On this quiet Sunday morning why don't you put the kettle on, make your favourite breakfast and settle down for Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo
I'm delighted to welcome Jane Davis to Sunday Brunch
Welcome, Jane. What favourite food are you bringing to Sunday brunch?
I thought I’d make eggs Florentine, so I have brought English muffins, spinach and free-range eggs to poach. I’m afraid the hollandaise sauce is ready-made, because the last time I attempted to make some it curdled.
Would you like a pot of English breakfast tea, a strong Americano, or a glass of Bucks Fizz?
Now that you’ve mentioned Bucks Fizz, tea of coffee doesn’t have quite the same appeal… Cheers!
Where shall we eat brunch – around the kitchen table, in the formal dining room, or outside on the patio?
This is England and the beginning of a May bank holiday weekend, so eating on the patio might tempt fate. Besides, the kitchen table is always the best place for gossip.
Shall we have music playing in the background, and if so do you have a favourite piece of music?
I like different music for different occasions, but somehow the album Afterglow by Dr John seems particularly suitable for Sunday Brunch.
Which of your literary heroes (dead or alive) are joining us for Sunday Brunch today?
The poet, Edith Sitwell. Her eccentric style of dress, captured so perfectly by Cecil Beaton, gave the impression that she was a throw-back from another era. She herself told the tale that she was descended from the Red Rose Plantagenets on one side, and on the other from an errand boy who walked all the way from Leeds to London, barefoot, where he made his fortune. She mixed in extraordinary literary and artistic circles, so she was never short of something to say. I hope to persuade her to tell us how she struck up a friendship with Marilyn Monroe after a meeting in Hollywood. It would probably be some time before I plucked up the courage to confess that my character Lucy Forrester from My Counterfeit Self is a cross between her and Vivienne Westwood. I wonder if she’d recognise herself.
Which favourite book will you bring to Sunday Brunch?
I’m going to bring my favourite read of last year, Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. It tells the story of a pioneering aviator, Marian Graves, taking us from her unconventional upbringing in prohibition America to her attempt to circumnavigate the globe from pole to pole. The level of detail had me Googling to see if Marian was a real person. (She wasn’t.) In the present day, we have troubled film star Hadley Baxter as she prepares to Marian it a biopic of the aviator’s life. She knows it could be the role of her career and so she carries out research of her own. The counterplay between the two timelines is superb.
When you are writing do you still find time to read for pleasure? And is there a book you would like to read but haven’t had time for …yet!
Reading is essential for writers, so I read every day (usually over breakfast and in bed at night), but I read in a far more analytical way these days. I’m a great one for underlining key phrases that I might quote in a book review, and margin notes. I could never borrow library books -I’d be banned!
As for books I’d like to read, my TBR pile is a skyscraper. It’s so disorganised, I’ve just discovered I have two copies of The Promise by Damon Galgut! Some of the treats I have in store are Still Life by Sarah Winman, John Irving’s latest, Avenue of Mysteries, and Memories of the Future by Suri Hustvedt. Her novel, What I Loved, is one of my favourites, and I can’t really explain why I’ve never read anything else by her. I thought it was time.
The book I have just moved to the top of the pile is The Louder I will Sing by Lee Lawrence, which tells the story of how in September 1985 the author (then only eleven) watched as the police mistakenly shot his mother during a raid on their Brixton home. Later, Lee watched a news reporter on the television confirm that she’d died, which turned out to be false. Can you imagine what the Lawrences went through as a family?
Where do you find the inspiration for your novels?
I have to write about subjects I’m passionate about or questions I want to explore. I’m a slow writer and there has to be something that is going to keep me gripped for the two years that it takes to finish a book. The themes I’ve explored are diverse, ranging from pioneering female photographers, to relatives seeking justice for the victims of a fictional disaster. But my starting point might be anything. A single image or a news report, for example.
Have you a favourite place to settle down to write and do you find it easier to write in winter or summer?
I have only ever written at my dining room table. I worry that I might not be able to write anywhere else! As for seasons, I’m a spring and autumn person. I’m not so keen on the extremes of winter or summer. I don’t know if I’m more creative in those months, but I certainly have more energy.
