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Historical Author Of The Month


Sherry-Anne Jacobs

(Note To The Reader)
The author’s complete bibliography follows the interview.



Sherry-Anne Jacobs Pen Names (if any)? : Anna Jacobs (historical novels set in UK, main writing name)
Sherry-Anne Jacobs (historical romances and how-to books)
Shannah Jay (fantasy and science fiction)

Homepage? : http://www.iinet.net.au/~jacobses. On this page, you can see all my covers and read the first chapters of my books. There are also links to my electronic publishers and to the Australian Online Bookshop, which sells my books to countries where they are not published.

Country where you reside? : Western Australia

Personal bio? : I was born in the UK, in darkest industrial Lancashire, went to university, met and married my husband—still with him, too—had two daughters, emigrated to Western Australia in my early thirties and am still living there. I did anything and everything to earn money as a student, including barmaiding, working in a chain store, office, as a waitress, as postie (ie. delivering letters). I became a teacher, then lecturer, then course-writer/editor in a correspondence college, then equal opportunity officer, then a writer. Writing is best.

Do you belong to any writer’s organizations? : I belong to a zillion organizations. Novelists Inc. (for multi-published novelists only), Romance Writers of America and Romance Writers of Australia, Australian Society of Authors, EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection - organization for published writers interested in e-publishing), Fellowship of Australian Writers. And I enjoy chat lists like the Historical Fiction list at OneList.

Where can a reader purchase your work? : In the UK, in any bookshop. In Commonwealth countries, some bookshops stock them, all can order them. For U. S. citizens, go to the Australian Online Bookshop, which sell all my paper books—http://www.bookworm.com.au.

Current and/or planned future projects? : I have another seven books accepted for publication, including a couple of electronic ones. I want to write some modern novels. I have another how-to book on writing that I want to write, and anything else I can fit in. I love writing with a passion!

Why do you write historicals? : Because I love reading them, love history—not political history, but how real people lived—and enjoy doing the research.

What time period(s) is your primary focus, and why? : So far—but there are no guarantees I won’t extend it!—18th and 19th centuries, with two books set in 1900-1925 published/accepted.

What other genre(s) besides historicals do you write? : Science fiction and fantasy, Modern, and who knows what in the future? Life is full of adventures.

When did you begin writing? And what did you write? : When I was in school—and of course I wrote rubbish then, school-based stories and plays, because that was all I knew. I did not really do much writing till well after I was married and had children, then the burning urge resurfaced and it hasn’t let up on me since.

Which authors are/were your inspirations? : Georgette Heyer, Maeve Binchy, Ellis Peters, Jane Austen, Nora Lofts, CJ Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, Clifford Simak—oh, the list is so long!

Which authors/books are your current favorites? : Jean Stubbs, LaVyrle Spencer, Rosamund Pilcher, Joanna Trollope, Mary Wesley, Judith Bowen, Lois McMaster Bujold, Nora Roberts—again, the true list would be very long. I buy either from author name or (with unknown authors) because the story idea tempts me—and I read a lot of historical research books, too—again, the list would be very long! I’m just reading Growing up in the Forties, a fascinating collection of reminiscences about WWII and post-war England.

Of all the books you’ve read, which one do you wish you had written? : Kelly Park by Jean Stubbs—my favourite, and I read it once a year to see if it’s as good as I remember. It always is.

Please give an overview of your research habits. : I spend a huge amount on books, which are my main research tool—and I buy some strange ones. It’s often a book which gives me a story idea/setting—eg. The Railway Navvies by Terry Coleman gave me the idea for Jessie—and an ongoing interest in the history of railways, not so much the rolling stock, but what they did to people’s lives (opened up the world for working-class people and brought the world to them in newspapers and food and other forms). I also do some research on the Internet, but I read all the time and take research books to bed for “light reading” sometimes—you can’t do that with the Net. I also watch programmes on TV—have you seen Meet the Ancestors? It’s presently lighting me up—they excavate ancient skeletons, date them and rebuild the faces, so that you can see an actual person from the past—wow, it’s fascinating. (A UK series.)

My main interest in research is people, but I enjoy all periods—it just has to be about how they live, or their memoirs, anything really. I’m not interested in famous people, politics or wars, though—but you have to have some understanding of these as background to your tales.

Historical resources you would recommend? : Shire Books in the UK produce some wonderful little research books—hundreds of them. Go to http://www.shirebooks.co.uk. I own about 70 of their little 32-page topic books (eg. history of writing implements, gas lighting, kitchen utensils, etc). They’re fantastic.

