Category Archives: Events

‘Juliet’ tells her ‘Story’ at the West Kent launch

OverviewJuliet’s Story, Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy, has been well and truly launched!

I’ve got into the habit of having two launches each time one of my books is published. One takes place at my club in Mayfair, the University Women’s Club, and the other more locally in the Tunbridge Wells area. Previously, I’ve arranged it in Waterstones but sadly, they are holding fewer book events these days. It’s such a shame as I love to attend book launches as well as give them.

Between Juliet and AnnieI attended a rather grand book launch at Tonbridge School last year – the author was David Lough, being interviewed on his latest biography: No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money.

I was most impressed with the beautiful building, the smiling staff, the delicious canapés and the exceptional champagne. Churchill himself would definitely have approved! So I decided to hold my event there.

CheersIt was a perfect choice, and because it was a slightly different area, I had friends and acquaintances coming from Sevenoaks and Hildenborough as well as Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Looking around at the 30 or so faces, half of them had never attended one of my launches. This is A Good Thing! At least eight folk bought Annie’s Story, Book 1 of the trilogy together with Juliet’s Story so they could catch up. I had put Annie’s banner up as well as Juliet’s, hoping this might happen.

Marcus Warren proved to be a great photographer who managed to flatter me in most photographs, except one where he made me look 90 (I’m sure I don’t know how he did this – it must have taken all his ingenuity and photographic skill) instead of the bright young woman I really am! DELETE!

Signing booksWe all had a jolly time and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening and my talk. I must say, I loved the evening. Always think that’s a good sign if the host does.

Roll on the next launch. Sadly, not until 2017 when Kitty’s Story, Book 3 of the trilogy will be out. Do hope to see you!




Juliet’s Story is  available now from your local bookshop and from Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

‘Juliet’s Story’ launched!

Denise bannerOne of the great pleasures of writing a book and getting it published is that you have a perfect excuse for a party!

So for Juliet’s Story, Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy, I decided to once again hold the launch in the University Women’s Club in Mayfair, where I’ve been a member for almost 30 years.

Although publication day is TODAY, I had the London launch Saturday afternoon, just two days ago, which happened to be my mother’s birthday. If only she could have been there – she would have been so proud! (You know how mothers are.)

Celebrating with friends

With Sue Stephenson, Liz Harris, publisher Helen Hart and Gail Alwyn

The Diamonds

With Tessa Shapcott, Terri Fleming, Sue Mackender – The Diamonds



But I was surrounded and supported by family and friends, and ten other writers, which was fabulous. We had a high tea: sandwiches, scones, carrot cake, tea, coffee and, of course, lots of fizz.






The audience






After everyone had made a beeline for the groaning tables and had a good chat with one another, I gave a talk, primarily on the research I undertook for the novel.

One of the more unusual things was being aboard a freighter for a few days. My heroine, Juliet, goes on a voyage to Australia by cargo ship so I felt I had to go through a similar experience in order to breathe in the atmosphere of what it’s really like. My ship was a German one bound for Hong Kong but after calling at Hamburg, I disembarked in Zeebrugge (Bruges). I didn’t want to spend over six weeks at sea as at the time I was running a business, and unlike Juliet had no one to take it over for such a long period.

Denise in full flowThe voyage was a real adventure and telling details, together with some of the incidents which happened to me, have crept into the novel – which is what research is all about.

I sold a ton of books at the launch which won’t go anywhere near to paying for the afternoon, but that’s not the point. It’s a wonderful way of getting your first readers who you hope will spread the word – and write a review!


Denise and Alison

With critique partner Alison Morton




But mainly all their laughter, congratulations and love give you a huge boost to set you on your way.

I feel a bit flat now so I need to get the show on the road for Book 3. Another launch looming, methinks.




UWC team

The cake and champagne team











Juliet’s Story is now out!
Available now from your local bookshop and from Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

Writing is a lonely life…?

Denise UWC launchI completely disagree with the above (though I realise some writers might feel differently).

Writing when one is alone is not the same as being lonely. I’m so happy when writing completely on my own, but a close second is writing in the company of one or a few other writers. It’s a sedentary life sitting on your bottom day after day, but most writers interact with others. Where you write you’ll probably tap into Twitter and Facebook on most days, thus making connections and conversations.

My new diary is already filling up with writerly things which take me outside my writing cabin and into a world of real people instead of my ‘real characters’. Heading the list is the launch of Juliet’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy. It’s to be held at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair on 23 January 2016 (under a week to go!) and hopefully there will be writers, friends and relatives to celebrate with me. (If anyone would like to come, please get in touch with me by Friday by leaving  a comment below.)

