A Sense of Place

- by Anna Jacobs

I’ve been looking through my backlist while converting books to ebooks, and it’s brought home to me how very strongly place has influenced my writing. Born in the UK, I’m a ‘Lancashire lass’ ie from the north-west, but I’m also Australian now. I love both sides of my cultural heritage, and it shows in my books.

When I graduated I moved away from Lancashire—don’t we always flee our families in the search for ourselves? But when I started writing, where did I set my first big novel? Lancashire, of course.

I didn’t know then that I was writing a saga, UK style, a genre that focuses very much on regional history and culture. I enjoyed writing it so much I’ve been writing regional sagas ever since, which has meant researching the sort of history they never taught us at school.

At first all my stories were set in Lancashire, but I’d emigrated to Australia in the meantime and eventually I just had to write a story set there – which did well enough for my UK publisher to want more. I love the variety of setting and find it very stimulating.

I started writing modern novels at the same time as we began house swapping holidays from Australia. This gave us a temporary base in the UK and allowed wonderful reunions with our families. And naturally, it led to several different backgrounds for my modern stories, starting with Dorset, in the south-west, our first house swap. For a while we went all over the place, Cheshire, modern Lancashire, Ireland, Derbyshire, Wiltshire – and so did my stories. In fact, I’ve had a ball.

Using places you visit as settings for novels makes you look at them with a different eye, and you learn far more about them than you would if you were just playing tourist. I hope doing this for my stories has given my readers a taste of a few new places, too.

I’ve even been around the universe when I was writing SF/F as Shannah Jay – the stories are now out as ebooks if you want to join me on a much longer trip.

My previoushistorical novel (Beyond the Sunset) has taken readers by a lesser known route from Australia to England in the 1860s, via Galle (in what is now Sri Lanka), Suez (before the canal was built), Alexandria and Gibraltar.

My latest modern novel (Licence to Dream) is set in a small town in the state of Western Australia, which readers would probably never ‘visit’ otherwise. It was one of the earliest places settled in that state, but it is still a very small country town.

My new historical novel (Cherry Tree Lane) takes readers to Swindon, Wiltshire, a railway town, in 1910 and then to the beautiful countryside nearby.

Do come and travel with me sometime. It’s fun.

9 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this personal, warm blog… which was more like a letter. I too place great importance on location, and for this reason, a close look at Anna Jacobs’s new books is certainly warranted.

  2. It’s funny the things that you find out about yourself in writing. I, too, find a strong sense of place comes out when I start thinking about a story. I have been known to spend a morning wandering around an inner-city suburb of Melbourne trying to decide where my character would live. It didn’t appear by name in the story, but I know the street and which tram she would take to get to work.
    But place isn’t just place, is it? It’s place and time, as you said, Anna. It’s all the things that don’t feature in the potted histories of big events, but which shape the lives of the people living there. And shape the stories that fit there. I remember standing on a cliff in Tasmania, looking out over windswept coast and thinking that, if I lived there, I would write different stories.
    I don’t know that I have ever thought about it before, but some of my favourite stories are ones where the place is almost a character in the story – including some of yours, Anna! Thanks for sharing

  3. Dear Anna,
    Dear Anna,
    You provide the magic carpet to whisk us away to many interesting places – your characters are so real, past or present. As a lover of history, English language and literature, I can relate to them all. Thank you Anna.
    I write sagas too – also memoirs, currently absorbed in
    Disraeli and Me! (No, I’m not quite that old!)
    As for the housework gene – I’ve been blowing the dust off the mantlepiece for ever, it seems!
    Yours, Sheila (RNA and ROMNA)

  4. Dear Anna, I have been reading your books for some time since I visited a family called Pringle a name you used in a book about WA. I have an e-mail buddy Ed and Barbara Squires who came over from WA and we met up in Liverpool, I am hoping to ee them again next year. Hoping to get some of your latest books for my birthday this month. Keep on writing, please.

    Best Wishes, Mary

  5. A Town Called Alice (film) or Legacy by Neville Shute comes to mind.

    Shute manages to capture the settings and scenes so skillfully I can really imagine I’m there.

  6. Place can definitely be a character. Without a sense of place we have nothing to anchor us to reality. Place is important in Streets on a Map, my novel which is in the process of getting ready to be published.

  7. Hi Anna,
    What a lovely cover for Cherry Tree Lane!I just love reading stories where the author’s love of the setting glows on every page. Even Janet Evanovich’s warts and all descriptions of Trenton New Jersey have me completely engrossed.

    So interesting reading how you started writing your wonderful sagas.

    Unfortunately I didn’t get to Swindon, nor to catch up with you on my recent trip to the UK, but to be able to live there part of the year and research the stories you set there, must make you happier than a pig in mud. Or should that be an author in a library full of her own books!
    CC

  8. Thank you for your responses to my blog. It’s always interesting to hear people’s reactions to my thoughts.

  9. Thanks for your kind words, Cory. I’m not on Twitter, but I’m on Facebook – and there’s a lot of information about me and my books on my website. Since I write three novels a year, I don’t have a huge amount of time for social networking . . . I do like to spend time with my lovely husband as well as write. Have a happy day!