It’s been a funny old year. I last posted on 1st January and my aim for 2018 was to waste less time on social media (which I achieved) so that I’d have more time for the important things. And that kind of worked.
There were some pretty huge distractions going on for most of the year. Things that sucked up a huge amount of time, money and energy and my health and personal objectives took a hit. I’ll spare you the details but as a result I will be very glad to see the back of 2018.
However, it was also a year when great things happened.
I continued writing features and websites and took on some part time work for a charity which I love.
I’ve long dreamed of setting up a reading group at the local primary school but was never very sure there would be much take up for it. How wrong I was. The club has been running for three terms now and it is oversubscribed going into 2019 with a waiting list for the following term.
We’ve read three brilliant books: The Last Wild by Piers Torday, Dream Snatcher by Abi Elphinstone and Flight by Vanessa Harbour and I’m looking forward to introducing the children to the quirky world of beetles in M G Leonard’s book Beetle Boy in January.
I’ve also redrafted my novel twice and am getting closer to the moment where I will feel happy to start subbing it out to agents. Still a few months of editing and tweaking to go but the end is in sight.
And the best bit? I entered it into the Bath Children’s Novel Award in December and out of nearly 800 entries mine was one of the longlisted books.
Right now as I’m writing this, one of the junior judges could be reading my novel as part of the shortlisting process.
It’s an awesome feeling to think that the story I’ve laboured over is being read by its intended audience and I can’t wait for the 15th of January when the shortlist will be announced.
Even if I don’t make it on it, I’m still super proud of the achievement and feel even more enthused to get it finished and out into the big wide world.
So as I bid farewell to 2018 I am looking forward to carrying on with all my projects during 2019 and hoping to nudge the book a bit further towards publication.
I’m in awe of this month’s author, Anna Jacobs. She writes novels, a mixture of historical sagas and modern day family/relationship stories, with the same frequency that some of us have holidays. She’s the fourth most borrowed author of adult fiction from UK libraries and next month, her 80th novel is published. I’m so pleased that out of her busy writing schedule, she took some time out to answer some questions on how she got started and what she’s learned along the way.
How long had you wanted to write for before you began?
I’d been wanting to write ‘stories’ since I was 10 years old and wanting to write proper novels since I was 20.
What stopped you from writing a novel?
Life! Finishing my first degree, starting work, falling in love, getting married, having two kids, moving round England and later emigrating to Australia. I wrote a lot of bits and pieces of stories during the truly wanting to write years after I was 20.
Instead, what I wrote and got published were French textbooks. As a teacher I found the books we were given to read with teenage boys impossible, so I wrote my own. I had nine French textbooks published before I turned seriously to writing.
What was your first published novel?
Persons of Rank – a regency romance in the style of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer whose best novels are, I believe, better than Austen’s. In a sense Heyer taught me to write because I was copying her style. After a while I developed my own style, but I’m still grateful for the things I learned from her books and her wonderful characterisation.
Is this the first novel you wrote?
No – the sixth. It’s the first novel I wrote in one fell swoop though, during long service leave, three months’ holiday given to Australians for working ten years for the government. I entered Persons of Rank into a big Australian writing competition, and came second out of over 800 entrants, winning $10,000 and publication.
How did you write it?
I had tried various ways of writing and had found by then that I can’t plan a novel. Once I start writing, the story unfolds bit by bit inside my head, like a TV serial really. I only know the background and setup scenario when I start a book.
I write organically and the characters carry me through. They know better than me what works.
I did a lot of drafts in those days. I’d read one or two how-to books, attended some talks at conferences, but mostly I practised by doing it ie writing stories. It’s how sports people train, after all. They do it until they’ve developed their skills. Thank goodness I didn’t go on a university creative writing course! I was able to develop my own style freely, and I wanted to write popular fiction not literary novels.
What was the most difficult part about writing Persons of Rank?
