I’m writing this from a village which seems to be cut off by snow at the moment, so what better to do than celebrate World Book Day.
Reading is something we take for granted in England. If books were scarce we would still treasure them. If we didn’t have freedom of the written word, we’d fight for it. It never ceases to amaze me when I have book stalls, and try to talk to people about my books, how often I get the apologetic response ‘I know I really ought to read more, but…’ Fill in the blank. ‘I spend the time watching television / on Facebook / asleep.’
Let’s spend today remembering how privileged we are to have easy access to books. There are still many in the world today who haven’t.
I am delighted on this World Book Day to be featured on Veronica Bright’s blog I’m also part of a World Book Day feature in the York Press, although it looks unlikely I shall be able to get out of the village to buy one.
I was equally delighted to find two five star reviews for New York Orphan, one on each of the US and UK Amazon sites. I do have to warn you though, the consensus of opinion is that you will need to buy a box of tissues as well as the book if you plan to read it.
Happy World Book Day to you all.
Jane Davis – Smash All the Windows
Today, I’m going to tell you about a new book by another author. The lovely Jane Davis has been good enough to cover two of my novels in the past and now I’l like you to find out a little more about her writing. Her new book Smash All the Windows has the brilliant strapline ‘It has taken conviction to right the wrongs. It will take courage to learn how to live again.’
However, it will be far better to hear all this in Jane’s words. I can certainly relate quite closely to much of what she says.
Why do you write?
Jane: Fiction provides the unique opportunity to explore one or two points of view. It is never going to provide the whole answer, but it forces writer and reader to walk in another person’s shoes. And, in many ways, it is the exploration and not the answer that’s important. I think the idea of a single truth is flawed. I have a sister who is less than a year older than me but our memories of the same events differ substantially.
As my collection of books grows, I’m beginning to see them as my legacy. As someone who doesn’t have children, they are the mark I will leave on the world. So another reason for writing – one that I didn’t think about in my mid-thirties when I started to write – is to create a legacy that I can be proud of.
For readers who aren’t familiar with your writing, what can they expect?
Jane: I write about big subjects and give my characters almost impossible moral dilemmas. I don’t allow them a shred of privacy. I know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, the lies they tell, their secret fears. But I only meet them at a particular point on their journeys, usually in a highly volatile or unstable situation, and then I throw them to the lions. How people behave under pressure reveals so much about them.
Can you tell us about your new novel Smash all The Windows?
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 to them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.
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.
I didn’t want to be the one to add to the pain I saw on their faces, so I created a fictional disaster. And because writing should always take you outside your comfort-zone, I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators.
The cover is very striking. What was the idea behind the image?
Jane: The City skyline shows the setting of the novel and the starling is borrowed 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, the mother of the young station supervisor who was in charge when the disaster happened. She feels her daughter is sending her a message. I chose an image of the starling breaking free and asked my designer Andrew Candy to create a real sense of urgency and momentum, which he did with contrast of the the static shards of glass and the blurred images.
How does Smash all the Windows fit in with your other books and where does it differ?
Jane: I think it’s my most contemporary book to date. I’ve written it in the present tense because I wanted to parachute the reader right into the scene of the disaster. I also have a far larger cast of characters than I’ve worked with before. My disaster destroyed the lives of hundreds of people – survivors, witnesses, families, friends, the police, doctors and nurses who had to deal with the aftermath. There was the potential to add more, but I chose to focus on five family members, their partners and the people they lost in the disaster.
Tell us a little about your characters.
Jane: My character Jules Roche 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 discovered 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 Jules 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.
We have mother and daughter, Gina and her daughter Tamsin Wicker. It’s a complicated dynamic. Gina didn’t only lose a son in the disaster. She lost her idea of who he was – of who she herself was. She wasn’t, as she’d thought, a good mother, and this knowledge led to a downward spiral of self-destruction.
As for Tamsin, she finds herself at a crossroads. Almost twenty-seven years old, she’s still living at home with her mother, who’s an alcoholic. But having lost so much of her teenage years, she is beginning to think she’s entitled to a life of her own, but she’s also afraid of moving on.
Then we have Maggie and Alan Chappel. When Alan decides that the best chance he has of healing his hidden wounds is by returning to his Northumberland hometown, Maggie comes under mounting pressure to explain her reluctance to go along with his plans.
There’s Donovan. The disaster wiped out two generations of his family. Not only his daughter and future son-in-law, but his unborn grandson. He has another source of pain, less obvious. One he can’t 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… That’s his motivation.
When most injustices are overturned, there’s usually an individual in the background who realised that an injustice had been done and then worked tirelessly to construct a case. With the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, that person was Eric, a law student, still some way from qualifying as a solicitor. The outsider in the story, his arrival proves to be a turning point for families, who’ve all but given up in their search for justice. In the midst of all of the heartbreak and human reaction, his conviction reminds the families that they still have a little fight left in them.