How much research do you typically do prior to beginning the book’s first draft? Or does the research come later? : I get an idea from a research book first, then read around it to see if there’s enough material to flesh out the picture. As I read I enter notes into my “year files.” (I have a page for each year from 1000 onwards and I note interesting facts in one-liners with references as I go. It doesn’t take long, but after 20 years it’s built up into a formidable research resource.) And I find as I write a book that I need to explore new details of the era, so continue to read and “prospect” as I go. In my WWI book Our Lizzie I used some family memorabilia, like my great-aunt’s schoolbooks, and quoted from them. My friend also lent me her grandfather’s WWI letters and memorabilia. They were fascinating.

Have you ever included in your novels real historical personages? If so, how true do you stay to what has been written about them? Do you ever deviate from known facts? How much do you fictionalize them? : Only to mention one in passing, and he wasn’t really famous, just in charge of the training establishment for Methodist Ministers in Manchester when my heroine’s son went there. Normally I never include real people. I even invent my own towns near real towns for the settings, but base them firmly on research into real towns. It’s fun designing a town.

Please give an overview of your writing process. : I get ideas all the time and then note them down instantly. They sit on the back burner of my brain, sometimes growing and developing, until the time is ripe to complete them. The back burner of my brain is crowded with wonderful characters and stories yelling “Write me! Write me!” Characters gradually take on life and are usually well-developed by the time I write their story.

Also, as an established writer, I sell most of my books from synopsis/proposal, which means I rough out a story, check it past my agent, who checks it past my editor, and then if it’s OK, we get a contract and I write it in the fullness of time. I’m just finishing the first book in a four-book contract, so I won’t be submitting any more ideas for a while yet.

On average, how many drafts do you write before your work goes to the publisher? : A million—not really, but a lot. I think the reason most books are rejected is that they don’t have professional polish. I make sure mine are polished to a dazzle—as far as I can. It’s a hard competitive world out there and even to stay published you have to work hard. So my books are worked on for about 4 months—it takes me about that long to write a 140,000 word first draft. Then I rest them to get objectivity. Then I polish like fury. Then I send out to my three “wise readers,” then I polish some more—and will not send them in to the publisher until I’m totally satisfied that I can do no better. With my 1999 book Our Lizzie, I decided that the pace was too slow, so cut out 17,000 words—and my editor told me it was my “best yet.” I’m just furiously polishing my first Australian-based historical, So Far Away. It’s not ready yet, and I’ve cut out a lot of slow patches, but I’ll work on it till it’s pacy and a good read. It’s coming on. It was really fascinating to do the research for this one, as I live in the region, and it hasn’t featured much in literature, believe me.

Please give an overview of your typical writing day. : I get up around 5:30 A.M., eat a light snack, go on the Net and pick up my emails, play a few games of cards on the computer, then start writing. I work nearly every day, weekends included, but about once a fortnight, feel the urge for a change, so go out or do something different, usually for only half a day. Of course, I have to do my share of the housework, shopping, cooking with my husband—and when we both don’t feel like cooking, we eat out or get in a take-away. I’m not highly domesticated, I must admit. I dream my plots. When I need to visualize the next few chapters of the work in progress, I go to bed early, and lie there cozy and warm, seeing the scenes happen—then I have to get up and take notes. It works for me.

Otherwise, I just sit in front of my computer and write—none of that “waiting for inspiration” stuff. It’s a profession, like any other, so I do it.

There is no “correct” way to write, however—only what works for you. I write quickly, so produce about two and a half long novels per annum. But I need to do a lot of polishing, because I’m not the sort of writer who gets it perfect the first time—few are!

What gives you the most satisfaction during the writing process? : The final polishing stage and the first attempts at the first two chapters. I love polishing/editing, which is probably why I wrote Plotting And Editing, my second how-to book for writers, which is selling really well, by the way. Go to http://www.fictionworks.com and say hello to it.

What gives you the greatest headache during the writing process? : The middle. I get a bit fed up sometimes and wonder why I ever started this story—well, 140,000 words is a lot to produce! So I stop work on it for a week or more and write something else instead, which refreshes me. Then I continue.

What’s the biggest problem in your own writing that you’ve had to overcome? : Unexciting starts. I didn’t realize I warm up as I write a book until years of rejections. When I realized that fact, I started rewriting the first half of my books several times and cutting/slashing drastically. It seems to work for me. I race through the last few chapters with no worries and they need far fewer revisions. I think unpublished writers do not investigate their own strengths and weaknesses enough—and they send off their work too soon, unpolished.