There wasn’t a difficult part to this sixth story which sang to me all the way through. For the first five novels though, there were indeed difficulties, as I learned my craft. Middles sagged, endings weren’t good enough and tension wasn’t gripping enough. Rewriting helped, and rewriting after some time had passed helped some more. But with Persons of Rank, it flowed smoothly from start to finish.
How did you overcome your earlier difficulties?
Practice makes perfect. They used to say when I started learning that writing half a million to a million words was necessary to become a good writer. I still believe, for most people, that’s true. I wrote, and wrote, spending every spare minute on my passion for writing. I was working full-time and raising teenage children so started getting up at four in the morning to get in a couple of hours’ writing before work. I had become very addicted to story-telling by writing novels by then.
Once you had an agent/publisher, what did you learn through the editing process?
Not a lot technically. I learned a lot more from readers writing to me about what they liked and didn’t like in my stories. I learned most from my first proper editor, which happened with my second book, which was taken up by Hodder & Stoughton.
What advice would you give to any aspiring novelist?
First, read a lot, write a lot, read a lot more. You can learn so much from other writers about what works and doesn’t work when story-telling. If you don’t like reading you’re at a big disadvantage trying to become a novelist. Oh, and don’t read ancient authors like Dickens. His style wouldn’t work today.
Then, write a whole novel, polish it as much as you can then set it aside. Write another whole novel, repeat the polishing and set that aside. Then go back to your first novel and you’ll see how to improve it. Well, you will if you’ve been reading a lot as well as writing.
I know you can self-publish these days but one novel doesn’t usually teach a writer enough, so hold back till you’ve learned your craft.
Anna Jacobs is the author of 80 novels and is addicted to storytelling. She grew up in Lancashire, emigrated to Australia in the 1970s and writes stories set in both countries. She loves to return to England regularly to visit her family and soak up the history. She has two grownup daughters and a grandson, and lives with her husband near Perth and the Swan Valley, a tourist/winegrowing area. She’s addicted to reading as well as writing, so her house is crammed with thousands of books. Her website contains a lot of information, including list of books and which series each belongs to, plus first chapters to read: www.annajacobs.com
Anna’s books are available on Amazon. Links to her three latest paperbacks published last month are below.
Anna’s 80th novel, Saffron Lane, the third in the Peppercorn series, is published on 21 September 2017 and can be pre-ordered using the link below.
Next month’s interview is with author Clare Swatman. Clare’s debut novel, Before you Go, was bought at auction by Pan Macmillan in a two book deal and it has been translated into 21 languages.
I’ve been fascinated by a survey by www.onbuy.com.
They surveyed 904 parents of children aged between four and twelve years old about their bedtime reading routines. Surprisingly (for me) there was a difference in whether children were read to at night based on the gender of the child.
67% of parents with only daughters read to them more than four times per week whereas 33% of parents with only sons read to them more than four times per week.
Interestingly, 29% of parents with both sons and daughters admitted to reading more often to their daughters.
Many parents also admitted that their sons were more interested in playing on the iPad before bedtime.
I can’t help but feel sad that boys are getting the rough end of the stick here. Yes they might love playing on screen before bedtime but they are missing out on a lovely opportunity to bond with their parents over a magical adventure or fantasy story.
Some of my favourite moments are when I get to sit down with my youngest two (a boy and a girl for the record) and read a chapter from a story. They love reading by themselves too so we don’t do this every night these days but it does mean that they get to hear a more challenging book than they might read to themselves. We get to talk about the vocabulary – they are always allowed to interrupt to ask what a word or phrase means – and we find ourselves discussing the story at random times of day.
According to a Scholastic report 83% of children love being read aloud to. The only thing that surprises me here is that the figure isn’t higher.
And finally, 39% of fathers admitted they never or very rarely read to their children (compared to only 4% of mothers). This is a tricky one. Many fathers don’t come in from work before the children are in bed and yes, I know it’s sexist and old fashioned but bedtime has long been seen as the mother’s domain. But even so, if boys don’t see that reading is something that daddy does, then maybe they don’t see that it’s something they should do either.