In May I’m off to Portugal with three writing friends to stay in a private villa. We’ll have a week there working hard on our novels and catching up in the afternoons for readings and brain-stormings and critiques. Hopefully this won’t clash with the Romantic Novelists’ Association summer party!

In July it’s the RNA Conference which is always brilliant, and I come away exhausted but inspired, and often excited because an agent or editor has asked me to send them a full manuscript of my latest novel.

Then there’s the Historical Novel Society Conference in September in Oxford, which unusually is for writers and readers (Early Bird booking until 31 January!). A few days later I’m joining a small group of writer friends in Gladstone’s library in Chester for four days.

In November we don our sequins for the RNA winter party.

Denise_Alison RNA2015_sm

Denise and Alison

Throughout the year I go to a club in London where writers and media folk meet up every month; I formed The Diamonds writing group a couple of years ago where we take it in turns to meet in one another’s houses and stay the whole day – the host feeding and watering us; I have a regular Skype with my critique writing partner,
Alison Morton, who lives with her husband in France; I attend the London Book Fair…and so it goes.

So I can’t regard writing as a lonely life. But when I read through the above I think I’ll be glad to escape sometimes to my writing cabin for a top-up of loneliness!




Juliet’s Story will be published on 25 January 2016.
Pre-order now Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

Characters that don’t exist – until you create them!

Denise UWC launchI haven’t asked permission to quote Lionel Shriver in the following comment, but as she was one of the contributors to the Mslexia diary (August 2015), I don’t think she’d mind. She says:
‘Cherish the excitement of creating something from nothing – bringing non-existent characters to life, making things happen with the tips of your fingers…’

I know this might sound silly but I felt a thrill of recognition when I read this. For it’s exactly how I feel. I immediately flicked through my first published novel and watched the characters spring into action. A turn of the pages and I saw how they coped or not, and the outcome of the decisions they made. They are so real to me that I can’t imagine they don’t truly exist. Perhaps they do actually live – now they’ve been born – but on a different plane. Fanciful I know, but it’s fun to think of them getting on with their lives beyond my creation.

I recently ran into a woman who’d come to my book launch in Tunbridge Wells earlier this year and had bought a copy of Annie’s Story, (the first of The Voyagers Trilogy). She said, ‘I’m not happy with you.’

Rather taken aback, but thinking she was joking, I smiled and asked her why.

‘You let (so-and-so) die in Annie’s Story and you had the power to let (him/her) live.’ She was quite indignant.

I was amazed she’d taken it so seriously. But she’d obviously become absorbed in the story (which is what every author dreams the reader will do) and was upset with an outcome that to me had to happen. But of course I could have changed my mind at the last and let the person recover.

We all accept that writers are omnipotent but what we might not fully take on board are the powerful emotions we stir up in the readers’ minds. If it’s a good story it might stay with them for a long time. They might even be influenced by it. Act on it. That doesn’t mean our stories have to have a perfect ending, as writing a novel normally reflects real life with its ups and downs, but we do have a kind of responsibility to our readers.

Thinking about this woman’s remark a few days later, I decided she’d actually paid me the best compliment. She’d believed in my characters as much as I believe in them. And as a writer you can’t ask for more.

Mayfair launch of Annie’s Story

DSC09939The University Women’s Club in Mayfair is the perfect place for a book launch. I’ve been a member of the club for 25 years and it’s a real home from home for me, living in Tunbridge Wells. So for my London launch of my debut novel: Annie’s Story Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy, it was my first choice.

I’d had a fun and very successful launch in Waterstones, Tunbridge Wells the month before, but wanted a second one for different groups of people who might find it difficult to get to my neck of the woods. It was a mixture of family, friends, special writing friends, members of Connexions (a course on philosophy I’ve been attending for the last seven years – I’m probably one of the wisest writers I know – just kidding), and, of course, some special UWCub members.

Trouble was, on the Wednesday morning of the launch I woke up not feeling terribly well. Thinking I was just a bit tired and would be all right I packed my overnight case and with my sister, Carole, took the train to London. We were staying the night at the club.

DSC09922Still not feeling particularly great, I had arranged for a few friends to have lunch at the club. The day was so warm and sunny we were able to eat in the courtyard garden which was delightful. I decided not to have any wine, and kept to a light goat’s cheese salad, as did three other women. That evening, getting dressed, I didn’t feel excited as I should, and was beginning to feel a little queasy and light-headed. I knew I’d have to put on an act for about 35 people, 4 of whom had arrived from various countries especially for the launch.

DSC09930Thankfully, it all went well. Everyone seemed happy and enjoying the bubbly and canapés (I didn’t touch either), and the talk was my best one, I felt. The adrenalin must have kicked in!

Luckily, Carole was sharing a room with me at the club as all through that night I was really ill. Terribly nauseous, burning chest pain, back pain, headache, and feeling extremely dizzy. I honestly thought I was dying. Neither of us had a wink of sleep, and around 6am I was so sick she decided to dial 999.

Maybe I wasn’t dying after all as I managed to appreciate three gorgeous-looking paramedics who rushed to the rescue. They confirmed I wasn’t having a heart attack, but after various tests decided I should go to hospital for more checks. I’ve never been in an ambulance before and always thought I would be terrified, but I just wanted to get to hospital as quickly as possible for someone to make me better.

After a bumpy ride we arrived at St Mary’s and had I felt well enough to appreciate it, my room was overlooking a canal with bright little boats bobbing about. We were in Little Venice. As it was, I was still being sick and feeling quite spaced out.

More tests with nurses and two doctors later I was diagnosed as having a severe case of gastritis from a virus, so at least it didn’t sound life-threatening!

I stayed on at the club for two more days, and was wonderfully looked after by the staff until Carole came to collect me on the Saturday and take me back to Tunbridge Wells.

This happened three weeks ago and I’m still feeling an echo of the effects. Doc says it will probably take eight weeks before I’m back to normal (well, normal for me!).

The good thing was that I received lots of emails and phone calls from people telling me how much they enjoyed the launch – and reading the novel! – and were shocked to hear that I’d been whisked away to hospital only hours later.

I’m seriously wondering if I should turn to acting instead of writing…

Answers, please, on a postcard.




The (Paddy) Power of Networking

Ian Dale and Denise Barnes

Me with Ian Dale

An exciting invitation recently came through – well, I’d like to say the post, in a gilt-edged envelope – but of course that probably only happens if the Queen has invited one. Anyway, it popped into my Inbox, and was from my publisher, Iain Dale of Biteback Publishing. He founded the Paddy Power Political Book Awards last year (before I was published) and so being a Biteback author, though not political, I was invited to attend.

What a fantastic evening! The awards were held at the British Film Institute IMAX just below Waterloo Bridge. The taxi couldn’t take me right to the door, so I stumbled along in highish heels down the walkway under the bridge and over the pedestrian road and through the glazed doors of the cinema. I was warmly welcomed with a glass of (proper) champagne and directed up to a very large room where hundreds of people had already gathered.


Suzanne Sangster, Biteback PR

The noise level almost knocked me backwards. At first, I couldn’t make out anyone. People were standing practically shoulder to shoulder, and everyone seemed to know everyone. I walked round the room three times trying to spot my host, Iain, but although he usually stands out, being very tall, I couldn’t see him or any other Biteback members of staff.

I noticed a pretty blonde girl standing at the edge of the room with her drink and went up to her. We got chatting, and guess what? She was a writer from my favourite magazine, The Lady. She’s taken my card and is hopeful that my book Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business might tie in with an appropriate feature coming out soon.

440px-Widdebookclub_(cropped)MaryBeardI hobnobbed with Ann Widdecombe and Mary Beard which was very exciting, and then my editor introduced me to an agent who’s read the first three chapters of my novel and has asked for the full manuscript. She was absolutely charming. I’d love her to represent me. We had a really nice chat, though she’s not yet got round to reading the rest of my novel, what with the London Book Fair looming. She’s promised to do so as soon as she can, but at least I’ve met her in person – always a Very Good Thing.

Michael-DobbsThe awards, in several categories, were very exciting, and one of my favourite authors, Michael Dobbs, won the political fiction book of the year. We had a chat afterwards and I reminded him that he’d given a talk at my club, the University Women’s Club, and he’d signed his latest book at the time for me. He was very pleased when I told him I’ve had a book published since then. I gave him a bookmark which has the same blurb on the back as the actual book, and was thrilled when he read it, then put in his pocket. Another customer?

Two minutes later a gorgeous-looking woman came and chatted to me. She led me to the bar where delicious bowls of food were set out, and as we were tucking in I found out she is a journalist, presenter and interviewer. She was fascinated with my story when I sold my estate agency business to the wrong buyers. She kept introducing me to minor politicians (at least, I’d never heard of them) and telling them about me. I wanted to giggle as their eyes glazed over. Most politicians are not one scrap interested in business, but that didn’t deter her. She said I should be on Woman’s Hour and all sorts of business programmes, and she’s going to try to do something to get me some publicity, and suggested we keep in touch. I shall, don’t worry! When I got home and went on to her website I nearly fainted. She’s a real high flyer, and very much respected in the news world, both nationally and internationally.

champagne‘More champagne, madam?’ asked the waiter. ‘Oh, yes, please!’

Oh, I nearly forgot. I came away with a goody bag containing two of the shortlisted books, a tiny bottle of gin, and a pair of bright rainbow coloured shoelaces from Paddy Power himself!

All right, maybe nothing will come of any of all this, but it was certainly fun meeting such an interesting and diverse group of people, and you never know…

Mixing Writing With Pleasure

OklahomaIt’s hard to concentrate much on my writing projects this week as I’m singing in OKLAHOMA! at the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells. You know, the theatre with the bum-numbing, shifting-in-three seats. I’m only a chorus girl which may not sound too taxing until you step onto the stage and the lights are on you and you have to remember that you’re an alto so mustn’t forget to harmonise when your brain is screaming to sing the melody. That’s the only pressure – oh, and remembering which side of the stage you’re supposed to come on. But it’s all great fun, and when the audience show their delight in loud, prolonged clapping and whistling, I can barely sing the last notes of the encore I’m so overcome.

But somehow this week I’ve managed over the last couple of days to plug on with Book 3 of my trilogy: The Voyagers. Gone will be the fairy-tale world of this week: the last notes of the orchestra died away, the stage lights dimmed and cut, and the final curtain fallen. I may look in the cold light of the real world next week at what I’ve written and see a load of unconnected nonsense, but I hope not. My aim is to have taken the story further towards its inexorable ending – maybe not quite such a fairy-tale ending as OKLAHOMA! but satisfying and hopeful, nonetheless.

I wonder if other writers feel the same way if their usual routine is broken up beyond recognition for a few days or even weeks and months. This can happen if you suddenly have to take the role of carer (I’ve had that too for the last year), or become poorly yourself, or there’s a family problem or an unusually heavy workload to plough through. I suppose the only antidote is to adopt a new routine as quickly as possible which will allow some space and time, however short, to write. Yes, the writing might need a whole lot of polishing when you are back to normal, but maybe coming out of your regular routine will have thrown a fresh light on your writing project and you will tackle it with all the vigour and determination it deserves.

LadyMag_HarryOh, I did have a small publishing success recently. I sent a short piece to The Lady magazine (the one with Prince Harry on the cover) for their regular column The Lady & I, found on their letter page My prize is a Panettone, which apparently has leapfrogged over mince-pies so far as popularity in Christmas cakes is concerned. I’m waiting for the delivery which should be any day soon, although I have such a weakness for it, if I get it too early there will only be a few yellow crumbs come Christmas!

If that happens it certainly won’t be a beautiful morning, or even a beautiful day!

An evening with Mrs Moneypenny


Photo from

I’ve recently joined Women In Journalism (WIJ), and they’ve had their last two meetings at the University Women’s Club on which I have waxed lyrical in previous blogposts here and here.

Last Monday the speaker at WIJ was the most charismatic, clever, witty, erudite, fast-talking Mrs Moneypenny (Channel 4’s Superscrimpers). She spoke for well over an hour without a pause or an ‘um’, and had our full attention on what to do as ‘ambitious women’.
superscrimpWe screeched with laughter when she came up with true-life anecdotes, mostly of her family. I didn’t know she was also a stand-up comic and had just come back from the Edinburgh Festival. Somehow, I never think of a stand-up comic as writing a weekly column for the Financial Times. But she does.

There were about 60 of us in the audience and just one man, so not entirely sure how he slipped in. But what was incredible was a mountain of books she’d had one of the waiters lay out on the table and told us after the talk to help ourselves to one. The book Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women was published last year at £9.99, so it was an incredibly generous gesture, and we all grabbed a copy.

bookBefore the talk I chatted with the woman sitting next to me, and a ten-pound note (special discount on a one-to-one) flashed from her hand to mine when she bought a copy of my book Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business that I ‘happened’ to have in my handbag, so that was a small bonus.

