Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Smash all the Windows – Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Jane Davis is one of those authors whose books all have an entirely different feeling to each other, Smash All The Windows being another example of what ties them all together, the brilliant depiction of the characters, whatever their age, circumstance or time period.

The centre of this book is a tragedy of the type fortunately most of us will only ever read about or watch in horror on news reports. Fifteen years ago at a fictional tube station St Botolph and Old Billingsgate, a crush occurs. It starts on an escalator and fifty-eight people lost their lives. Their loved ones have gone through an inquest and a class action before the most recent, second inquest which rules that the victims weren’t at fault. The reader learns about some of the victims through their relatives who have never given up trying to ensure that a similar incident never occurs again.

My thoughts of the book instantly conjured up one I read in 2011, The Report by Jessica Frances Kane about the Bethnal Green disaster of 1943 where a crush on the entrance to the station resulted in a large loss of life of those seeking shelter from air raids. I’m sure you can pick your own reference, something the author herself addresses during the novel. What makes this book different is the wide range of fictional characters who are altered by the tragedy, from the parents, siblings and partners of those who lost their lives to the trainee lawyer who immerses himself in the points of law. All of these people are bought to life and while I won’t deny this book is terribly sad overall there is some hope, even if all that hope consists of is that those people manage to get some relief from the day that changed their lives.

The story is told from different viewpoints we see Gina a mother whose marriage has fallen apart, her daughter just a teenager at the time of the tragedy having lost her childhood as she tries to support her mother. The secrets that they keep from one another trying to help or avoiding difficult subjects, we see it all from both sides. Whatever anyone says, people don’t turn into saints because they’ve suffered and life can continue to be unfair. Another woman becomes a keyboard warrior having been unable to leave her house. Some of the families blamed those on duty, but what if they were victims too? How does that work. The past and the present run alongside each other, memories throwing us back in time to re-examine facts, and a special project creating a sense of community with those who never wanted to be members of this select group.

I saw Jane Davis’s work as a project, almost as mammoth as Eric’s research into the fictional tragedy and the art project that Jules undertakes. This is an ambitious piece of writing and I’m delighted to say one that works. I can’t leave this review without alluding to the metafiction tag which gave rise to a number of questions when I featured the synopsis earlier on the blog. I’m going to be honest, I’m not quite sure what it means in the context of this story, and to be honest, I don’t really care. Smash All The Windows was an immensely compelling read, told in the first person I felt the various character’s emotions, I cared about them all. Somehow whilst revolving around the tragedy this is a book to make you think, from the mundane to the more philosophical questions, yet all the while remembering that the readers want to connect to the book and its unique set of characters. I know I was urging them forward all the way.

I would like to say a huge thank you to Jane Davis for allowing me to read a copy of Smash All The Windows prior to publication, today, 12 April 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks for an exceptional and engaging read.

First Published UK: 12 April 2018
Publisher: Rossdale Print Productions
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


Previous Books by Jane Davis

Half Truths and White Lies
I Stopped Time
These Fragile Things
A Funeral for an Owl
An Unchoreographed Life
An Unknown Woman
My Counterfeit Self

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (February 18)

Apart from being visited by a sickness bug courtesy of dear old Saint Valentine, this week has been relatively uneventful on any other front so without further ado…

This Week on the Blog

I posted four reviews this week, all of very different types of books starting with a review of a Non-Fiction book by one of my favourite authors; Margaret Forster with her memoir My Life in Houses.

My excerpt post was for an upcoming classic read, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton which I aim to have read before the end of February.

This Week in Books featured the authors Reginald Hill, Lucy Mangan and Kelly Rimmer.

On Thursday I posted my review of Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns which was the first book read and reviewed for The Classics Club. A review that sparked a lot of interest proving once more that us book lovers are interested in the old as well as the new.

This was followed by another Non-Fiction review, this time The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by the oh so knowledgeable Martin Edwards, full five stars from Cleopatra Loves Books.

My final review was some contemporary fiction, The Last Day by Claire Dyer that nearly poleaxed me because it had far more depth than might be assumed when you learn it is the story about a man moving in with his ex-wife with his young girlfriend in tow. I was lucky enough to receive an author post explaining why she wanted to explore the love triangle in this novel.

This Time Last Year…

I was reading The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell which was one of my favourite reads in 2017. This book is set in 1920s Brooklyn during the Prohibition period. Rose our narrator is a typist in the Police Precinct there and we hear her thoughts on the other typists who she feels superior to. And then Odalie joins the typing pool and Rose’s life is thrown into disarray. In my review I comment that Rose isn’t so much an unreliable narrator as a nebulous one, even at the end of the book I found it hard to pinpoint exactly where the truth ended and the lies began… A superb character study in a time-period and place I know far too little about so all I can say is it had me hooked and oh, that ending!

