Category Archives: Seller Beware

Who is Juliet in ‘Juliet’s Story’?

Juliet ReeceWhen I began writing Juliet’s Story, Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy, I thought deeply about the kind of woman I wanted as my heroine: age, physical appearance, personality, talents, flaws, fears, family, job or career…everything that makes a person who he or she is.

So that people wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, I see you’ve modelled Juliet on yourself’ (I hate that), I made her taller than me, with very dark hair (I’m fair) and twenty years younger (I wish!). But I couldn’t resist giving her a similar career background. If I hit it right, Juliet’s career would define her in so many interesting ways which I could use as major plotting devices in the story.

My own background is in the property world. I started an estate agency in 1988 and expanded it and ran it for 17 years, then sold (unfortunately to two conmen), so I could write fiction. Instead, I found myself writing Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business before I could tackle a novel.

Denise Barnes Estate Agents

Having your own business is fraught with problems, long hours and staff issues, and Juliet’s is no exception. She sells other people’s businesses at Reece & Co. She’s been running it for nine years and has neglected herself in the meantime: she’s a bit overweight, smokes (she gives up early on in the novel), is a poor sleeper, a non-going gym member, doesn’t take proper holidays…she’s in a much worse state than I used to be, but you get my drift.

Juliet has worked hard in her business to prove to her parents she can be successful at something. Her sister and brother are more intellectual and have brilliant careers, while Juliet feels inadequate. She married Gerrard, ten years older and a stuffy lawyer, not because she truly loved him but because her parents approved. She finally takes charge, and when the story opens she is recently divorced, but exhausted by the demands of the business. She longs to go to Australia to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps (see Annie’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy). But there’s another powerful reason for wanting to be there. Though how can she leave her business, not to mention her ailing father?

Like Juliet, I might have been tempted to take off to Australia for a few months given the opportunity, but it would have been an equally terrifying decision to put my business in someone else’s hands, as well as leaving an agoraphobic mother. However, unlike Juliet, I have a sister living in the same village who would keep an eye on Mum, and so I was able to take proper holidays without too much worry.

When you throw problems and miseries at your hero and heroine to reflect or exceed those in real life, you are the master of their fate. But working out how your characters get out of their multiple difficulties can often solve some of your own problems. Is the brain even more perceptive than we realise?

Do other writers feel the same? I’d love to know.


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

How Long Did It Take To Write?

Denise with Annie's StoryWhen I give a talk I’m frequently asked this question – how long did your novel take to write?

I dread that question as I feel I must give an explanation to my answer that it took ten years when a look of amazement hovers over the audience that one book should take so long.

I began writing Annie’s Story in 2005 but it was called The Voyagers. I had a dual timeline, where Annie’s story (small ‘s’) began in 1913, with alternating chapters of Juliet’s story set in 2005. I enjoy reading dual timelines where one is in the present and then drops back to the past, either starring the same character but younger, or another member of the family.

However, the book became enormous. It grew to 150,000 words and no agent or publisher would touch me: a) I was unknown, and b) the book was way too long and therefore more expensive, and therefore a higher risk. It was all very frustrating, particularly as I had a great deal of excellent feedback from the professionals, one top agent so very nearly taking me on. In the end, two other agents advised me to split the two stories. I was devastated as I knew I’d be in for a lot more work and I was already busy with Kitty and her story, thinking it would be a sequel.

Now totally fed-up, I spoke, or rather sobbed it out to my critique writing partner, Alison Morton. She didn’t hesitate. She said, ‘Great advice. Split them. Kitty is Book 3 of The Voyagers trilogy.’ As soon as she said the magic word ‘trilogy’ I was excited. But I was right – there was a lot more work to make them into separate books. Juliet was pretty well there at 100,000 words (though it expanded to 120,000), but Annie was thin at 49,000 so I had to practically write another book on top of hers.

BWcoverDuring these 10 years I self-published a memoir of my time cooking in a sanatorium in Bavaria in 1972 (from Bad to Wurst), ran an 8-branch estate agency I’d set up in 1988, sold it in 2005 to the wrong buyers (a couple of conmen) and wrote another memoir (Seller Beware: How Not to Sell Your Business) which was traditionally published by Biteback Publishing.

Seller BewareNext, I bought the business back with an ex-employee, reluctantly worked in it for several years (I’d sold the business originally to be a full-time writer!) and sold my business partner my share in 2014, finished writing Kitty’s Story at another 120,000 words, and have just finished the first draft of a romantic comedy set in the seventies. Not to mention all the other stuff you have to do as an author and promoter of your work.

