Tag Archives: Australia

‘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

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

All in the name of research



To me, research is rarely a chore. It’s the dead opposite in that I get completely carried away and enjoy it so much I go over the top. For example, I find it very difficult to skim a book I need for reference and find myself reading it cover to cover. Or with Google, I can’t stick to the one website but click all those enticing links. But I don’t think any research is ever wasted and I usually learn some interesting facts and snippets along the way that I can slip in to make the story really authentic. Warning: it doesn’t half eat into your writing time. So beware.

Not all research has to be through books and Google. For Juliet’s Story I wanted her to sail to Australia so, of course, I needed to visit the country. That line of research was definitely a chore! What a fantastic month I had making notes and taking lots of photographs and talking to helpful people along the way.

As with most folk I flew to Australia but I didn’t want my heroine to go the conventional route. Juliet was to go by freighter. Through the shipping company I met a lady who had sailed round the world (different journeys) on one. Coincidentally, she lived a couple of streets away from my aunt in Pimlico, and I spent a wonderful afternoon with her. When she asked if I would like to borrow her journals of the different voyages I couldn’t believe my luck. She was a superb writer with a sharp eye for detail and I encouraged her to write a book about her travels. I think people would love to read about her adventures. The daily entries gave me great insight into freight travel but I knew it wasn’t going to replace the real experience.

freighterHaving never been on one, or even close up and personal, I thought I’d take a few days away from my estate agency business and chose to sail on a German cargo ship called Ever Conquest, bound for Hong Kong, though I disembarked in Zeebrugge. Something strange happened the minute I stepped on board – I became ‘Juliet’ and spent six fascinating days at sea, though sadly as the only passenger, with no romance in sight! Against all their rules (they knew I was there for research for my novel so bent them) the Captain and Chief Engineer answered my constant stream of questions and even allowed me on the bridge which is normally sacrosanct.

It’s wonderful when you tell people you’re a writer – you often sneak into places normally out of bounds. So don’t be modest. Tell people you’re a writer. You’ll be amazed at the doors that will swing wide open for you – all in the name of research, of course!



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

Juliet’s Story – cover reveal!

Juliet's Story front coverThe cover is one of the most exciting parts of producing a book, especially when you first set eyes on it. When it pings through on an email attachment and you open it for the first time, all the year’s work (give or take a month or year or two) in writing and editing has culminated as a real book. So far, this has happened to me four times and every time it’s thrilling.

There’s usually some to-ing and fro-ing before the cover is perfect, and then the decision is – when do you do the cover reveal to your adoring fans?

You can do a ghostly one two or three months before publication. This is usually in black and white and a little fuzzy round the edges, but hopefully it whets the reader’s appetite. Then maybe a few weeks before publication day, when your readers can usually pre-order the book, you can do the proper cover reveal. This can be broadcast on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and any other social media you’re signed up to.

I’m a little late with my cover reveal of Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy: Juliet’s Story, but now it’s here, I think you’ll agree it’s gorgeous!

So what’s Juliet’s Story, set in 2005, all about?
Whatever the risk, businesswoman Juliet Reece grabs a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with both hands.

She’s been given the freedom and time to sail to Australia to trace her emigrant grandparents’ story back in 1913. But buried under the surface is a more compelling reason – a secret she has held close since she was a vulnerable sixteen- year-old, which only her grandmother, Annie, shared – and whose answer may lie in Australia.

When Juliet boards the Alexandria at Tilbury she doesn’t count on meeting the enigmatic Jack Delaney. But is it wise to fall for a man from the other side of the world who seems to be carrying dark secrets of his own?

To be published on 25 January 2016. Pre-order now Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

Books ARE judged by their covers

Annie's Story coverIt’s the first thing you’re attracted to as a reader, especially if the author is unknown to you.
You should be able to tell at a glance what the genre is. Take historical fiction, which is what I love writing. Clues are in the font chosen, the style of dress and make-up; if there’s a woman on the cover, her age. If her features and hair look right for the period or if she’s too ‘fluffy’ or simply too young to be your heroine.

If she’s travelling on a ship, a train or a plane, and you want them on the cover (hopefully, not all at once) it’s important that they, too, convey the correct period of the story. When you look at a cover that attracts you, you should subconsciously absorb the atmosphere of the story and setting of the book, which might lead you to open up your purse.

With the first cover of my debut novel, Annie’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers Trilogy, beginning in 1913, the designer amazingly picked out a perfect ‘Annie’ for me. She is young and beautiful, but with downcast eyes, giving the impression she’s a little apprehensive of the long journey to Melbourne before her. And so she should be, the trouble she gets into! The ship I asked the designer to use was a photograph of the Orsova, the very one my own grandparents sailed on when they went to Australia in the same year. So all I had to do was ask him to tweak here and there, but basically I was thrilled at the first proof.

Book 2, Juliet’s Story, set in the present day, was a real problem. Juliet sails to Australia to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps, only she has a secret reason why she really wants to go. To be more adventurous she sails on a freighter. The brief to the same designer was for an attractive middle-aged woman who looked as though she could be a businesswoman, with long dark wavy hair, in holiday clothes.