You can read my full review here or click on the book cover

Blurb

New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin.

Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid.

But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession.
But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out? Amazon

Stacking the Shelves

No NetGalley additions and I still haven’t bought any books in 2018 but still some books arrived through the letter box; what’s a girl to do?

I was thrilled to receive a copy of The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise from No Exit Press as I’d seen this book on social media and was longing to find out more. The Emperor of Shoes will be published in July 2018.

Blurb

Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in southern China, where his father runs their family-owned shoe factory. Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company, but as he explores the plant’s vast floors and assembly lines, he comes to a grim realization: employees are exploited, regulatory systems are corrupt and Alex’s own father is engaging in bribes to protect the bottom line.

When Alex meets a seamstress named Ivy, his sympathies begin to shift. She is an embedded organizer of a pro-democratic Chinese party, secretly sowing dissonance among her fellow labourers. Will Alex remain loyal to his father and his heritage? Or will the sparks of revolution ignite?

Deftly plotted and vibrantly drawn, The Emperor of Shoes is a timely meditation on idealism, ambition, father-son rivalry and cultural revolution, set against a vivid backdrop of social and technological change. Amazon

From The Dome Press I received a copy of Twin Truths by Shelan Rodgers which will be published on 15 March 2018.

Blurb

What is the truth? And how do you recognise it when you hear it?

Jenny and Pippa are twins. Like many twins they often know what the other is thinking. They complete each other.

When Pippa disappears Jenny is left to face the world alone, as she tries to find out what happened to her other half. But the truth, for Jenny, can be a slippery thing. Amazon

From the Borough Press I have a book of short stories by none other than Lionel Shriver called Property. I was a fan of We Need to Talk About Kevin and I greatly enjoyed her sliding doors style novel The Post Birthday World so perhaps this mixture of short stories and a couple of novellas will reignite the spark.

 

Blurb

This landmark publication, the first collection of stories from a master of the form, explores the idea of “property” in both senses of the word: real estate, and stuff. These sharp, brilliantly imaginative pieces illustrate how our possessions act as proxies for ourselves, and how tussles over ownership articulate the power dynamics of our relationships. In Shriver’s world, we may possess people and objects and places, but in turn they possess us.

In the stunning novella “The Standing Chandelier” (‘a brutal treat’: Daily Mail), a woman with a history of attracting other women’s antagonism creates a deeply personal wedding present for her best friend and his wife-to-be.
In “Domestic Terrorism,” a thirty-something son refuses to leave home, resulting in a standoff that renders him a Millennial cause célèbre.
In “The ChapStick,” a middle-aged man subjugated by service to his elderly father discovers that the last place you should finally assert yourself is airport security.
In “Vermin,” an artistic Brooklyn couple’s purchase of a ramshackle house destroys their once passionate relationship.
In “The Subletter,” two women, both foreign conflict junkies, fight over claim to a territory that doesn’t belong to either.

This immensely readable collection showcases the biting insight that has made Lionel Shriver one of the most acclaimed authors of our time. Amazon

And from the author Jane Davis I have a copy of her upcoming novel Smash all the Windows which will be published on 12 April 2018.

Blurb

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of metafiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art. Amazon

So what do you think?

Any of these take your fancy?

tbr-watch

Since my last post I have  read 5 books and since I have gained 4  my TBR has fallen to a respectable 185

Physical Books – 108
Kindle Books – 54
NetGalley Books –23

I have banked another third of book token this week and as I haven’t bought any books I’m now 2 whole books in credit!

Posted in Books I have read

Top 10 Books published in 2013

2013 was a great book reading year for me, I have read many great books of a variety of genres, although as usual the majority were crime fiction! It has been a real struggle to whittle this list down to 10 but here they are, in no particular order!

Click on the book covers to read my reviews.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

My list starts with a book set in a bookshop. This was a great book for this booklover, with references as diverse as Paddington Bear and 1984 littering the pages, great characters and a bookshop I wanted to work in!

A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them…
The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller
5*’s

Of course it was love for my children, love for my son, that caused me to act as I did. It was a lapse of judgement. If I could have foreseen the rippling aftershocks that followed I would have acted differently, but by the time I realised the extent of the consequences, it was too late.
A superb psychological thriller set in Devon over one claustrophobic weekend in November 2013 this book rivals Barbara Vine for one of the best books in this genre.

