Good morning to all!
It is my privilege to be joined by the prolific international and award winning writer, Anna Jacobs today.
Welcome, Anna. I hope it’s not too early for you (or is that late over there in Australia?) Anyway, pull up a chair and make yourself at home. I’ve been looking forward to this. I’ll get the chocolate croissants out and put the kettle on. What’s it to be – tea, coffee, herbal – how do you usually start your day?
I’m happy to be here, Debbie. We’re eight hours ahead of the UK here in Australia, which makes it ‘interesting’ to do business sometimes. I don’t mind very early mornings, as I wake at 5am bright and alert, but by 7pm I’m getting tired. Oh, how I’d love a chocolate croissant. Sadly, I’ve become cereal intolerant (not just wheat) so can’t have croissants any longer. And I’m a low calorie cordial girl. I’ve never in my life drunk tea/coffee or even herbal, because they taste so bitter.
I start my day by tiptoeing out of the bedroom and leaving my husband in peace, then stroll across the house to my office where I’m queen of the quiet morning world inside and out. I love that time of day. I then answer my emails, which come from all over the world.
The Romaniacs and I would like to congratulate you on your latest publication, The Trader’s Dream. How has the launch been?
Thank you for your kind words. The Trader’s Dream has gone bravely out into the world and is selling well, which means people are wanting to read it, which is what matters most to me. Strangely, I’ve never had an actual book launch, even though my 60th novel comes out next year. I know regular readers have been waiting eagerly for the next Trader book. This is No 3 and No 4 (The Trader’s Gift) is written and in preparation at my publisher’s, but I haven’t even begun to write the last book in the series yet.
With all the books you’ve written over the years you must have seen many changes in the marketing side of things since you first set out on the path to publication. How do you feel about self-promotion and the different hats a writer must wear in today’s market? Do you find self-promotion daunting?
I don’t find it daunting to do promotion, but I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time on it, because I’d far rather write more stories. However, people are so nice when I give talks, etc, that I end up enjoying myself. It’s nice to get out of the house sometimes.
I didn’t do any promotion when I was first published. My publisher did a few things without me. Now, I do guest blogs, run a readers’ email newsletter (approximately monthly) and have a huge website.
What started you off down the road as a writer and how long did it take you from concept of your first novel to publication?
LOL, I got the idea for my first novel on my way to book my wedding, way back when. My mother and I were sitting on the top of a double-decker bus, and saw a narrow little back street in Oldham called Salem Street. I wondered what the people were like who first lived there. My story is about imaginary people in a similar street, of course. I didn’t write it for twenty years, but I never forgot the idea. That turned out to be Salem Street the novel, which was published in 1994 and is still going into reprints, I’m delighted to say. It wasn’t my first novel published, but it was my first ‘real’ idea for a story.
I started telling myself stories when I was two. I guess it was born in me. When I wrote my first novel seriously, not just dabbling, it took me two years to finish it and it didn’t get published for another ten years, after a major rewrite. Writers’ early skills aren’t always up to scratch, and they need to write a lot to practise, just as an athlete can’t do the Olympics without a great deal of training.
You’re very supportive of new writers and an active member of the RNA. If you could give one piece of advice for a wannabe writer, what would it be?
Don’t rush out and self-publish your first novel as an ebook. Keep it for later and write another. Most first novels are learning pieces and you’ll probably cringe when you read yours in a few years. But you’ll have better skills to polish it later, so it won’t be wasted. Think of writing as a long-term career, identifying and developing the skills needed, preparing yourself in every way possible. Editors don’t do this for writers nowadays; you’ll have to do it yourself.
Having read MANY (it must be over twenty) of your historical/saga books, I think I could pick up any without a cover and know it’s you who’d written it. Looking back to your first novels; Persons of Rank (1992) and the first of your sagas, Salem Street (1994) how would you say your writing style has developed?
I’m glad you’re enjoying my books. Do you know, my husband and daughters say exactly the same thing, that they could recognise my ‘voice’ as a writer anywhere. I think my writing style has become more polished, though, and I write shorter books.
My first book published was ‘Persons of Rank’, a regency romance in the style of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I wrote it for fun, but I didn’t continue in that genre.