The designer sent through a profile of a woman in her forties with the long dark wavy hair. And there it ended. Oh, this one was strong-looking, all right. Rather too severe. Her nose was too big and her chin was too square and she was bare of make-up. Yet I didn’t dislike her. On the contrary, I felt she could be my Juliet with some work. I so badly wanted to love the cover the way I did with Annie. The publishers and I went backwards and forwards several times but it was never quite right. And the container ship the designer used was one that apparently passengers wouldn’t be allowed to travel on.

I had a search on ‘Dreamtime’ and ‘Shutterstock’ at the dozens of pages of middle-aged women on holiday, until my eyes went funny. I found the same woman the designer had used, but with four different positions and expressions. I picked a three-quarter angle where she’s giving the hint of a Mona Lisa smile, and asked that make-up and nail polish should be added – oh, and a pearl earring. Then I picked another container ship that was nicer to look at, and voila…job done.

Heart in my mouth I ‘unveiled’ the final proof of the cover. Bingo! Juliet looked stunning. And the container ship looked quite romantic against the sunset colours the designer had chosen for the sea and sky.

Now, he’s got to pick a third young woman for Kitty’s Story. She’s only seventeen when it opens in 1941. Plus I need a military aeroplane and a troopship in the background, as Kitty is on her way to Cairo.

That shouldn’t be too difficult for the designer…should it?

Cover revealed – Annie’s Story!

My heart was beating as fast as one of my romantic heroines as my fingers hovered over the keyboard to open Bron’s attachment. Bron is one of the production assistants at SilverWood Books, who will be publishing Annie’s Story in April 2015 (this month!).

Did the cover designer get it? Had she read the book so she understood the character of the heroine: her appearance, her expression, her innermost thoughts? A tall order, perhaps. Would the design give the flavour of the period so a reader would instantly know they were picking up a historical novel of the Edwardian era? Would she have found a ship similar to the Orsova, the one my own grandparents sailed on to Australia in the same year as Annie; 1913? Would I like the overall design? No, more importantly, would I love it?

Annie's Story cover

This was it. Only by pressing the damned key would I be able to answer such a string of questions. I pressed. And gasped as the cover slowly unfolded under my eyes. It was stunning. In every way. The girl, the most prominent of the design, was so beautiful and so ‘Annie-like’ I had to blink back tears of joy. She was dressed in the right period – a little too grand, perhaps, for a housemaid, but after all, it was her wedding outfit. And her head tilting downwards, her expression so serious, was the perfect stance for Annie who had no idea what she would be facing in an unknown country.

I looked at the cover closely. How clever the designer was to pick a ship which looked so similar to the Orsova, with its characteristic two funnels. There was some faint lettering on the prow. I peered nearer to the screen. The ship had the same number of letters as the Orsova. And what a coincidence: this one also started with an ‘O’. And then I realised this was no fake. The designer had sourced the real ship and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see a piece of my family history on the cover of my debut novel.

It was a sepia background and the wine-red lettering, Annie’s Story, was bold and sweeping, just like the sweeping saga I hoped the readers would love amongst the pages.
I wanted to kiss her for getting it so perfect.

Of course when the euphoria had died a fraction I found a few nit-picks to alter.
‘That’s fine,’ Bron assured me. ‘I’ll send it off to Canada with your comments. It won’t take long.’
‘She lives in Canada?’
‘Canada, yes, but ‘she’, no,’ Bron answered. ‘Your designer is a guy.’

My mouth dropped open. A male actually ‘got it’ in bucketloads. What I see as being a woman’s novel. Well, hush my mouth. But on second thoughts it’s always a pleasure to kiss a hunky chap. It must be the romantic writer in me!

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

Restructuring the novel

scissorsWhen I started the novel several years ago I created a dual timeline. The main heroine, Juliet, granddaughter of Annie, goes to Australia to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps (though she has another secret reason for going), and interspersed with her story is her grandmother, Annie, as a young girl, and linking the two stories by way of diaries and letters and events.

Called The Voyagers, this became a huge novel of 148,000 words which no agent or publisher would touch, especially from an unknown fiction writer. Three interested agents suggested the same thing – that I separate the two stories. I was already writing what I thought was the sequel, Kitty’s Story, so I was quite upset at the idea. That is, until my fantastic critique writing partner, Alison Morton (author of the Roma Nova series), who knows my characters almost as well as I do, immediately said: ‘Separate the two and Kitty becomes the third, so you’ll have a trilogy!

As soon as she said that, I knew it was exactly right for my saga. But when I separated Annie and Juliet, the proportion was all wrong. Annie only had 49,000 words; Juliet, on the other hand, had a standard 99,000 words. So I set to and delved deeper into Annie and what happened to her, and she has now evolved as a 125,000 word novel. I’m so glad I took Alison’s advice, as I realised when I was developing Annie’s character and story that she deserves to have her own full-length book.

And because both Annie and Juliet sail to Australia, I was bound to have to go too! Purely for research, of course. More in my next blogpost!

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…