Sunday, 8 January 2017

Anna's Own

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. That's Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 

Anna's Own; Post 8

Anna's Own (1995) was the direct result of having been commissioned to write a tourist guide to Tasmania; a commission I got only because the original commissionee fell ill. Six months of immersion in Tasmanian history and 100,000 words of text left me with some wonderful information and ideas for using it. Much of what I had learned wouldn't have suited children's books, and I'd already had a novel for adults published back in 1987, so I set out to write. Anna's Own is 140,500 words and I wrote it in 31 days. 

The central piece of information that sparked the story was that the colony of Van Diemen's Land was short of marriageable women, and thus young women who committed crimes in England were likely to be transported whereas men who did the same thing would be fined. Therefore I set my fourteen-year-old impressionable maid servant Anna Bailey on her journey. The daughter of a barmaid and a schoolmaster, Anna was thrilled to become a lady's maid, but unfortunately Miss Verity, her mistress had a particularly nasty brother. One marble lion later, and Anna was up for attempted murder.

The story follows her through a voyage on a convict ship where she was brought to act as temporary maid for a lady who had broken her arm, to disappointment when she learned she'd be assigned to someone else. From convict maid of all work to the kindly Jane, Anna, now emancipated, catches the eye of red-headed "Mad Jack" Kelly, whose ebullient and unreliable nature both attracts and eventually disappoints her. Through fire and storm, births, deaths, debt and unavoidable separations, Anna cuts her coat according to her cloth again and again and builds her business which she calls 'Anna's Own'.  The story closes with Anna in her forties.

Although Anna's story is pure fiction, I did weave one piece of family history into the saga, by giving Anna's three surviving daughters the names Mary, Margaret and Bridget. These are family names. My dad's grandmother was named Bridget, and Dad told me she had two sisters named Mary and Margaret. The other two siblings I named Jane and John, known as Jack. Years later, when my grandchildren were born, I decided to do a little family research and was amused to discover that my father's grandmother and great aunts had in fact not been alone in their family; there were several other siblings... including a brother named Jack! Another of my ancestors was named (inevitably) Jane. 

The story of Anna's Own was published under a pen name, because (a) the editor thought my real name was closely associated with children's books and (b) she thought a romantic-sounding author name would be good for sales. As far as I know most people knew quite well it was my book, because for literally years afterwards I was often hailed by locals who had read Anna's Own and loved it. They wanted to know when the sequel would be out. The fact is, the sales figures weren't deemed good enough for a sequel. This puzzled me, since so many people seemed to have read it, but eventually I noted a pattern.  Reader after reader informed me she (or occasionally he) had borrowed it from the library or bought it from a swap shop, or borrowed it from a friend. Many others told me with evident expectations that I'd be pleased, that they'd lent their copy to all their reading friends. I was happy they'd enjoyed it, of course but I couldn't help thinking if they had bought a new copy (it was under $10) and recommended it to their friends rather than lending it, then initial sales would have been good enough for them to have had their sequel. 

After the paperback run ended, I (unusually) got the rights back. In 2000, the story had a brief run as an e-book with a different cover. When negotiations were underway for the new cover, someone from the e-company told me they were considering putting a map of New Zealand on it. I was a bit puzzled by that, but it devolved they thought Van Diemens Land was the old name for New Zealand rather than Tasmania. The cover below was the final choice. I think it is meant to represent the cameo brooch Anna had.
Anna's Own has long been out of print, and the sequel, which would have been called Shepherd's Rest, was never written. I had it and the subsequent books of the series fully plotted out and now I really wish I had written them. Since I still have the rights to Anna's Own, *I might even one day release it myself in a self-published version. If I do and if it sells well enough and if I can find my long-ago notes and if...if...if... well, who knows? Maybe twenty years plus after the initial book's appearance I might settle down to detail what happens to Anna, her daughters and her son after their story ended in the 1870s.

*Note: June 2017... It's happening!

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