An interview with Jane Davis (and free novel offer!)

jdbench034I 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 ‘MMy counterfeit Self covery 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?

an-unknown-woman-finalDefinitely. 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:
My website:
Google Plus:

Amazon Author Page:

halftruthsandwhiteliesReaders who sign up to Jane’s newsletter will receive a free copy of her novel, ‘I Stopped Time’.

Jane promises not to bombard subscribers with junk! She only issues a newsletter when she has something genuinely newsworthy to report.



Selling your books – two great resources

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in our brave new world of publishing  (sorry, mixing my literary allusions here) the author has to sell as well as write.  This is particularly the case if you are self or indie published, but I know for a fact that even friends signed up by the ‘big six’ are expected to play just as big a part in their own marketing. Very few of us have the  time skills or even enthusiasm to go about it in anything resembling a professional manner, and I’m all too aware my own efforts (even though I’m no shrinking violet!)  have been sorely lacking in focus or overall planning.

Sell Your Books coverJust as well then that for the rest of you help is at hand. Debbie Young’s Sell your Books is a manual for authors that covers everything from getting a website to writing and sending out a press release, with advice along the way on using social media, book launches and all the ways of getting your book ‘out there’. But it’s not just a list of tips. It has a clear structure that begins with a useful assessment of the publishing industry and advice on identifying your target market. It ends with some home truths on getting your product right before you venture into the market at all. The intervening chapters are detailed enough for the author to get a feel for what do or not do without being overly technical. For me the chapters on real world book launches and dealing with the media were the most useful; the section radio interviews was particularly illuminating!

If I have a criticism of Debbie’s book, it might be that it’s a bit thin on using social media. I would also have liked a contents page and/or index in the Kindle version so that I can dip in and out. But I still wish I had bumped into Debbie and read her book a year ago!

How to Party Online coverThen, just as I was writing this review, up popped   Janice Horton (of LAHE fame) with an invitation to her online launch party for her own new book How to Party Online. Completely different in tone and approach to Sell Your Books, this is an account of how Janice has used virtual parties to dramatically boost her sales. Interestingly she takes as a starting point how she organised a ‘real’ book launch some years ago and compares the process (and outcome) to running both Facebook and blog parties with detailed accounts of the planning and execution in a style that’s chatty but very informative.

Partying - not that hard!
Partying – how hard can it be?

I can imagine that very many of you out there will be squirming (or simply at a loss!) at the thought of a party on Facebook or a blog, but trust me, if you are prepared to get into the vibe, it really is quite entertaining to go along to one (I am quite proud of being mentioned as a visitor as the Voodoo Wedding event!) and you don’t need to stay long (but might find that you do). Participants are usually invited to submit photos or ideas in keeping with the party theme which can spark off lots of interaction. Janice also backs up her advice by analysing the success of each event, which shows that they really have worked for her.This book is much more limited in its scope than Debbie’s but taken together these could both be very useful additions to our armoury as writers, publishers and entrepreneurs, which Janice reminds us we have to be. And if I’ve missed the first boat in putting any of this advice into practice, as Debbie says, it’s not all about the launch. As time goes on I should still be promoting my book  and future books –   and who knows, I might even find an excuse for a party.

What price the 70s?

This week I entered a self-publisher’s competition which involved reading other people’s novels. As a marketing ploy I thought this wouldn’t work at all. I skim read like mad, searching for the answers to the relevant questions and paying little heed to the writing. The chance of my forking out for any of these books was infinitesimal. But then I got to Mama told me Not to Come by Sue Le Blond. This is a novel about a bunch of students settling into a new house in 1970. I read a few pages; the writing was fresh, the period references spot on without being OTT. I was drawn to it, more so than to the BBCs worthy but ponderous White Heat which I abandoned after episode two.

Tapestry album coverAh, the 70s, surely the ugly duckling of the decades:  too recent to be retro, too long ago for regular reminiscing. But yes, this decade is my decade. In 1970 I started at uni. In 1975 I had my first job, in 1976 we bought our first house,  got married and from then until the early eighties we lived, I suppose, the life of young professionals (even if no one had told us that’s what it was).

It’s not a decade that one is usually proud to be part of, but judging by this week’s offering from the beeb, it’s coming back into fashion. I can now own up to the electric blue catsuit, the Laura Ashley wallpaper, the pink wedding dress.  (Sorry, no photos, but try here and select no.2 for the general look.) For those of a nostalgic (or voyeuristic) disposition, there is more seventies fun to be found on my St. Andrews blog.

