Category Archives: Research

‘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

National events and their impact on our stories

No SurrenderI recently came across a book published by the wonderful Persephone Books, a novel, published in 1911. The title is No Surrender by Constance Maud, and about the suffragettes. The author played a significant part in the Votes for Women movement and states that although the characters are fictitious, every event and detailed description is absolutely true. By the end of the novel I had recognised who some of the women really were. It’s a book which made me angry, sad, and had me in tears by the end – and I rarely cry over films and books.

By the end of the novel the leading characters see a glimmer of light that women are on the brink of getting the vote, but as we now know, they were still many years away.
My debut book,  Annie’s Story (out on 20 April!) begins in 1913. Annie does sometimes muse on the unfairness of women not having any say in law-making, but as this debate was not really crucial to my story, I only mentioned it in passing. Annie would have been aware of it, but because she’s a housemaid, she isn’t able to go to any of the daytime suffragist meetings. And then she goes to Australia, where women have had the vote for twenty years.

However, it shows that when writing fiction, particularly historical, it’s really important to be aware of what is going on in the world around your characters. They can’t live in a vacuum you’ve created. Events happen. They don’t have to be major calamities but it does help if your reader would have heard of them. It’s bound to have some kind of effect on your characters’ attitudes, beliefs, dreams etc. and to the reader it will seem far more natural if these are underpinned by something more tangible.

This is where archived newspapers come into their own, and with the internet you don’t even have to trawl into London. Just tap in British Newspaper Archive (it’s in partnership with the British Library) to tell you what was happening in the period you’re writing in. Obviously, there’s a limit to how far back you can go!

Annie’s Story by Fenella Forster will be published 20 April 2015
Available for pre-order on Amazon (ebook and paperback) 


Off to Oz

Australia was never top of my list for a place to visit, partly because of the exhausting flight, and partly because I love history and I still look upon Australia as being ‘new’. Not to mention all the men were chauvinists, weren’t they?

But if I wanted my first two novels, Annie’s Story and Juliet’s Story, to feel authentic I was going to have to visit at least Melbourne and Sydney. And it would be a great opportunity to find out more about my grandparents who emigrated to Australia in 1913, the same year as the fictitious Annie.
The Ghan

Much as I was tempted to follow in their footsteps and go by sea, I knew that wasn’t really practical, especially when travelling with my incredibly-easily sea-sick sister, Carole. We decided to see as much of the country as we could fit in over the four weeks we’d allowed ourselves, so we booked the Ghan from Darwin. Named after the Afghan cameleers who once traversed this route, the Ghan, regarded as one of the world’s greatest rail journeys, followed a fabulous route through the centre of Australia to Adelaide, stopping at various places of interest along the way. More train journeys took us to Melbourne. This was where my grandparents disembarked.

Luckily, Carole had teamed up with June, a very nice lady, and they toddled off sight-seeing while I delved into the family history. My dad’s cousin, Jean, had told me my grandparents had married in England just before they left, but I seemed to remember Nana saying they were merely engaged, and had to be segregated on the ship. This turned out to be the case, and I excitedly left the Births, Deaths, and Marriages building in Melbourne clutching their marriage certificate. From there I found where they lived, where my grandfather worked as a waiter at the Hotel Esplanade at St Kilda, and that at one point they moved to Sydney. They returned to Melbourne, and finally, after seven years, went back to England.

Everyone who helped me track them down seemed almost as thrilled as I was to find another piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and Carole and June were suitably amazed when I told them all I had discovered over dinner.

Following my grandparents felt as though I was actually following Annie and her new husband, Ferguson, in Annie’s Story, as all the parties were of a similar age. Soaking in the Oz atmosphere and culture really helped to bring to life both novels, and the greatest surprise for me was that I fell head over heels in love with the country and its people. And without doubt the men! I can’t wait to go back, but unfortunately Kitty, in Book 3, doesn’t go. However, she does travel to Cairo, Naples and Rome, but that’s another story!

Annie’s Story will be published 20 April 2015

Research coincidences


Melbourne 1912

I find when I tell people I’m writing a novel that not only are they intrigued but they become amazingly helpful. I hinted in my previous post that I needed to know the route my grandparents took when they emigrated to Australia in 1913, as my heroine, Annie, and her new husband are on that same ship – the Orsova, bound for Melbourne.

I tapped in ‘Orsova’ on Google and up came an article about the Duckles family, a married couple and their little daughter, Florence. They had sailed on the Orsova to Australia only a few months before my grandparents. The mother was called Amelia and the article gave some interesting information about what happened when the family arrived in Melbourne, but only briefly mentioned the voyage.

However, I emailed the author, Barry York, who is a journalist, historian and writer who’d posted the article, telling him how excited I was to read about a real family going on the same ship to the same country as my grandparents within the same six months. He wrote straight back and said how interested he was to read about my family and also the novel I was writing. He ended the email by asking if I would like to be put in touch with Amelia Duckles’ great niece who lives in England.

Would I? I think so…

An email came winging over from a lovely lady called Carol who has her own stained glass business in Bristol. After exchanging a couple of emails she wrote these magic words: Would you like me to send you a copy of Great-Aunt Millie’s diary of the voyage?
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read this. The small package duly arrived and I was almost beside myself with excitement. Carol had photocopied the pages from her great-aunt Amelia’s exercise book which she’d kept on an almost daily basis, except when she was overcome with seasickness; there was the route they took and the ports at which the captain allowed them to disembark for a few hours. It was exactly what I needed to know. And more. Tiny details that you could never get from the internet or in most books. What a gift for a novelist.

