My real break into ongoing publication was like waiting for a bus. Nothing happened for years, then several buses turned up at once.
In 1992 I joined the Queen of England in having an ‘annus horribilis’ (terrible year). I came down with chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as ME) and wasn’t able to work at my day job.
Bleak days followed. Not only did I sleep a great deal, because it’s a debilitating illness, but I had a foggy brain and couldn’t think clearly.
I turned my research skills on to chronic fatigue syndrome, which was little known then. It was mocked as ‘yuppie ’flu’ and regarded as an imaginary illness. We know better nowadays, but I had to face scorn as well as coping with a chronic illness and it was really hard going.
I found out that some people with chronic fatigue syndrome, especially those of Irish descent, have become wheat intolerant – so I gave up wheat. I started to feel better within 24 hours. My brain became clear again, especially when I found I had some other food intolerances. But I still wasn’t well enough to go back to work.
I could write again, but I had to rest a lot. I was definitely not my old energetic self.
In 1993 I had an ‘annus mirabilis’, a brilliant year. I had six novels accepted for publication.
First of all, I found an agent. What a relief. The inimitable Bob Tanner was a well-known figure in UK publishing circles who had ‘retired’ into running a literary agency. I sent him a letter and the first two chapters of Salem Street and he took me on in a casual capacity, to see if he could sell my stories.
Within the month he’d sold Salem Street to Hodder & Stoughton and taken me on as a permanent client. I didn’t even know it was what they call a ‘saga’ in the UK. I’d simply written a story that appealed to me, set in a Lancashire mill town like the one I grew up in. The difference was, I wrote about the other people in the town, not the mill workers. I focused on the market sellers, the doctor, the shopkeepers.
To say I was tap dancing on the ceiling as the acceptances rolled in is putting it mildly. I was euphoric. Ten years of hard work, of getting up at 4am to write before work, of learning everything I could learn, of working through illness, had paid off.
Later that year, my agent negotiated a two-book contract for the sequels – Book 2 was already partly written, you see.
Five weeks after the sale of my historical saga, I got an acceptance from Pan Australia for Quest, the first book of my fantasy saga ‘The Chronicles of Tenebrak’. I received a letter from Pan instead of a returned manuscript, tore it open and burst into tears at the sight of an acceptance.
My agent said I should write fantasy under another name, so as not to confuse readers. I chose Shannah Jay.
Before the end of the year, Pan had accepted the novel I’d written to practise tension, Envoy, and contracted me to write Book 2 in The Chronicles of Tenebrak.
Voilà! Six novels accepted or contracted in one year.
I still had chronic fatigue syndrome, though it was fading. I couldn’t go back to work because I couldn’t work all day without a rest. So I used up my sick leave, and took early retirement.
From then on I wrote at least two novels a year. For a few years, I alternated historical sagas and fantasy novels. The fourth and final book of ‘The Chronicles of Tenebrak’ was shortlisted for an award, Best Australian Fantasy Novel, in 1996 – but sadly for me, someone else won it. Still, it felt good to be shortlisted.
My sixth historical saga Our Lizzie was also shortlisted for Australian Romantic Book of the Year. I was to win that award later (in 2006 with Pride of Lancashire) and I’ve been shortlisted a few times over the years.
My historical novels were doing well, but the whole Australian fantasy scene wasn’t, so Pan closed down the line of fantasy novels. Shannah Jay was out of work, but Anna Jacobs was now doing two novels a year.
And then another publisher expressed an interest to my agent in any ‘spare’ novels I might have.
The historical romances I’d written while learning my trade got published at last, starting with Replenish The Earth, and I was now writing alternate historical sagas and historical romances.
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.