Café Cala welcomes Jane Davis

Hi Jane, welcome to Café Cala,

JD Bench 034It’s great to have you visit Café Cala. I’m currently reading and loving An Unknown Woman. I’ve been making a raspberry and coconut loaf this morning. Would you like tea or coffee with yours?

I’m a huge fan of coffee, but I’m worried about overpowering the cake – which sounds amazing, by the way. I’ve definitely come on the right day. Tea, please.

1 Where did you get the idea for An Unknown Woman?

That sounds like such a simple question. Unfortunately it’s going to be quite a long answer.

Firstly, I wanted to write about the life I live now, which is very different from the life I imagined when my father used to tell me that, when I was an adult, I would be able to do exactly as I wanted. I am forty-eight years old, unmarried, but living with my partner of sixteen years, and childless. I wanted to express how alienating this can be, even when it is a positive choice.

I also wanted to explore the relationship we have with our possessions – ‘If we are what we own, who are we when we own nothing?’ The action in An Unknown Woman begins with my main character, Anita, standing outside the house she and her partner have lived in for fifteen years and watching it burn to the ground. It is very recognisably my house. My partner and I joked about how I might be tempting fate. But it was just a joke. We aren’t terribly superstitious – although I must admit that we’ve had more near misses during the last year than I’m comfortable with. (There may be some truth in the saying, “You attract what you think most about”.)

 Then in February 2014, when I was about halfway through the first draft, my sister and her husband lost their house and practically everything they owned to the winter floods. She lived on the island on the Thames that you can see in the first photograph in this article: Suddenly there appeared to be an extra layer of meaning in every line I wrote.

The loss of my sister’s house made me question if I should abandon the project. The imagined scenario I had been writing about become a reality for someone very close to me. I gave her the choice, which was possibly a little unfair. I didn’t realise at the time I made the decision to continue, or even when I went to press, that eighteen months later, they would only have just received planning permission to rebuild. At the moment, they’re still living in rented accommodation with what little they managed to salvage. Their lives will still be in limbo for another year or so yet. However, it was clear that the shape of the book had to change. The other day, I stumbled across this quote: “The writer’s job is to get the main character up the tree, and once they are there, to throw rocks at them.” While Anita finds one hell of a lot of rocks flying in her direction, I chose my ammunition more carefully than I would have done otherwise, replacing a few sharp flints with smooth pebbles.

The only intentionally true thread to the story is that my elderly neighbour’s told me about his personal experience, and suggested I might like to write about it. And so I also explore the issue of what happens when the mother/daughter bond is absent. In my neighbour’s case, the women in his wife’s family only had daughters and were unable to form any sort of bond with them. He spent his married life guarding his wife’s secret by being both mother and father. It was only when I sent my manuscript out to beta readers that I realised this issue is more common than I could have possibly imagined. But while the subjects of post-natal depression and delayed bonding are openly discussed, the sense of shame that a mother experiences when she cannot love a child – sometimes a child who was very much wanted – precludes that same openness.

Wow! That’ll certainly influence my thinking as I read the rest of the novel.

2 What have you found most rewarding about your writing?

Obviously, winning the Daily Mail First Novel Award was an incredible experience and, for someone who has so few exams (I left school at the age of sixteen), it was validation. But I was very green and wasn’t aware that Black Swan, the imprint I was published under, was Transworld’s women’s fiction imprint. Has I realised the implications of this, I would have told them that I had never set out to write exclusively for women and that it wasn’t a direction I wanted to be pushed into.

Jane Spring Equinox 7Becoming an indie author forced me to learn about the publishing industry and the mechanics of publishing. Now I get to choose the people I work with – my beta readers, copy editor and proof-reader; and I get to choose how to package my work and present it to the world – both the interiors and the book covers. I work with graphic designer Andrew Candy on my book covers (although my newest cover was designed by Jessica Bell). Having already established a strong brand, the way we operate is that I come up with the concept for the design, and source the images and Andy executes it using his marvellous eye and technical wizardry, which, frankly, is beyond me. For me, the decision of how to present my writing is one of the most satisfying parts of being an indie author.