I love the way you’ve shown how creating something helped each of the characters to begin the healing process. What does art mean to you?
Jane: I recently filled in an author survey. There was an entire section asking about early writing experiences. What was the first story you wrote? Did you win any writing competitions while at school? I began to think, ‘I’m not a writer. I’m a failed artist.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t make up stories as a child, but instead of words, I used pictures. Right up to my O-Level year, I spent most of my spare time drawing and painting. I’d always assumed that I would make a career in art. It was the thing I was good at. And then came a hard lesson. The O-Level examiners didn’t like my work. But you can apply what you know about the process of writing a novel to the creation of a work of art. Both processes require vision and the creation of something out of nothing. I’ll admit that most of what I know about modern art comes from the BBC series, Imagine. I’ve been absolutely gripped by the stories about the artists, and therefore behind the art.
Which of your characters would make the best dinner-party guest and why?
Jane: It has to be Jules. On the outside, he is 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 is what’s behind the show of energy that’s more interesting.
Your novels are all very different – which is something readers like, but publishers are rather wary about. Have you ever been asked to write something ‘similar’ to your debut, or to write a sequel?
Jane: I lost my publishing deal because I failed to deliver the book my publisher expected. Since then, readers have asked for sequels, or wanted to know what happened next. They seem particularly interested in my secondary characters. With These Fragile Things, readers fell in love with Miranda, my main character’s school-friend who is expelled for challenging her head mistress. With An Unchoreographed Life, readers already want to know more about Jean-Francois, one of Alison’s former dance partners, but a very minor character. The temptation to revisit old friends is always there. By the end of a novel, I might have been working with the same cast for up to four years. My characters become so real to me that it can be quite difficult to let them go. When I move on to my next writing project, I feel as if I’m cheating on them.
Smash all the Windows will be released on 12 April, but you can pre-order it now for the special price of 99p/99c (Price increases to £1.99 on 12 March. Price on publication will be £3.99). The Universal Link is books2read.com/u/49P21p
From 13 February to 10 March, US readers can also enter a Goodreads Giveaway for a chance to win one of 100 eBooks.
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’.
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Being Katniss Everdeen
Reality is not always a pretty place to live. Day to day life can be mundane or in some cases very difficult and we all find different ways to deal with that. Some people lose themselves in the bottom of a tumbler of whiskey and others become addicted to computer games, losing themselves in realms of warlocks or druids. For some the lure of the Penny Black draws them in like a siren, but for me it’s books.
I am a bookaholic. I’m not a reformed case, unless you count moving from exclusively paper to electronic and audio as reform. This may shock you, I’ll be honest, I don’t want to reform. There, I’ve said it. I’m happy here. When I’m not reading books I’m writing them. When I’m not writing, I’m planning them. For the last couple of weeks I have been Katniss Everdeen.
I’ve been rereading the remarkable Hunger Games Trilogy and for those all too brief and elusory hours I have not been a middle-aged woman dealing with real world issues. For those precious, stolen moments I have been a young participant in the Hunger Games, living by my wits and an expert with a bow and arrow. Every so often one of the dogs has interrupted to remind me they, if not I, are real and need feeding. Then reluctantly, I’ve laid down my bow and come back to reality. Looking on the bright side, when I’m writing fiction, I can get lost in the world of my characters for months. At least reading a book only takes me a few hours.
At the moment I am getting increasingly excited about planning the launch of my new novel. I want to do everything NOW, but of course that is not possible. You the readers want the cover to look brilliant (and it does) and you want to be able to read the book uninterrupted by errors (which is in process). You might even think you’d like an invite to the launch (which is being planned). All those things take time.
In the meantime, books are a great and largely safe place to spend time. They can fuel the imagination, and broaden horizons. They can inform, challenge ideas and inspire. In my opinion they are as relevant now as they have ever been and if spending a few hours being Katniss Everdeen gives me the strength and courage to face the world then Katniss Everdeen I will be!
It is five years ago today since I launched www.alfiedog.com the short story download site. Over those years I have built it to being one of the biggest paid short story sites in the world with 325 authors and over 1600 short stories.
We’re having a bit of a celebration with some special offers on stories by those authors who have been with us all five years http://alfiedog.com/fiction/featured/ and a special sale of some of the best stories we carry, with six different stories brought to you each week over the next five weeks http://alfiedog.com/fiction/sale/ Then we’re having with a big online party which you are all welcome to join on June 11th from 7pm to 9pm UK time https://www.facebook.com/events/214250785730563/?active_tab=discussion Finally we are finishing off our celebrations by offering five of our short story collections absolutely free as ebooks and we’ll let you know the dates of those later.
