Category Archives: Writing

Podcast star – The Joy of Less!

JoyOfLessThe Challenge – my true story in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s latest book: The Joy of Less, has been chosen to be featured in a podcast!

In a new venture, Chicken Soup for the Soul’s publisher, Amy Newmark, will discuss a different Chicken Soup for the Soul book each day and will highlight a story that appears in that book live in the States on Tuesday, 31st May. It’s terribly exciting; I believe I’m the only British contributor in the whole book!

Listen here to the discussion!

The Joy of Less contains 101 stories from people who have found that downsizing your home, buying less, de-cluttering, saying ‘No’, etc. has enriched their lives, giving them more time to devote to themselves and other people rather than materialistic things. It’s a quirky collection and absolutely fascinating. I was proud for my story to be chosen to be included in the book out of thousands of submissions, and on reading the other hundred, it’s inspired me to do my own de-cluttering and recycling in a more serious fashion.

Now going to finish weeding out my summer wardrobe!

Every writer needs a critique writing partner!

Alison and Denise

Alison and Denise in 2013

‘Critique writing partner’,  ‘writing buddy’ – call her what you will, but I believe every writer needs one. I say ‘her’ because I know of no male author who admits to having another writer read and edit his work before it goes off to the publisher, or is put out in cyberspace. (I suppose I’m now going to be inundated with male writers who have CWPs!)

Alison Morton, author of the highly-acclaimed Roma Nova series, and I are each other’s critics for our books – seven each at present (even though the last two of mine are not quite at publishing stage), not to mention short stories and articles. And when we get our red pens out we can be fierce. But that’s the point. It’s no good admiring each other’s work and not daring to make a negative remark. We always said we wouldn’t dissolve into tears when the manuscript comes back covered in red splodges together with a blunt report. We’re tough ex-businesswomen who can take it on the chin…aren’t we?

RedpengonemadMind you, that doesn’t always mean we don’t occasionally have a small silent weep when the other has pointed out aspects of our novel which requires us to do structural rewrites, especially when it’s something we know very well we shouldn’t have written! But we’re both conscious we need to do the old ‘sandwich’ trick. A few compliments to kick it off, pointing out the weak stuff in between, and a positive note to end on, with enough smiley faces to give us the encouragement we crave. It works a treat.

It’s not all ‘red pen’ with a CWP. Years ago I was dismayed when a couple of agents so nearly took me on with my first novel, The Voyagers, but decided against it. They made the point it was too long for a debut author, and anyway was two books jammed into one. I was already writing what I thought was the sequel and was practically in tears when I Skyped Alison. Without pause she said, ‘Split the two stories, then the one you’re writing now becomes book three, which is then a trilogy.’ As soon as she said the magic word ‘trilogy’ I was thrilled and began to tackle the job – more difficult than I’d imagined but immensely satisfying. Of course she ended up reading both ‘split’ books again as they’d gone through some major changes.

We’re there for each other when there have been rejections (until we decided to go the Indie route), and we cheer the other on when she’s had some great writing news. We’ve become real friends besides writing pals, which I think we both treasure.

Denise-and-Alison-Juliet_launch

Denise and Alison at the Juliet’s Story launch January 2016

How can a CWP work for you? First of all, it’s not that easy to find the right ‘fit’. Think about the difficulties of finding a life partner! It’s about on that level, believe me. Trust is the most important element after you’ve found a congenial and willing person who’s a damn good writer (even if they’re not yet published). They don’t have to write in the same genre. Alison and I don’t. She writes alternate history thrillers and I write gritty sagas. When we first swapped our manuscripts I said, ‘I would never read a military thriller, Alison.’ She promptly replied, ‘I’d never read a soppy romance.’ After we stopped laughing (in order to have another swig of wine) we agreed it might be better that we don’t write the same kinds of books. There’s no competitiveness and we can look at the other’s story with fresh eyes and hearts.

So don’t rush it. Choosing the right partner can take time, and you must be prepared to give as much as you take. Only then will it work. But Alison and I have both agreed our books are so much better for it.

Good luck!

And we’d love to hear any success stories.

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

 

 

 

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.

http://thewomeninbusinessradioshow.com/denise-barnes/

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.

eBook Sales – should we promote them?

Annie's Story coverI’ve put the Kindle version of Annie’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers Trilogy, on sale for a fortnight. (It finishes on Tuesday, 15th September.) It’s reduced from £3.95 to 99 pence. But is it the right thing to do?

When one thinks of how long it takes to write a book – and Annie’s Story is quite a chunky historical saga – it does seem to demean the toil and tears we writers go through to reach ‘The End’. But contrary to what non-writers imagine, it’s nowhere near the end. Next comes the re-write and re-write again, the polish and polish again, before it goes out to an editor who suggests more rewriting and then, of course, another final polish. I’ve done as many as 25 drafts before I’ve been satisfied to send it to the editor.

