction?

I don’t know if it was Mills and Boon that influenced me but what I write is sort of all I know. I don’t think I could write in any other genre.

ian wilfred quote

I’ve been trying to hunt down statistics for what proportion of women’s fiction writers are men these days but they seem to vary – although they are all on the small side. Were you ever put off by the fact that so few men seem to write that genre – at least under their own names?

In the beginning people thought it a bit strange but there are more and more of us out there now. I know of quite a few that write under female names or just their initials but I’ve stuck to Ian.

 

As you’ve said, you published your debut, Putting Right The Past, in 2013. What was that like? It seems to have been very well received, as all your books have, what did it mean to have people connect with your writing?

I have learnt so much since Putting Right The Past and some things I would change knowing what I know now but not the actual story.  The feed back was lovely, I enjoyed the contact on Twitter and the emails with the readers, bloggers and other authors.

Last year you published two more books, The Little Terrace of Friendships and A Secret Visitor To Saltmarsh Quay. Was it an easier process?

After my dad died we moved from the Midlands to Norfolk. For the first few years, our lives were taken up with getting jobs, decorating, gardening and not forgetting a lot of time on the beach with a new puppy but a few things happened in the family and I felt I needed to return to my little world of writing. I first re-read loads of little projects I had started and that’s when The Little Terrace Of Friendships was born. Everything about that book coming together was so lovely from writing it to meeting Rebecca Emin at Gingersnap Books who organised and formatted it, Nancy Callegari who edited it, Maureen Vincent-Northam, proofreader, and working with the very talented Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphics on the cover. The icing on the cake was having it in the top 30 Amazon holiday chart for several months. It was such a happy time. I feel really blessed and I was so lucky to be able to work with these fabulous ladies again on my last book, A Secret Visitor To Saltmarsh Quay

Do you ever miss any of your characters? They take up such a big chunk of brain space and then suddenly they are gone, it must be like losing a friend in a way.

This is such a great question, Tara, I’ve never been asked this before and I’ve given it a lot of thought. One of the characters in Putting Right The Past was a women whose husband got his comeuppance for lying cheating and being a horrible individual but, as she wasn’t one of the main people in the book, we really didn’t know where her life could go. Perhaps one day I should return to her story and give her a happy ending but I find once I start writing something new I get involved with the new characters and they take over your life in a big way.

Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

My next project (which at this point has three titles, not sure which one I like the most) is off to the lovely Nancy very soon. It is set in Norfolk and again with another fabulous female over 40 called Caroline whose husband has a secret and this leads to her starting a new and exciting life without him.

Do you have any writing tips to share please?

Me give writing tips? I’m the one always asking authors for their tips and they are so helpful and generous with their advice. The best bit of advice I have been given over and over again is keep writing everyday – even if it’s just a couple hundred words. I work full time so it’s not easy. I manage to write something about five days a week; anything from two hundred to three thousand words. I never go back I just plough through until I write THE END and that’s when the hard work for me starts – back at page one rewriting, cutting, adding, getting rid of characters that don’t need to be there and adding new ones doing this over and over again until I’m happy with it.

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Thank you very much to Ian for kicking off the 2018 series of Behind The Book, I love how modest he is – even with three very well received books under his belt. If you’d like to know more about him you can chat via Twitter or check out his page on Amazon here.

I’ve got some more fabulous authors lined up for this year so please pop back.