Art & LiteratureWomen Leaders

WS Interviews Bestselling Author, Fiona Davis

By August 7, 2018 One Comment

WS is proud to share a special announcement and interview with Fiona Davis: a New York Times bestselling author of The Dollhouse and The Address.

Today marks the official release of her third book, The Masterpiece. It’s yet another compelling tale of two women whose stories converge in unexpected ways around New York’s iconic Grand Central Terminal.

We know you’ll enjoy Fiona’s candid advice about what it’s like to realize your dreams and how to set new ones. And, you heard it here first on WomanScape – we are launching a WS Book Club on September 1st, 2018!

Thanks to Fiona Davis and her amazing publishing team, we’re honored to feature The Masterpiece as our first book club selection so stay tuned for more news. In the meantime, happy reading and you’ll want to get your copy of The Masterpiece as soon as possible!

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Actress, author, storyteller. Maker of her own destiny.

New Yorkers never sleep, but morning is always a good excuse for coffee. Nestled by the window, Fiona Davis cups hers and skims the New York Times leisurely. The tree just outside her window is positively overrun with birds; it was they, not the traffic, that woke her up this morning. She looks out at the city she loves, the actress turned storyteller. A chat.

Fiona, your own story itself is novel worthy: tell us about the young Canadian girl who took a bus to fame and New York City.

My parents are British, and we moved all over the United States while I was young. The journeys were pretty jarring for me. I got involved with the drama club because it was where I felt I fit in best. After college I decided to head to acting school in New York City. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking! 

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It was a blast. I joined a wonderful theater company. We did Shakespeare, Wilder, Genet – so many classics. We hung lights, made costumes, and raised money to produce three shows a year. One even moved to Broadway and was nominated for a Tony award.

But as I hit my late twenties, I started getting itchy for something more, so I applied to Columbia Journalism School and it changed my life. I fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally finding myself in historical fiction.

How did that encounter happen?

On a hunt for a new apartment. At the Barbizon 63 Condo, a sumptuous historic landmark that used to be the Barbizon Hotel for Women. I learned that some of the old residents were still living there, grandfathered into rent-controlled apartments on the fourth floor.

None would agree to an interview, but I could just imagine the stories they would have of their experiences in this building and city. So I decided to write a novel instead, about the people while recreating the real-life framework with fictional characters.

It was an absolute joy, and I haven’t looked back since. I found my love crafting characters and a story, and using this city’s landmarks as my inspiration.

Your stories do whisk us off on adventures across time and gilded, artful settings. Tell us about the heroines who go on them.

I like stories in which women carve out their own way, actively pursuing their own destiny. All of my characters are fighting to find a certain truth and discover their own voice in the process.

For instance, in The Dollhouse, both my heroines have unconventional goals: Darby, in 1952, is determined to do well in secretarial school and never marry, while Rose, in 2017, deals with loss by becoming obsessed with solving a mystery.

In The Address, my heroines, a hundred years apart, are fighting for opportunity and success but are stymied by the rules of society and their own demons. And in my latest novel, The Masterpiece, the story is set in Grand Central Terminal: one woman fights for recognition as an artist during the Jazz Age, while decades later, a down-on-her-luck socialite takes a job in the information booth.

actress, storyteller, New York Times bestseller, Fiona Davis, The Masterpiece, The Dollhouse, The Address, The Barbizan Hotel, The Dakota Hotel, Jazz Age, Grand Central Terminal, historical fictionDo you relate to your characters? Are there snippets of you in them?

You bet. I made Rose, in The Dollhouse, a journalist, because I could have her be nosy and get into lots of trouble. Sara, in The Address, comes to New York from London to be a housekeeper, and like her, I’ve often felt that I don’t quite belong in America.

What about New York, though? You paint it so beautifully.

Well, I’ve been here for 30 years now, to the point where I go downtown and say curmudgeonly things like, “I remember when this used to be an off-Broadway theater, way back in the ‘90s!” All of my friends are here and it’s just home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Tell us about a few dreams you have for the future.

Sometime in the new few years, I would like a lovely cottage outside the city with a garden, where friends could gather around a dinner table and sit for hours, drinking and talking. Also, my dog died a couple of years ago, and it might soon be time for another.

But there is also so much to be said about living in the moment, and I love my life right now. I’m able to travel around the country and meet booksellers and readers, to hear their stories and how my books have helped them. Now that’s a dream come true.

And what would you tell a young woman with big dreams who just picked up your book?

First, don’t feel like you have to decide in your twenties what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. I changed careers like clockwork every decade, and only now, in my early fifties, have I found success and personal fulfillment.

Second, start saving young and make sure you can always take care of yourself financially. I had a 401(k) in my twenties, when I was an actress moonlighting as a legal secretary, for goodness sake! Don’t depend on someone else to take care of you. That way, you’ll be free to make healthy, bold decisions

Thank you, this has been wonderful. A whimsical parting note seems appropriate, perhaps: What are three quirky little things about you?

One of my ancestors was the butler to Henry VIII, I have prosopagnosia (facial blindness – it’s hard for me to recognize faces), and, if called for, I can bang out Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique on the piano.

Yara Zgheib

Author Yara Zgheib

Yara is a writer, policy researcher and analyst, and lover of culture, travel, nature, art. She is the author of The Girls at 17 Swann Street and blogger behind Aristotle at Afternoon Tea. She has written for The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, The Idea List, A Woman’s Paris, and Holiday Magazine. Wearing her other hat, she consults with governments and the nonprofit sector on peace and security strategies, with an emphasis on conflict resolution, counter terrorism, and countering violent extremism. She is a Fulbright scholar with a PhD in international affairs, who has given courses on human security, but also art history, ballet and etiquette. Yara was born in Lebanon and has since lived in Glasgow, Washington, Paris, Saint Louis, and now Boston. She likes books and smart conversations, early morning yoga, evening walks.

More posts by Yara Zgheib

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