Spread the word and join in the celebrations.
‘Lies damn lies and statistics.’ Book sales were up last year. You would think that was good news, but should adult dot to dot books really be included? Even when you take those out and look at the rest of the sales it can make for depressing reading.
Whilst there has been much criticism of self-publishing ‘dumbing down’ literature, I fear that the problem runs much deeper. It is a long time since I’ve read a book without a significant number of errors. Even supposed modern classics like The Red Notebook had a record being 33 1/3 inches! (If you don’t immediately know what’s wrong with that then you’re too young to know your vinyl from your cassette.)
I’m not sure whether to be appalled or relieved. As a publisher, I know it is almost inevitable that the odd error will slip through. The reason being that the cost of catching them all is too high compared with the likely return on the publication.
The problem lies with a society that has the attention span of a gnat on caffeine and which expects something for nothing, or at best paid for by hidden means such as advertising.
I’m told that one of the big things for writers is Wattpad where books are posted in instalments and are free to readers. If this is the next big thing, then the thing after that will be the most dreadful standard of written English amongst the following generation as they learn from what they read… and what they are reading is not good!
I’m not against the progression of language and its ongoing simplification; development and change is part of what keeps it alive. However, I do believe that we’re at risk of losing quality fiction because of the lack of interest and respect by the population at large. Is that inevitable in the age of electronics? Does it matter? I think it does.
I set up Alfie Dog Fiction to publish quality short stories for paid download. An author has to earn a living. Giving their work for free does not enable them to do that. By quality I don’t mean literary. Of course we do carry some high class literary fiction, but whatever the genre a reader deserves to be able to read stories which are well written and well crafted. I didn’t set it up because it would make me a millionaire (if you’re counting, it has made me zero so far) I set it up because I believe in it and I believe in the authors whose work we carry.
Five years on from the start of Alfie Dog Fiction I still live in hope that readers will one day come to understand why good quality writing is important in the fast paced, throw away age we inhabit.
Rosemary J Kind
We carry 1600 short stories written by more than 300 authors around the world
Author / Editor / Publisher
Well, it’s only my opinion, but I’ve been building up a page on my website of books I recommend. They are not all ones I’ve given five star reviews to, but ones that I think are worth taking the time to read. I’ve included a review, without giving away any of the plots, so you can read them safely.
I have been going through everything I’ve logged on Goodreads over the last few years and bringing them together in one place. I’ve left out the ones that I did not think were worth reading and there are a few of those! I shall be adding to the page over the next couple of weeks until I bring it completely up to date. After that I shall only add to it as I read a new book and think you might enjoy it.
It’s an eclectic mix. I hope you find something there you enjoy too.
You can find the page HERE
If it were alcohol you’d be sending me to get help, but it’s not. It still leads me to lose touch with reality, become distant from my family and become depressed if I have no opportunity to feed my addiction. If you are reading this you may share my problem. We don’t sit around in an old hall on wooden chairs and come out with lines like ‘Hello, I’m X and I’ve been on the wagon for three weeks.’ Instead we join Goodreads and say things like, ‘I only give this one two stars because the characters weren’t believable.’
I’ve known for years that I’ve had an addiction. I can’t walk past a bookshop without going in. I get bookcase envy almost anywhere that I see a row of books and own more Ikea Billy Bookcases than is reasonable for a human being to have. My mother and I have labelled ourselves as Bookaholics for years and if you search the Internet we are clearly not alone. However, even in my own family my problem is not fully understood.
This became painfully apparent when my father decided to THROW OUT some books! My mother did the responsible thing and immediately sent me a list of all the titles to see which I would want. It took willpower, but I didn’t just respond with, ‘All of them.’ Instead I carefully selected the ones I would like to read and having managed to eliminate one or two sent the list back. That’s when the problems started. My father assumed I must want to give them away elsewhere or sell them. My mother understood and reassured him that she was sure I’d want them for myself. He still found it hard to believe and it took some fairly emphatic explaining to convince him that of course I wanted to read a book about the Goons that I hadn’t got and various political memoirs (not written by the Goons), as well as some works of fiction. They will be carefully added to the pile, ready to feed my addiction at a moment’s notice.
In the meantime you’ll find me in America, or falling in love, identifying a murderer or back in 1840. If you need to rouse me, just remember it can take a while to bring me back to the real world and be gentle as who would with any other addict who needs your help.
Except… I’m happy to be addicted and I really don’t plan to stop anytime soon. My eyesight might be suffering and I would look at everyday objects as possible murder weapons, but I’m just fine. Now, what page was I on?
I’m currently giving away a copy of Pet Dogs Democratic Party Manifesto in a Goodreads Giveaway – see below for details: