An Unchoreographed Life

Today there’s a treat for you: one great author (Dan Holloway) interviewing another (Jane Davis) on his blog. After the morning I’ve had (don’t ask), I’d make a hash of trying to explain any more. You may not have heard of novelist Jane Davis before, but that could be the world’s fault for not being ready for her. So I’m off to get myself a coffee and some ibuprofen while the interview speaks for itself.

dan holloway

jane pic

Jane Davis is one of my newfound heroes. A prizewinning literary author who tackles the trickiest of subjects and has turned to producing the very finest self-published literary works. She’s a wonderful writer I’m cheering on full voice. She also, as you will see as she discusses her wonderful book An Unchoreographed Life, gives the most wonderful interviews!

1. Let me start with your covers – how important is it for you to maintain such a recognisable feel to your books? If you could summarise that feel, what would you say?

jane half

Branding has become hugely important to me – although I’d be lying if I said that I was fully aware of its importance when I first self-published.

Transworld had the right of first refusal of my second novel, and they exercised it. Half-truths and White Lies was published under their women’s fiction imprint, and the manuscript I presented them…

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Turning into Your Parents

We all turn into our parents eventually, it’s said, and we don’t even know it’s happening.  A  friend of mine is barely middle-aged, yet he thinks pop music is too loud and car-washing is a great way to spend Sundays.

Well, that’s never going to be the case with me. Anyway this weekend I have no time to think about such things. I’m having another big session sorting through my late mother’s effects.  cat playing the cello

Memories come rushing back as I look through her watercolours. She was an artist whose signature works were scenes of whimsical cats. Obviously I’m keeping all of those as well as the photo albums, but the rest of her things are frankly dire.

Take for instance the collection of plastic garden chairs. Mum didn’t have a garden. They were her armchairs. At the desk there’s a diner-style chair from the 1950s which was probably usable before rust set in. In the airing cupboard I find a stack of tablecloths and other gorgeous linens, some of it unstained. And the lovely china pieces she talked about turn out to be actually in pieces, held together by Araldite and optimism.

At this point I need to break for a snack. In the kitchen there’s about a year’s supply of porridge oats. Funny I used to hate the stuff. Today it fills the gap perfectly.

It takes me a while to locate the blue and white porcelain plates my Mum always told me were so valuable. I handle the first one with care, as you do when it’s a rare artefact from the Yuan dynasty. My fingers tremble as I trace the intricate design. I turn the plate over. A little golden sticker says ‘Made in Japan’.

I sigh. I need to go to the shops for more bin liners. The weather’s turned chilly, so I pop on an overcoat of Mum’s. Normally I wouldn’t be seen dead in any of her old threads, but this coat is cosy.

When I get back from the shop, I tackle the rest of the clothes. The belts are fit only for the skip, and there are five identical pairs of shoes which I won’t even bother trying. There are however three handbags worth keeping, and a watch that looks better than mine.Tissot watch

I set it to the right time and put it on my wrist. Surprisingly it is just the right size.

In the same box there are earrings with little lions on them. Though they’re not at all my thing, they’re cute and I’m a Leo. Better hang onto them.

The trousers and skirts are another story. My mother was never tall, and then she developed what Roald Dahl called ‘the dreaded shrinks’, known to doctors as advanced osteoporosis. All her trousers had had to be shortened repeatedly. Looking at them now, it’s clear they’d be no use to anyone, unless maybe they’re after Bermuda shorts.

A cardigan catches my eye. It’s not at all bad if you overlook the frayed cuffs and a couple of missing buttons. Hell, I can fix that. The cardi is merino wool and a lovely yellow colour.

I put it on, and get a shock when I look in the mirror.

Next I come across a battered little suitcase. It would be so useful.  Trouble is, the cat likes it too. 

Cat in suitcase

Now the tartan shopping trolley in the corner beckons. Just the thing! Why give myself backache lugging stuff back from the supermarket every week when I could use a little trolley?

Now stop it, I tell myself sternly. I’m not nearly ready for that yet. Give it a while longer.  Say another couple of weeks?

Writer Wednesday: Interview With Dr. Carol Cooper

Thanks for asking me such good questions, Amira.

The Z-Axis

Carol Cooper Meet Carol Cooper, doctor, journalist, and most recently, novelist. Her debut novel One Night at the Jacaranda is about dating but has darker undercurrents. Carol has also authored a string of non-fiction titles on health and parenting. She works as a family doctor in London and is a journalist for The Sun, the biggest-selling newspaper in the United Kingdom. I asked Carol to tell us about how her medical experience informs her writing, and the writers who inspire her to constantly improve. 

