Anna Jacobs was born in Lancashire, moved to Australia and now lives part of the year in each country. She’s totally addicted to writing, and produces three novels a year. As of October 2012, she has 59 novels published.
She has been married to her own hero for many happy years, and they have two daughters and one grandson.
Published works: 59 novels, two how-to books, 9 French textbooks, assorted short stories and about 20 poems.
Publisher/s: Hodder & Stoughton UK and Australia, Severn House, Allison & Busby.
What is historical romance and which era intrigues you the most?
Historical romance is like any romance in one sense, two people meeting and falling in love, facing problems about getting together. But if it’s done properly, if it’s truly historical, the period background is integral to the plot and the story couldn’t have happened in any other era. In other words, it isn’t modern characters dressing up in fancy frocks, brandishing swords, but characters from the past falling in love, characters with perhaps a slightly different attitude to the world, since they ‘live’ in a different world.
I like writing stories from 1730 to the present day. I find the Tudor and Medieval periods too brutal. I’m a sucker for happy endings.
What's the most fascinating aspect about writing in this genre for you?
I write in several genres and it’s always about trying to tell a good story. So I have to find the best possible story to tell. I do that through research and finding historical settings that haven’t been done to death.
I particularly like researching how ordinary people lived in the past. I’m not interested in politics and murder, or in the nobility. I read a lot of research books. You can find a certain amount of information on line, and yes, it’s very useful, but that’s usually the past seen through other people’s or historians’ eyes.
I like to hunt out old autobiographies, diaries or journals, especially amateur publications. That way I can hear the voices of people from that era. I keep my eyes open every time I visit a tourist spot, or country bookshop and pick up little gems of floppy paper booklets, amateur publications, that tell me about things I’d never even heard of in my formal history studies.
I also like to find old photographs, because they too are directly from the era. For THE TRADER'S WIFE which is set partly in Singapore in the 1860s, my local library got in some rare books from the central library’s reserve collection. I wasn’t allowed to take them home, but had to read them in the library. But I could photocopy them. Photos of Singapore in the 1860s. Wonderful stuff!
I also have my own family photos from the 1860s onwards, so I’ve used those too to find out what real people were actually wearing. As we all know, very few women of today wear the sort of clothes shown in the high fashion shows – most didn’t wear high fashion in the past, either. So a history of fashion doesn’t always tell me what I need, but a family photo does.
What challenges did you face publishing in this genre?
The same challenges you face getting published in any genre. Firstly, bringing my own skills up to scratch. Secondly learning how to use the historical background to best advantage, trying to fascinate the reader. Thirdly, learning what to include so that the reader would understand the subtleties of the past and relate to my characters’ situations.
And then, finding a publisher isn’t easy in any genre. In the end I finalled in a big Australian competition and that got my first historical romance published.
Once you’re published, the problem is to stay published. In any genre. You have to attract readers to try your books and keep readers interested so your new books will keep selling. I’m happy to say, my first historical series is still reprinting, the Gibson Family Saga beginning with SALEM STREET.
And my husband has now reissued as ebooks some other historical romances, to which I have the rights back. To my delight, two of my own favourites MISTRESS OF MARYMOOOR and REPLENISH THE EARTH are my bestsellers in historical ebooks. They’re both set in the 18th century. MISTRESS OF MARYMOOOR is a romantic suspense, taking place in an old mansion on the edge of the moors. Wuthering Heights meets happy endings! REPLENISH THE EARTH is a gentle rural romance and is one of my ‘special’ books. I love that tale to pieces.
A new challenge in this area is to publicise and sell ebooks.
Which authors have inspired you in your own writing? Or which ones do you enjoy reading?
It was Georgette Heyer who inspired me to write in the first place, and I still re-read her books. But now that I spend two-thirds of the year writing historical romances, I don’t read as many. I spend the other third of the year writing modern complex relationships novels, and during that time I’m more likely to read a historical.
I read so many books (three a week) that I ran out of historical authors I liked. I don’t like graphic sex or violence, you see. Then I found cosy mysteries, many of which are historical eg Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, which it truly wonderful writing. My husband and I have devoured her books. You need to read the series in order.
I get ‘inspired’ in one sense by the best authors I read, because you can always learn something, since writing novels is a complex craft. I’m studying things like plot, period detail, characterisation, credibility, memorable scenes, not mere words.
I don’t need inspiring to write, as I have story ideas welling up all the time. But I do try hard to improve my writing and plotting with each book. It’s a personal challenge, I suppose.
When you get a chance to relax, what do you like to do?
Most important of all is to spend time with my husband, who is also my best friend. No wonder I write romantic novels. I’ve loved that man for over 50 years, since two days after we met at university.
I like to read, getting through three novels a week. I’m hopeless, aren’t I? A book/story addict.
I also like watching TV: antique shows, house hunting shows, not celebrity stuff or sport. And good drama like Downton Abbey. Or classic comedy like ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ or ‘Dad’s Army’. I also have a weakness for the Mikado, and we watch it on DVD at least once a year, singing along with it. Brilliant music and a silly but fun story.
Also we spend part of the year in the UK, where we also have a house, and that is a pleasure, but takes a great deal of organising. We not only have to transport ourselves, but my business!
Could you share your latest release, or a selected book, and tell us a little bit about it?
I’m deep into writing The Traders series at the moment. (1860s, Australia, Singapore, Ireland) It started off as a trilogy, but has sold well, so has gone to five books. The stories not only please my editor and readers, but it gives me great pleasure to write them. I’m just finishing writing No 4.
I didn’t intend to write this series, but Bram Deagan appeared in DESTINY'S PATH the last of another series, and was such a vivid character I couldn’t get him out of my mind.
He’d been a groom in Ireland but got the idea of becoming a shopkeeper while sailing to Australia, then got bigger ideas, ie to become a trader. He’s of medium height, scrawny, not good looking, but he’s the best romantic hero I’ve ever created. He is such a wonderfully loving man. Or did he walk out of the mists and does he really exist ‘somewhere’? I wonder sometimes.
Bram’s story threads through the series, but he’s not centre stage in the other books, just #1 THE TRADER'S WIFE.
In that book Bram travels to Singapore to set up trading links and there he meets his wife and a Chinese merchant who takes him under his wing. The research was fascinating and I loved writing it. The book was shortlisted for Romantic Book of the Year in 2012 (romantic elements section not ‘pure’ romance).
THE TRADER'S DREAM #3 in the Traders series, is released in October 2012, in hardback, trade paperback and ebook.
It’s a story I’ve been waiting ten years to tell, ever since I found out fascinating details about the opening of the Suez Canal.
Bram Deagan dreams of bringing his family out to Australia. Maura Deagan has no intention of going anywhere as she’s just been promoted to assistant housekeeper. But fate has other ideas and she finds herself obliged to go to Australia.
Her ship goes through the new Suez Canal in the first flotilla. She also ‘just happens’ to meet a man she can love, but there are rather a lot of complications to block their path.
Oh, I am enjoying writing it, the research, the characters, everything!