Linda Davies, Dubai-based author of the kids’ fantasy Djinn series, tells Time Out about her career change
The shelves are crammed with all manner of titles, from Eat Right for your Type to 12th Century Peruvian Folk Tales. The walls are covered in a crazy patchwork exhibition of children’s artwork, while the furniture is an eclectic mix of comfortably beautiful antiques. Clearly, Linda Davies enjoys a homely environment. It’s almost impossible to imagine her (bookish spectacles, casual sundress and diamante flip-flops) doing anything other than writing books about evil magical spirits and courageous, save-the-day children. But life wasn’t always so fuzzy and idyllic for the Jumeirah-based mum of three, who is busy writing her ninth novel, Rock Djinn.
The first to admit she’s living the dream, Davies’ initial choice of career was worlds away. ‘As a little girl I used to love writing stories. But it never occurred to me until I was in my twenties that you could actually make a living as a writer,’ she recalls. ‘I went into banking because I knew there was money to be made. It was a deliberate choice because it meant one day I would be able to give up work to write stories, yet still be able to support myself.’
As a high-flying female banker in London during the mid-’80s boom, she describes her years in finance as ‘seductive and supremely stressful’. The lure of the trading floor kept her from her dream for seven long years. ‘I got consumed in it for a while. Intellectually it was very challenging, although it was a very tough environment for women at that time. The sheer amount of money swishing around is quite seductive. And if you’re dealing with very large sums of cash and you’re making things happen on a very large scale, that’s a kick – a power thing. You feel like you’re a grown up – like you’re wheeling and dealing.’
But, eventually, the pressure of the environment forced Davies to choose a new path and provided her with her first novel’s plot. Describing the moment, she says, ‘I’d tried so hard to write a novel. I wanted to write about a female James Bond saving the world while sleeping with handsome men. But that was a theme – not a proper plot. In the end, I’d written about 40 first pages and every one of them had fizzled out. Then one day I was sitting at my trading desk feeling absolutely furious with my boss and thinking about how much damage I could do to the bank.’
Describing the moment as her ‘epiphany’, she says, ‘It just came to me – insider trading on the foreign exchange market. If I was of a criminal bent and knew a central banker or a finance minister, I could be tipped off, buy that currency, and if it moved up a tiny bit, I could have walked away with millions. How would someone investigate that?’ The idea developed into a fully fledged thriller plot, which Davies then set about writing. ‘I had my plot and my setting, so I worked at the bank all day, went to the gym, had my dinner and then wrote – in longhand in notebooks, because I didn’t own a computer at the time. Six months into the project I was getting very little sleep and I realised that one day I might actually make a catastrophic mistake and lose a lot of money. So I quit the bank.’
Her decision marked the end of her career in finance, but 18 months later the manuscript for Nest of Vipers was submitted to publishers. ‘It was the most wonderful feeling,’ she recalls of the moment an agent told her eight publishers were willing to bid for her debut novel. ‘We met for a drink to talk about the book, and I thought he was going to tell me it was rubbish. Then he told me he was going to set up an auction and sell it to the highest bidder. It was as if that moment was frozen in time. I remember a song playing in the background by Gabrielle, ‘Dreams Can Come True’ – and that was exactly how I felt.’
Since then, Linda has never looked back. ‘Writing for me is like breathing. I love it,’ she enthuses – which is just as well considering she has two more Djinn books in mind to add to the series. The Dubai-based kids’ novels, which describe the adventures of three youngsters with magical powers, are not, she says, a big departure from her adult thrillers. ‘I knew I wanted to write a children’s adventure story with thriller elements. I love cliffhangers and kids love them as well, and my idea has always been to create literature for them that they’ll be reading after lights out, under their blankets with a torch.’ So was moving from adult fiction to children’s fiction a difficult transition? ‘Oh no,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve always been someone who is able to lark around, and when I had kids that increased, and so did my understanding of the way they see the world. Their imaginations know no boundaries – the world is a magical place for them.’
Davies also refuses to dumb down the vocabulary for her younger fans. ‘I don’t think children’s literature should be simplified,’ she says. ‘As long as the words you use are in the correct context, they will understand, or they will ask an adult. If you read quality fiction as a youngster, you will naturally develop a good vocabulary – and that’s what I’d like my books to help achieve.’ Storm Djinn is published by Jerboa Books. Find out more at www.jerboabooks.com.