Tag Archives: Characters

‘Kitty’s Story’ is published!

Kitty’s Story, Book 3 of The Voyagers trilogy, is finally published! What a labour of love it’s been. If I’d known it was going to take 12 years to write this trilogy I would never have started it. (I did write two or three books in between and ran a business part of that time!)

Book 1, Annie’s Story, and Book 2, Juliet’s Story, began life as one book called The Voyagers. I’d enjoyed writing Annie’s chapters from 1913 spanning to 1930, and weaving in Juliet, the granddaughter, in modern times. But as a saga with two protagonists the book became too long at 150,000 words and no editor or agent would touch it even though I’d got close to being traditionally published. ‘You’ve jammed two books together,’ they advised. ‘Split them into two separate but linked stories.’

By this time I was writing Kitty’s Story, thinking it would be the sequel. I couldn’t make such a radical change. It would be a mammoth task to separate the two. Almost in tears I rang my trusty critique writing partner, Alison Morton (Roma Nova series).

‘Take their advice,’ was her immediate reply. ‘Get the damned thing split and Kitty becomes the third of The Voyagers trilogy.’ She never minces her words.

But as soon as she said the magic word ‘trilogy’ it cheered me up and I began to tackle the big separation. It was more complicated than I’d thought, plus the fact I’d thought the two women’s stories were evenly balanced. Taking them apart I had Juliet at 100,000 words – the right length – but Annie was a novella at 50,000 words. Reading Annie separately I realised she was worthy of her own fuller story. It turned out to be 120,000 words but I was so glad I’d done it. And then I had to finish Kitty.

Writing Kitty’s Story turned out to be a cathartic exercise. Something very sad had happened in my own life decades before, and I never knew why the relationship (of course!) had gone so terribly wrong. I poured a lot of my deeply-buried emotion into the novel and as a writer had the power to create a happy ending. Being in Kitty’s head (I wrote it in the first person) somehow allowed me to lay my personal story to rest and I wonder if other writers have ever felt the same.

On a more positive note Kitty does something I’m sure I would have jumped at had I been a teenager in the Second World War – she is determined to sing to the troops like her idol, Vera Lynn. Joining ENSA in 1941 she travels to Cairo and fulfils her dream. Only things don’t turn out quite as she expects – in fact, just like real life!

Kitty’s Story is available through all good bookshops and from (amongst other retailers) from Available now from  Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo  iBooks  B&N Nook

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

Readers who swear they’re in your novel!

JulietcoverIt’s amazing how many times people ask me if I’ve put them in my novel. They look at me with real suspicion and even disbelief when I always answer: No!

Recently someone accused me of putting her in my latest novel to be published at the end of this month: Juliet’s Story, Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy. She said, ‘You’ve based Juliet on me, haven’t you?’ Frankly, I was astounded. The woman in question is nothing at all like my heroine, either physically, mentally, or emotionally. They are in a different age group, and the opposite in height, weight, hair and eyes. Juliet runs her own business, and sails to Australia on a freighter – neither of which my friend would ever dream of doing.

smolking girlThen it hit me – they are both smokers! Except this person still continues to smoke and my heroine gives up quite near the beginning of the novel. But that’s such a small thing in common to assume I used her as a template for my heroine.

Someone else who I’ve known a very long time said that as a writer I ought to make up my characters and not base them on any real person. She said I should use my imagination! What on earth do writers do except use their imagination?

I tried to explain that as in the song from The Sound of Music, nothing comes from nothing. That we writers take bits and pieces from several people, consciously and sub-consciously, to make an original character. It might be something as subtle as a gesture. One of the passengers, Trevor, on Juliet’s freighter constantly rakes through his thinning curls; that was taken directly from one of my ex-employees, but this man’s personality was not like Trevor’s at all. Or I might come across someone with an unusual feature.

turquoise eyesA woman I know has stunning turquoise eyes – a colour I’ve never seen on anyone before – so guess what colour eyes my latest heroine has? Or I might ‘borrow’ someone’s hobby. I needed a ‘wind-down’ interest for Juliet, and so I have her making greetings cards. I wouldn’t have thought of this if a certain literary agent didn’t have the same hobby.

I guess the lesson learned is that non-writers have little concept of what it entails to write a novel. And thank goodness. There are enough authors in the market without millions more joining us!

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.