3 How did you start writing?

I watched a television programme in which the television chef Rick Stein described how he came to become a chef as a food enthusiast. I came to writing as an enthusiastic reader and a lover of words. If we are to believe the late Sir Terry Pratchett, becoming a writer is a process of osmosis. You simply read until you overflow and then you become a writer.

There were several reasons why I started to write. The first was that, although I had been an artistic child, my work insurance broking provided no creative outlet. Secondly, it was a question of timing rather than one of time. I didn’t start to write until I was in a relationship with someone who gave me confidence. Finally, I needed something to write about. Something happened in my life when I was in my mid-thirties that I needed to make sense of. I used writing to explore how I felt about it. I think that most writers are trying to create order in a confused world.

4 What would you say has helped you most?

Having a curious mind. For me, the greatest joy of writing is exploring opposing viewpoints and expressing viewpoints through characters. Also, I’m someone who thinks of the right thing to say after the event. My characters never have these problems – unless I want them to.

5 What are you working on at the moment?

My work in progress is a standalone novel. It’s the story of a radical poet and political activist who is a cross between 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 New Year’s Honours list. (This is list prepared by the Queen for people who have made a considerable contribution to British life in some substantial way – arts, culture, business, charitable works and so on). I made the decision very early on in the writing process that, while I could bring a poet to life, I could not write poetry for toffee, and so I am collaborating with a poet who will do that for me.

6 What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

Honestly? Just do it. When I started writing I didn’t have a degree and had never attended a creative writing class. I just had a bit of spare time on my hands, a second-hand laptop, and enough will power to stick at it. You will learn everything you need to know through the process of writing your first novel. Be warned: mine took four years.

7 Which authors do you enjoy reading?

If I have to pick a favourite, it has to be John Irving. I’m currently re-reading Cider House Rules. As for what strikes me about his work, my answer today is totally different from what it would have been had you asked me a few years ago. What I love about Irving’s writing is his skill to tackle complex subject matter with simple language. You’ll never find him shying away from an uncomfortable scene. When I started to write, I didn’t know that there were rules. What strikes me is that Irving breaks every rule in the book – he constantly head-hops and he veers away from the main story for several pages to explore the background of a minor character – but his storytelling style is no natural that he does this eloquently.

My list of favourite books may change but it is always topped by The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. Ignore the terrible film version – it has everything. Family secrets, flawed characters, opportunities for redemption. I return to it time and time again and always find something new. Odd though it may seem, I have never read another book by Pat Conroy. The Prince of Tides is so perfect that I’d be afraid that I would feel disappointed.

Try David Mitchell’s One Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I loathed Cloud Atlas so much that I was put off picking this up for some time, but I heard a lecture about it and was convinced. Quite simply, it is a masterclass in writing. The richness of the detail is enormous and the asides that the characters make are so astute.

Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad blew me away. This author has an incredible understanding of what it means to be human. She is so non-judgemental about her characters’ flaws, and what the reader comes away with is a sense of the characters’ struggles to find spirituality and beauty in a rapidly changing world.

I adored All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It has replaced Marcus Zusac’s The Book Thief as my war novel of choice. Two of the most heart-breaking characters of recent years: a blind girl and a German orphan.

Another recent discovery that I adored was J W Ironmonger’s The Coincidence Authority. I like novels with non-linear structures because that is how memory works. If you missed it, you can read my interview with the author here.

An Unknown Woman

An Unknown Woman final reducedAnita couldn’t decide which was more persistent: the flames or the jets of water firemen aimed at their home. It was a battle from which no victor would emerge. Everything they possessed would be destroyed by one element or the other. A fireman was standing in her flowerbeds, crushing the plants that she had watered and pruned under the soles of his rubber boots. It was impossible to voice an objection while flames lit the night sky like an erupting volcano, but Anita’s splayed fingers objected; her fingertips objected.