I write shorter stories these days that dive straight into the action. No more 140,000 word tales, but 80-100,000. I think I craft the story better and get my point across more skilfully. But there’s always something to learn or improve where novel writing is concerned, which keeps me interested.
I also write modern novels these days. A story recently published is one of my own favourites: ‘Winds of Change’. The paperback should be out soon for that.
To what extent has the RNA helped you?
I was already published when I joined, but the companionship has been invaluable – and please don’t undervalue that. I live in a small country town in Western Australia, one of the most isolated ‘advanced’ countries on earth. It’s even a long way from the rest of Australia! It’s a lonely life anyway, writing, but more so when you’re a long way away from meetings, etc.
The other good thing from the RNA is that I can keep in better touch with the UK publishing industry via the people on the chat list and via other things the organisation offers. That is so helpful.
You seem very much a family person. That must have meant a fair bit of juggling; writing, managing home and family, and I read that you have several health problems, including M.E and Arthritis. Over the years how have you managed to do it all, and to produce three books a year, especially living with chronic illness?
Family are the most important of all. I love mine very much.
You can live with chronic illness and ignore/manage it, or you can sink into a self-pitying heap. I’m not letting anything stop me from writing, so I push problems into the background. Anyway, the ME is well under control these days, thanks to an innovative group of doctors here who treat patients by rebalancing the body chemistry. Mine was haywire. The ME only shows up when I’m stressed, and I get fuzzy brained, so I avoid stress as much as possible. Arthritis happens to most of us as we grow older, so really, it proves that I’m doing well! I’m still on the right side of the grass! And I’m still writing. I don’t need to be fit enough to run races – well, I never was sportingly active. Pitiful is the best way of describing me trying to catch or hit a ball.
I understand you live some of the time in Australia, and the northern hemisphere summers in Wiltshire. What took you to Australia? And do you tend to write differently or have different projects on the go, depending on what part of the world you’re in, or write for different markets?
We emigrated to Australia for a better life – the usual tale – and also for me to avoid snow, which I hate with a passion. But it’s lovely to enjoy both countries – as long as it doesn’t snow in summer in the UK.
We’d wanted a holiday home in the UK for a long time, but couldn’t find something it was safe to leave for half the year. Then one day I found a leisure village in Wiltshire, sent my sister along from Bristol to look at it, and she said it looked good. We bought a block and ordered a house the next day. It sounds impulsive, but we’d been looking for years and knew exactly what we wanted.
When I’m in the UK, it’s harder to find as much writing time, as I have a sister there, and my husband has a brother and sister. So we socialise more frequently. But being there also helps with my research and with getting in the UK mood for my modern novels, which are set in both Australia and the UK. The experience of living in two countries enhances our lives greatly and we both love it. Mind you, I try to write my historical novels in Australia, as I have my big reference library there, and my modern stories in the UK. But it isn’t always possible.
I hear you’re as big a reader as a writer. What’s on the bedside cabinet and do you read alongside when you’re plotting and writing?
I read three novels a week. What I don’t read much is sagas, since I spend two-thirds of the year writing them. Enough is enough. I read a lot of modern novels, especially by American authors like Robyn Carr and Sherryl Woods, who write such warm complex tales of families and friends.
I like reading cosy mysteries – Miss Marple type, not gruesome or super-violent ones. I think Jacqueline Winspear is my favourite writer of these, but I like Lillian Stewart Carl’s gentle Scottish mysteries too.
The Trader’s Dream, your latest book is almost your sixtieth novel! And you write three novels a year. How do you work it – do you have more than one book at a time on the go, and how do you keep coming up with all these ideas?
I can’t write more than one book at a time, so I just work till I’ve finished one. I prefer to write every day, to keep ‘inside’ the story. I could push myself and write four novels a year, but I have a life outside writing, so I don’t. I have a gorgeous husband, two daughters, son-in-law and grandson, and some very lovely friends.
I find it refreshing to write different types of book. For instance, though I write historical novels for two of my three publishers, one requires novels set in Australia and the other isn’t allowed that, so I set them mainly in Wiltshire. My modern novels can be set in either country.
As for ideas, they well up all the time. I wish I could write faster to keep up with them.
I used to write fantasy novels as Shannah Jay and I miss that, but there are only so many hours in the day. My Shannah Jay novels are on sale from my website, by the way.
