When I published English Ivy, author Jane Davis interviewed me for her Virtual Book Club series. She delved deep and got me to reveal things I’d never shared in an interview before.
So when I discovered Jane had a new book coming out, My Counterfeit Self—well, I had to get even! (This was especially important when I discovered her protagonist was such a bohemian, fascinating character).
Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a novel from award-winning author Jane Davis. Then be sure to buy your copy of My Counterfeit Self.
Q: How would you best describe your protagonist?
JD: Lucy Forrester is a radical poet and political activist who is a cross between 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. (This is list prepared by the Queen for people who have made a considerable contribution to British life in some substantial way – arts, culture, business, charitable works and so on).
During the book we find out what has formed her. She was born in a time of war, then at the age of nine she contracted childhood polio. Staring death in the face defines a person. It alters their perception of life, whatever their age happens to be. Although she isn’t paralyzed, 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 resented overhearing her father say that not much was expected of her, and it made her want to defy him. She became totally driven.
And then her parents behaved so shockingly that she was released from feeling under any obligation to live up to their expectations for her, and so she adopted a bohemian lifestyle. And into this new life she’s leading walked the man who became her literary critique and on/off lover for the next 50 years.
Q: Why this particular story (or, how did this character come to you)?
JD: To be honest, the idea of writing about the life of a poet came directly from reader reviews. Several commented that my prose was like poetry. I had no idea if I could actually write poetry, but this gave me confidence that I might be able to convince readers that I could see the world as a poet does.
Q: How does this story fit in with the rest of your work?
JD: It has all the hallmarks of a book written by Jane Davis: it has a non-linear timeline, it’s about big subjects, I throw my characters into impossible situations and unsettle them with moral dilemmas. I’m particularly excited by cause and effect, the way that the past impacts on the present. I hope that I’ve created a story that feels authentic, honest and, most of all, true. I want readers to believe that things happened exactly as I said it did.
Q: What is one thing you love about your main character and one thing that drives you crazy?
JD: I love her unconventionality, her defiance, her eccentricity, and especially her dress-sense. One of my early reviewers has called her fiercely moral, which I rather like. She’s my rebel with a cause. As for what drives me crazy… she can be quick to judge others but she’s blinkered when it comes to her own faults.
Q: Where do you write, and what does it look like?
JD: My office is the dining room and my desk is the dining room table. At least, I think the dining room table is under there somewhere. At the moment it’s littered with notebooks, notes written on the backs of envelopes, Sellotape, my diary, a calculator. It’s definitely not an ideal environment — I don’t live alone and the dining room is the highway to our kitchen and the bathroom! However, Stephen King describes in his book ‘On Writing’ about how he used to write at a small desk under the eaves, and it wasn’t until he had his first office that he first suffered from writers’ block. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Q: This is your seventh book. Do you think it gets easier to write and publish over time, or is every process a consistent “birthing” experience?
JD: Don’t tell anyone, but My Counterfeit Self is actually my eighth book. Half-truths and White Lies won the Daily Mail First Novel Award, but the real first novel didn’t make it as far as being a book. What it did was earn me the services of a literary agent and the words, ‘Jane, you are a writer’, which sounded far more glamorous than ‘Jane, you are an insurance broker’. I’d call that four years well-spent.
Half-truths sold 15,000 copies, but then I found myself wandering in the wilderness for four years. When I eventually self-published at the end of 2012, I had to build my readership from scratch, while teaching myself how to self-publish and market, and building my team of beta readers and finding the right team of professionals to work with.
As for the writing, getting a new novel out of the ground is always tough. Perhaps I make it tough 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.’ Personally, I think there are more than two types of writers. I want to be Mary Anning scouring the beaches at Lyme Regis for dinosaur fossils, or Howard Carter discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun, or metal detectorist Terry Herbert digging up the Staffordshire Hoard. What I don’t want to be is a parent deciding on my child’s future, telling my son which subjects he will study, arranging my daughter’s marriage.
It takes me 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 wallowing in self-doubt again, unsure how to fight myself out of a corner. At 100,000 I may have an inkling of how it ends, but I won’t necessarily know how to get there. Every time you introduce a new angle, each ‘what if?’ question has to be pushed to its limits. Setting material aside and revisiting it is an excellent practice. It allows far greater objectivity. You have to analyze what isn’t working any why, then once you have the structure you go back and make every page shine. And then, of course, there’s the question of knowing when to stop.
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.
The ‘self’ part in self-publishing is that it’s down to me when to push the button. That’s not something you can delegate. It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking in equal measures.
Q: Your novel, An Unknown Woman, was awarded Self-Published Book of the Year by Writing Magazine. Does that put added pressure on your new releases?
JD: Definitely. The first edition of An Unknown Woman was (as far as I know) totally error free. I’ve never achieved that before and I expect it’s unrealistic to think I will again. I’m not saying it was a fluke, but with a 120,000 word novel, a few typos usually manage to slip past even the most eagle-eyed proof-readers.
Andrew Candy’s fantastic cover design had already won two awards. I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but I think it’s my most commercial to date.
The editor of Writing Magazine said that An Unknown Woman would happily sit on any of the Big 5’s 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, I’m biting my nails. But I’m learning. All the time, I’m learning.
Q: What are doing to celebrate the publication of your book? Do you go on vacation, take a long nap, get right back to work, or something else?
JD: Actually, on the morning of publication day, I’m running a workshop about self-publishing! There’s no let up. Autumn is a big time of year for events and literary festivals, so I’m really looking forward to getting out and meeting some more readers.
Get the Book Now
Many thanks to Jane Davis for sitting on the other side of the interview table! If you want to know how Lucy Forrester’s story turns out, you can buy My Counterfeit Self right now and start reading. (It’s on my Kindle now!)
About Jane Davis
Jane Davis is the author of seven novels. Her debut, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ The Bookseller featured her in their ‘One to Watch’ section. Six further novels have earned her a loyal fan base and wide-spread praise, and her 2016 novel, An Unknown Woman won Writing Magazine’s prestigious Self-Published Book of the Year Award. Compulsion Reads describe her as ‘a phenomenal writer whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless.’ Her favorite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey, with her Formula 1 obsessed, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she is not writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.
Find out more at her website, where you’ll also receive a free novel, I Stopped Time, when you sign up for her email updates.