In The Chair 38: Jane Davis

Welcome, Jane Davis.

How would you describe your writing style in only three words? 

Jane: Authentic, honest, character-driven.


If you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Jane: I feel that I have a relationship with each and every one of my characters. Each of my books has been between one and four years in the writing, so I’ve spent far more time with my fictional characters than I have with family, friends or colleagues. I once spent an evening at an Elbow gig at the Roundhouse in Camden trailing a man who I was absolutely convinced was Tommy Fellows, one of the central characters from Half-truths and White Lies. I didn’t have a model in mind when I wrote Tommy, but he is one of the few characters I describe in some detail, and there he was! Fortunately I have a very understanding partner who was in total agreement with me. The man had the shoulder-length hair, the jawline – he even had the leather jacket with the picture of the eagle on the back.

If you had to exist for a week in one of your books … which one would it be? Would you be a central character or simply watch the story unfold from the sidelines?

Jane: Again, I write largely fact-based fiction and, since I don’t have money for research trips, the backdrops are places I know well (although I may take the liberty of moving the location of a particular house). A Funeral for an Owl is set in the streets and parks that I walk daily. In the early 1990s, I lived on the High Path Estate in South Wimbledon. The flat that Jim lived in was my flat. I transported the entire estate to Carshalton for the sake of the story. Many of the anecdotal stories I tell are my own, or are based on fears that I had. The boxer who ended up in the wheelchair was my neighbour. JD Bench 034He used to bang on the wall when he fell out of his chair and I would arranged for some of the local lads to ‘break into’ the flat so that we could rescue him and, without fail, he would say something abusive. I regularly hauled the five-year-old boy who used to lie beside the speedbumps out of the way of oncoming cars. The fear that you would be jumped in the stairwell – that was real. My own house is Jim’s granddad’s house. It has a central chimney that acts as a loudspeaker and every day a pigeon sits on the roof and wakes us up at 4.30am – and every day we threaten to light a fire under it. Aimee’s house is the house I grew up in. I am always in character when I write, and often act out lines. My approach is to make it personal. In An Unknown Woman I used my own house again, except that I burn it to the ground in the first chapter. For authors who imagine themselves as the director of action, it might be possible to watch from the sidelines, but I am in the middle of the action as I write.

Dead or alive literary dinner party: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

Jane: Edith Sitwell, because she looked the way that all poets should look. Hilary Mantel, for exactly the same reason, because her own story is equally extraordinary as her fiction and I’m sure she could be relied upon to say something quote-worthy. (It goes without saying that I’d want to blog about the dinner party.) Khaled Hosseini, because he is one of the most humble, charming and wise men I have ever met. Ken Kesey to shake things up a bit. Churchill for his opinion of current world events. And Jill Marsh, simply because we always say that we will get together and drink tequila, but have never managed to find the opportunity. Since I will have started drinking early to calm my nerves, I will keep the food simple and fall back on staples. Focaccia, Buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes with lots of fresh basil and good olive oil; Fish pie with peas and leeks (because Nigel Slater says that it’s what everyone really wants to eat at a dinner party, and I agree) followed by Nigella’s chocolate cloud cake.

If you had to write in a different genre which would it be and why?

Jane: I write in two different genres: contemporary and historical, sometimes combining the two for a time-lapse effect. True-life is more extraordinary than anything I could invent (read The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale if you don’t believe me), and I adore big biographies, so I think that I would abandon fiction for a while and write a biography. The bigger the better. I might gather some good material for it at my dinner party!


What do you dislike the most about being an author?

Jane: All of the parts that aren’t the writing. At the moment it’s formatting files to various requirements for different eBook publishing platforms – and all the dreaded version control that goes with it. We used to be encouraged to keep various versions of manuscripts during their development, in case there was a dispute about who wrote the book. No more! I am in the middle of producing bookshop editions (paperbacks) of all of my novels and, at the same time, have made a number of updates. Change one or two words, and the publishing platform rejects the entire document. I have had to go through the process of clearing all of the formatting and starting again from scratch. It’s horribly time-consuming. And very dull!

Favourite word?

Jane: Discombobulate. I’ve never managed to put it in a sentence.

Jane Davis was in the chair: Author of I stopped Time, These Fragile Things, A Funeral for an Owl, An Unchoreographed Life, Second Chapter, An Unknown Woman.

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