When writing to a deadline are you easily distracted and if so how do you bring back focus on your writing?
Because I’m an indie author, I set my own deadlines, but I do have to book my editor and proof-reader’s time in advance. Last November I went on a writers’ retreat with some friends. There were no planned activities. The idea was that we would just go away and write. We stayed in a great rambling house in the Surrey Hills, crucially with no wi-fi access. That was where I did the final edit of my tenth novel, Small Eden, before it went off to my copy editor. The lesson that I should have learned was that social media is a huge time-suck. But writing’s solitary, and social media is also how I stay in touch with the outside world, so I’m aiming for better balance. My other big distraction is my day job, which requires a completely different mind-set to writing. It’s hard sometimes to switch between the two.
Give us four essential items that a writer needs?
A red biro, for manual edits.
A top-notch cover designer. I found mine in an art gallery.
Ear plugs – although this may just be me. I need silence to write and our next door neighbours have a very yappy dog.
What can you tell us about your latest novel or your current work in progress?
For Small Eden, I took as my inspiration the cottage I’ve called home for the past twenty-one years. Before we moved into the cottage, the vendors told us that it had been the gatehouse for an estate, but that didn’t feel right. Hanging in the hall was a reproduction of a woodcut, depicting Edwardian ladies playing a game of doubles on a tennis court, just in front of the cottage. We consulted a local historian, who was intrigued enough by what he saw to begin researching its history. What he had to tell us was far more interesting. It was built (as far as he was able to ascertain) as the ticket office for pleasure gardens, which opened at the turn of the century and had closed by 1923. What led a man to embark on such an endeavour after the last of London’s pleasure gardens had failed isn’t written in any history books. The little we know comes from Ordnance Survey maps and census records. My instinct was that something from his past was driving him. Of course, had our research been more successful, there would have been no story to write.
1884. The symptoms of scarlet fever are easily mistaken for teething, as Robert Cooke and his pregnant wife Freya discover at the cost of their two infant sons. Freya immediately isolates for the safety of their unborn child. Cut off from each other, there is no opportunity for husband and wife to teach each other the language of their loss. By the time they meet again, the subject is taboo. But unspoken grief is a dangerous enemy. It bides its time.
A decade later and now a successful businessman, Robert decides to create a pleasure garden in memory of his sons, in the very same place he found refuge as a boy – a disused chalk quarry in Surrey’s Carshalton. But instead of sharing his vision with his wife, he widens the gulf between them by keeping her in the dark. It is another woman who translates his dreams. An obscure yet talented artist called Florence Hoddy, who lives alone with her unmarried brother, painting only what she sees from her window
Jane, where can we follow you on social media?
(Anyone who signs up to https://jane-davis.co.uk/newsletter receives a free copy of my novel, I Stopped Time.)
More about Jane
Jane Davis’ first novel, 'Half-Truths and White Lies', won a national award established with the aim of finding the next Joanne Harris. Further recognition followed in 2016 with 'An Unknown Woman' being named Self-Published Book of the Year by Writing Magazine/the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust, as well as being shortlisted in the IAN Awards, and in 2019 with 'Smash all the Windows' winning the inaugural Selfies Book Award. Her novel, 'At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock' was featured by The Lady Magazine as one of their favourite books set in the 1950s, selected as a Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice, and shortlisted for the Selfies Book Awards 2021.
Interested in how people behave under pressure, Jane introduces her characters when they are in highly volatile situations and then, in her words, she throws them to the lions. The themes she explores are diverse, ranging from pioneering female photographers, to relatives seeking justice for the victims of a fictional disaster
Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey, in what was originally the ticket office for a Victorian pleasure gardens, known locally as ‘the gingerbread house’. Her house frequently features in her fiction. In fact, she burnt it to the ground in the opening chapter of 'An Unknown Woman'. In her latest release, Small Eden, she asks the question why one man would choose to open a pleasure gardens at a time when so many others were facing bankruptcy?
When she isn’t writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.
Thank you for taking part in Sunday Brunch with Jaffareadstoo.
Follow us on Twitter @jaffreadstoo #SundayBrunchWithJaffareadstoo