Dot by Araminta Hall

Women's Fiction 5*
Women’s Fiction
5*

a long-forgotten photograph of a man, his hair blowing in the breeze. Dot stares so long at the photograph the image begins to disintegrate before her eyes, and as the image fades it is replaced with one thought: ‘I think it’s definitely him.’
Secrets and female relationships dominate this book. Full of delightful characters with an undertone of humour to lighten the emotions that must surely melt the hardest of hearts.

Apple Tree Yard
by Louise Doughty

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

Safety and security are commodities you can sell in return for excitement, but you can never buy them back.

This powerful book was my surprise find of 2013. A women in court but how and why? At its core this is a book about how we perceive ourselves, through our own eyes and what is reflected back to us in the eyes of others.

Entry Island by Peter May

Crime Fiction  5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

The investigation itself appears little more than a formality. The evidence points to a crime of passion: the victim’s wife the vengeful culprit. But for Sime the investigation is turned on its head when he comes face to face with the prime suspect, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met.

I had the final part of the Lewis Trilogy down as a favourite of 2013 but have decided Peter May can’t have two books on the top ten (but if you haven’t read the Lewis Trilogy I suggest you do!) so have decided his latest book set between a past on the Isle of Lewis and the present in Canada was the winner for fantastic characters along with a well plotted tale of a woman accused of murder and a past that must be found.

What Lies Within by Tom Vowler

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

when a convict escapes from nearby Dartmoor prison, their isolation suddenly begins to feel more claustrophobic than free. Fearing for her children’s safety, Anna’s behaviour becomes increasingly irrational. But why is she so distant from her kind husband Robert, and why does she suspect something sinister of her son Paul? All teenagers have their difficult phases…

This was another great find part psychological thriller but containing elements of so much more; a mystery, a crime and relationships.

A Funeral for an Owl
by Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

Times have changed since Jim Stevens chose to teach. Protocol designed to protect children now makes all pupil/teacher relationships taboo – even those that might benefit a student.

This is one of those stories that stays with you long after you have closed the book. Jane Davis Davis really does bring characters to life, mothers, fathers, friends, teachers are all perfectly described along with their actions and reactions to events. (oh and if you have copy I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements!!)

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Women's Fiction   5*
Women’s Fiction
5*

Because something has happened that will call them home, back to the house they grew up in – and to what really happened that Easter weekend all those years ago.
Lisa Jewell really knows how to write a great story, her books never fail to delight me as they are so much more than ‘chick-lit’ they deal with serious issues without becoming depressing. This is my favourite (I think) of all her novels.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Women's Fiction 5*'s
Women’s Fiction
5*’s

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read
My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died…

Another great story-teller (I read What Alice Forgot after this one) with all the ingredients included; a believable plot, characters that are well-developed and writing that pulls the reader in from the first page, plus this isn’t the story you think it is going to be!

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller
5*’s

He’s gone. And telling the truth won’t bring him back…
When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

A lot of tension in this book, this is definitely not light reading but it is certainly absorbing and haunting.

What did you think of these books?

Does your list contain any of them?

I’d love to see your links to your best reads of 2013 (as I always need more books to add to that TBR!)

Posted in Competition

Win a Signed Copy of A Funeral for an Owl by Jane Davis

A Funeral for an Owl

To celebrate the publication of A Funeral for an Owl, Jane Davis kindly let me interview her for my blog.  As a bonus she has now followed up that with an offer of a free signed copy of the paperback which is out now!

Open to UK readers the question is….

Who is my favourite secondary character in A Funeral for an Owl?

To enter please email me at cleobannister@live.co.uk with the answer using the subject ‘competition’. I am accepting entries until midnight 8 December 2013 when I will select the winner from my very stylish purple cloche hat and contact the winner for their address.

Purple Hat

My review

Everything changes for Jim the day he finds a pair of binoculars and picks them up. Kneeling on the back of the sofa looking out over the lamplight night from his London council flat he spots a barn owl. Using his trusty bird book for reference he begins to learn the Latin names for the birds that he spots down by the railway tracks. At the beginning of the summer holidays in 1992 Jim meets a girl near his favourite bird watching spot and the whole course of his life changes.

Set in London this story spans twenty years as the older Jim, now a teacher, reflects on his younger self to help Shamayal, but is Jim’s story strong and relevant enough to overcome the culture of the streets today?