Perhaps it’s not surprising then that boys in general under perform in reading tests compared with girls. And could it be changed by more bedtime reading at home?
I’ve just recovered from a weekend at the University of Winchester attending their annual writer’s festival. And what a weekend that was. it’s not often – read that as never – that I get to spend that much time focused on my fiction and it lived up to my every expectation.
Lemn Sissay was the keynote speaker – powerful, vibrant, funny and profound. He talked about how although we write individually, tucked away in our oneness, that writing is a team sport. And that’s the feeling I came away with from this weekend. Everybody supported each other. The speakers wanted us to do well – particular thanks to Adrienne Dines and Helen Dennis for brilliant workshops. I met up with friends and made new ones. And we cheered for those who had requests from agents for full manuscripts.
I think it was Helen Fields in her after dinner speech who said that Winchester Festival changes you. It sounded like one of those throw away comments which sounds good at the time washed down with a glass of pinot grigio. But you know, when the swirling blizzard of thoughts and ideas finally settled some time over the 48 hours since coming home, then I can say now that actually yes it does.
I have a new found confidence and I’m brimming with ideas and enthusiasm to take to my writing. I’ve already made some decisions that were just not in my consciousness prior to the weekend. My agent meetings went well – and they play a large part in the confidence I’m beginning to feel in myself – thank you to Felicity Trew and Ella Kahn for cheeriness and professionalism at the end of a very hot Saturday. But it was also the enthusiasm of all the speakers and delegates rolled into one that grows into something bigger than the sum of its individual parts.
I’m already looking forward to whatever package of speakers and events the organisers will be pulling together for next year and eagerly awaiting the email so that I can book it all over again.
A free online course about understanding literary characters’ minds begins next week. Run in conjunction with Future Learn and The University of Nottingham, it’s a short two week course in the field of what is known as cognitive poetics.
And if that sounds a bit technical, don’t be put off. It’s about applying the science of cognition to how we read and process literature.
So if you’re a reader or a writer of fiction then this course should help to explain why we feel the way we do about fictional characters. Why do they make us angry, sad or happy? Why do their lives matter to us?
I don’t know about you but when I’ve read a book where I’ve identified strongly with one or more of the characters, I feel sadness when I get to the end. Why is that? When a great character dies – why do I grieve? (I have to confess I have cried over countless characters’ deaths – even non-human ones such as Dobby in Harry Potter).
It sounds like a really interesting course and I’m looking forward to it starting next Monday. There are no limits to who can join (as far as I’m aware) so if you’d like more information or to sign up, then click here or follow the chat on twitter with hashtag #FLread or follow lead educator @PeterJStockwell
New research into the nation’s reading habits published today has found that the thriller is the UK’s favourite genre of book, closely followed by the detective novel and in third place, fantasy.
And when you think of some of the biggest name authors (Peter James, Agatha Christie and James Patterson for example) and also some of the block buster books from the last year or two – The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl and Before I go to Sleep – it’s probably not surprising. I didn’t expect to see fantasy in third place although maybe that’s because I’m a woman and when you analyse the results between the sexes then it drops down into fifth place.
Having said that, I write in the fantasy genre, so I’m pleased to see it up there.
Here’s how the lists look split:
Science Fiction 37%
The research was conducted by Explore Learning to mark the final week to enter the National Young Writers’ Award whose deadline is Tuesday 7th June.
Interestingly they also uncovered that seven to 10 year olds love reading the most with 87% of children having asked for a book as a present. And despite the ever-increasing rising popularity of technology, books are still the nation’s favourite form of reading material which 81% of children aged 4 to 14 choose the read from – twice as many as those who read magazines (41%), comics (37%) and from an iPad or Kindle (35%).
Which I’m heartened to hear. It’s easy to think that children would rather be building castles on Minecraft or texting their mates all day than losing themselves in a book but it looks like they still enjoy a good story.
Writing features for nationals and press releases, web copy and blogs for businesses in Hants, Surrey and Sussex