Do you achieve your finest/most productive work during the initial draft stage or the reediting/revision process? : It’s all productive work—and it takes all aspects of the process to complete a book. When I have a good writing day and think “I bet that won’t need a lot of polishing” I’m always wrong. Everything I write can be improved and I care deeply to do the best work I can, so I simply knuckle down and improve till I’ve squeezed all possibilities dry. And my readership is growing, so are my print runs. I must be doing something write/right! A book is a gestalt thing, really, it’s more than the sum of its parts, but each part has to be written and worked on to get that “magic” and characters who seem real.

Of all the books you’ve written, which one would you say is your greatest achievement, and why? : I haven’t a clue. I love ’em all dearly. Salem Street was important for me, because it was my break-out book as Anna Jacobs, and it’s also sold more than any other book. However, my editor thinks this year’s Our Lizzie is my best, as I’ve already said. So go figure! I call them my “babies” and they are in a way. I couldn’t write a story that I didn’t love.

Which character you’ve created gave you the most pleasure, and why? : All my characters give me pleasure and I’m very character-driven. However, the heroine of Salem Street is a particular favourite. In 1962 I was sitting on the top deck of a double-decker bus going into Oldham, Lancashire, with my mum to book my wedding. I looked out of the window and saw a scruffy little mill terrace with the name Salem Street. I said to my mum, What a good name for a book! I wonder what the people were like who first lived there—and 32 years later, my book was published—with Annie as the heroine, the first child born in that street. She’s a wonderful, gutsy heroine, yet has her faults. I originally intended her to be the center of a trilogy, but my agent and editor encouraged me to write two more books and didn’t want the next generation, but Annie again. So I had to follow her through three husbands and a lot of vicissitudes. We spent a lot of time together, Annie and I did, and she’s as real to me as any of my other friends. Reader letters suggest other people like her, too.

Have any of your characters tried to“take over the book” by developing a mind of their own? If so, do you let them go where they may, or you rein them in? And how? : They always do develop minds of their own. But the main one who got away with it was Herra, the central character of my fantasy saga—she’s 240 years old, and she was meant to be a minor character, but instead became the pivot of the four-book series. She’s an incredible woman—and not decrepit, just ageless, somehow, living on a planet where certain people live longer—and she’s the longest lived of all. She’s brave, has a sense of humour, is kind—oh, I’d like to be just like her—and live as long! It’s a writer’s judgment as to whether to go with characters who write their own plot threads, but it’s a good sign that that particular story is “alive.”

And incidentally, I don’t think you could write fantasy sagas unless you had some understanding of history and how worlds/cultures evolve—especially medieval history. It’s absolutely engrossing to create your own world and give it a history.

In your opinion, how healthy is today’s market for historical fiction? : I think it’s OK. The market for books generally is not wonderful, because the competitors, like the Internet, TV, films, games, etc., are staking claims to territory. However, if you write a good historical novel, it’ll usually find a home—it’s judging what is good that’s hard. And indeed, to break out into print for the first time, you need better than good, you need “sparkling”—so it’s worth holding back and “resting” a manuscript and polishing it. Most writers send out their mss “raw.” It isn’t plots/ideas that usually get you rejected, but lack of professional polish. Historical romances sell steadily. In the UK regional historical novels sell steadily, but you do need to know your region intimately. (I write about Lancashire, where I grew up.) These are now given the generic title “sagas” by bookshops. On TV, historical series often do well. There’s always a demand for historical stories, even if not in book form.

But the book industry is in turmoil with lots of take-overs, giants monopolizing the markets and small new publishers sneaking in to fill the gaps. There’s also electronic publishing, in which I’ve had a few books published. That’s a field that will accept books other publishers won’t, with different story lines. Keep your eye on this market, because they’ll take history books from periods others refuse to consider—pre-1000 and post-1900 (U. S. publishers don’t seem to like 20th-century stories).

Do you see the overall industry changing now that E-Publishing is gaining momentum? And if so, how? : Yes, of course. The publishing industry is always in a state of change, so is the world. I think e-publishing is an interesting area, and I certainly take e-books with me on holidays in my laptop, because real books are too heavy. Now that e-book readers are coming onto the market we should see an expansion in e-book sales—but the first generation of gadgets are too expensive to sell very widely. However, they’re already dropping in price, so wait for it and one day they’ll be as common as walkmans. If you go to my web page, you’ll see some links to e-publishers.

If you could alter one thing about the publishing industry/process in general, what would it be? : The hanging around and waiting. You wait to see if a book/idea is accepted. Then you wait until it’s time to write it—you have to plan in advance, so you’re probably still writing your current book. Then you wait for the editing. Then you wait for the proofreading. Then you wait to see your baby in print—usually a year later. There’s a lot of waiting around. It can be frustrating.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? : Selling more books, writing better—I work hard on improving my craft—and enjoying life.

