I’m always intrigued where and how authors get the inspiration for their writing so I’m delighted to have Jane Davis staying in with me today to explain a little about her latest book.
If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.
Staying in with Jane Davis
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Jane. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought along my new novel, Smash all the Windows. Hot off the press, its release date is actually tomorrow.
(How exciting. Congratulations and happy publication day for tomorrow Jane.)
You can probably sense from the title that the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press’s reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.
(I can fully understand that as a catalyst for writing. It insenses me when the first thing anyone is asked is, ‘How do you feel?’ regardless of whatever news they’ve just received.)
For those who don’t know about Hillsborough, a crush occurred during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. A single lie was told about the cause of the disaster: In that moment, Liverpool fans became scapegoats. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set straight.
It’s an incident that lives on in the nation’s collective consciousness. Many people have very distinctive memories about where they were when they heard the news. Of course, my disaster, and the miscarriage of justice that followed, is fictional. I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators, and as I’ve learned from my beta readers and advance readers, there seem to be a huge number of people with escalator stories to share. I’m amassing quite a collection.
(As someone who is very claustrophobic I can identify with that totally Jane. I have to force myself onto the underground.)
What can we expect from an evening in with Smash all the Windows?
We have characters you’ll fall in love with, a structure and pace my copy editor described as ‘just fricking divine!’ and plenty of snippets that you’ll want to discuss at the water cooler.
Whilst we have all of the drama of the disaster, the quieter scenes are among my favourites, Donovan’s in particular. That fateful day wiped out two generations of Donovan’s family. Not only his daughter and future son-in-law, but his unborn grandson. He has another source of pain, one he cannot discuss. Ever since the funeral, his wife Helene has turned her back on the world, refusing to leave the house. But surely, if he can raise money to build a monument, she might be persuaded… Donovan’s a big-hearted man, but he finds it difficult to express his emotions. There’s is a moment when he discovers a pair of his daughter’s swimming goggles in the garage. They’ve lain there, undisturbed for over thirty years, but he comes across them just after he makes the decision to allow Jules Roche to have the pieces of wood from the unfinished crib he was making for his unborn grandson. (Jules is a sculptor and his idea is to take mementos from the families and use them to create new works of art.) Donovan translates this as his daughter’s way of letting him know it’s OK.
(This sounds incredibly poignant. We readers definitely need light and shade in our reading.)
I also like the moment that lent itself to the cover image: the starling. I borrowed a snippet from one of my city walks. I was taking the stairs from the Riverside Path to London Bridge when I saw a starling sitting on a steel railing, singing its heart out. Hearing birdsong when surrounded by the traffic roar and the clang of building works is quite special and so I stood and watched. I used this moment for my character Maggie, who’s the mother of the young station supervisor who was in charge when the disaster happened. She feels her daughter is sending her a message. In fact, I find the whole issue of how people manage to stay feeling connected to their loved ones very interesting.
(Fascinating. There are certain pieces of music I can’t listen to without my wonderful Dad being right there with me. It’s amazing how our senses make connections for us isn’t it?)
What else have you brought along and why?
My guest is Jules Roche. He was the unwitting poster boy for the disaster. He has a reputation as being something of an enfant terrible, because he has a fiery temper and feeds journalists the soundbites they’re so desperate for. He reluctantly found fame after he found that the way to deal with his grief was to translate all that energy into art, in his case, sculptures. He doesn’t have an artistic background and there’s no consensus on whether the work he creates is any good. But his intention to honour the memory of his wife is pure, and integrity like that has enormous appeal. In celebration of the verdict, Tate Modern wants to stage an exhibition of his work. Jules accepts – but only on his terms. He collaborates with the families of the victims to create a series of new pieces from their mementos. For some, it becomes part of the process of letting go.
On the outside, he’s a passionate, energetic and intriguing individual, quite anti-authoritarian, unafraid what people think of him, someone who makes you feel flattered when he unlatches the door to his world and invites you in. But like many artists, it’s what’s behind the show of energy that is most interesting. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know him, even if he does try to sell you a ticket for the exhibition.
On the subject of which, you’ll have noticed that I’m wearing my Victim Thirty-four T-shirt. The families chose a blank Facebook profile as the image to the victim whose identity was never established. In a city the size of London, there are always those who slip through the cracks. In 2017, the charity Shelter estimated that one in every fifty-nine Londoners is homeless. That’s a shocking statistic – and it doesn’t include sofa surfers and what is known as the ‘hidden five per cent’ – those who don’t appear on any official registers. This is the families’ small way of acknowledging that somewhere, someone is missing those people.
(As someone who has always had a very comfortable roof over my head I find this so shocking.)
As for music, I’ve brought Donovan’s party mix – African, reggae, jazz and blues, ska and not forgetting a little Aretha. Before the disaster, he and his wife Helene used to throw the most amazing open house nights when the volume was edged up, notch by notch. Wine flowed, and when new neighbours came to the front door to ask if they could please turn down the volume, Helene would inveigle them inside. Do you get on with your neighbours?
(Ha! I do indeed and we all get together annually for a party so I’m sure a little music won’t faze them. Thank you so much, Jane, for staying in with me to introduce Smash all the Windows. I hope you enjoy tomorrow’s publication day. )
Smash all the Windows
It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.
It will take courage to learn how to live again.
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.
Smash all the Windows will be released on 12 April 2018 and is available for purchase through the links here.
About Jane Davis
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight novels.
Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.
Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.