12 December 2009

Author Interview: Anna Davis

Anna Davis caught my eye recently when I read her latest book The Jewel Box, and loved it. It's set in the 1920's and follows copywriter/journalist Grace Rutherford as she struggles with her feelings for two men, and also to fight the expectations on women in the 20's too. I found it a fascinating read, and was really impressed with the amount of research that must have gone into it. Anna was kind enough to grant us an Author Interview, so here it is!

1. Tell us about your latest book.

Set in London in 1927, The Jewel Box is the story of Grace Rutherford, an advertising copywriter by day, a flapper extraordinaire and newspaper gossip columnist by night under the pen name Diamond Sharp.  At a party, Grace meets and falls for Dexter O'Connell, a charismatic American writer.  Later that same night she finds herself attracted to the dashing John Cramer.  Drawn to both men, Grace discovers they are bitter enemies, and is quickly drawn into a web of secrets and lies.  Which man, if either, can she trust?

The Jewel Box is about love and lies.  It's about falling in love with two people at once.  And it's also about our relationships with our own past -  the elements of our past we're not proud of and how they come back to haunt us.

2. You worked for "The Guardian" previously - how did you get into writing fiction?

I was writing fiction long before I started writing for newspapers.  I was one of those kids who's always scribbling stories in notebooks and I bashed out a novel on an ancient electric typewriter when I was 13 (still have it somewhere but can't vouch for its quality!).  My teenage years got in the way of the writing but I returned to writing fiction while at university.  I wrote the first draft of a novel while on a creative writing MA.  Then I moved to London and worked for a literary agency while working on rewrites in my spare time.  This would be my first published novel The Dinner, which came out in 1999.  I've carried on working part-time in a literary agency and also began writing articles and later a column for The Guardian over the years that followed, but my heart is with novel-writing.

3. The Jewel Box is set in 1920's London - are you very interested in that time period?

Very much so.  It's the second of my books to be set in the 1920s.  My last, The Shoe Queen, was set in Paris in 1925.  I loved the Roaring 20s and wasn't ready to leave the decade after one novel.  I love the fashions, the art, the music, the literature and more.  London was the world's biggest city at the time, and caught in a kind of wrangle between traditionalist and modernist impulses.  In many ways the 1920s was the first truly modern decade, and yet women under 30 still didn't have the vote.  It was the great party decade - the jazz decade.  With the First World War firmly in the past there was much to celebrate, but the Great Depression of the 1930s was only just around the corner, and beyond that the Second World War.  Those flappers were partying on the edge of the abyss.  As a novelist, I am fascinated by their lack of regard for tomorrow, and their precariousness.  Grace, as a flapper-grown-up, is a very modern girl, always pushing at the limits of what constitutes acceptable behaviour. She's driven by passion, frustration and a rebellious streak, and this was fun to write.

4. Is the fabulous 'Diamond Sharp' alter-ego of Grace based on anyone??

Not really.  But I did read a lot about early gossip columnists and particularly enjoyed a New Yorker columnist called Lois Long, who wrote under the name 'Lipstick'.  She reviewed restaurants and nightclubs with a particular devilry and relish.  She frequently wrote about Prohibition, advising readers on the best ways to smuggle drink about and complaining about the 'padlocking plague' (nightclubs being closed down for falling foul of the legislation).  In one column she even reviewed a police raid on a speakeasy.

5. I found the book to be really authentic - like I was swept back in time as I read it. How much research do you have to do before writing a historical based fiction book?

Thanks!  Writers approach research differently, of course, but essentially I read (and still do read) lots of books about the 1920s and/or set in the 1920s.  Novels, memoirs, histories.  Once you know precisely what you're writing about, you home in on particular areas you need to research - so, for this one I read a lot of books on 1920s London, columnists, the advertising industry, soldiers' accounts of the First World War, and books by and about F Scott Fitzgerald (who was an inspiration for Dexter O'Connell and John Cramer).  I also watched 1920s silent films and listened to music.  I took lots of notes!  But it has to be said, research has been made a whole lot easier by the internet.  Years ago you'd have been back and forth to the library for every tiny thing you needed to know.  These days, you can double-check via Google such issues as when the big advertising hoardings were put up in Piccadilly Circus, when London's streets got electric lighting etc.  Really, there are fewer excuses now for mistakes.

6. Which authors do you enjoy reading yourself?

My reading is diverse.  I love Edith Wharton - she's just fabulous.  Such sharp comedy and such tragedy.  Lately I've read the Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall (before she won the Booker, I should say) and was absolutely blown away.  On the subject of Tudors I also recently read and loved Suzannah Dunn's The Sixth Wife, about what happened to Catherine Parr after Henry VIII's death.

7. 'The Jewel Box' is your 5th book so far, are you planning your sixth yet?

I'm already writing my sixth, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet.  I'm susperstitious like that.

8. Finally, I really loved the book and as I said I swept up in 1920's London as I read it, yet I still don't seem to get how the title ties in to the love stories of the book - can you elaborate on that?!

To be honest, I struggled to find a title for a long time. I was writing a scene in which Dexter O'Connell tells Grace that she and her sister are like two gems in a jewel box and that put the phrase in my head.  I hope the story opens out in many layers like those jewel boxes with all the secret compartments.

Thanks so much, Anna!

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! I already have a copy of The Jewel Box and I can't wait to read it!