So you see I haven’t been idle in the last ten years. But ten years still seems an extraordinary long time when I have to answer that dreaded question.


 Annie’s Story is available as an ebook  from Amazon UK,  Amazon US,  iTunes/Apple  KoboB&N NookNookbook UK and as a paperback via any good bookshop,  Amazon UK,  Amazon US and Barnes & Noble

 ‘Juliet’s Story’, the next episode, will be published on 25 January 2016




Media interviews? Yes, please!

golden_mikeIf you’re ever invited to be interviewed by a journalist, TV or radio presenter, my advice is always to say “yes, please”. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said it’s better to be talked about than ignored. And it is rare that the interviewer is out to trip you up, though be prepared for the personal angle. They love to know why you wrote the book you did and what has happened as a consequence, rather than you rabbiting on about the story.

Lately, I’ve given two radio interviews. The first was for my non-fiction book: Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business. The presenter was the lovely Sian Murphy, and the programme is called Women in Business Radio Show. Sian’s aim is not for me to sell lots of books (darn it!) but to give businesswomen as much information as possible about every aspect of running a business. However, she kindly repeated the title of my book a couple of times. It was an hour’s live show which might sound nerve-wracking but was the greatest fun. These presenters know how to put you at your ease.

Denise on Women in Business radio showThe bonus for me was that she was very interested in my novel, Annie’s Story (published 2015) and the way it had saved my sanity whilst writing it, when I was going through the nightmare of having sold my precious business to a couple of charlatans. I explained the reason I sold the business was to write full-time, and my dream was to write the novel.

She has since asked me to write a blogpost about growing a business, and would I give another talk about self-publishing but using a professional service provider (I used SilverWood Books) as opposed to DIY. She says so many people in business are writing non-fiction, and if the book is published it gives them real credibility for their knowledge.

Of course I said yes, I’d be pleased to.

My second interview was on Talk Radio Europe by another charming presenter, Hannah Murray. The listeners are ex-pats over the whole of Europe. The conversation was conducted on the telephone in my writing cabin – subject: Annie’s Story. It lasted 25 minutes where she wanted to know the reason why I chose the period (1913), and loved the story of my grandparents emigrating to Australia that inspired me to write this trilogy. She also asked what research I’d done to ensure the accuracy, and I was able to tell her I’d gone to Australia where my heroine went, and had come across an authentic journal of a family who had made the same trip as my grandparents only months before on the same ship, the Orsova.

Talk RadioEuropeHannah wants to invite me back when Juliet’s Story, Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy is out (25th January 2016).

So you see, interviews are a wonderful opportunity to bring your books to the public’s attention, and the audience can often be wider than you might normally reach through the ‘normal’ channels. Do give it a go and please let me know how you get on. I always love to hear.

Now where are all those TV presenters?










How NOT To Sell Your Business – radio star!

Denise on Women in Business radio showLast month I was delighted to be asked to appear on the  Women in Business Radio Show at Channel Radio.

I loved every minute of it and here’s what Sian Murphy, the presenter, said:
Well this episode probably had almost everything in it. For one thing, if you get bowled over by the gorgeous sales agent for your business, and take your eye off the relevant ball, then you end up with the sort of crummy job that costs you thousands and thousands.

You’ll be pleased to know, I certainly was, that it is possible to come back from a total cock-up and end up back on top again.

It was great fun recording this episode and thanks so much to Denise for being a great sport and really sharing it all – and of course to Laura Burton Lawrence for keeping it all on track.

At last – the Book Launch!

Denise1It was all going so well.

Waterstones had kindly allowed me to hold the launch of my debut novel as ‘Fenella Forster’: Annie’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy, in their Tunbridge Wells branch last week on the proviso that at least thirty people would turn up, having reserved £3 tickets beforehand.

Launch general







The lure was free wine and nibbles, and three quid off the book if anyone kindly bought a copy. Plus they would get me entertaining them with a scintillating talk and reading a short extract from the novel. What’s not to like?

Mayoral groupArms still twisted behind their backs, old and new friends and ex-business colleagues duly came through the bookshop door. Including the Mayor and Mayoress of Tunbridge Wells. I’d met the mayor once at the Tunbridge Wells Business Forum and just called him ‘Julian’, but was not quite sure how to address the couple when they were ‘on duty’. Luckily, my fantastic critique writing partner and friend, thriller novelist, Alison Morton, was staying with me a few days to coincide with my launch. She made me practice several times on how to greet them correctly and welcome them to the audience. I also had to announce that the Mayor was going to say a few words.

