Friday, March 11, 2011

Author Interview with Anna Jacobs

I’m delighted today to be interviewing fellow Lancastrian Anna Jacobs. Anna’s main home is in Australia, but she was born and bred in the cotton towns. With 53 novels published, both historical and modern novels, Anna, I know you claim to be addicted to writing, so do tell us, how did you get started?

My favourite author (Georgette Heyer) died and I tried to write books like hers - regency romances. In the end I had two of them published, but my ‘voice’ as a writer developed in another direction. As part of training myself, I did a university unit in history covering my period. I’d sworn when I got my Master of Business degree that I wasn’t doing any formal studying again, but there you are - I wanted to be sure I had the skills and knowledge to write historical fiction.

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
I’m not a planner as to details of plot. However, I do the main background research before I start. After that I develop the characters and walk with them through the events of the story. It’s often random research that interests me in something and gives me a plot idea. Years ago I found out that 60 Lancashire cotton lasses were sent to Western Australia (my main home) in 1863 because they had no work due to the American Civil War cutting off supplies of cotton. Western Australia was short of maids, because young women sent out there would keep getting married. With 10 men to every woman, how could they resist? I added four more imaginary cotton lasses to the group and started my Swan River Saga with ‘Farewell to Lancashire’.

What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?
In my sort of fiction (non-gruesome, no graphic sex or violence) they’re looking for ‘heart’ ie a story that touches your heart, whether it’s historical or modern. Or so one excellent editor told me. This applies to both my modern and historical novels. I’m not an expert in other genres, so will not try to cover them.

Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?
I write most days, probably averaging six and a half days a week. What can I say? I’m addicted to story-telling. I get up at 5.30 am because that’s when I wake, and go to answer my emails, half of which are business emails. Then I have breakfast and shower, before returning to my office. The mornings and early afternoons are my best creative times. I never write after teatime. My creativity vanishes with the sun - and anyway, I like to spend time with my husband, who is also my best friend.

How do you develop your characters?
I choose hair colour, height and a name. I can’t start until I get a name. Then I begin to write. I rewrite the first two or three chapters several times and that helps me get to know my main characters. Once I’ve finished a story, I know them much better, so I go back to the beginning and polish the story and add all sorts of details. I don’t consciously work out what they’re like, I just . . . get to know them by writing. That’s the only way I can explain. And I think of them as people, not characters.

Do you find time to have interests other than writing?
Of course I do. You’d not get enough experience of life to write if you just sat in your office writing. I have a lovely husband, daughters, grandson, friends. And as I live in England for part of the year, I have friends and relatives in both countries. I’m interested in archaeology (Time Team), health issues, reading, watching documentaries that extend my knowledge of the world, meeting people, visiting ancient monuments and lovely old English villages - all sorts of things. I have a bad back, so I can’t do vigorous physical activities, though I do walk on a treadmill most days to help my back and because I want to keep healthy.

Do you enjoy writing sequels or series, If so what is the special appeal for you?
Yes, I do. And readers enjoy them too. They write such lovely letters about the characters that it makes me write more series. However, I don’t like to leave things too unfinished in any book of a series. Readers must be able to read each book on their own, as it’s not always possible to start with Book 1, and work steadily through a series.

They appeal because like my readers, I enjoy finding out what happens to my characters afterwards. In a series, I usually have a different hero and heroine each time, with former heroes and heroines as minor characters. In the Swan River Saga a minor character in Book 3 was so vivid, I’ve written a spin-off book about his story, still with the other major characters popping in and out. I’m not sure yet what to call this new series. We’ll see. ‘The Trader’s Wife’ comes out in September in hardback, a novel set partly in 1860s Singapore and partly in Western Australia. I’m writing the sequel ‘The Trader’s Sister’ now and have ‘gone back’ to Singapore for a visit.

