Johanna Baker-Dowdell, Strawberry Communications
The Roaring Twenties has fascinated me as a decade of decadence and intrigue before the Great Depression, ever since I read The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, so when The Jewel Box by Anna Davis was offered I jumped at the chance to read it and interview Anna Davis.
Set in the backdrop of London\’s Fleet Street in the 1920s, Grace Rutherford is forging ahead in the man\’s world of newspapers. In much the same way as The Daily Telegraph\’s Confidential team report on what is happening in the Sydney entertainment world, or Carrie Bradshaw writes about Manhattan in Sex and the City, Grace transforms into Diamond Sharp in the evening to cover all the best restaurant and nightclub openings, fashion, dances, hairstyles and men. Grace comes unstuck when she falls for two men â€“ Dexter O\’Connell and John Cramer, who are sworn enemies â€“ and one of whom her sister Nancy also likes.
In a decade where the world was on the cusp of change when Coco Chanel’s ready-to-wear revolution and industrialised production introduced fashion to a mass audience, Grace is developing her craft and finding her way as an independent woman. The Jewel Box author Anna Davis â€“ a former Guardian columnist and author of three previous novels – said her character would have easily slotted into a 1920s version of Sex and the City.
“Grace is a columnist, like Carrie Bradshaw, divulging secrets and offering quirky advice to her readers. She struggles with her love life and her ideas about independence versus romance.Â And like the Sex and the City girls, Grace is always to be found at the newest nightclub and the hottest party, wearing the right clothes and with her hair cut into her signature sharp bob,” Ms Davis said.
“This was also, of course, the ultimate party decade,” she explained. “The First World War was over and the Crazy Years had arrived. But there was a short-sightedness about the 20s mindset that has many parallels with our own times. With the Great Depression just around the corner, and beyond that the Second World War, those flappers were dancing the Charleston on the edge of the abyss.”
Many of the characters in The Jewel Box were inspired by real people, which Ms Davis explains, “Grace in the guise of Diamond Sharp is inspired, in part, by the New Yorker 1920s columnist Lois Long, who wrote a racy column under the name Lipstick; while John Cramer, Dexter O’Connell and the unfortunate Eva are together inspired by F Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Sayre.”
To research her novel The Jewel Box, Ms Davis drew on historical accounts of the events she mentions, including the war, flappers, suffragettes and newspapers. She said this involved “lots and lots of reading” on the internet, but also other books. “I now have shelves and shelves full of novels written in the 1920s, history books about 1920s London, biographies and memoirs of key 1920s people, books on fashion, architecture etc.Â There’s no substitute, when it comes to research, for absolutely immersing yourself in books.”
The Jewel Box is a fun romp through the 1920s with a powerful, yet vulnerable, character in Grace.
Available now: Random House RRP$24.95