Loving itAfter saying hello and having a quick chat to all my adoring fans(!) and making sure Alison had put a drink in everyone’s hand (she was furniture mover and book and banner setter-upper, wine waiter, photographer, movie-maker, and clearer-upper – thanks, Alison 😉 ). I asked them to take a seat so the talk could begin.

I thanked everyone for coming, and got stuck straight into my talk.

Anyone spotted my omission? Yes, you have it. I completely ignored Mayor Julian and Mayoress Annie. I was ten minutes in when I smiled at the two of them sitting on the front row, and it immediately clicked. My hand flew to my forehead and I said: ‘Oh, no, I’ve forgotten to introduce the Mayor and Mayoress!’

Denise realises

Denise realises the awful truth!

‘I can’t believe it,’ Alison put in from the sidelines where she was pointing her camera. ‘I’ve spent the afternoon rehearsing her.’

Of course, everyone screamed with laughter. So did I, but I turned my face to the wall pretending to sob, then turned round and acted as though we were right at the beginning.
‘Welcome, everyone, and thank you so much for coming to share such an exciting celebration. Also, I’d like to welcome the Mayor and Mayoress of Tunbridge Wells.’ I looked directly at the couple.

‘Thank you so much for coming, Councillor Stanyer, and Mrs Stanyer. I believe you’d like to say a few words, Councillor Stanyer.’

Mayor speaking‘I would,’ he said, grinning as he rose from the chair. He proceeded to give a funny talk on how he and I had first met, and I’d slipped him a copy of my previous book, Seller Beware: How Not To Sell A Business, saying he’d be on pain of death if he told anyone I hadn’t charged him. He said how delighted he was to come to the launch of my first novel.

Everyone clapped. The Mayor and Mayoress queued at the end of the evening and bought two copies of Annie’s Story. And paid for them! All was well.

And on to the signing!



Happy author







Signing 7










Annie's story



Annie’s Story is now available from
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Brief Encounters with London taxi drivers

taxi_bigbenTaxi drivers are a pretty diverse lot. Most of them enjoy a friendly chat. Some of them are really interesting with the added bonus of having a wry sense of humour, and I often learn useful snippets of information. But some drivers can be quite morose.

I use London taxis frequently and always make an effort to make some contact with each one. If they look sulky or uninterested in me and where I’m going, it becomes a challenge to change their mood. Take last week. I gave the driver a big smile as I asked him to take me to Mayfair and he just nodded. As I stepped into the taxi I said a cheerful ‘Good morning’, and didn’t even receive a reply. So I added, ‘Now what’s made you so grumpy today, when the sun’s shining?’

Yes, I know I take the risk that I will receive a short sharp retort but it’s a risk worth taking. This taxi driver immediately gave me a wide grin and said, ‘Sorry, love. I didn’t mean to be.’ We proceeded to have a stimulating talk about setting the world to rights – often their favourite subject.

When they ask me what I do and I say I’m a writer they are almost always impressed. One said, ‘I had one of you romantic writers in the back of my cab the other week.’ I asked who it was. ‘Katie Fforde,’ came the unexpected reply. ‘I know her,’ I said, delighted. ‘She’s lovely. And a best-selling writer, too.’ He was very pleased he’d met someone so famous!

I always ask very politely if I may leave one of my bookmarks on the back seat. (You never know who might climb in after you’ve vacated.) This would be awkward if I’d remained silent until I got to my destination. But by now we’re old friends and without fail they say, ‘’Course you can, love.’ If I haven’t already told them what it’s about they usually ask me, and have occasionally ended up buying a book there and then. (Every published writer should carry a copy of her latest book at all times.) If I really like them and they seem genuinely interested, I give them a book instead of a tip. By the time I’ve done the honours and signed, there’s a good chance I’ve missed my train. But I’m not grumbling.

At the moment I’m promoting Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business, which is probably more appropriate than handing them a romantic novel, as taxi drivers still tend to be male. But this is what happened the other day when the driver dropped me off at Charing Cross station.

‘May I leave a bookmark of a book I wrote which was recently published?’ I asked.

‘Not this one, is it?’ he swung round in his seat and held up my Seller Beware bookmark. I was astounded. ‘Out of all the 22,000 cabs in London,’ he parodied in a dreadful Bogey accent, ‘you have to ride in the back of mine.’

