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A Very Novel Woman

Jane Davis is the author of six novels. Her debut, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award. Most recently, An Unknown Woman, has been named Self- Published Book of the Year 2016 by Writing Magazine and the DSJT Charitable Trust.

How do you develop ideas for your novels?
An Unknown Woman is my most personal novel to date. In 2013, I took the decision to cut back on paid work, which meant selling the car and ridding myself of a lot of material baggage. The book is in part an exploration of how our material possessions inform our identities. It begins with a couple standing in the road outside their house watching it burn to the ground. The house is very recognisably my house. As I used to work in insurance claims, I thought I knew a lot about loss. Then in February 2014, life reflected art when my sister lost her house and everything in it to the winter floods. I didn’t have to look too far from home for my research.

What is your working day like?
Whatever else happens, my day starts and ends with reading. It’s part of my job, as far as I’m concerned. I read critically, trying to work out what works and what doesn’t. And, of course, if you don’t like something, you have to ask yourself what did the publisher see in this? It’s all too easy to get to the end of a fourteen-hour day and find that you haven’t touched your work in progress. Two thousand words a day is not undoable, but 1000 words will result in a novel over the space of a year. And I always take a walk. Getting some oxygen to the brain is the best way to get thoughts flowing. My novel A Funeral for an Owl is set entirely within my lunchtime walk.

Winning the prize is such a tremendous did you feel?
It’s enormously gratifying to have had it said by a panel of expert judges that not only is the writing exemplary, but we produced something beautiful that offers a great reading experience. I’m fortunate to be writing at a time when I have all of these great tools and resources at my disposal. Just ten years ago, it was very different.

Which books are you taking on holiday with you?
I’ve just bought two more novels by Elizabeth Strout and I adore Olive Kitteridge so I’m really excited to read more by her.

What do you enjoy about living in the area?
My cover designer Andrew Candy runs [mine] Art Gallery on Carshalton High Street as well as monthly craft fares. Through him, I have discovered that we have a very dynamic artistic community. I also love the fact that I can take an hour’s walk from my front door and most of it will be through parkland. Past the water tower, Honeywood Museum and the ponds, through Grove Park, then cutting through Westcroft to Beddington Park, one of King Henry VIII’s favourite hunting grounds, taking in the full circuit past the wonderful church of St Mary’s and Carew Manor. Surrey offers some tremendous independent bookshops. My personal favourite is Barton’s Bookshop in Leatherhead. The owner Peter curates a handpicked stock and is fantastic at making personal recommendations. An Unknown Woman is available from all good book shops. RRP £8.99.

Jane’s Top Five Holiday Reads
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. It has everything. Family secrets, flawed characters, opportunities for redemption.

Cider House Rules by John Irving. What I love about Irving’s writing is his skill in tackling complex subject matter with simple language.

Not forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger. It’s such a perfect piece of writing Think Local Hero or Whiskey Galore!

A visit from Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan’s - this author has an incredible understanding of what it means to be human.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It has replaced Marcus Zusac’s The Book Thief as my war novel of choice. (Jane wanted to list at least 20!)