Jane Jackson (aka Rachel Ennis)
I believe writers are born not made. We have an extra something in our DNA. I loved listening to stories when I was very small. But I had a younger sister and my parents had busy lives so to get my story ‘fix’ I learned to read when I was four. The books were board with brightly coloured pictures and three words to a page. But they fired my imagination. All writing begins with reading and I was on my way.
I made a weekly visit to the children’s section of Falmouth library, read my way through the ‘Famous Five’ and ‘Secret Seven, ‘Mallory Towers’ ‘Black Beauty’ ‘Children of the New Forest’ then moved on to H Rider Haggard, Dennis Wheatley, The Raj Quartet, and Barbara Erskine, and persuaded my mother to take out extra books for me from the Boots lending library above the shop. (Remember those?)
When I wasn’t reading I was writing my own stories. I loved English Lit lessons and acted in the school plays and our village Am Dram company. This helped me understand character and motive.
In my late-twenties, a single parent with two small children and an ulcer, I read even more. My marriage had failed but I still believed strongly in love. I read Mills & Boon novels by the hundred, discovered favourite authors and analysed what I liked about their stories, their characters. I didn’t know it then but this was a vital part of my apprenticeship.
Then I thought I’d have a go at writing one – as you do. I knew competition would be fierce, so rather than aim for the contemporary market I decided to write a Dr/Nurse (as they were called then) I had worked in the Medical Records Dept of City hospital so was familiar with the terminology. I also bought a medical dictionary and begged back issues of medical mags from a doctor friend.
I realised I had to make mine different, so I chose to make both my main characters doctors. Back in the early ‘80s a woman doing the same job as a man had to be twice as good to be considered equal – instant conflict, complicated by the powerful attraction between them. To avoid hospital procedure – there were ex-nurse authors who had far more experience of this world than I could ever achieve – I decided to set my stories in off-the-beaten-track locations without access to high-tech drugs and equipment. Mine would be make-do-and-mend medicine.
It paid off. ‘Desert Flower’ was set in an oasis clinic in Egypt. It was accepted and I was invited to Richmond to meet Editorial Director, Heather Jeeves. I wrote three more medicals, set in the Andes in Ecuador, the highlands of Papua New Guinea – in which I invented a vaccine for malaria; and the clinic boats of Hong Kong harbour that treated patients on the outlying islands where leprosy still occurred.
Then Heather told me my stories deserved a wider audience and I was moved onto the Contemporary list as it was then. I wrote ten more. These were published in 23 countries and 19 languages. (All have been/are being re-issued as ebooks by Accent Amour) I had enjoyed every moment and learned a lot but it was time to move on.
I had always loved historical novels, from classics like ‘A Take of Two Cities’ through Emile Zola, the Angelique stories, The Whiteoaks of Jalna series, everything by Mary Stewart and Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton, and now Elizabeth Chadwick – you get the picture.
We are advised to ‘write what you know.’ Cornwall is my home and where I grew up. It has a rich history and has produced some remarkable people: artists, inventors, musicians, writers. After reading all Winston Graham’s Poldark novels I wanted to make mine different. That meant no tin-mining.
I chose sea-trade and the Falmouth-based packet service which carried mail all over the world, dispatches to and from theatres of war, and ransom money to free the wives and daughters of merchants captured by pirates in the Mediterranean.
‘Eye of the Wind’ was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and ‘Heart of Stone’ was shortlisted for the RNA Historical Prize.
I love writing historical romantic fiction as I’m fascinated by the detail of daily life and social structure in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
Then last year I contributed to Accent’s Christmas anthology, ‘Wishing on a Star.’ I hadn’t written a short story in over thirty years, and at 11,000 words it was one of the longest! (I’m a novelist. Short is difficult for me.)
Little did I know then that ‘Family Matters’ would turn out to be the start of a whole new venture: Polvellan Cornish Mysteries. These combine Cornish village life with history as my central character, Jess Trevanion, is a genealogist.
Number three, ‘The Loner’ will be published on 1st October.
I’m currently completing ‘The Master’s Wife’, second in ‘The Captain’s Honour’ series, which picks
up the story of Caseley and Jago Barata seven years after they meet in ‘The Consul’s Daughter.’ I have three more Polvellan Mysteries outlined and am researching background for a new historical trilogy.
My writing journey – like my life – has had its ups and downs. But all my experiences have contributed to making me the writer and person that I am.
My ambition now is the same as when I started, to make each book better than the last, featuring characters who capture readers on the first page, hold them through the dramatic, tragic, joyful events of the story, then linger in the memory long after the book ends.
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