So to bring the price down of my precious book to less than £1 doesn’t really make sense.

But why do we write? We have a burning story we want to tell and most of us want to be published so we can have a wider readership. Only a small percentage of us will make a lot of money. Most writers have to work full or part time to supplement the often pathetic royalties. But the reward comes from the readers themselves. When you get a review where the reader has laughed or cried (preferably both!), when s/he’s loved your book and recommended it to friends, that makes it all worthwhile. It’s communication at its deepest level and is truly miraculous.

So if I reach more readers with my fortnight’s sale of Annie’s Story I’ll be thrilled.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Annies-Story-Voyagers-Fenella-Forster-ebook/dp/B00V8MZD1A

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!

Signing3Signing1

Signing2

Happy author

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signing 7

Signing5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annie's story

 

 

Annie’s Story is now available from
Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo  B&N Nook

Publication Day!

champagne1I may have mentioned this in a previous post but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. I began The Voyagers trilogy a whole decade ago. Mind you, in that time I wrote and had published two non-fiction books, ran a business, sold a business, bought it back three years later, sold it again last June, and drafted the whole Voyagers trilogy, each novel being around 125,000. So I haven’t been idle. But all those events in my life didn’t take me to the one thing I wanted more than anything – to see my novel in Waterstones’ window.

Until now. The first book in the trilogy called Annie’s Story, is out today! And it’s in Waterstones’ window in Tunbridge Wells! It’s enough to give the author (moi, Fenella Forster) the shivers.

Writing a novel rarely flows from the writer into a wonderfully cohesive storyline with well-developed and interesting characters who conflict with one another, and have enough bad stuff thrown at them that the reader wonders how they will cope, or get out of a scary situation, or pull a relationship together. The only obvious exception might be Barbara Cartland, and even she must have developed her indomitable confidence and storytelling from the first shaky beginning!

What I’m saying is, it hasn’t come easy. It all takes time. You can’t rush the process.

Many times I almost gave up. That’s where your critique writing partner, writing buddy, tutor – call her or him what you will – comes in with words of encouragement and sometimes even uses shock tactics to force you to get going again. I think this might have happened to me when I’d finished my first draft and had no idea if it was any good or not.

But at least 25 drafts later – yes, I know you’re thinking that sounds obsessive, but I’ve read that many well-known writers redraft up to as many as 50 times – I finally knew it was ready for the editor, then the copy-editor, and several proof-readings by me.

In between these stages, the cover designer was busy, and the thrilling result definitely spurred me on when I realised my dream was turning into the most wonderful reality.

Annie's Story coverI’ve commissioned a PR consultant to help readers become aware of Annie’s Story – discoverability, I believe it’s called, and I’ve had postcards, business cards and a banner printed, all with the image of the cover. I think these advertising props are crucial in spreading the word.

There is so much more at stake when writing fiction as opposed to non-fiction. You’re judged on your imagination rather than facts. That’s pretty personal. And I know it’s going to wound if I get a bad/or even just a mediocre review. I’m just hoping that Annie’s Story will touch readers’ hearts, and if they are kind enough to give me a good review you will see me dance with joy.

 

Annie’s Story by Fenella Forster is now available (ebook and paperback)
Order through any good book shop or online
Amazon UK      Amazon US

Acknowledgements of all those wonderful people…

clapping_handsOne of my real pleasures after I’ve finished reading a book – fiction or non-fiction – is to work through the ‘Acknowledgements’, usually found at the back. Because I’m a writer I’m always interested in the name of their editor and the publishing company. It amuses me the way authors adopt flowery prose when they sing their editor’s praises. I immediately wish that particular editor (usually a woman) was my own editor as she always sounds fabulous, going way beyond the call of duty; working with and believing in her author even when the author herself is ready to abandon the project.

Besides the editor, the author will thank her amazing friends and family with the purple-est of purple prose who all tolerate her woes and worries when she faces writer’s block, or is tied to her computer, trying to meet an impossible deadline, and once again is forced to decline an invitation or is two hours late cooking supper. Everyone always seems to rally round and support her.

Sometimes they even say their book could not have even been written without the support, love and understanding of their husbands. I mean, really. That always sounds a bit pathetic to me. Have you ever read of an author saying how she wrote her novel under the most trying circumstances with a husband who had not the slightest interest in her writing and constantly reminded her she was wilfully neglecting him and the family, not to mention the friends who moaned they never saw her?

I won’t tell you where I stand. You’ll just have to read the ‘Acknowledgements’ page which you’ll find at the back of Annie’s Story and make up your own mind. But I’ll let you into a secret…I probably couldn’t have written the story I did without the help of all those wonderful, fabulous, loving, giving, caring people…

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

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)