Friday, October 14, 2011

Interview with Anna Jacobs

Anna Jacobs is a prolific writer of historical sagas and modern family relationship novels set in the UK or Australia. Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.

THE TRADER’S WIFE had an unusual start. I usually ‘see’ a woman character and follow her story, but this time it was Bram, who appeared in ‘Destiny’s Path’ as a groom. He was such a vivid character, I couldn’t forget him, and in the end I had to give him his own book. So he is ‘the trader’. He’s an Irish groom who’s going to try to make his fortune in Australia, and because he’s stopped off en route in the Middle East and East, in Singapore too.

It’s surprised me that Bram has become one of my favourite, most romantic heroes. Move over, Mr Darcy! Bram isn’t handsome and he’s only of medium height, yet he’s such a warm, loving man, so good at dealing with people that you can’t help liking him.

And having written THE TRADER’S WIFE of course I had to follow it up. THE TRADER’S SISTER is now finished and in production, and I’m planning the third book.

Most of your novels for Hodder & Stoughton are based in the north-west, the story set against a part of the region’s social history. What made you choose this particular place and setting?
My early novels are indeed set in Lancashire, because I grew up there. Strangely, it wasn’t until after I emigrated that I got interested in its social history, not just the mills, but the other facets of northern life. I lived in a mill town and never went into a mill till I went back as a tourist to Wigan Pier.

But there is a lot more to Lancashire than the cotton mills that people associate with it. I also grew to admire my native county, not only for its economic ‘get up and go’ but for it’s social fairness. The first viable Co-operative shop was founded in my home town, Rochdale, and I played in its front yard as a child, because it was five shops up from my grandpa’s barber’s shop. When the government passed a dreadful Poor Law Act in 1834, the people of Lancashire, rich and poor alike, refused to implement it and continued to treat the occupants of poorhouses kindly. They were supposed to live in conditions ‘worse than the worst outside’ but the people of Lancashire defied the government for decades about it. I’m so proud of that.

A common characteristic of your sagas is a strong and feisty woman, do you think that is essential for this genre? 
It’s essential for me in any story I write. Why would I write about someone I don’t like and/or admire? I could never spend months of my life writing about a flawed heroine whom I didn’t like. I do sometimes portray women finding themselves, though, getting their act together as many women do in their middle years in real life. I think readers like to see women/characters triumphing over the misfortunes life throws at all of us.

You seem to be expanding your horizons with your sagas, away from Lancashire. This latest book is set in Singapore. What made you decide to do that?

I was trying to find a slightly different setting for my next historical story. I’ve visited Singapore a few times, so looked into its history. Since I found it fascinating, I felt my readers might enjoy it, too. The series is set partly in Singapore and partly in Western Australia. Most novels set in Australia are in the Eastern States e.g: Sydney or Melbourne. That’s as far away from where I live as Moscow is from London, and I feel the history of the West has not been given its due in books. So for quite a few years I’ve been setting my stories there. We deal a lot with Singapore from Western Australia, which is about the same distance away from its capital, Perth, as Sydney is.

You also write modern fiction. Tell us something about these books, and in what way does the writing experience differ from your historicals?
I’m still writing about people and relationships, but I’m setting the stories all over England. And, obviously, its today’s world that gives the characters their problems. I started writing modern stories for variety and stimulation, to keep myself fresh. I’m always afraid of growing stale and telling the same old story, so I vary it as much as I can. At the time we were house swapping with English families every year or two, as an easier way to visit our families, and I’ve set stories in many of the 11 places we’ve visited that way.

Everything is a potential story to a writer! For example, CHANGE OF SEASON is set in Dorset, our first house swap, with an Australian family following their father/husband to England because he’s working for an international company. I had a friend whose husband was a ‘Chairman’s International Rover’ ie he went trouble shooting for the head of an international company, so I based the heroine’s husband on that. THE CORRIGAN LEGACY is set partly in Cheshire, and has one character with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome). I suffered from that myself for a few years, and always said I’d put it in a book. The heroine of THE WISHING WELL has a mother suffering from Alzheimers, as a friend of mine did at the time. And the scene in the bed and breakfast with the window that didn’t fit its frame was based on what actually happened to my husband and myself. But all my modern heroines get their happy endings, just as the historical ones do. It’s my choice and I choose happiness not tragedy.

I also have another book coming out: SHORT AND SWEET, which is a collection of my short romance stories, originally published in women’s magazines. I was a little surprised at the cover chosen by the publisher, which is attractive, but doesn’t look like a romance cover. See what you think.

How do you begin when you start a new novel? 
I usually have the start-up situation in my mind, often found while researching. I picture my heroine by making her different in height, hair colour, age and temperament from my last heroine. And then I write the first scene. I picture the hero and do the same. I write and rewrite the first three chapters till I know my hero and heroine and have got some sub-plots in place, then off I go, experiencing the events with my characters. Often I dream of the next few scenes as I’m just waking up in the morning. It’s like seeing movie shows.

What craft tip helped you the most when you were starting out?
‘Put your heroine up a tree and throw stones at her.’ It’s still the best advice of all. If there are no problems, there is no story to tell. Big stones, little stones, they’re all in there. I feel sorry for my heroines sometimes, poor things!

What advice would you give a new writer? 
Write several books to learn your trade. One won’t be enough. And don’t self- publish your first stories as ebooks. Wait until you’re much more skilled and then persevere till you find a publisher, because you’ll learn more from the editing and being guided through the process. Slapdash books, or practice books won’t do anyone’s reputation any good. But the early books won’t be wasted because you can rewrite them with your improved skills.

