Anna has generously offered a hard copy giveaway of The Trader’s Dream to one lucky person leaving a comment on this post. To be in the running, you must include your email address for contact after the draw.
Anna Jacobs’s writing journey can teach us much about professionalism and setting one’s own high standards in an increasingly competitive and highly populated career.
Welcome, Anna, and thanks for treading the boards with us today!
Are you inspired most by places, people or experiences and how do these work their way into your writing?
I find all of life fascinating (except politics and sport) and watch people’s doings with great interest. You never know what is going to sneak into your writing in the future. I read a book about raised stump work simply because it’s beautiful (it’s a form of embroidery mainly from the 17th century) and even that crept into a modern novel (Change of Season).
A lot of my novels are set in Lancashire, where I was born. It has a fascinating history, especially the 19th century – I’m not talking of the lives of the rich but of ordinary people pushing technology into new areas, earning their livings in new ways, building railways, creating elaborate steam engines, starting up music halls. Some of Lancashire is going through a depressed phase at the moment, but in the 19th century it was vibrant. And I’m sure it will be again.
Please share one of your favourite moments of inspiration with us.
Many years ago my mother and I were on the top deck of a double-decker bus, travelling into Oldham to book my wedding. I looked out of the window and saw a tiny cul-de-sac of terraced houses called ‘Salem Street’. Inspiration struck and I said to my mum, ‘What a great title for a novel!’
It was 30 years before that novel was written, polished to professional standard and published. I’d never forgotten that street and wove my story round the imaginary lives of the first people to live in those tiny houses in 1820. The novel was my big take-off with Hodder & Stoughton, who are still my main publishers, and ‘Salem Street’ has never been out of print from 1994.
How do you come up with your characters’ names?
I own 9 books of names. Since I write a lot of historical novels, I need books which tell me when certain names were popular. I use those most and also, I collect names eg from my own family history, or from autobiographies, from on line sources, wherever I find the real names used in the era I’m writing about. I have to have names for my characters before I can write about them.
If you could pick a soundtrack to match your main character’s life, what would it be?
I know some authors tie in their writing to music, but I don’t, not in any way. I write in total silence, and can’t write half as well when music is playing nearby in the house, even quietly. I think music would intrude on my imaginary world, which is very real to me when I’m writing. It would jerk me back into my own reality. I guess that makes me an oddity in this noisy, music-filled world, but there you are.
What is your favourite holiday?
We live half the year in Australia (main home) and half in England. I guess that switch of cultures is enough holiday for me. I love the differences in daily life in each place. Our holiday home is in a beautiful part of England and we visit other parts of the country while we’re there, for pleasure and for research. Both my husband and I are cultural tourists, not beach/laze around people.
I can’t do travelling/touring holidays, anyway, because I have several food intolerances and finding anything to eat in some out of the way places might be impossible. But I never was a great traveller, so this limitation doesn’t upset me.
Do you read reviews of your books? What do you do when you read a not-so-nice one?
I don’t hunt out reviews, as I’m too busy, but I’ve been lucky to have mostly good ones. If there’s a bad one I do what a writing friend once advised, ie toss my head and say huh! what do they know about anything? (The ‘huh’ is very important as it gets your feeling out.)
I had a strange situation for a while when a reader who loved my historical novels deliberately gave my modern novels bad reviews on line and said I should stop writing them. Other readers kindly stepped in to disagree with the person. What this reader didn’t realise was that I need the change and the variety of writing a modern novel about one in three or I couldn’t write so many historical ones. Variety stimulates my imagination.
How many times were you turned down before you finally got published?
I didn’t count but intermittently over 10 years – this was in the time before the Internet and it took several months to send a manuscript to and from Australia to England each time. Some years I didn’t submit – I was also studying for my Master of Business degree.
What reason(s) did the publishers give for their rejection of your manuscript?
They said nice things but usually it ‘didn’t suit their list’. I gradually came to realise that they were being kind and that I didn’t have enough excitement and depth of emotion in my tales. I read a lot of bestselling authors in my area and studied them carefully, then wrote more of my own stories and rewrote some old ones. Gradually I learned the finer points of my trade, in other words I reached a professional standard. I later rewrote my first novels and they’ve now been published.
These days I worry about writers who self-publish their first novels because they didn’t get an acceptance. It’s a complex craft and one day most of them will wince at their early writing. Athletes don’t expect to represent their country after their first efforts at the sport. They train for years before they get to that stage. I know it’s a huge achievement to complete a novel, but I always advise them to hold back for a while and write a few more.
Who is your literary hero?
The central character of my Traders series, Bram. He’s the best hero I ever created – or did he just walk into my dreams from some other dimension? He’s so real. He was a minor character in ‘Destiny’s Path’ and I couldn’t write anything but his story next. I’m so sorry that series has now ended. I miss writing about him.
Who do you most admire and why? OR If you could meet anyone, alive or dead, and spend an hour with them, who and why?
Stephen Fry. He’s a polymath, a man of great intelligence and many skills/talents. He’s fascinating to watch on TV and I’d love to chat to him about life, the universe and everything.
What is your favourite book of all time that you can reread a hundred times, and it still feels like the first time?
I have about a dozen books that are my favourite few, but not one single one. I’ve just re-read ‘Kelly Park’ by Jean Stubbs, a warmly brilliant tale, and I’m about due to read ‘Friday’s Child’ by Georgette Heyer, which made me want to write historical novels.
What do you need to set the mood for you to write?
I suppose I can’t answer ‘Nothing’ to this question, but basically that’s what I need. Silence, my own space with no one to interrupt, and then I play a suite of solitaire card games on my computer for about 20 minutes. The card games seem to switch my brain to a relaxed creative mode. It’s something to do with left brain/right brain and a psychologist friend claims to understand how it happens. I don’t. I just go into my space and routine and there you are, scenes fill my imagination.
If there is one genre that you have not written in yet, but would love to try writing a book in that specific genre, what would it be?
I’ve written regency romances, historical sagas, fantasy and SF (as Shannah Jay), modern romances, modern family/relationships novels, romantic suspense. Apart from wishing I had time to write fantasy again, that’s enough for one lifetime.
How many blurbs did you have to write before the final one?
Two or three drafts, then leave it a day, then polish a little. With 65 novels published, I’ve had a fair amount of practice. It took me longer in the early days.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just started writing a new series set just after World War 2, and am finding it intriguing to relive my own childhood memories and see what the big picture was then. I was 5 when the war ended so saw only my own small world. I’m not only doing research generally, but using my mother’s memoirs, my aunt’s reminiscences, my memories and family stories passed down over the years.
There are a lot of novels about the war itself, but this story is about rebuilding after the war, not only rebuilding relationships but houses. I got the idea because I didn’t meet my father till I was 5, after which we hopped from house to house as my parents searched first for any home, then for the perfect home.
Would you like to share an excerpt from your writing or a photo or music link that inspires you?
You can find an excerpt from the last Trader’s book (The Trader’s Reward) and some behind the scenes information on my website at:
The book is set in 1872. Bram Deagan thinks all his surviving family have joined him in Australia, which was his big dream, but there is one more surprise yet to come. The first part is set against the journey by steamship from England to Western Australia via the Suez Canal, and the second part takes place after the characters arrive in Fremantle.
Please share your favourite cocktail recipe or celebration photo.
I’ve attached a photo taken in 2006, when one of my books won the award for Australian Romantic Book of the Year (longer novels category). It shows my utter joy, the award, the book and the beautiful flowers a friend sent me.