So how did you get started?
I’d always wanted to write, but only dabbled until Georgette Heyer, my favourite novelist of all, died. I tried to write books like hers and indeed, I had two regency romances published (now available as ebooks, Persons of Rank, The Northern Lady). However, that taught me about my own voice and my own way of telling a story, so I then became ‘Anna Jacobs’ in fact. I’m very grateful to her. She’s a good role model and a brilliant writer, still getting re-published over 30 years after her death. (Hear, hear!)
What draws you to your particular genres?
I write in two genres at the moment and have been published in two others. My current genres are historical sagas and modern relationships novels. I love history, not the political stuff but how ordinary people lived, also the history of Lancashire, where I was born, and of Western Australia, where I mainly live now.
I used to write historical romances and my out of print books are now published on Amazon Kindle – Mistress of Marymoor and Replenish the Earth are selling particularly well. I also used to write fantasy novels as Shannah Jay and they too are reissued as ebooks.
I’m endlessly fascinated by people, how they interact and how they fall in love particularly, so I write in genres that can focus on that.
You recommended Freedom’s Land when I asked fellow RNA members for their ‘book of their heart’ I found Norah a very attractive heroine in her steadfastness and dignity. Does Freedom’s Land still occupy this space or has another taken its place?
I have a few ‘special’ books. Freedom’s Land is about Western Australia in the 1920s and the soldier settlers. I loved writing it and it’s the last book my former agent read. He said, ‘How are you ever going to follow that?’ After he died I tried very hard to live up to his good opinion.
Envoy, one of my other favourites, was written under my Shannah Jay name and is a fantasy novel, set in an imaginary warring world. I wrote it to practise getting tensions and pace into stories, and wow, it certainly does that. I used to wake in the night, with ideas for new twists and turns, and the couple of times I’ve re-read it, I didn’t remember half of these and was amazed at myself.
I’m also very fond of the book that’s just about to come out The Trader’s Wife which is the start of a new series set in Singapore and Western Australia in the 1860s. Bram was a minor character in another book (Destiny’s Path) and was so vivid I just had to give him his own story. He amply repaid me! I’m now about to start writing Book 3 of this series.
To plot or not to plot? Are you a planner or do you just dive in?
I just dive in. Even if I try to plot, I get much better ideas once I know my characters, so it’s a waste of time plotting because I don’t really know my characters till I write about what they do.
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
The middle of the book. It’s hard to keep up the pace and tension when you’ve lost that first excitement. It comes back later in the story, of course, and during the polishing, my favourite task of all.
The other hard thing is that because I write three books a year, I keep getting interrupted to edit or proofread other stories that have been written and are in the production pipeline. Drives me mad, but has to be done.
Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it?
I love research and I don’t ‘set about it’. I’m always doing it. I keep my eyes open for interesting books about the periods and places. As I read three books a week, I buy research books and read them in between novels. Sometimes they’re no use to me and I abandon them; other times they lead me on to a setting/plot I can use in my stories.
The trick with research is to take notes and know where to find the information when you need it again. I have a very well-developed filing system.
How do you develop your characters?
I don’t. I just think up height, hair colour and personality type – you could sum it up in one paragraph – then I start writing. After that, ‘they’ develop themselves. I write and rewrite the first three chapters until I know them pretty well, but continue to get to know them better as I see them in action i.e. as I tell their story.
What do you think an editor, or reader for that matter, is looking for in a good novel?
A good story that grips you and keeps hold of you, characters that seem real, and for historical stories, good knowledge of the period/area without stuffing the story too full of it.
Which authors have influenced or inspired you?
Georgette Heyer, CJ Cherryh, Robyn Carr, Sherryl Woods, Carola Dunn, Isaac Asimov, Rosamund Pilcher – and lots more.
How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing?
My husband is my main other interest. I don’t write after teatime and we enjoy each other’s company in the evenings. I’m an avid reader. We both enjoy informative programmes on TV like ‘Time Team’ and antiques shows, and I like to spend time with my daughters, grandson and my friends. Oh, and we live part of the year in our main home in Australia, a few months in our English home. That’s interesting too.
Are you into social networking, and in what way do you feel it helps your career?
Drives me mad. I don’t Twitter, because I can’t see that I’d enjoy it. I don’t need entertaining – I entertain myself and others by writing stories. I’d rather do that than ‘twitter on’.
I go on Facebook a bit and am a member of several writers’ organisations and email lists. That’s enough. I have too many stories to tell
What is your latest book?
I mentioned above The Trader’s Wife which comes out in October. It’s my 55th novel. I’ve got another book coming out in October, a collection of my short stories, which have all been published in women’s magazines or elsewhere. It’s called Short and Sweet. The cover’s a bit confusing because it doesn’t look like romantic stories – but it is, I promise you.
Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
I finished a book yesterday. It was something new so I can’t talk about it until I see whether I’ve hit the target. I’m now starting to write Book 3 in The Wiltshire Girls, the last in the series, following Cherry Tree Lane, and Elm Tree Road. No. 3 is called Yew Tree Gardens.
These books are set mainly in Wiltshire and I’ve enjoyed doing the research for them. I also have modern novels set in Wiltshire, one of which came out this year Moving On. Wiltshire, in case you haven’t guessed, is where we live when we’re in England.
And finally, what advice would you give a new writer?
Write. Then read. Then write some more. Write a lot. It’s like training for the Olympics, you get there by doing it not talking about it.
Do not publish your first effort at a novel as an ebook, because you won’t have learned your craft properly by writing one book and it could embarrass you one day. Keep it to revise and polish later when your skills are more mature. I know this is an instant, I want it now, world, but honestly, writing novels is a complex craft and it takes time to learn to do it well.
Thank you, Anna, for a comprehensive interview full of diamonds and nuggets.