Oh, and I’ll never be remembered for my dusting or ironing, as I don’t do such silly activities. I was born without any domestic genes and pay other wonderful people to do those chores. I’d rather write.
The third in your Traders series, what’s The Trader’s Dream about?
Bram Deagan dreams of bringing his family from Ireland to join him in Australia, where he now runs a successful trading business. But when a typhus epidemic strikes Ireland, it leaves the Deagan family decimated. And, with other members of the family scattered round the world, there is only Maura Deagain left to look after her orphaned nieces and nephew.
Forced to abandon her own ambitions, and unsure whether she is ready to become a mother figure to three young children, Maura recognises that their only hope is to join Bram in far-away Australia. So they set sail on the SS Delta, which will carry them there, via the newly opened Suez Canal.
It is only when a storm throws her and fellow passenger Hugh Beaufort together that Maura realises this journey may also give her a chance to realise a dream she set aside years ago – to have a family of her own. That is, until someone from Hugh’s past threatens to jeopardise everything.
I’ve waited ten years to write a story with the background of the opening of the Suez Canal. It was such a fascinating event. You can find out more about the story and the research behind it, and read the first chapter, on my website at www.annajacobs.com
There are no doubt other projects already in the pipeline. So what’s next?…
I have already written Book 4 in the Traders – The Trader’s Gift. There will be five in all.
I have a modern novel coming out at the end of January. A Place of Hope is set on the moors just outside Littleborough, Lancashire, and is on one of my favourite themes – people making new lives for themselves. People of all ages do this all the time in real life and I’ve found it leads to some fascinating tales in fiction.
And I’m just starting a new series of Wiltshire sagas. I’m having fun setting up a tale that will cover three books.
I tell myself, one day, if I ever get that book deal, I’m going to employ a cleaner and gardener! Finally, as such a successful and prolific writer, you’re in the enviable position that you must earn a reasonable living for it to be your main ‘day’ job. What little perks or ‘luxuries’ has writing afforded you?
Writing has paid for our second home in England, because we’ve always been moderately careful with money. Writing allows me to buy any book that takes my fancy – to me, that’s riches.
I’m not much interested in jewellery or fashion, especially not the ‘daft’ fashions like walking on stilts that some women are doing these days. They call them shoes, I call them stilts, and don’t they give the wearers an awkward, ungainly gait, like limping camels!
We’re not rich but it’s nice that we’re comfortable enough to be able to pay school fees for our grandson. I do most truly believe in education, because your brain is what guides you through life, so it needs good training and exercise because it’s going to have a lot to cope with over they years. I love that my own writing means research and creativity, which means keeping my brain alive.
Well, I guess we’re coming to the end of our time together … unless you’d like to stay for lunch? …
I’d love to stay for lunch. LOL. But you’d have to get a list of my food allergies first. Drives me mad. I love that there are lots of Indian restaurants in England, and pub lunches with jacket potatoes, because I can’t do bread/pasta stuff.
Oh, I can imagine that must be tricky for you. I can’t imagine a life without pasta!
Anna, my mum, best friend and her mum are also huge fans. I’ve already bought my copy of The Trader’s Dream and suspect if we meet any time soon, I shall have to buy a few copies of your latest novel and ask you to do a mass signing.
I’m happy to sign books any time. If you’re ever in Wiltshire . . .
Thank you. I might just take you up on that. I do hope we get to meet you one of these days. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to be our guest today. We wish you every success with your current novel and, of course, all those still to come…
Anna Jacobs is published mainly as Anna Jacobs, writing historical sagas and modern novels alternately. Some books are set in the UK, others in Australia, or both countries. She used to write fantasy novels as Shannah Jay and these are available again as ebooks.
You can find Anna at:
Web address: http://www.annajacobs.com/
Buy the latest book here on Amazon Or The Book Depository also send books anywhere in the world, postage free: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Traders-Dream-Anna-Jacobs/9781444711318
And January’s book, A Place of Hope is now listed here on Amazon, available for pre-order.
If you’re interested in being kept up to date with information about Anna’s books, you can sign up for her email newsletter. You’ll receive news approximately every 4-6 weeks and be the first to hear the news of coming books and what she’s currently writing.
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