Dr. Cooper, you’re a novelist with a unique perspective on writing from your years in the medical profession. You’ve got quite a backlist of non-fiction titles based on your expertise as a doctor. I find it fascinating that your first book of fiction, One Night At The Jacaranda is contemporary, educated romance. Where’s the cross-over there: what parts of your career inspired you to pursue lit-fic romance? Or did it work the…

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My London Book Fair aka #LBF14

At the end of day three at Earls Court, here are some things that stand out for me:

LBF 2014

  • Meeting lovely people I know only from social media, and finding them even better in real life
  • The lure of bacon sarnies first thing in the morning
  • Standing room only at seminars in Author HQ
  • Finding out what ‘domestic chillers’ are  (hint: Zanussi doesn’t make them)
  • The rallying cry to indie authors (and the brand new ALLi badge)
  • Terry Pratchett on video loop
  • Aching shoulders from accumulated bumf
  • Some cringe-making questions from the audience (“How does one start to write a book?”) and Katie Fforde’s incredibly courteous reply
  • An awesome open mic session at the indie fringe fest

ALLi 2nd birthday party

  • Agents emerging blinking in the light after days spent holed up in the International Rights Centre
  • Pizza with not enough pepperoni (Pizza Express, please look up ‘loaded’ in the dictionary)
  • It’s not just my London Book Fair. It’s also my London, so here I am standing with my book in front of the house where I was conceived.
34 Trebovir Road SW5

34 Trebovir Road SW5

You might also like to read these other author perspectives on this year’s London Book Fair

Alison Morton

Debbie Young

Orna Ross

Jessica Bell

Joanna Penn



Just a Little Prick with a Needle

Today’s tests are no biggie. Nothing like the ones Sanjay’s had in the past. Anyway, he’s feeling better than in a long time.

There’s already a queue of blood test patients waiting to be interrogated at reception. You only get a numbered ticket once the bossy boots at the desk finds out if you’re fasting.


Sanjay gets number 79. The display on the wall says 46. No wonder the place is packed. Pretty soon he’s finished reading the Metro. So he reads people.

The girl next to Sanjay isn’t fasting. She’s shedding sugar from her donut all down her ample front. Fact: nobody who eats donuts ever looks as if they need to eat. And right under the sign that says no eating, drinking or assaulting NHS staff, a man is chomping into a burger. A ketchup sachet lies at his feet.

The plastic chairs are hard. Sanjay wishes he weren’t so skinny. There’s also a bench for urgent patients. The urgent patients look terrible, as if expecting to snuff it while waiting. He was on that bench not long ago, but now he’s been promoted from living dead to living living.

It’s number 67 now. The snoozing woman in the seat next to Sanjay wakes with a start when her walking-stick falls over. Walking-sticks always do. You’d think someone would design a solution.

Some people have brought their entire family, along with their shopping, scattered in carrier bags in and around the chair legs. A toddler with a cold studies Sanjay then removes his finger from his nose and wipes it experimentally on the arm of the chair.

The phlebotomist who finally calls Sanjay isn’t just a phlebotomist. The badge says he’s a cannula technician too. He is about 5’3” and one of his spots is threatening to erupt. He only opens his mouth to ask Sanjay to confirm his name and date of birth. Blood is taken wordlessly. It’s important to make patients feel at ease in today’s patient-centred NHS.

test tubes

Out Sanjay goes, clutching a cotton wool ball to the crook of his elbow.

The imaging department is at the other end of the hospital, down a draughty corridor guaranteed to give you double pneumonia if you don’t have it already.

Nobody’s eating in x-ray. They’re too busy figuring out how to sign in. For chest x-rays it’s straightforward because you can go anytime Tuesday to Friday from 9 to 11am and from 3 till 5pm. He doesn’t like to ask what the hell they do 11-3, not to mention all day Monday.

If you have an appointment, a state-of-the-art machine scans your letter. If you don’t have an appointment, you go to the desk. There’s a third machine that dispenses numbered tickets.   A young man in a moon-boot is waiting patiently while someone tries to fix that one.

Sanjay hangs around the desk while a receptionist makes a hash of explaining a test to the patient in front of him.

Finally Sanjay is told “Take a seat and you’ll be called by your name.” He thanks his lucky stars he’s called Shah, not something like Sivaramalingham. He sits by a wall decorated with enticements to give blood, volunteer for the League of Friends’ shop, give up smoking for good, get help with your alcohol problem, report domestic violence, and donate your organs as soon as you finish with them.

There’s a lot more activity here than in blood-testing. For one thing, there are two calling systems. The staff have the knack of calling out a patient’s name at the exact same time that the automated system calls out numbers. Means nobody can hear either announcement, so patients keep getting up to ask what’s going on, then coming back to their seats, head shaking in disappointment.

One patient has got the system figured out. Now she’s giving out to all and sundry the phone number of the professor’s PA, which is, she reckons, the only way to get your x-ray done and have the results sent to your doctor in the same century.

Only the old man next to Sanjay is immobile. He’s wrapped in so many layers of woolly clothes that he has to sit bolt upright. Probably been wearing them a while, judging from the smell.

Sanjay needs the toilet but it’s out of order. This means a trek halfway round the hospital to find one that works. He could have just asked at the desk for a dozen specimen containers and filled those.

hospital gownFinally it’s his turn for x-ray.  

He is shown into a cubicle and handed a gown. Then he studies the grainy instructions on the wall.

Sanjay tries to tie it as per the picture, but fails. Ah. Two of the tapes are missing.   He goes into his x-ray bare-chested like Putin.

The radiographer tuts.

Two hours for two simple tests. Finally Sanjay breathes a sigh of relief and exits to the fresh air, rushing straight into a crowd of smokers by the revolving doors.


Next week it’s the London Book Fair. I look forward to meeting friends old and new, and reading an excerpt from my novel to fellow indie authors. I have yet to choose the passage, but you can bet Sanjay will be in it.