Friday, November 12, 2010

Off the Beaten Track: Life in Two Worlds

This week's contributor is Anna Jacobs. Anna writes in two genres nowadays, historical sagas and modern novels. She’s had over 50 novels published and happily produces three more each year. In the past she was also published in SF/F as Shannah Jay and those books are now available as ebooks at Smashwords. In fact, she freely confesses to being addicted to books, both writing and reading. She and her husband live in Australia for 7 months of the year and in the UK for the other 5, thus avoiding winters. How sad! No shivering over her computer.

I was astounded at how adventurous the writers running this blog are. I’ve never been adventurous, and I have multiple food intolerances, which make moving around as a tourist difficult - and frankly, not worth the risks.

But I didn’t want to stay only in one small corner of the world, so at first we tried house swapping. Trouble is most people want only a month’s exchange and we wanted two or three months. And let’s face it, there are risks in house swapping - some places were wonderful, in others we didn’t get what we’d been promised.

So three years ago my husband and I bought a house in the UK where we now spend the northern summers. It’s the perfect solution.

As for my writing , well, I’m addicted, so I’m still producing three long novels a year, and the move has, I believe, enriched my stories and settings.

Neither of us had lived in Wiltshire before, but it was on a line we drew across the map of England from my sister’s home to my husband’s family. We wanted to see them often. And the house we found was perfect, homes with a security service and access to a golf course.

We’ve loved exploring Wiltshire: Stonehenge, Avebury, Salisbury Cathedral, the magnificent Steam Railway Museum, picture-book villages, old pubs, friendly people - and more crop circles than anywhere else on earth, to name but a few of the attractions.

I write both historical and modern novels. The historical ones are mainly set in Lancashire and Australia, so my first Wiltshire novel was a modern story, ‘Saving Willowbrook’, in which my heroine battles to save her ancient family home from developers, with the help of her new guy, her disabled daughter and the friendly family ghost.

But since I love history, I started looking into Wiltshire’s fascinating past just out of interest and inevitably found myself writing an extra story set there in 1910. ‘Cherry Tree Lane’ has just come out in hardback, paperback next year.

I try to write my Australian novels while I’m at home down under, as the research is easier. Don’t be misled into thinking Sydney and the convicts are all of the story. Western Australia, where I live, is as far from Sydney as Moscow is from London, and was not convict founded.

I found that when the American Civil War cut off supplies of cotton to Lancashire in the 1860s, they sent 60 starving cotton lasses out to Western Australia as maids. Naturally I pounced on that titbit of history and began researching further. I found the memoirs of a lady who travelled out on the same ship - and I was soon writing my Swan River Saga, beginning with ‘Farewell to Lancashire’. The second book ‘Beyond the Sunset’ (my 50th novel published) came out this year, with the final part ‘Destiny’s Path’ due out early next year.

It takes a lot of organising to live in two countries, but it’s greatly enriched my own life and (I hope) my writing too. And really, the past is another country - I continue to travel backwards often as well. 

Anna has kindly offered to give away a copy of Farewell To Lancashire, the first book in the Swan River Saga. The contest is open to anyone who leaves a comment on this post (NA bloggers excluded, of course!). Closing date for the contest is Thursday,18th November 11 pm EST (New York time). The winner will be drawn at random and we'll announce the lucky winner on Friday, 19th November.


  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Anna! Living between two countries is a dream a lot of people have and how fortunate you are able to do this and have the career you love so much. What a wonderful way to do research!

  2. Anna, what a fun life you lead traveling between 2 countries and writing so many wonderful books. Three a year! It leaves me breathless. :) Wonderful, isn't it, how a small research detail can fire your imagination and lead not to just one book, but three?

  3. I am really interested in your books! Have you written anything involving the crop circles? I've always been fascinated by them. Wish you all the best.

  4. I really enjoyed and was so interested in living in two countries. Where I live in two states and that is bad enough, but two countries different ball game. But Anna your stories come out just as genuine and I look forward to your releases.
    Thanks for sharing.ROB

  5. Ah - what a hardworking lass you are, Anna! It sounds deceptively idyllic, but I know what a lot of planning and actual DOING goes into your life. Admiration in big letters, and a sense of wonder at how you manage relatives and in-laws as well as research on your stays away. When we are away, I hardly find time for post-cards!!