Jane’s writing drew me in from the very first page with a school playground fight that certainly seemed only too real and believable. This fight would have consequences to all involved as Jim overstepped his boundary as a teacher to try to help Shamayal. The fact that Jim and Shamayal are both missing important people in their lives makes a deep impression on the way they act, as well as strongly influencing their hopes and dreams. Jane is one of those writers that make you really believe the story you are being told; the descriptions of places meant that I felt I was by the railway tracks, in the high-rise flat or in the school playground witnessing a fight, a true gift.

At times I found the story is heart-breaking, at others touching as the wonderful characters took up residence in my heart especially my favourite secondary character Bins. At times I was able to sympathise with each of characters, at others I wanted to shout at them but at no time did I stop caring about any of them. This to me is the true measure of a good read!

A Funeral for an Owl

If you haven’t already done you can read the interview Jane Davis.  Alternatively you can contact her using the following links

Website: where she posts interesting articles and interviews with authors
Facebook
Twitter
PinterestCropped BW (2)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

A Funeral for an Owl – Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

Everything changes for Jim the day he finds a pair of binoculars and picks them up. Kneeling on the back of the sofa looking out over the lamplight night from his London council flat he spots a barn owl. Using his trusty bird book for reference he begins to learn the Latin names for the birds that he spots down by the railway tracks. At the beginning of the summer holidays in 1992 Jim meets a girl near his favourite bird watching spot and the whole course of his life changes.

Set in London this story spans twenty years as the older Jim, now a teacher, reflects on his younger self to help Shamayal, but is Jim’s story strong and relevant enough to overcome the culture of the streets today?

Jane’s writing drew me in from the very first page with a school playground fight that certainly seemed only too real and believable. This fight would have consequences to all involved as Jim overstepped his boundary as a teacher to try to help Shamayal. The fact that Jim and Shamayal are both missing important people in their lives makes a deep impression on the way they act, as well as strongly influencing their hopes and dreams. Jane is one of those writers that make you really believe the story you are being told; the descriptions of places meant that I felt I was by the railway tracks, in the high-rise flat or in the school playground witnessing a fight, a true gift.

At times I found the story is heart-breaking, at others touching as the wonderful characters took up residence in my heart especially my favourite secondary character Bins. At times I was able to sympathise with each of characters, at others I wanted to shout at them but at no time did I stop caring about any of them. This to me is the true measure of a good read!

The eBook is available now and the paperback is due out on 1 December 2013 A Funeral for an Owl
I got to know Jane when she commented on one of my earliest reviews on Amazon for her award winning book Half-truths & White Lies – click on the cover to see my review
Half-truths and White Lies

It was her historical novel I Stopped Time: A Historical Novel that cemented the fact that she was now a must-read author. I loved this book so much as it tells a story using photographs.

Click on the cover to read my review.

I stopped time

Jane’s third book These Fragile Things  is set in the 1980’s which made for some fantastic nostalgia of my teenage years!
These Fragile Things

If you haven’t already done so please read the interview Jane Davis kindly gave me to celebrate the publication of A Funeral for an Owl.  Alternatively you can contact her using the following links

Website: where she posts interesting articles and interviews with authors
Facebook
Twitter
PinterestA Funeral for an Owl

Posted in Author Interview

Interview with Jane Davis author of A Funeral for an Owl

Cover-Artwork-187x300

So here is my very first interview with an author!  Jane Davis wrote one of my favourite novels of all time ‘I Stopped Time’ and when she sent me her latest book A Funeral for an Owl I cheekily asked if I could do an interview with her when it was published.  To my delight she agreed.

Cleo: What theme was the basis for A Funeral for an Owl?

Jane:  A Funeral for an Owl shares its central theme with Half-truths and White Lies, I Stopped Time, and to a lesser extent These Fragile Things, that is the influence that missing persons have on our lives. Whether an absent parent, the child who never was, a friend who died an untimely death, the object of our unrequited love who finds a love of his own, the friends we lose touch with, we all collect them, particularly as we get older.  In my own life, the influence of those who are missing is as great, and possibly greater still, than those who are present. The fact that someone is absent creates the ultimate What if? question, the question authors have to toy with when thinking about the premise for their plots.