We burst out laughing.

‘I’ve given away about 30 Seller Beware bookmarks to London taxi drivers in the last year,’ I said, ‘so what are the chances of that happening?’

He drove off, still chuckling.

I love these brief encounters. Now all I have to do is make sure I get a smut in my eye before I step into the next taxi and hope the driver’s got a clean hankie, ready to whisk it out! Who knows where that might lead me!

Being a poor judge of character could leave you in ruins!

Denise_questioningHow good are you at judging character? Most people think they’re pretty good. I thought I was. How wrong can you be? I’d gone on first impressions instead of looking behind the person, their body language, what they didn’t say. It’s important to make an accurate judgment in our daily lives as we interact with people by making new friends, employing new staff hoping they live up to their CVs working with our colleagues, and buying products and services. Weighing up people is crucial when you come to sell your business. If you choose the wrong buyer it can have a devastating effect on the rest of your life.

Den photo2_sm
You may be fantastic at running your business, having built up a successful enterprise that is in good shape, and are now ready to find the right buyer with the right offer. Before you go any further, STOP! You need to read my own nightmare journey when I came to put my chain of estate agents on to the market. Yes, I went through all the right channels such as putting my precious baby with a business agent, and using a well-respected firm of solicitors, but if you read my true story in Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business, you’ll see this is not enough, and that even the professionals can let you down big time. And this is before you have a prospective buyer sitting in front of you.

That’s where your antennae must be at their most alert. The prospective buyer can tell you anything from exaggerating their experience in the area you work in, misleading you by their financial standing, to relating a full pack of exquisite lies. I was duped by all of these. So was my original solicitor, and even the bank manager who financed them.

Seller Beware


You can read the whole miserable story (interspersed with plenty of humour) of how I was left in financial ruin, not to mention a reputation shot to pieces. There’s a practical checklist at the end of each chapter warning you what to do and what not to do in Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business.

I would also love to know if anyone reading this blog has been conned in a way that has actually affected their lives. Please share it with me. Somehow it helps to know I’m not alone!


Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business is currently on special offer £5.00 plus post and packing. Offer includes signed copy and special bookmark.
Amazon UK:
For all other countries, please leave a contact email in the comments and we will send you a tailored price quotation.

What others have said…
“…well written and eminently readable. I’d recommend it to any businessperson who is embarking on any significant action in which they have no prior experience.”

“It is not very often that EAT raves about a book – but this one really is a page-turning must-have for estate agents.”

“If you own your own business you should definitely read this book before even thinking of selling it.”


Moving on

crateI don’t recommend moving two houses in the space of one week into one (quite big) house, with several hundred books, but that’s exactly what I’ve been involved in lately. Thankfully, we’ve sort of settled in, although it still feels like a very warm, comfortable 4-star hotel, and we keep wondering when we’ll be made to pack up our suitcases and go home. It’s probably because everything is either painted or tiled in cream and is crying out for paint colour, loads of pictures, and, of course, all our books.

Keeping up the writing every day has been difficult. Sometimes I’ve had a change and done a spot of self-editing. A couple of times I’ve managed to have a go with the third novel of my trilogy called The Voyagers and produced 1,000 words or more at a session. I’m so near the end of the first rough draft, but still haven’t quite worked out the ending. It’s hard to feel inspired and creative when you’re surrounded by all these dozens of boxes bursting out of every room, including my study. Luckily, all the rooms are generously-proportioned, but as soon as one room looks half-way decent, the overflow has got dumped into another room, making that room worse than it was before.

I decided to pay for a professional editor to edit the first novel of my trilogy: Annie’s Story. I found her through Cornerstones, a literary consultancy whom I’ve used before to edit my non-fiction book: Seller Beware: How Not to Sell Your Business. Not long after their report and my amendments I found a publisher for the book, so I have great faith in them. I was bowled over by this editor’s very encouraging and complimentary 13-page report on Annie’s Story which I received last week. I even get to have a face-to-face with her for an hour or two, which will take place at the beginning of March. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The editor’s comments and suggestions were mostly spot on, and I’ve made adjustments where I thought appropriate. The good thing was, she didn’t highlight any structural problems or plotholes. (I nearly said ‘potholes’ as you can hardly get down the lane leading to our new house without destroying the underside of your car.)

I guess I’m nearly ready to start sending Annie out to some agents!

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? .