How do you stay connected to the“real” world with a“real” life happening around you? : You can’t avoid the real world. You have to shop, eat, talk to people, pay bills, etc., etc. Besides, it’s the place I “research/mine” for understanding of people. Without that understanding, how could I create vivid characters. I give workshops for writers, and I speak at conferences, or to community groups. I was a Writer in Residence at a local university earlier this year. I make sure I build in “contact” experiences deliberately. I don’t want to become a total recluse—just a part-time recluse.

What advice would you give to unpublished historical authors? : Know your history, but don’t stuff too much of it into your stories. Make sure you understand your period and it’ll show through. Give writers a “taste” of something different, but remember the story is the main thing— and the characters whose story it is—whatever sort of book you write. But you also have to remember that these characters were formed by their period—they’re not modern people—yet they have to appeal to modern people. Now that’s a hard balance to find.

Miscellaneous comments? : I’d just like to thank anyone who’s taken the time to read this interview. If you go on to read one of my books, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.

Sherry-Anne


Author Bibliography

WRITING AS ANNA JACOBS - published mainly by Hodder & Stoughton, UK.
The Gibson Family—An historical saga set in 19th century Lancashire. Each book is complete in itself, but about the same heroine.
1. Salem Street (1820-45)—Mill-town novel with emphasis on the other occupations, like medicine, shopkeeping, and Annie, a courageous heroine you won’t forget, and her extended family.
2. High Street (1845-48)—Annie sets up her own business, but has trouble with various elements in the town.
3. Ridge Hill (1848-52)—Annie is rising in the world, but life still has a few surprises for her and her family. (Includes a “visit” to the Great Exhibition.)
4. Hallam Square (1857-60)—Danger threatens Annie from an unexpected quarter, and a new player enters the scene.
5. Spinners Lake (1860-65)—Includes the Cotton Famine in Lancashire, where civic works help feed the spinners, in this case, building a lake. The story also includes visits to Ireland, then the U. S. during the Civil War.

Jessie—an exciting tale of the early railways, set in the late 1830s/early 1840s.

Our Lizzie—published in hardback, September, 1999, paperback. Includes WWI, but mainly set on the home front, with the heroine working in a munitions factory.

OTHER BOOKS ACCEPTED AND IN THE PIPELINE:

Like No Other (Available October, 1999, in hardback, March, 2000, in paperback. About 18th century Lancashire, before the cotton mills.)
So Far Away (A tale of Lancashire and Western Australia in the 1850s and early 1860s. Set in Western Australia, a part not often “visited” by historical writers.)
Lizabrook ( A continuation of So Far Away.)
The Shadowed Path (A single novel set in 1840s in Lancashire.)
Beyond Tomorrow (About “Our Lizzie’s” sister, set just after WW1, in the 1920s, in the Lake District of northern England.)

WRITING AS SHANNAH JAY

The Chronicles of Tenebrak - A fantasy saga featuring a band of healers fighting against the greatest evil their planet has ever known.
1. Quest (into reprint)
2. Lands Of Nowhere
3. Shadow Of The Serpent
4. The Price Of Wisdom (short-listed for best Australian fantasy novel of 1996)

Envoy - A science fiction thriller. My most exciting book, inspired by the troubles in our own world—what might the Galactic peace-keeping processes of the future be?

1/99 Envoy - reissued in electronic form by New Concepts Publishing, U.S.A. at http://www.newconceptspublishing.com/envoy.htm
4/99 The Sword Of Azaray - classic children’s fantasy, also published by New Concepts Publishing at http://www.newconceptspublishing.com/theswordofazaray.htm. A ripping yarn, full of excitement.

WRITING AS SHERRY-ANNE JACOBS

Persons Of Rank - 1992, Random House Australia. A prize-winning ($10,000! Yippee!) regency romance, 4/99, reissued as an electronic novel by Hard Shell Word Factory, U.S.A. at http://www.hardshell.com/personsrank.html. Very much in the Jane Austen mold.

An Introduction To Romance Writing - Training Publications, Perth (third edition, 1998)

Plotting And Editing - Training Publications, Perth, 1998. Reissued electronically, 1999, by Fiction Works at http://www.fictionworks.com

A Suitable Bride - A contemporary romance, coming out in September with Diskus Publishing at http://members.tripod.com/diskus_publishing/suitable.htm.




August, 1999 Home/Index