As I was about to write the first part of this blog, I heard of Ray Bradbury’s passing and changed what I was going to say, because I owe Ray Bradbury a great debt, which I’d like to acknowledge and share with you all.
He was a superb writer and role model. I loved his books dearly as a teenager. They were the first fantasy novels I’d ever read and I was fascinated by his strange, mind-stretching worlds.
I have another reason for gratitude. My first book ever published was due to his generosity.
In the late 60s I was a naïve new French teacher in the UK with a rambunctious class of teenage lads. They were supposed to use a 1930s textbook and were ready to revolt about ‘little Toto’, a sickly-sweet child! I hated the tedious tale too. So I rewrote Ray Bradbury’s story ‘Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed’ as a French reading book with controlled language, staying a chapter ahead of the class and duplicating the episodes on an old-fashioned gadget that reproduced my handwriting in purple ink.
If they did the work they were supposed to, I allowed the class to read the fantasy story at the end of the week. Bribery worked wonders. We got through the necessities more quickly than usual, and we all looked forward to relaxing and enjoying the final class.
This was my first experience of giving people pleasure from story-telling in which I’d participated.
I didn’t have any idea about copyright issues then, I blush to say. All I knew was that Ray Bradbury’s story fired me to write a simplified version in French and it interested the class. Teenage lads who towered over me would stop me in the corridor to ask, ‘Have you done this week’s chapter, miss?’
I’d wanted to become a writer since I was ten years old, at which age I’d figured out that some people earned their livings by writing the books I loved to read. I was managing to read twelve books a week in those days, which meant three trips to the library, a mile and a half’s walk each way from my home. (Who says reading isn’t good exercise?)
I never set out to write French textbooks. But after starting the Ray Bradbury story in sheer desperation, I found it gathered momentum. When the year ended, I put it together properly, given all the input from that lovely class, and I submitted it to a publisher.
To my huge delight, they wanted to publish it as a textbook. At least I knew enough to know we had to get Ray Bradbury’s permission for this. I wasn’t trying to steal his story!
The publisher wrote to him on my behalf and he, or more likely someone working for him, refused permission.
I was devastated, so wrote him a plea to reconsider, explaining it was my very first book to be published and I hadn’t merely translated his story, but had rewritten it in simple French, shortening and adjusting, because I was so inspired by it. But I’d stayed true to his tale. I told him about that class of rough lads mesmerised by his story, even in French.
After a nerve-wracking wait, he wrote back giving permission, charging me a small fee and asking for a signed copy when the book came out.
‘Ils etaient noirs aux yeux d’or’ by Anne Jacobs was a success (in French textbook terms) and even went into a reprint and rejacketing, staying in print for 20 years.
When my first author’s copy arrived, dropping through the letterbox in the front door, as letters still do in the UK, I tore the package open on the spot, staring in utter delight at my first published book, stroking my name on the cover. Then I sat on the hall floor, cuddling the book and crying my eyes out – as you do when you’re utterly happy!
When I sent his copy of the book, I sent an extra copy and postage, and asked for his autograph. He gave it and someone wrote from Ray Bradbury to tell me that he was tickled pink to be at the heart of a French textbook. And I was tickled pink to have my first book published, as you can imagine.
So I still smile gratefully every time I hear Ray Bradbury’s name. I’m sorry he’s dead, but am sure he’ll have gone to wherever the good guys go . . . He’s certainly one of my heroes.
I went on to have 9 French textbooks published – which is not what I’d set out to do. I’d intended to become a novelist. That step was to be much further ahead of me than I realised at the time, and would take a lot more hard work than I’d expected.
Tomorrow: Anna Jacobs Day 2: Fiddling around, trying to write novels
Anna Jacobs was born in England but emigrated to Australia. She now lives part of the year in each country. She’s totally addicted to writing, and produces three novels a year. As of July 2012, she has 58 novels published.
At the moment Anna is writing historical novels set in Australia for one UK publisher, sagas set in Wiltshire for a second UK publisher and modern novels for another.
She has been married to her own hero for many happy years, and they have two daughters and one grandson.