This theme was something that I had explored tentatively in my previous fiction, but I found myself studying the Missing Persons ads in The Metro, the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds whose stories aren’t sufficiently high-profile to land them on the pages of newspapers.  They are simply slipping between the cracks. And so I looked into the facts. One in ten children ‘run away’ from home before they reach the age of sixteen, an estimated 100,000 every year. Shockingly, a quarter of those young people are actually forced out of their homes by parents or carers. Two-thirds are not reported to the police as missing. That’s 75,000 children for whom a Missing Persons ad will never be placed. All of these children are highly vulnerable, at risk of substance abuse, sexual exploitation and homelessness. Mobile phones and social networking sites have made it even easier to target them. I include a particularly poignant quote from Lady Catherine Meye at the beginning of my novel. “We can’t establish for certain how many children are missing. You’d have more chance of finding a stray dog.” But what if some of the rules that are put in place with the best of intentions – to protect children – actually deprive the most vulnerable of confidential counsel from someone they trust? I appreciate that not everyone will agree with that view, but when I was growing up we had a wonderful teacher who operated an open-house and provided a safe place for those who were struggling at home, no questions asked. It was surprising who would turn up at her door. Today, in an environment when any relationship between teachers and pupils outside the classroom is taboo, she would be sacked. I think that’s terribly sad. Fiction provides a unique opportunity to tell one side of a story through the eyes of one or two characters. It’s not the whole picture by any means, but it is one aspect of it.

Cleo: The telling of the story from more than one perspective was something that I really loved about this book. As a reader it gave me far more to think about than if it had just been told from Jim’s point of view.

Cleo: A Funeral For An Owl main protagonists, Jim and Shamayal, are male; is it harder to write from this perspective?

Jane: There are challenges about writing from a man’s perspective. Some of them are based on the myths perpetuated by popular women’s magazines – about how many times a day men think about sex, for example. When I’m not sure how to approach a topic, I turn to books. I also rely on gut feeling about how much detail people actually want to read. Something implied can be far more powerful than something that is explicit. I prefer describing emotions rather than mechanics. Young Jim does undergo something of a sexual awakening when he meets Aimee White, a girl from the other side of the tracks – smart and what we used to call middle class – who is a whole year older than him. Graham Joyce’s The Tooth Fairy provided a wonderful example of the confusion of finding yourself aroused by someone you are not attracted to. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad provided fantastic examples of how to portray flawed characters in a non-judgemental way – people who don’t always understand the reasons why they do things. I take comfort in the fact that I am not so convinced as Cosmopolitan is that there is a ‘typical male’, but even if I’m wrong, my characters are not intended to be typical. I hope that, through young Jim, I have sympathetically addressed the pressures boys feel to behave in a so-called ‘masculine way.’ The main challenge in writing Shamayal was creating the fight scene. That was new territory for me. Again, my intention was to create a sense of fear rather than to be graphic. (I should perhaps explain that this isn’t a book about sex and violence.)

Cleo: I totally agree with you as I do not believe that boy’s issues and concerns are that different from those that girls have. Certainly my experience of teenagers of both sexes along with the multitude of their friends that passed through my door have proved that in fact the concerns are pretty similar.

Cleo: Did you see or hear about a playground fight involving gangs or was this woven in later in the process?

Thankfully the only playground fight I have ever seen close up was between my best friend and the school skin-head (also a girl). It began during a game of netball and I can’t tell you what it was about, but it must have been some righteous cause, because my friend wouldn’t have fought over any other. The skin-head should have had the advantage as girls’ fights consist primarily of scratching and hair-pulling, but my friend won.

The original draft of A Funeral for an Owl only told the story of what happened between Jim and Aimee in 1992. That was rejected by my then publisher as they felt it lacked a strong female protagonist. It was only later that I came back to the material, which I was convinced was too good to be consigned to that dusty drawer reserved for rejected manuscripts. I was surprised that I felt a real affection for it. I kept returning to it and decided to update it with Shamayal’s story. By layering the story I was able to reflect on cause and effect. I was able to tell the story of how Jim would put his career on the line to stop history repeating itself. I was able to allow Bins to be a bit of a hero. It was also an opportunity to acknowledge the enormous changes I have witnessed over the past twenty or so years. The cultural mix – in my South London middle school there was one black family. My friends’ children simply cannot understand how we survived without mobile phones in the ‘olden days’ and why there are so few photographs of us. Children and adults were members of different species. Gangs were very different things then. Children did not kill children. Today, hearing about gang fights is unavoidable. I read a lot of personal accounts during my research, including one victim’s who was dumped in a bin and left for dead. Sadly, there are lots of truths in my book.

Cleo: I think the fact that the book contains a lot of truths is what makes it so powerful, the change in attitudes in the last twenty years certainly adds context to both parts of this story.

Cleo: My favourite secondary character has to be Bins, a man who spends most of his time in the bin store at Ralegh Grove, the estate Shamayal lives on. Is he based, even vaguely on someone you know?