Mama Told me Not to Come coverBut what of the book, the one about student life with the nicely nostalgic opening and interesting-sounding plot? Well the thing is, it costs 7.99. Which I’m sure is a fair price. It’s what books cost, more or less. As a writer I’m fine with it. But as a reader I am an absolute skinflint. For £8 I can  buy at least four self-pub e-books. Of these, I guess on past performance that one will be dire, two will be okayish, and one will be excellent, as good as most commercially published books and better than some.  I could have bought just the one, but that’s not the way it works. It’s about curiosity, about taking a punt. I might pay over £5 for an e-version of a best-seller that comes with lots of recommendations, or I might splash out on the paperback. But buying a self-published book, represents, I think, a bigger risk than a commercially published novel. I’d still quite like to give this one a go, but how much faith do I have in it when I don’t know the author and there is no industry stamp of approval?

This is the problem with self-publishing. Your book may be well worth the money. But how many people outside your known circle of acquaintances will take the risk? Of course there is another way. A print edition is good to have. Some people don’t have e-readers, others prefer not to use them. But put out an e-edition too, and make the price lower than your tree-book. I think your potential readership will increase dramatically. Anyone who falls in love with it might even double-up with the print version.

Photocredit: Carole King Tapestry album from Wikipedia commons

Cells: self-published literary fiction

When I’m approached to review a book a lot depends on the mood I’m in, and when an intern from  SilverWood Books popped up offering a free copy of Cells by Harriet Grace, I was definitely in two minds. The subject matter – infertility – didn’t really grab me. Was I ready for an ‘issues’ book, or a thinly disguised misery memoir? And SilverWood is a self-publishing service – would this be a vanity effort? But in the end as curiosity got the better of me (it usually does), I took a sneak preview of the Kindle sample and was sufficiently intrigued to read the whole thing.I’m glad I did, because it’s a very satisfying read executed with confidence and style. As such it has changed my perception of self-publishing and makes me question even more where the commercial publishing industry thinks its going right now.

Cells is an intense human drama played out by three people, Martha Morgan a successful journalist, her husband Grant, a practising analyst (complete with couch!) and Jon, an office messenger with ‘Jesus hair’ at the national paper where Martha works. Already this is sounding like a conventional love triangle, but this is not a story that plays out in any conventional way. The writing described by one reviewer as ‘richly detailed and emotionally intense’ invites us to walk with each of the characters and simply see where they will take us. Once or twice I thought I glimpsed a plot twist coming up but was always proved wrong. However this does not make it dull. There’s a strong undercurrent of suspense as we contemplate all the things that might go wrong (some of which do, some of which don’t). It’s unpredictable in a good way. The ending is also nicely judged. Two of the characters appear to have found happiness, but this is a triangle – what will happen when the final connecting line is drawn? The author leaves us to decide.

The book is not without its problems. Although the characters were entirely believable, I didn’t find myself in absolute sympathy with any of them (possibly exacerbated by the three points of view) so that while I wanted to know what happened, I still read with a sense of detachment. On a more superficial level, I personally would never have read this book on the strength of its title, jacket and pitch. The title in particular summons up to me– a one- or at best two-dimensional story (biology/science/imprisonment?) and doesn’t flag up the emotional complexity of a novel that recalls, say, Sally Vickers or Maggie O’Farrell. To me this is not a book about infertility: it’s a lot more interesting than that!

I can also see it’s not a book that everyone will want to read, so maybe it would never be an out-and-out best seller, but it’s a piece of quality writing that IMO should have found a publisher. I’m sure ten (or do I mean twenty?) years ago it would have done. As things are, I hope that the self-publishing route will find this author the audience she deserves.



e-pub review: Reach for a Different Sun

Reach for a Different Sun cover

“A complex tale of love, truth, identity, self-discovery and betrayal which shuttles between Jamaica and London, from the turbulent 70s to the present day.”
Jenni O’Connor’s description of her self-pub e-book is an excellent summing up. The heroine is Monique, a journalist of Jamaican descent who goes back to Jamaica for the funeral of a much-loved aunt to uncover the dark side of present-day Jamaicaand secrets in her family’s past. At heart it’s a thriller and I like it for the rich evocation of Jamaica, convincing dialogue and clearly defined characters, from firebrand dissident Mary to the malevolent and boorish Devon Jones. As the plot gathers pace, Jenni also fills in the ‘back stories’ of her main characters in separate chapters. I expected this to be a distraction from the main thrust of the story, but in fact these chapters are beautifully written with a real feel for Jamaicans at home and abroad. The story of June and Owen emigrating to UK recalled Andrea Levi’s Small Island and in this respect Jenni’s writing, if less literary, is equally affecting. Some aspects of the plot didn’t quite work for me (I would have liked a few more surprises towards the end) but this is still an entertaining and engrossing read.

The book is well presented with a professional cover design and typos few and far between. As indie pubs go, this definitely cuts the mustard.

e-publishing review

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be aware of my dilemma about going for the self-publishing option, which is why I’ve been taking a particular interest in the recent crop of publish-to-kindle books issued by otherwise unpublished novelists.

I think I’m trying to work out:
a) ) how my own work compares with what’s already out there
b) if there’s enough ‘quality’ in the self-pub e-book domain to make me want to be part of it, i.e. is it now ‘okay’ to go it alone?