“I’ve always hated those roof tiles.” Ed returned to a favourite theme, but Anita didn’t want pretence that there was a silver lining. From the cathedral of flames and the great chutes of water, the skeleton of their home emerged. It had always worn its timber beams – its bones – on the outside. Anita watched one of the timbers in the porch as it was overcome by flames, and thought of Joan of Arc. The firemen would sacrifice their home in an attempt to save the houses on either side. Ed had always complained that the house to the immediate left had been built too close, its tall chimney perching territorially at the very edge of the roof.

A man with a microphone. She clutched Ed’s arm asking silent questions: Who was he? And when had he arrived?

“It looks as if he’s from the local radio station,” Ed said, following her gaze, almost as if they should expect someone to show up and record the destruction of their home.

She could hear the manager of the fire station saying, “Upon arrival, my crew was faced with a severe fire in the back bedroom of the detached property. It had already spread to the roof space. Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are tackling the blaze with three hose reels and one main jet. The room that the fire started in has been completely gutted, together with much of the rest of the property.”

“And the cause?”

“Impossible to tell at this stage.”

“But if you had to hazard a guess?” The microphone thrust forwards once again.

“That’s our house they’re talking about!” Anita said.

Ed cradled her head to his shoulder. “They’re just doing their jobs.”

She delved into her handbag for her phone – an automatic reaction.

“What are you doing?” Ed asked, incredulous.

“I should give Roz a ring. Let her know I won’t be in first thing.” Her throat burned with the effort of speaking.

“Work is the last thing you should be worrying about!”

“I have to be there. It’s the opening of the new exhibition. I’m introducing the speaker.”

“Not dressed like that!”

Looking down at herself, Anita confronted an indisputable fact. She would walk away with only the clothes she was dressed in and what she carried, nothing more.

Underneath the fire’s perpetual roar was a second layer of sound, a steady clap, like applause at a cricket match. The firemen were struggling to make their shouts heard, but somewhere beneath the chaos, a third layer emerged – a place of stillness – and it was there Anita sought refuge. The calm of knowing that nothing would be salvaged, nothing would remain. But even braving this inevitability, Anita wasn’t aware of the full extent of what she was losing. News reports and insurance settlements wouldn’t reveal the whole picture. It would be some months before the true tally of what she had lost in the fire finally emerged.


BioJD Web banner with mug shot

Jane Davis is the author of six 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. Five further novels have earned her a loyal fan base and wide-spread praise. Jane is regularly compared to more seasoned authors such as Kate Atkinson and Maggie O’Farrell. Compulsion Readers describe Jane 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.

Website (each book has a separate page featuring extracts and all of the options to buy): 

Amazon Author Page:

Facebook page:

Twitter account:

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Café Cala welcomes Prue Batten

Hi Prue, Welcome to Café Cala.


It’s great to have you visit Café Cala. As two Aussies who share the amazing editor, Johnny Hudspith, I thought it was time for us to get together. I’m intrigued by your historical novels, and I’m looking forward to reading Tobias. I’ve been making strawberry and almond muffins this morning. Would you like tea or coffee with yours?


Hallo Maggie, wonderful to meet another Australian writer and one of Johnny’s stable! Strawberry and almond muffins, you say? Yum! May I have a decaf (don’t shoot me – I can’t have pure coffee) cappuccino please? Normally I have camomile tea but this deserves something extra special in JH’s honour!

1 Where did you get the idea for Tobias?

Tobias actually appeared as a secondary character in previous books – Book of Knights and Book of Kings. Toby had the dimension of being a little person living in the hardened times of the Middle Ages where his stature would make life tenuous and where he would be viewed with suspicion and fear. My editor … our editor … said to me one day that he believed Tobias’ story would be one worth telling and I thought about it for quite some time. There was absolutely no doubt he had a story to tell but I needed to find the best means for him to show his strengths and weaknesses. The astonishing and monstrously valuable Byzantine dye, Tyrian purple, proved to be the catalyst.

And thus Tobias was born –Book One of the trilogy called The Triptych Chronicle.