  6. Thank you for your comments, everyone. It is complicated, arranging a two-country lifestyle, but wonderful. And no, Lavanya, I've not written about crop circles - yet! I used to write SF/F (as Shannah Jay) where it might have fitted, but am at present writing alternate modern and historical, and it isn't as easy for 'Anna Jacobs' to speculate about such things. Never say never, though. I'm definitely going to visit a newly-made crop circle next year.

  7. I loved reading your blog piece, and what a wonderful arrangement to be able to split your time between two countries! Sounds idyllic! I'll definitely be finding some of your novels to check out, so thanks for sharing! :)

  8. We daydream about living such a life. How fun and how enriching for your writing life as well. Thank you for a wonderful post, Anna! Can't wait to read your books.

  9. One question--after 50 books, do you have a personal favorite?

  10. That sounds like an idyllic lifestyle! And you get the best of both countries in terms of weather! WA is so brilliant in the summer.

    It's interesting that you say you write better having lived in the location. I enjoy writing Regency England and France and hope one day to try out your method to see if it improves my writing ^_^

  11. Hi Anna & Alli, what a lovely post. Sigh. Having spent a week in the Avesbury/Stonehenge area when I travelled the UK, your talk of Wiltshire brought it all back - the beauty, the longing to return and visit, the Stone Age history (which I soaked up like a sponge), the small village atmosphere (absolutely loved that! being a small village girl myself).

    Makes me want to brave the 20 odd hour flight again to return to the UK. Sigh and double sigh. :-)

  12. I've always been envious of folks living in more than one country. I have relatives in both the UK and Germany and have traveled a lot, but I am always so happy to come back home to Vermont! I certainly believe it is vitally important to travel and meet people from other cultures and when I come home I always feel as though my mind has been expanded

  13. Very interesting Anna. You are one busy lady.Like Kylie though, the thought of the 20 hour flight I find daunting. To do it twice every year I can't even imagine.

  14. Such an interesting story. I was amazed at how many things in your post I could relate to! I too have a fair amount of food intolerances that impede my wanderings: I always have to be careful with what I eat when I travel and I seem to be susceptible to every local bug that crosses my path, so I always lug a gazillion remedies with me, herbal and otherwise. I cherish a trip to the Amazon jungles which a friend of mine leads every year, but I can only imagine how many pills I’d have to truck with me on that one.
    I enjoy the English countryside. For a while my brother was married to an Englander (who was born and raised in Australia, by the way) so I once spent my Christmas week in Bath where my brother’s in-laws had a small castle, charmingly ascetic yet very hospitable. They also completely refuted the myth that British food consists of oatmeal and fried fish. We had a gourmet dinner every night – everything from goose to homemade preserves, all of which completely agreeable with me – for once!

  15. If only Anna had a house nearer to where I live in Kent. I would be able to visit her when she came over, and to be able to talk to her about her books. Alas she has chosen Wiltshire which is a long way from Kent ! I have been an avid fan of her writings since her first book was published, and have to wait until her latest novels arrive in my local library. Not very often ! B ut nevertheless, I am her most ardent fan, and just cannot wait for any new novels to arrive.

  16. Margaret SutherlandNovember 15, 2010 at 8:59 PM

    To write 50 books is an unimaginable achievement. One of the hardest parts of writing fiction is identifying the theme and finding the characters, To have enough imagination to people not one but three books a year is beyond my understanding and hats off to a prolific novelist. Apart from which I know you can never resist adding a pertinent comment to the writers' group we share; or passing along a helpful insight ar word of advice. You truly have a love affair with words, and I'm sure the changes of scene foster new ideas and images to add colour to your fiction. Margaret Sutherland

  17. Anna, I've added you to my list of books to read. I spent a short time in Oxford studying geography while in college. I remember visiting the town of Avebury and the famed stone circles. We also stopped at the Uffington White Horse. While we sat on the grass and took in the scenery, a man and woman stood on the slope a few feet away conducting what appeared to be a Druid ceremony completely in the nude. After they finished, they came and spoke to us. It was wild! Whatever your beliefs, it is a magical place. Thanks for your blog post.

  18. Thank you for your comments, everyone. They were very interesting to read.

    I should add that I work hard to be able to afford such a life, ten hour days mostly.

    Supriya, one of my favourite books is 'Freedom's Land' and also the recent 'Licence to Dream' which was sheer fun to write. Even novelists need relaxation. My book Envoy, SF/thriller/romance written as Shannah Jay is another favourite, out now as an ebook - see Smashwords. And I love this new series that starts with 'Farewell to Lancashire'. The historical research for that was fascinating and heartrending when it came to the Cotton Famine.

    I live in more than two worlds in my head, LOL!