Jane: No is the short answer, but it’s not a very satisfactory one. Some readers assumed that Bins was autistic, but that wasn’t my intention at all. I suffered from depression for many years and, in an age when suicide statistics speak for themselves, I enjoy celebrating people who have found their own ways of living. In my locality we have a wizard who walks the length of the high street in his full regalia, complete with a black cat on his shoulder; we have a very masculine-looking Scotsman who wears a very badly-fitting cotton floral dress; we have a man who walks the streets with a tank strapped to his back spraying the air, and a young chap who stands on street corners conducting the traffic, and singing hymns at the top of his voice. These are all logical responses to an insane world. Small communities – and children in particular – accommodate people who don’t fall into our narrow definition of what is ‘normal’. It was only when watching a programme about the artist Chuck Close that I became aware of the condition Prosopagnosia, or ‘face blindness’, and appreciated how someone who didn’t appear to recognise someone he had met dozens of times before might be treated as if he was stupid, and if he was treated as if he was stupid, how he might eventually come to believe that.

Cleo:  I asked this question was because I often feel that the importance of identifiable characters outside the main protagonists is often overlooked. I loved Bins and his interactions with both Shamayal and Jim bought a tear to my eye, I’m a softy for people caring for others particularly when on the surface it looks like Bins needs help too!

Cleo: I thought Ayisha seemed a little prim and proper at the start of the book, did you like her less than the other characters?

Jane: Ayisha is opinionated, it’s true. She is also a person who has been brought up with rules and believes that they’re there for good reason. She knows that her colleague Jim has breached the teachers’ code of conduct by befriending fourteen-year-old Shamayal. In the aftermath of the playground fight during which Jim is stabbed, Ayisha administers first aid. She’s in shock and understandably so. This is far outside her normal experience. She makes a split-second decision that it would be wrong to report Jim. He is in no position to defend himself: imagine the headlines if he doesn’t pull through. But in that split-second she puts her own teaching career on the line. So, yes, when she finds out that Jim has done all that she suspected and more, she’s furious with him. Because it’s too late. She is involved, even though she really doesn’t want to be. Far from disliking Ayisha, I am completely sympathetic. But for her ethnic background, I am a lot like her.

Cleo: I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t like Ayisha, I came to admire her decision to put her career on the line enormously as the book progressed. So moving swiftly onto the next question…

Cleo: Who was your favourite character in the book and why?

Jane: I think that Jim’s Granddad is a very powerful character. He is another missing person by the time that the action in the book begins, but he represents everything that was good about Jim’s difficult childhood. He recognised that Jim’s dad, Frank, favoured his brother, Nick, because he was more masculine, and he tried to compensate.

“He was a gentleman.”
Shamayal’s recovery swift, the mocking manner returned with a vengeance. “Posh?”
“God, no! He had a face full of stubble and tattoos up to his armpits. I meant in the old-fashioned sense. He was born at a time when showing manners and respecting his elders weren’t seen as weaknesses.”
Shamayal looked doubtful: this definition implied a loss of face.
“Granddad understood me better than anyone else.” Jim found himself smiling. “He was just old enough to remember what it was like to be really young.”

Cleo: Have you ever been bird-watching and if so did you learn the names of the birds in a similar way to Jim?

Jane: I’m not a bird-watcher, but I am a very keen walker, I enjoy observing life on a small scale. It’s important to slow down, to get away from technology, to observe the changing seasons. I’ve just returned home from a trip to the Lake District, but it is equally possible to experience these things in your local park. Apart from Ralegh Grove, which is fictional (based on my experience of living on High Path council estate, where I bought my first flat), the places I describe are within walking distance of my house. I simply recorded all of the birds I saw and looked them up. So-called garden birds are declining at a frightening rate, so it’s possible that this simple pleasure isn’t one that will be with us for ever. The one exception to my writing-down-and-looking-up rule is my owl. I am not absolutely sure that there are barn owls in Carshalton – although, if there were, it is likely they would be found by the sides of the railway lines. The owl is such a powerful image in mythology and folklore that his appearance was non-negotiable. I visited several wonderful websites when looking for inspiration: http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk provided me with beautiful and moving photographs that left me with a very clear image of what I wanted to try to convey in words. They do wonderful work and run adoption schemes for owls, which makes a very nice present – if you don’t want to buy a book.