How do you promote your books?
Any way I can, within reason. I have a brand new web site, which gives a huge amount of information, not only about the books, but from behind the scenes, what made me write them and how I did the research. This information is only available on my website. My earlier fantasy novels (written as Shannah Jay) are for sale there as electronic books, as are my earlier historical romances, and of course they’re also for sale on other Internet sites, like Amazon.

I do guest blogs, I give talks, I do interviews on the radio, I write short stories for women’s magazines, I do all sorts of things. And they benefit me in many ways. I meet readers at talks and get feedback from them, which is always interesting and useful. I have a readers’ email newsletter, which people can sign up for by sending an email to Many of the readers receiving it write back to me at intervals.

I am not prepared to stand on my head to attract attention, though!

Are you a specialist of one genre or do you have another identity?
I thought I was writing women’s fiction, both historical and modern as Anna Jacobs, but I regularly get letters from men, and it’s gradually become clear that I’m not writing just for women. So I don’t know what to call my Anna Jacobs books, maybe family/relationships stories. I also write fantasy and science fiction as Shannah Jay, but only as a minor interest these days. My Shannah Jay books are out of print, but I’m selling them from my website and from other Internet sites. And I’m putting up new ones that I’ve written for a hobby, to ‘find out what happens’. Publishers don’t want authors who aren’t focused on their genre.

Do you enjoy research and how do you set about it?
I love research. I did a university History unit to start me off correctly. I have a wall of research books, and I use the Internet. I also write to experts whom I find on the Internet and they’ve been very generous in helping me. I enjoy the history of ordinary people most of all, not political stuff or wars. I like to find out how people lived. Amateur autobiographies are very helpful for this and I buy them from tourist shops or anywhere I find them. They give the picture without it being filtered through a historian’s mind. Even good historians are bound to have their own biases.

Tell us about your latest book and how you got the idea for it.
It’s Book 3 of the Swan River Sage, a series which I’ve already mentioned. The series is about four sisters, one for ‘Farewell to Lancashire’ one for ‘Beyond the Sunset’ and the twins’ stories are in ‘Destiny’s Path. I wanted to use the Suez route from Australia to England in this series. Before the Suez Canal, passengers disembarked and crossed the isthmus to Alexandria by train, then got on a ship again, stopping to change ships at Galle in Ceylon. One twin goes back to England on her own and the other stays in Australia with the man she loves but can’t marry. It’s very poignant at times.

I have a second new book coming out in April, a modern story ‘Moving On’ about a woman who is sidelined at her own daughter’s wedding for her ex’s new wife and it’s the final straw. She finds the courage to move on and make a new life for herself, which isn’t easy for a gentle person.

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
I’m writing ‘The Trader’s Sister’, Book 2 in my new spin-off series, which hasn’t yet got a name. I’m so enjoying going back to Singapore. I’ve had some wonderful help about schooners and Suez, and found a great book about the P&O shipping line. A Chinese friend is helping me with the family stuff in Singapore. It’s fascinating to research and write.

Anna lives in both Australia and the UK. No prizes for guessing where she is during the UK winters! But as she spends the summers in England we hope to meet up with you at RNA events at some point. Thank you Anna for sparing the time to talk to us. I wish you continued success.

You can read samples of all Anna’s books on her website and find out background information about them that is available nowhere else. You can also buy some of her out of print books as ebooks there.

Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me at:


Beth Elliott said...

That's an amazing output for one writer, Anna. Thank you for sharing your writing tips with us - I love the idea of 'stories with heart'. And I'm very interested that you revisit your first few chapters until the characters really come alive.

Sheila Newberry said...

Dear Anna,

You are a writer after my own heart- please never stop!
It is my mother's birthday today,
so time to reflect on Bella ...
So I can't say what I should say
about your writing, except your
characters linger in the memory
long after readings done.
Love Sheilax

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I loved reading about your impressive writing career, Anna. Thanks for inspiring this newer author!

Jenny Schwartz said...

Lovely interview.