By the way, WIJ are a very welcoming group of women and you don’t actually have to be a journalist. So long as you’re a published writer they would love to have you on board. And because they’re all dealing with the media you might meet someone who proves to be a useful contact… Why not give them a try? .

Book Launch at Waterstones – Tuesday 16th April 2013!

champagneIt’s been rather exciting since Tuesday when my book Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business was published by Biteback Publishing. I’ve had several editors of local newspapers and magazines ring me saying they wanted to interview me or print extracts from the book. That’s the easy bit – answering questions and deciding what extracts would be suitable for them.

The nerve-wracking bit is the book launch.  It’s to be held at my local branch of Waterstones on Tuesday, 16th April at 7pm. Tickets are apparently flying out of the door so I’ll be bringing gallons of pink champagne and red wine and soft drinks – yes, so far, so good. I’ve asked lots of family and friends, ex-colleagues in the estate agency business who I haven’t seen for decades, present staff of the new estate agency business, along with my co-director, and hopefully some members of the public off the street, so to speak.

It will be great to see so many friends again, and reminisce about the ‘good old days’. Still, so far, so good. But when 7.15 comes around, the Waterstones staff will announce it’s time to give my half-hour talk. That’s when my heart will start to pound, my stomach will start doing cartwheels, and my brain will start to pack up.

I read somewhere that many surveys have been carried out asking people how they feel about giving talks. Apparently, ‘death’ is at the top of the list! People would rather die than stand up and give a talk. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it is nerve-wracking – until you get started. Once I begin I’m fine, secretly enjoying the attention. And it’s brilliant when you make ‘em laugh with your incredible wit. But my fear is that my mind will go blank. Of course, that’s what everyone fears. That they’ll look stupid. Actually, it doesn’t bother me to look stupid – it happens too often for me to take much notice – but I really want to get across certain points, and I pride myself on not reading from the script. But I do rely on my handful of little cards with prompts, in case I veer off course or forget entirely what I’m on about.

So please think of me this coming Tuesday evening, and raise a glass to all authors who have finally got themselves ‘in print’, bringing upon themselves this stressful situation. Another glass of champagne, please.

PS I’ll let you know how it goes and maybe even post a few photographs.

Publication Day! Tuesday 9th April

Seller Beware_smWhen Iain Dale, the publisher of Biteback Publishing said, way back in October, that he wanted to publish my non-fiction manuscript Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business, April seemed a long way away. I knew I was very lucky that I’d found the perfect publisher so quickly, and that Iain had given me a publishing date only six months away, as usually it’s more like a year before it becomes a precious book.

The weeks and months from October to April slid by in what’s called ‘life’, sometimes dragging, sometimes flying. I’m looking after my estranged husband who has undergone major surgery and is now having chemotherapy. Having a man in my house where I’ve lived alone for the last 20 years is quite a shock, let alone in a new role of carer. However, it’s not been as bad as I’d feared, as he’s got a positive attitude and is quite a grateful patient most of the time. If he’s not acting grateful I don’t hesitate to remind him to become so!

But if I hadn’t had the book to look forward to being published, getting stuck into the final polish after Sam Carter, my lovely editor, advised me on a few minor points, and the excitement of looking at the book cover, ordering bookmarks, a banner, arranging book launches/talks in Tunbridge Wells and London, and a myriad other things to do, I would have gone cuckoo feeling trapped in my own house.

Sometimes I’ve managed to get away for a day, or an evening. I think it’s important for carers to try to get away on a regular basis. I always come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle my nursing role again.

Publication day was last Tuesday (9 April) and I decided to slip away to London and stay overnight at my club in Mayfair, the University Women’s Club, to celebrate, even if I had to down a couple of glasses of bubbly on my own. I just wanted to feel it was a special day. Luckily, I have a sister who lives close by and she said she would give my husband his supper and keep an eye on him.

At the Club the Events Manager, Lorraine Carroll, introduced me to a new member, an American woman called Monica, who was waiting for her friend, Jenny, also an American. They were both career women and married to Englishmen, so the UK was their home. What delightful companions they were. They insisted I join them for dinner. The Club excelled itself and the bubbly, followed by a good white wine, flowed as easily as the conversation. I really enjoyed it as they had made it feel so special. I ended up nviting them to my launch party at the Club on the 30th April, and they said they couldn’t wait to read the book.  We’ve all promised to keep in touch. Jenny mentioned a close friend, an American called Chris, who is a literary agent and works in New York. He could come in useful for my future novels…