I couldn’t thank Carol enough, that she trusted a stranger not to abuse/plagiarise her great-aunt’s precious notes. All Carol asked was that when (not if) my novel was published I would acknowledge her and her great-aunt. I said I’d be only too happy.

Bristol museum

Bristol Museum

Last year she and I actually met in Bristol and we immediately clicked. I was interested to know why her great-aunt had emigrated in the first place. Carol told me that Amelia, known as Millie, had had TB, and two of her siblings had died from the same disease. Her doctor had told her that her only chance was to live in a warm country such as Australia, and so she and her husband made the life-changing decision. It must have worked because Carol thought her great-aunt had been in her seventies when she died.

After our lunch and glass of champagne Carol gave me a tourist’s look at Bristol. We promised to keep in touch. I’ve been to Bristol again very recently (it’s the home of my publishers, SilverWood Books), and caught up with her over tea in a boat café. She was delighted Annie’s Story is to be published in April. I hope she’ll be pleased to see that I’ve given her, and, of course, her great-aunt Amelia, whom she never met, a very grateful acknowledgement.

Research Unlimited

One of the best things about being a writer is that you have to do research.

Research paperwork! (Photo courtesy of Alison Morton)

Research paperwork! (Photo courtesy of Alison Morton)

A warning –  it takes up a huge amount of ‘writing time’ and may lead you into fascinating areas that are not pertinent to your novel. However, if you’re writing historical fiction you will need to do a fair bit of research to a) find out facts, and b) check facts you think you already know. Thank goodness for the almighty Google, but remember it’s not infallible, particularly Wikipedia (although that site seems to have improved), and you should still use your reference books, biographies, maps, etc.

You don’t have to travel to the actual place to write about it. Joanne Walsh’s novella, Christmas in Venice was published in time for Christmas 2014. I ordered it on my Kindle and had a wonderful relaxing Christmas Day caught up in the story. Sheer bliss. I complimented her on her excellent evocation of Venice. ‘Thank you, but I’ve never been there,’ she said, to my astonishment.

But it’s brilliant if you can manage to visit the place you’ve set your book, as nothing’s quite the same as experiencing first hand the light and the smell and the noise and the atmosphere of an unfamiliar place.

Annie’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy, begins in 1913 where Annie is a housemaid in a fictitious King’s Lynn’s  country house. As I grew up in Norwich and my grandparents lived in King’s Lynn, the Norfolk settings didn’t give me too much problem. Also, my 100-year-old razor-sharp father-in-law had been a butler at several grand country houses around Britain for 40 years or so, and was a mine of information about the goings on ‘above and below stairs’.

King's Lynn

King’s Lynn

My own grandparents were servants who emigrated to Australia in 1913 ‘to better themselves’, so my grandfather said. But beyond the voyage, I never asked them about what happened once they had arrived in Melbourne. Trouble is, we don’t realise how important it is to record our older relatives’ memories until it’s too late. My excuse was that I wasn’t a novelist at the time!
I didn’t know the route the Orsova took in 1913 which was important in my story. And then all the information I needed came to me serendipitously.

And that’s what my next blogpost is about…

Two paintings – enough to inspire my debut novel

ORSOVA_383Hanging on the wall in my writing cabin are two old hand-painted prints, about 2 feet across, in their original black japanned frames. My grandparents bought them as souvenirs when they were on board the R.M.S.Orsova, a ship carrying the mail and twelve hundred sea-faring passengers and crew. The young engaged couple were bound for Australia. The year was 1913. One image is of the ship in stormy seas, the other in calm.

Since a child I’ve always loved these two pictures. When our parents would take us to visit Nana and Pop in their little terraced cottage in later years, my sister would fly through the front parlour to find them, but I would always hover in front of the two ship pictures, staring at them, imagining the people on board and wondering where they were going. It was only when I was about ten that Pop told me he and Nana had sailed on that ship all the way to Australia, and I would beg them for stories about the voyage and what happened when they got there. They eventually came home with two-year-old Harold (who was to become my father), after seven years because Nana pined for her sisters. At least that was what they told me at the time. The truth was very different. If only I’d written it all down, as I only remember bits and pieces of their lives in Melbourne.

MigrantsBut the pictures were enough to give me the idea and inspiration to write my first novel, using my grandparents’ decision to emigrate to Australia as a trigger point for my heroine, Annie. But almost everything in Annie’s Story is fictitious and does not follow my grandparents’ story. I don’t want Nana and Pop performing somersaults in their grave thinking the readers will get the wrong idea!

It was a moment of connection when Tracy Chevalier gave a talk at a Persephone lunch one day on her best-selling Girl with a Pearl Earring. Apparently Tracy had Vermeer’s print on her bedroom wall since she was nineteen, and one day she wondered what story lay behind the girl in the painting.

I believe that behind every novel lurks a real-life snippet that inspires the author to get that story written down. In fact, if authors made a point of telling their audience what inspired them to write their novel, I am sure some fascinating stories would emerge.