As a result I’ve been trying to read, or at least sample, as many self-pub e-books as I can, and I’m starting to work out what criteria I’m using in making my judgments. In fact I just hopped over to Jane Smith’s self-publishing review, where she applies the values of a professional editor in rating conventionally self-published books. I’ve always thought this was an excellent idea, and although I’m not a professional, when I read a self-published e-book, I’m still assessing in my own mind if it has simply been unlucky in not finding a commercial publisher (i.e. got lost in the slush-pile, arrived with an agent on the wrong day,  or didn’t quite cut it with the marketing department) or if in fact this book isn’t quite ready for the world. At the same time I’m aware that my reaction can only be subjective. I’ve read quite a few commercially  successful novels that would never have got past my editor’s desk!

I’m not dipping into the e-book word at random.  So far I’ve read novels issued by writing friends and acquaintances or recommended by online associates and fellow Tweeps, and I’ve decided to feature those I really admire on the blog.

On the subject of criteria, it’s actually fairly simple.

Even  if I’ve only paid 0.99, I’d like the thing to look reasonably professional: an active contents page isn’t vital but it’s nice, a cover  image gives a visual clue and the sense of an artistic entity. No proper  title page or stray bits of html? Not good!

The title matters. Would it make me pick it up in a bookshop?

I’m less picky over minor errors (repetition, mis-related participles, oddities of punctuation and typos) than I once was, but any in the first few pages do jump out. Finding lots in the first few chapters is a no-no.

The rest is all about the writing, or perhaps more crucially, the  story-telling.  Jane Smith (I hope you already know her other blog) says here  I’ll read no more than five pages of boring prose before I give up. How to define boring? For me, cliches and clunky prose ring alarm bells, but if the story is going somewhere, or the character is immediately sympathetic, I’ll read on, at least for 50 pages or so.  Nothing will feature here unless I’ve read to the end.

But even if you’ve done all this, i.e. produced a competent work of fiction, let’s say a Strictly ‘Seven!’  you might still not make it onto the review page.  For me to think yes, there has to be a special something: in the style, in the story, or most likely both, that lifts it from competent writing to something memorable. So stand by for those e-books that so far have got to the dizzy heights of 8, 9, or even 10. That’s what it will take to get a real endorsement and a Click to Buy recommendation. These are the ones that might lead me to think the publishing world really is changing. For better or for worse? That’s another argument!

The audience is out there

It’s been a while since I wrote my Twitter profile (go on, read it), but it’s one I’m still quite happy with, at least until this week, when a perceptive follower (thanks Derek!) asked what the ‘breakthrough moment’ it mentions would actually look like to me.  My first reaction was to reply ‘a book deal’ because isn’t that what I’ve wanted since starting my first novel in 2003? Isn’t that what any writer of full-length fiction really really wants?

But hang on  a minute. That ambition was born eight years ago. In that time I’ve written a lot, learned a lot and changed my work status more than once. Then there are the changes sweeping through the publishing industry. Maybe it’s time to take another look at the Holy Grail of the novelist and see if it’s still measuring up.

A book deal, if you ask me, gets its cachet of ultimate accolade on two counts.
The first is recognition, the second recompense. Recognition, that is, of my
work, beyond my personal circle or group of peers. Recompense as a way of
measuring success is arguably part of recognition. Of course it also has the
huge advantage of paying the bills. Signing with a major publisher gets my work out there and the money coming in. QED.

But is it that simple? I’ve met lots of authors who have had book deals which have fallen short of expectation, leaving them still waiting for the breakthrough moment. There are also rumblings from a number of acquaintances with very respectable deals about the money being less and the work on marketing and platform building taking much longer than they expected. And there’s the nub. Every publisher from the big six down asks authors to use social networks, build platforms arrange blog tours and book signings.  A contract with a publisher no longer means sitting back and waiting for them to sell the books. Aside from distribution to bookshops, most marketing is in the hands of the author. And big publishers will still make healthy advances, but probably only if you already have a huge public following or some other claim to fame.

Looking back over eight years I can also see I’ve achieved quite a lot already in the way of recognition (shortlistings, prizes, the odd publication) and while in
charge of a commercial golf blog, for a while I even had a small income from
writing. More importantly, partly as a result of work interests but mainly
because I think it’s fun, I have ended up already  building  a platform here, on Twitter and to a lesser extent on Facebook.

I think you can see where this is leading. I would still like the vindication of
a book deal – and the bigger the better. On the other hand, there are now many
more ways to skin the publishing cat. With the huge success of e-readers, e-publishing is becoming the norm, and in the e-publishing world, the line between commercial and self-publishing is increasingly fuzzy: new models are evolving all the time in which  author, agent and publisher may share or swap roles.

To sum up, the audience is out there, the  technology to reach it is readily available. The income might be modest, but it would be mine. The future, some might say, is in my own hands. So what exactly am I waiting for?