Jane Davis’s My Counterfeit Self
Tomorrow 1 October 2016 sees the publication of my friend Jane Davis’s new novel My Counterfeit Self (which is also available for pre-order until tomorrow). For a taste of the Davis touch, my review of her novel These Fragile Things is here. I’m glad to welcome her for a bit of a Q&A.
First, the low-down on Jane
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. Her 2016 novel, An Unknown Woman, won Writing Magazine’s Self-Published Book of the Year Award. Compulsion Reads described her as “a phenomenal writer whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless”. Her favourite 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.
How did you first decide that you wanted to become a writer?
I don’t know that you can ever decide to become a writer. T.S. Eliot said, “I can understand you wanting to write poems, but I can’t understand what you mean by being a poet.” I knew that I wanted to write something and not just any old something, but a novel. And, secretly, I had ambition for the novel that I was going to write. I wanted it to change my life by the time I was forty. So, if pressed, I’ll go as far as saying that I decided to write the novel that would change my life by the time I was forty.
How do you deal with autobiographical elements in your work? Do you worry about offending people or baring your soul too much?
The difficulty with baring your own soul is that none of us lives in isolation. Other people feature in our stories. Recently, an author called Maria Bento Fernandes was sued for libel by her husband’s family and ordered to pay 53,000 EUR after she revealed intimate details of their family life in a novel. When she appealed against the original charge, the European Court of Human Rights didn’t uphold the original decision, but ruled that the award should stand as the author had “failed to respect her in-laws’ right to a private life”. Christmas at the Fernandes’ will never be the same again!
I think you always have to make it personal. While I was writing Half-truths and White Lies, my middle school was pulled down to make way for a housing estate. Since it was within walking distance of my job, I made a pilgrimage every lunchtime to see the wrecking balls do their work. In the evenings, writing as Peter Church, I described the dismay he felt at discovering that a block of flats had been built on the place where he used to play marbles and that more yet blocks had been built on the pitch where he played football. He asks himself the question, how is it that my old school was torn apart and I didn’t feel a physical wrench?
In A Funeral for an Owl, Jim discovers that his pupil Shamayal is living in the council flat that he lived in as a boy. I knew that flat because I lived there too and many of the small anecdotes are things that happened to me.
For my new novel, My Counterfeit Self, I’ve drawn on my experiences as a writer. How it feels when you show your work to someone for the first time. The fear that people may like you less when they understand what’s going on inside your head. Receiving rejection letters. The thrill of the first “yes”. How, when you win a competition, there is always someone who says that you didn’t deserve to win or that you must have been related to the judges.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
It’s the story of a radical poet and political activist called Lucy Forrester, who’s 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 Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. It feels like an insult and she suspects that it was the parting gesture of Dominic Marchmont, her literary critic and on/off lover of fifty years, whose funeral is due to take place that same day. But then her husband Ralph, the voice of reason in the book, suggests that he might have left Lucy with an opportunity.
To be honest, the idea of writing about the life of a poet came directly from reader reviews. Several comments 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.
My Counterfeit Self is an intriguing title. What does it mean to you?
Lucy’s parents behave so appallingly that, in her late teens, she’s freed from any obligation to live up to their expectations. She moves out of the family home and decamps to bohemian Soho. In distancing herself from her parents she adopts a new personality that she hides behind. Although she insists that she lays herself bare in her poetry, it’s keeping secrets from those who love her most that is her undoing.
You’ve worked with cover designer Andrew Candy again. What was the concept behind this one?
I chose an image by Sergiy Glushchenko/500px, which has already won an award for underwater photography and when you use an award-winning photograph, you don’t want to muck about with it. Lucy suffered from childhood polio and the theme of water is repeated in the book, as she swims as part of her physical therapy. I think the image also suggests her reaction to shock. Then, it reflects the main cause Lucy writes about in her poetry. Having always been a CND supporter, she also gets behind the British Atomic Veterans. It struck me that the bubbles in the photograph could be manipulated so that they were in the shape of a mushroom cloud. The idea of the mushroom cloud coming out of the poet’s mouth really appealed to me.
Finally, where does My Counterfeit Self fit in with the rest of your work?
There are no obvious links between any of my books. I’m excited by cause and effect and unconventionality in all its forms. I like to write about big subjects and give my characters impossible moral dilemmas. My Counterfeit Self is certainly full of those!
Universal book link for ebook format of My Counterfeit Self (special pre-order offer of 99p/99c before 1 October publication, then £2.99/$3.99)
Website (anyone who signs up to her newsletter receives a free copy of her novel I Stopped Time)
Amazon Author Page