I introduced the bird-watching aspect in tribute to Barry Hines’s heart-breaking portrayal of Billy in A Kestrel for a Knave. Like Billy, by discovering birds, Jim discovers another way of being that sets him apart from his father and brother and the assumptions that, like them, he will turn to a life of petty crime. He also sets himself apart from boys of his own age.

Cleo: The myth that you use wasn’t one I’d heard before, but one that I will now always remember.

Cleo: All your books are very different; do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

Jane: In the world of traditional publishing, it is not a smart move to make your books too different. The issue of genre is not quite so thorny in self-publishing, which recognises that authors want to develop and grow through experimentation and that readers do not want to read the same old recycled plot with different casts.

There is a school of thought that tells you that must have a clear idea of where the plot will take you before you start writing. If that was the case, I would never have put pen to paper. I choose to take the advice of authors who say exactly the opposite:

Debby Holt claims that there are plot-driven novels and character-driven novels. Hers fall into the latter category and I’m with her. Joanne Harris, too, says that women often write in this way, while men prefer to plot.

Stephen King’s advice from his book On Writing: is to start with a single question and see how that idea develops. The question always begins ‘what if’ and his usually follow the lines of ‘What if aliens landed in Arizona?’ or ‘What if zombies invaded my hometown?’

Sir Terry Pratchett uses a method he calls The Valley of the Clouds. In the valley of the clouds there are mountains but you can only see the very tops of the peaks. It is your job as an author to work out how to get to the mountains. As a walker, I really connect with this description.
Have a clear idea about your characters, give them background stories, put them in a conflicted scenario and take the idea to its natural conclusion. If you’re lucky and your characters are right, with a fair wind, they will take control and do most of the donkey work for you. Shamayal is one example of this. His spoke very clearly to me because he has a very definite speech pattern and he is unafraid of saying things to an adult that simply wouldn’t have been acceptable when I was growing up. That said, my method does result in some serious nail-biting, but I think that to plot rigidly would be to stifle the characters.

Cleo: Have you always written stories?

Jane: No. I always used to draw pictures. I might have pursued art but, after years of As, a grade C in return for my experimental silk-screening for my Art O Level dampened any ambitions I had in that department. I left school at the age of sixteen and never returned to it. These days I stick to photography.

Cleo: That’s a really original answer as most writers appear to have been scribbling notes away for years. I’m sure that will be good  for aspiring writers to know, particularly as it is NaNo season!

Cleo: What made you sit down and start your first novel?

Jane: There were several reasons why I started to write. The first was that, although I had been an artistic child, my work in insurance provided no creative outlet. Secondly, it was a question of timing rather than one of time. I spent many years with ample time on my hands, but I didn’t start to write until I was in a relationship with someone who gave me confidence to express myself. Finally, I needed something to write about. Something happened in my life that I needed to make sense of and I used writing to explore how I felt about it. I think that most writers start because they want to make sense of the world.

Cleo: Do you work on one book at a time?

Jane: After the first book is out there, it’s almost impossible to work on one book at a time. At the moment I am marketing last year’s double release, preparing for the launch of A Funeral for an Owl and am 65,000 words into a new project which I’m still too superstitious to talk about. I’m at the panic-inducing stage where I know what happens at the end but I can’t seem to find the path to my final peak!

Cleo: That is such an eloquent way of describing all the work we readers often forget that goes into writing and publishing a book.  I can’t wait to see what the new book is about but I won’t push for an answer, yet….

Cleo: When can readers look forward to reading A Funeral for an Owl?

Jane: The eBook is available immediately and the paperback is due for release on 1 December 2013

Thank you for providing such interesting and in-depth answers to my questions.  It has been an absolute pleasure to feature you on my blog.

My review of A Funeral for an Owl will follow tomorrow.

A Funeral for an Owl
Half-truths & White Lies
I Stopped Time: A Historical Novel
These Fragile Things

Cropped BW (2)

Jane Davis would love you to connect with her using any of the following:
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A Funeral for an Owl

Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Posts

Musing Mondays (September 2)

musingmondays51Hosted by shouldbereading.wordpress

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…

• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
• What you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

My Musing

I am currently re-reading A Funeral for an Owl by Jane Davis. Why am I reading this again?

Well I’m really excited; the book is due to be published at Christmas time (hence why there is no book cover for this one) and Jane has agreed to do an interview with me on my blog! Now I know lots of you do this sort of thing regularly but it is my first time so I want to ask the right questions so I’m reading it with that in mind now.

Jane has amazed me again by coming up with an entirely different type of book from a subject matter viewpoint although the writing still immediately draws you into the storyline. This book-to-be starts with a playground fight, a teacher getting injured and a compelling back-story of a bright boy born on the wrong side of the tracks (literally). If that has whetted your appetite come back for the full review in December.