Do you believe writing is a skill anyone can learn?
No, I don’t. It’s not the writing that counts most, it’s the gift for story-telling that makes a novelist. Not everyone has it. I couldn’t have been a sporting person with my faulty eyesight. Nor could I climb mountains when going two rungs up a ladder gives me the collywobbles.

Your home is in Australia but you spend part of the year in England. Does this present any particular difficulties for you? What are the pros and cons of a split life-style?
It takes a lot of organizing and sheer hard work to run two houses. But it gives us both a lot of pleasure. I have food intolerances and can’t enjoy doing holiday tours, as I may not get food I can eat. But I can change countries and keep on feeding myself safely in my own homes. Besides, England is beautiful in the warmer months and we absolutely love living there. I think it’s the most beautiful country on earth. Australia is beautiful too, but in a different way, and I love living there as well. I don’t call myself ‘lucky’ for that, because I’ve worked hard all my life and been careful with money. But I do wish someone would find a way to eliminate jetlag. However hard I try, it hits me for over a week each time we move countries.

Do you find the increasing amount of time a writer has to spend on social networking and blogs a distraction from your writing, or of benefit? Have you any secrets to pass on for coping with the pressure?
Oh, yes. It’s very time consuming and frankly, I’d rather be telling new stories than talking about the books. It’s lovely to meet readers, but I’ve always communicated with readers, ever since emails came into existence, and I’ve been putting out a monthly email newsletter for my readers for many years. Social networks seem to be for entertainment, but I don’t need entertaining. Let’s face it, with my job, I’m an entertainer not an entertainee, and after a day writing and doing business on my computer, I don’t want to spend the evenings on line as well.

I know you are putting up your back list as ebooks. As well as it being good for them to see the light of day again, do you see any other advantages? And how do you see the future for writers?
It’s lovely to see my stories being read again, and I think bringing out my backlist as ebooks has helped my frontlist books too, the ones publishers are still producing. I used to write historical romances and they’re selling really well as ebooks (eg Mistress of Marymoor, Marrying Miss Martha, Replenish the Earth). They’re sweet romances, not sexy ones and there seems to be a demand for this type of story that isn’t always met by some publishers, who have this focus on sex and vampires and violence. I’d like to republish my historicals in paperback – they never did come out in paperback format, only as hardbacks. Maybe one day! But that would take away more of my precious story-telling time. I sometimes feel like a juggler who’s trying to keep too many balls in the air.

Many thanks Anna for sharing your writing methods with us. We wish you every success with the new books. Visit Anna Jacobs at her website: 

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


Jenny Schwartz said...

I love learning that the people of Lancashire stood firm on workhouses and treating the poor like people -- what a revolutionary idea! :)

Rachel Brimble said...

Fantastic interview, fabulous lady!

Rachel x

Nell Dixon said...

Lovely interview.

Rosanne Dingli said...

Reading what Anna says is always fascinating - her emphasis on location is something I understand very well, since I use location as focus in all my writing, especially my novels. The variety of Anna's writing is also amazing - it makes me tired just thinking how hard she works.

Noelene said...

Anna, we've done Singapore many times as a stopover and done the touristy bit, and I always love reading about Aussie history so am looking forwarding to reading your "Trader" series.

Anonymous said...

Anna, you have captured how all of life's experience seems to filter into the novels and stories. I like the cover of your Short and Sweet stories; I assume the boat refers to one of the stories, and it's a fresh approach. Jetlag sounds very exhausting and I'm wondering if it would be worth upping the fare to pay for a bed and some pampering enroute, if that were possible?
Margaret Sutherland

Teena said...

Anna, what an interesting and informative interview. It gives a wonderful insight into your writing life. You've also given some excellent advice to aspiring novelists. Writing is a craft that develops with experience. I know my writing has improved significantly over the years and whenever I decide to submit an old story I do major revisions before it gets sent out.
Releasing your out of print books as Ebooks is a wonderful way for more readers to enjoy your story telling.
Like you, I'm not sure about the cover of the short story collection...but the cover for The Trader's Wife is lovely. Teena

Anna Jacobs said...

Thank you for your comments. Glad you've found the historical information interesting.

Margaret, there is nothing whatsoever to do with boats/sailing in my short stories. The cover, while pretty, is a puzzle to me as I feel it says 'men's fiction' not romance ficiotn.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
I've read several of both your historical and contemporary books and you certainly don't need to wory about your stories losing freshness. They are all so different (and full of stones). I love the way you are able to weave historcal facts seemlessly into your stories.

A great interview.

Leonie K

Anonymous said...

Going off to find The Trader's Wife. Always nice to hear from the lovely Anna Jacobs.

Anonymous said...

I too will be purchasing The Trader's Wife. Anna is always so helpful answering questions on the RWA loop regarding our craft with considered replies and a great deal of common sense.


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Anna,
Great blog. The Traders Wife sounds fascinating. Singapore is a vibrant and slightly unusual setting. Being an historical romance author myself, I am always interested in novels that are set in different parts of the world. Look forward to reading it.The cover is beautiful. Love your idea of a house in England and Australia. You get the best of both worlds that way.



Lorraine Mauvais said...

I absolutely love the Singapore setting in the Trader's Wife. It's yet another one of your beautiful books that captivate me. I don't know how you do it, Anna, so many books and all wonderful. You think you don't climb mountains? You do as a storyteller!

Mary Hawkins said...

Hi, Anna, great to hear more about you and your books. I am way behind reading your recent releases but have enjoyed every other that you've written. I have been to Singapore also and that book sounds especially fascinating. Congratulations and welcome back to Australia again!