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Features/Literature

Kindness key to WA author’s century 

28 July 2022

Anna Jacobs has sold five million books worldwide, but is little known in her home town. As she celebrates the release of her 100th book, the popular author shares some stories with Ara Jansen.

Anna Jacobs is very surprised she’s 81. When the Perth author catches herself feeling every year of it, she finds a mirror and sticks her tongue out at herself. The ridiculousness of it usually makes her laugh and lifts her spirits.  

At an age when all her friends are dead or dying, writing books is where Anna Jacobs finds her solace.  

Considered one of the UK’s most prolific writers, the Perth transplant is also one of the most popular. Her books are the fifth most borrowed adult fiction in British libraries and are well borrowed and much-loved across Australia in libraries big and small. Across 30 years of publishing, sales sit around five million.  

Jacobs is celebrating the release of her 100th book this year, called A Valley Wedding, and books 101 and 102 will be out before Christmas. To add another milestone, Jacobs and her “delightful husband” and personal hero Dave are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in September.  

A lifelong writer, Jacobs was a teacher, wrote several French textbooks and worked briefly for the government before coming down with chronic fatigue syndrome.  

So just after tipping 50 she became a fulltime writer, albeit starting slowly while she worked on her health. Using orthomolecular medicine (maintaining health mainly through nutrition), Jacobs healed herself and is scrupulously careful about what she eats, avoiding corn, corn derivatives or wheat, to which she is allergic.  

A Valley Wedding’ is Anna Jacobs’ 100th book.

In year one as a fulltime author, she earned $2000, $12,000 the next and $20,000 the year after. She now earns six figures from new sales, licensing, foreign rights and fees from Public Lending Rights and ELR Education Lending Rights payments based on the estimated number of copies held by Australian libraries. 

Jacobs writes because she loves telling stories and loves to entertain. Sometimes miscast as a romance writer, she describes her books as historical family stories. Yes, there’s romance between the covers – as there is in life – but it’s not a primary plot driver. 

Three books a year – between 80,000 and 100,000 words each – is her average output. The shorter books are modern family stories and the historical ones sit around 100,000 words. She has different publishers for each and has been with Hodder since 1993. 

“Three a year is not pushing it too hard,” says Jacobs. “I do like to do some other things with my life and I love to spend time with my husband.” 

Stories have been finding their way to Jacobs since she was two. As a child she remembers feeling like the characters just walked out of the walls to play with her and be part of the stories she wanted to tell.  

‘I had about five novels rejected before the first one got published … I’ve got enough stories I could keep going until I’m 120.’

“I was born with this vivid imagination. I was a solitary and only child,” she says. “My dad was in the Middle East in World War II until I was four. It’s great fun to have an imagination. I started writing with a 2B pencil and a rubber and moved to computers when they were invented. 

“Now, during my sleepless nights, I do my plotting. It’s easy to see the scenes in the dark. 

“I’ve always been writing. I had about five novels rejected before the first one got published. The sixth one made me about $10,000 and then I rewrote the others to get them published. I did at one stage write some fantasy books but the historical ones made 10 times more money. I’ve got enough stories I could keep going until I’m 120.”  

Making Western Australia her home many decades ago, Jacobs has set a number of books here but the majority are set in her childhood home of Lancashire, a much-loved place with many fond memories.  

Her readers and those who get her hand-printed newsletters are familiar with the writer’s battle with the mosquitoes near Mandurah. Thankfully the couple now live inland, which allows the windows to stay wide open.  

Until recently the author has also split her year between here and the UK but COVID and old age mean she probably won’t make the trip again.  

A game of Patience helps the writing flow

To keep connected and expand her horizons, Jacobs is an avid reader of newspapers and books. Constantly on the lookout for authors she likes, she reads three books a week. Each morning she starts writing when it feels right and when it doesn’t, she plays the card game Patience. 

“It puts me in the mood and if I get stuck that’s what I do. When people ask me for advice, I tell them to find something which puts them in the space to write. One woman I know used to iron.” For the record, the author detests ironing (and most domestic chores) with all her being. The other thing she hates is trite plots.  

A woman wearing black with a red scarf stands holding a book alongside a floor to ceiling bookshelf which is filled with books
Anna Jacobs in her home reference library. Photo supplied

An internal clock has woken Jacobs up at 5am all her life. When she was raising her two daughters it was the time she wrote before she headed to work and packed them off to school.  

By 7.30am most days she’s ready to pick up any overnight emails from the UK and attend to any editor requests. Dave is her business manager, pays himself a salary (dutifully alerting Jacobs to any bonuses he might earn) and looks after licensing around the world. The latest new market for Anna Jacobs books is Czechoslovakia.  

“I get so frustrated when I can’t write,” she explains about her need to create. “I love telling stories and come out high as a kite when I have had a good writing day. 

“I also have the nicest readers – even my publisher says that. They like decent people as main characters. There’s a Facebook group about my books and even there the people are so nice to each other. I get lots of emails from readers – more women but also men – and I always write back to them the first time.”  

Older people make strong characters

Readers keep her connected to the world, but like many authors, the biggest downside of a writing career is loneliness. Outside her friends, Jacobs has emailed daily with a group of five female authors around the world since 1999.   

A woman with grey wavy hair smiles at the camera while standing in a garden. She wears a blue scarf and the sunlight makes her hair shimmer
Kindness is crucial to author Anna Jacobs, both in life and in fiction. Photo supplied

In a society which obsessively reveres youth, Jacobs bucks trends and makes sure older people, especially those on the other side of 50, are regularly represented in her books.  

“In my book called Peppercorn Street, there are three heroines and one of them is 84. I’ve had a lot of letters from readers saying how wonderful it was to have a major character of that age.”  

Vignettes from her life and experiences as an older and often invisible woman find their way into her books. Take the salesperson who kept talking to Dave while the pair were standing in a store trying to buy Anna a new computer. He refused to even address her, despite her standing right there. The pair left the store without buying a computer and that guy is now immortalised in a Jacobs’ story.  

Her characters face challenges, like in real life, but Anna Jacobs always ends on a sweet note. The soppier the better.  

“My central characters always face adversity and overcome it. I think that’s nicer than facing extreme violence. My readers seem to love the happy endings. They know they can rely on them. Kindness is crucial to me in life and fiction.” 

Pictured top: At 81, Anna Jacobs is still writing three books a year. Photo: Liz Seabrook

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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