I first ran into Jane when someone recommended her historical novel ‘I Stopped Time’ which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also loved ‘An Unchoreographed Life’, a contemporary novel about a dancer and single mother. But as well as being a great writer with seven published novels to her name, Jane is an example to all ‘indie’ authors in the absolute professionalism of everything she produces. If you haven’t set eyes on one of Jane’s novels, I can guarantee you won’t be able to tell it apart from anything produced by a big publishing house – and there will almost certainly be fewer typos! She has won several awards and ‘An Unknown Woman’ has just won self-published book of the year. With ‘My Counterfeit Self’ – set mainly in the fifties and very much redolent of my own childhood – hot off the press, what better time to have Jane along for an interview?
How would you describe your latest protagonist?
Lucy Forrester is a radical poet and political activist who is a cross between two great British eccentrics, Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood. Having been anti-establishment all of her life, she’s horrified to find that she’s been featured on the New Year’s Honours list. During the book we find out what has shaped Lucy. At the age of nine, she contracted childhood polio. Staring death in the face defines a person. It alters their perception of life, whatever age they happen to be. Lucy has that same stubborn determined streak that Roosevelt displayed when he refused to accept the limitations of his disease. The refusal to wear leg braces, to face the world sitting down. She also resents overhearing her father say that not much is expected of her, and it makes her want to defy him. She becomes totally driven. And then her parents behave so shockingly that it releases her from feeling under any obligation to live up to their expectations for her, and so she adopts a bohemian lifestyle. And into this new life she’s leading walks the man who became her literary critique and on/off lover for the next 50 years.
What is one thing you love about your main character and one thing that drives you crazy?
I love Lucy’s unconventionality, her defiance, her eccentricity, and especially her dress-sense. (Think Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style.) One of my early reviewers called her fiercely moral, which I rather like. She’s my rebel with a cause. Because of the time she was born in, her fear of the Nuclear Bomb is a hangover from childhood. She takes part in the first of the CND rallies and marches from Trafalgar Square to Aldermaston to protest about the nuclear threat, and, later, she takes up the cause of the British Nuclear Veterans. As for what drives me crazy… she can be quick to judge others but she’s blinkered when it comes to her own faults. In fact, that’s her downfall.
It’s the first time you’ve written about another writer, isn’t it?
Yes, in some ways it’s my most personal novel to date. To bring Lucy to life, I had to draw on all of my insecurities, doubts and fears, writing about how it feels when you show your work to someone for the first time. How you manage to convince yourself that people will like you less when they understand what’s going on inside your head. Lucy’s formal schooling was curtailed by illness, and when she finally goes to school thinking that writing poetry is the one thing she’s good at, she’s told she doesn’t have the basic tools for job. That’s very much me. Someone who left school at sixteen, worked her way up in a company to Deputy MD and then had the audacity to attempt to write novels. I am the person who used to make up an answer on the spot when asked which university I went to! And of course, I’ve through the submission process. I know all about rejection – and I also know how overwhelming winning can be. How part of you never feels you deserve it, and how others will be quick to tell you that they didn’t think you deserved it, that it was a fix, or that you must have been related to the judges, and so how, when you fall from grace, it’s almost a relief. Order has been restored.
My Counterfeit Self is your seventh book. Does it get easier to write and publish over time, or is every process a “birthing” experience?
Getting a new novel out of the ground is always tough. It’s possible I make it tougher by not outlining or plotting. I like George R R Martin’s quote: ‘I’ve always said there are two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. Architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up.’ It takes me a good three months to get to know my characters. By the time I reach the 50,000-word milestone I think to myself, ‘I might just have a book on my hands’, but by 75,000 words I’m back to wallowing in self-doubt, unsure how to fight myself out of a corner. At 100,000 I may have an inkling of how it ends, but that doesn’t mean I’ll know how to get there. Every time you introduce a new angle, each ‘what if?’ question has to be pushed to its limits. Once the structure is in place, you go back and make every page shine.
That aside, certain parts of the publishing process are easier. I used to tackle all of the interior formatting and the creating of eBooks myself, but now I outsource and concentrate on making sure the proofs are as clean as they can be. The mechanics of publishing are far simpler than they were in 2012, because the process is familiar and technology is vastly improved, and getting better all the time.
Your novel, ‘An Unknown Woman’, was named Self-Published Book of the Year by Writing Magazine. Did that put extra pressure on your new release?
Definitely. The editor of Writing Magazine said that ‘An Unknown Woman’ would happily sit on any of the Big 5 publishers’ lists, that the writing was exemplary and that my production standards were outstanding. And I only found out about the win when ‘My Counterfeit Self’ was going into production! So yes, it caused some extra nail biting. The first edition of An Unknown Woman was (as far as I know) error free, something I had never achieved before. With a 120,000 word novel, a few typos usually past even the most eagle-eyed proof-readers (and I know there’s one in My Counterfeit Self).
Like most writers, I want to show progression from one book to another and so I try to do something a bit different, but not so different that it won’t appeal to my readers. You know what it’s like waiting for those first few reviews! But I’m learning. All the time, I’m learning.
Thanks Jane for showing us so much of the book and yourself.
Here are all Jane’s Social Media links and a special offer for anyone who signs up to her newsletter.
Social Media Links:
Universal Buy Link: https://books2read.com/u/4AgQdK
My website: http://www.jane-davis.co.uk
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+JaneDavisAuthor/posts
Amazon Author Page:
Readers who sign up to Jane’s newsletter will receive a free copy of her novel, ‘I Stopped Time’. http://eepurl.com/bugqnr
Jane promises not to bombard subscribers with junk! She only issues a newsletter when she has something genuinely newsworthy to report.