Jane’s first book Half-Truth and White Lies was a worthy winner of the Daily Mail/Transworld First Novel Award. There is nothing of the novice about her technique, which shows all the confidence of a natural-born writer. (John Harding, Daily Mail) in 2008. I read and reviewed this on Amazon in 2010 and got a reply from Jane which started our correspondence.
Jane kindly gave me a preview of I Stopped Time a long time before it was published and I fell in love with it. This book reminded me of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore in this dual-time novel with a focus on photography.

“Three. I have three stories,” Lottie Parker tells her solicitor while putting her affairs in order. “But it was Oscar Wilde who said that a story is almost certainly a lie.”

Since then I have read her latest novel These Fragile Things that is set in Streatham in the 1980’s

“Would you risk ridicule and scorn – knowing others besides yourself will be affected – to voice a seemingly impossible claim?
How would you react if your daughter claimed to be seeing visions?
What if you and your wife couldn’t agree whether to support her or to demand a medical explanation?
What then?”

I have to admit the subject matter could have put me off if I didn’t trust the author to tell a good story and I wasn’t disappointed.

So I’m back to reading the manuscript of A Funeral for an Owl so I can do the author justice in my very first interview!
Did I also tell you I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements so my name will be in print!

Christmas present

This is one of the best Christmas presents ever!!!

Reviews for Jane Davis

 

Half-truths and White Lies
These Fragile Things
I stopped time

Jane is looking for advance reviewers and posted the following comment

If any of you would like to be advance reviewers of a Funeral for an Owl please get in touch as I’m trying to get a bit of momentum going! (Cleo has beaten me to it.) You can contact me via my website or on janerossdale@btinternet.com. You can also read extracts of my other books there. Jane

Posted in Books I have read

These Fragile Things – Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

Having read both Half-truths & White Lies and I Stopped Time, two very different books, I was keen to see what delights were on offer in this book. I was not disappointed.

The story is set in Streatham, London in the early 80’s. Judy Jones, pops into a telephone box to have a conversation, without her mother listening in, when a wall collapses on her. Religion, in particular Catholicism, feature strongly as themes of near-death experiences and religious fervour, not subject matter I’d normally seek out, but the strength of the writing lifts the subject matter making it immensely readable. I was instantly drawn into the book and really wanted to know how the family would cope with all the changes including Judy’s father converting to Catholicism against her mother’s wishes.

Jane Davis really does bring characters to life, mothers, fathers, friends, teachers are all perfectly described along with their actions and reactions to events. I love the occasional asides, an overheard conversation here, or a mental comparison of one home with another there, all of which helps to anchor the story.

Ultimately relationships, albeit in extraordinary circumstances, are central to this book.

I was pleased to see there is a preview of another book included in the kindle edition by this talented writer

I Stopped Time – Jane Davis
I Stopped Time

Half-truths and White Lies

Posted in Books I have read

I Stopped Time – Jane Davis

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

This book tells the tale of Lottie, a woman who wasn’t around through her son’s young life. James doesn’t know, or want to know, about his absent mother until she dies and he is left a photography collection. Through these photographs he discovers more about her.

I loved the way that Lottie’s life unfolded through pictures, a clever (and brave) device which worked fantastically well. It was a real change from the diary with the missing pages which is often used! The ending was perfect, not being a writer, I often think this must be the hardest part as many a promising book falls at this stage. The timing of the revelation of Lottie’s story, especially in relation to her son James was perfect.

Being interested in more recent history this book was right up my street and I especially liked the fact that it examined the reality of the women left behind during the First World War. This book deserves to be read by all who enjoy a really good story, well defined characters and detailed research to back it all up! I would especially recommend it to fans of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore.

I was given a pre-publication copy of this book by the author some time ago, and despite reading many books since then, this book is one I have remembered and reflected upon.

Posted in Books I have read

Half-truths and White Lies – Jane Davis

Contemporary Fiction Jane Davis
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

Andrea drew a family tree for a school project during her schooldays and this story demonstrates how her father’s idea for a Venn diagram to illustrate families works better.

The story is narrated by 3 separate characters, Andrea, her aunt Faye and her Godfather Pete and follows the aftermath of the death of Andrea’s parents (Laura and Tom)

The characters are well formed something that is demonstrated by the fact that each narrator sees them differently but the parts add up to a whole.

Although the story is fairly obvious it is so well written that this doesn’t matter.

Fantastic first novel.