TOBIAS_BookOne_Cover_AmazonThe chapel’s ridgeline was neatly rounded with a smooth capping and the twins sat astride for a moment, absorbing Paris spread out around them. The priory, along with others, sat comfortably on the Ile de la Cité. Ahead they caught a glimpse of the Capetian palace of King Phillip and the stark, soaring beauty of Notre Dame begun twenty or more years before. Not far away on this bank were the colleges that made up the pulsing heart of cultural Paris. The twins’ egos shone that much brighter as they realised their own College of Minstrels was a part of something truly great. Flame and candlelight flickered like the starlit heavens above and smoke ascended on this still night as if it were delicate wisps of fog. Winding around was the aroma of roasted pig and poultry and the ever-present stench of decay. The bell of the chapel sounded Compline and the twins slammed their hands against their ears until it had stopped and until the vibrations beneath their bodies had stilled. Then music drifted upward – a mélange of carole and chant. Carole from the taverns and chant from beneath them as the monks began to honour God at this dark hour.

‘Do you think Brother Francis will miss us?’ Tomas asked.

‘We barely ever attend Compline so he will assume we are asleep … I hope.’ Tobias stood and brushed his hands together. ‘Come on, it’ll be dawn and we’ll have seen nothing. Are you ready?’

2 What have you found most rewarding about your writing?

* Creativity. I love that I can create a story, an adventure, build a world, find characters that I love and hate. I love the research and the learning that feeds the creativity.

* I also love the way I get lost in my imagination – the way time flies when I begin to write.

* And I love the way my immediate world has broadened to include so many kindred spirits across the globe.

3 How did you start writing?

I’ve always written. It was to me what a sketchbook and pencil might be to an artist and my earliest memory is of a Grade 3 teacher placing a coloured picture of fairies and birds, rabbits, squirrels, and toadstools on a board and asking us to write a little ‘composition’ about it and me feeling as if I had finally found my place…

4 What would you say has helped you most?

* In the beginning, working with Helen Corner, director of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy in London. She and her editors were so thorough and clear in their advice and instruction in those early days and ultimately I became a member of their Hot 25 – worthy would-be authors they were shopping to agents and publishers in London at the time. This was eight novels ago, I might add. Before I had even begun the independent path.

* Making the decision to become an independent writer. It set me on the most exciting and rewarding road of my life and suited my needs and personality so much more than treading the traditional path.

* Fellow writers who are supportive and who share experiences and information – some of whom have become the closest of friends. What good fortune is that at this time in my life?

5 What are you working on at the moment?

* A short story for with whom I do the occasional collaboration, another of THE best things to come out of my writing life.

* I’m collecting research for the second in The Triptych Chronicle entitled Guillaume. It is set in Lyon during the late 1190’s, so I have a considerable amount of domestic politics I must research. I also return once again to twelfth century trade, in particular textiles, something I have a fascination for. Weaving in amongst that is divisive religion. So a lot to learn.

6 What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

* Read. Enjoy every word. Soak it up like a sponge. Read some more.

* Write. Don’t think about it, just do it. Write, write, write. One can do online courses or secure degrees in creative writing from the best universities until the cows come home but unless one actually sits and writes, telling a story that has a compelling plot with a beginning, a middle, an end and with believable characters, then all that time spent listening to other people and compiling lists of how-to’s will mean nothing at all.

7 Which authors do you enjoy reading?

Goodness, a massive list, perhaps too big to list here. It is varied over a wide cross-section of genres like historical fiction from people like Bernard Cornwell, SJA Turney, Ann Swinfen and Australia’s Posie Graeme Evans, through historical fantasy from authors like Juliet Marillier, to women’s fiction from people like Jan Ruth and Alex Martin, comedy from the blessed Jilly Cooper, and the occasional biography. My list includes an enormous number of fresh-voiced independent authors because of the light and life they inject into writing. My all time icon, however, is historical fiction writer, the late Dorothy Dunnett. Closely followed by the wise narratives of LM. Montgomery whose work never dates in my opinion. Additionally, I love ancient fables and ballads as well. And it is obvious of course, that my shelves are filled with medieval research tomes!

Tobias may be purchased with the following link:

You can find Prue at: