Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Author Spotlight - Anna Jacobs

Today we welcome prolific English author Anna Jacobs into our spotlight. (three books a year, folks!). Anna is talking today about her newest release, an historical novel titled Yew Tree Gardens.

What is your writing process?

I think about the story, do research if necessary, and visualise my characters, often months in advance. Since I write three books a year, a story often has to wait until its turn comes, but ideas can pop up anytime. I note them down carefully.

When I start, I write the first draft – which I call the ‘dirty draft’ – working as fast as I can, every day if possible, to get the story down. Then I polish it, and that is my favourite part of the writing process. Most books only need one major polish, some need more. Whatever it takes. I wrote a how-to book about polishing a book ‘Plotting and Editing’ which goes through my process in detail. It’s available as an ebook.

Everyone who writes knows it's not easy - what methods do you use to keep at it on days when it would be so much easier to go shoe shopping?

I hate shopping, and am not at all interested in shoes, especially ones with high heels that damage people’s backs long term. I’m not too fond of housework, either. What I love doing during the daytime is writing, so that’s what I mostly do. I can’t seem to write after teatime, though.

Occasionally a story slows down in the middle but I just keep on going. I found this wonderful quote in my early days as a writer – sorry, I don’t even know who said it – something like, on days when things go more slowly ‘Give yourself permission to write rubbish and carry on. It won’t be rubbish.’ It’s proved one of the most useful hints I ever met.

Keeping fit: Do you have an exercise regime to counterbalance all those hours sitting at a computer?

I do some exercise, though not as much as I ought to. I have a bad back and need to do some walking to keep the muscles around it firm, so have a treadmill, which I use a few times a week. It’s hard to exercise outside in the Australian summer, because the mosquitoes find me delicious. I have to wear insect repellent, which is poison, so that is a dilemma, hence the indoors treadmill.

Do you believe in writer's block?

Others say they’ve had it, so I can’t disbelieve them. For myself, I get ‘writer’s slowdown’ as I said in a previous answer, but just carry on writing something. I have more trouble writing steadily if I have to have time off eg I was ill a couple of months ago, and didn’t write for two weeks. It took me a while to get into the swing again afterwards. Which is another reason to write every day, even if only for an hour or so, to stay inside the story.

Have you ever used an incident from real life in a book? If so, did it get you into trouble?

I’ve never used a real person or incident, but I have adapted incidents from real life. Eg in my book ‘The Wishing Well’ there is a scene in an awful hotel which is based on my own stay in an awful hotel. And when I wrote ‘Saving Willowbrook’ I gave my heroine’s daughter SMA3 – spinal muscular atrophy, type 3. My niece has two children with this spinal defect, which will probably put them in wheelchairs when their bodies grow bigger. I asked permission of her and her husband, even though I was writing about an imaginary child, and then her husband read through the manuscript to make sure I’d got it right. Actually, they were pleased that someone gave SMA3 more exposure, because people either have never heard of it or have the wrong idea of what it involves.

In what way is being a published writer different from how you thought it would be?

After 58 novels published during the last two decades, I’ve had to rack my brain for an answer. I think it’s the dipping in and out of current stories to do the editing and proofreading of previous stories that came as one of the biggest surprises. This means leaving my current story for a few days, and it took some getting used to, I can tell you.

Promotion is no longer a dirty word. In what ways do you strive to reach more readers?

I use any way I’m comfortable with – and which will fit into my schedule. I’m not time rich. I have a website, a monthly readers’ email newsletter, I’m on Facebook, and how readers can contact me is shown in each book that’s published. I pay an assistant to answer reader emails nowadays, though I read every single one first. I do guest ‘appearances’ on blogs, as I don’t have time to run my own blog. I give talks, radio interviews, whatever crops up. I don’t do Twitter because it’s too much like mobile phones and I don’t use a mobile phone except in emergencies – why would I when I sit next to a landline all day?

What is your top promo tip for other authors?

Keep in touch with readers. They are, after all, who you’re writing for. I value my readers very highly and if they have any problems concerning my books, I will go out of my way to help.

What did you learn while writing this book?

I learned more about the Titanic disaster. But since the actual sinking has been done to death in films and books, I focused on the aftermath. My hero goes to New York to pick up his little niece who is a survivor. And of course, I try with each book to improve as a writer. Always.

What was the most fun part of writing this book?

Polishing the dirty draft. I love doing that. It’s not a ‘fun’ book, though. It’s a story of a woman battling against poverty and a cruel man – and of course, winning – not to mention meeting the love of her life. I’d never, ever write a book with an unhappy ending. Why would I? I get to love my characters and want to see them happy. Oh, and I nearly forgot. I always love writing a warm fuzzy bit at the end, the sort that bring happy tears to your eyes.

And just for fun: what would your hero’s honeymoon destination of choice be?

I don’t think in 1912 people placed much focus on honeymoons, even when they had the money. My hero would want to take his wife home to the house he’s inherited and loves, then settle in there.


1911: Renie is happy in her waitressing job at the Rathleigh Hotel in Lancashire. But a shadow falls over her life the day Mr Judson becomes assistant manager.

Feeling increasingly harassed by him, she is delighted to be offered a new job in London. When tragedy strikes her sister Nell and family, Renie is cut off from everyone she knew. Her only comfort is her growing friendship with the injured Gil, towards whom she has felt instant trust and affection. But can their relationship progress from friendship to something more?

Then Judson becomes manager of the London Rathleigh Hotel and once again he harasses and threatens Nell. Can Gil help her escape? Will they find a future together? Or will a ruthless man strike again?

You can find out more about Anna's book and read the first chapter on her website at:

The book is also available for sale at Amazon UK, Amazon US and the Book Depository (no postage charged, even internationally).


Unknown said...

Hi Anna, I really enjoyed your interview and I love your tip about pressing on with the writing even when you think it's rubbish. I'm going to remember that one!
Best wishes

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Thanks for popping by to visit us today, Anna. I'm really looking forward to reading Yew Tree Gardens - it sounds exactly the kind of thing I'd enjoy.


Lacey Devlin said...

Hi Anna! Thanks for the fascinating insight into your writing process. I'm off to check out Plotting and Editing & Yew Tree Gardens :)

Sally Clements said...

I agree with you Anna, that it is hard work and disconcerting doing edits on one book while writing the next, it always throws me!
Great advice about keeping on writing even on days you don't want to as well.

Dale Harcombe said...

Enjoyed the interview. Nuice to know there's another person like me who doesn't have a shoe fetish or like shopping.

Anna Jacobs said...

Charlotte, I hope the tip about pressing on with the writing helps you - it's helped me hugely over the years.

Suzanne, I hope you enjoy Yew Tree Gardens. I loved writing that series.

Lacey, I hope you find something to enjoy among my books.

Sally, disconcerting is a good word for the feeling as you zip out of one story to edit another - or perhaps 'crawl out' of one story might be more accurate.

Dale, shoes are for walking on and ultra high heels look silly, because people don't walk naturally in them - and they're damaging their backs. But I do like shopping for books and that's my next job now.

Happy reading and writing, everyone!