Tag Archives: novel

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?

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

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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

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!

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.

Inspiration, then doing it.

inspirationI’m talking about inspiration. Who or what inspired you to write your first novel? What was the moment when you knew you could do it and would do it? When you suddenly gained the confidence to tackle something so mammoth? When your life and family and job, even if one or more of those areas was in disharmony, still pointed the way that ‘this was the hour’ to make that decision and actually begin?

I’d wanted to write ‘a book’ since I was nine. By ‘book’ I meant fiction, such as the kind of adventures my idol, Enid Blyton, wrote about. I began by writing a serial and was the only pupil to have it pinned up on the class notice-board. I remember even to this day the thrill of seeing my story on display, and a group of children clustered round, avidly reading it. Then demanding to know when they would be able to read the next episode. Oh, the stress, even for a nine-year-old!

Adult life rolled along, and my writing consisted of dozens of short stories and articles and letters, together with some editing of a couple of charity magazines. But I was no nearer to my dream of writing a novel. And if I thought about it, I was beset with fear that I wasn’t clever enough.

But the dream kept nudging me. So I decided to go on a writing course. The only possibility in Tunbridge Wells at the time (ten years ago) was one morning a week at a script-writing course put on by the Adult Education Centre. I was disappointed it was script writing. ‘You’ll learn just as much, if not more, about novel writing on that one,’ said Richard, my published friend. So I took his advice. We started with a class of about 15 with Malcolm Davidson, our tutor. He had a wonderful wry sense of humour so I wasn’t surprised he had been on the US team writing the great American sit-com, The Golden Girls. He was an excellent teacher but even so, our class dwindled rapidly to a half a dozen.

At the end of the year I had a one-to-one with him and told him my secret dream of writing a novel. He asked me if I had An Idea. I told him I had two pictures of a ship called the Orsova hanging in my sitting room, which my grandparents had bought when they sailed to Australia in 1913, thinking they were going to emigrate. I told him I didn’t know many details of their journey or their seven-year time spent in Melbourne, but had enough of my own ideas to completely fictionalise it. Then I said I wanted to intersperse it with a present-day heroine who follows in her grandparents’ footsteps.

‘That’s a parallel timeline,’ he said.

‘Do you think I’m being too ambitious for a first novel?’ I asked.

‘No,’ was his answer. ‘If you get stuck on one story you can turn to the other. And I can see you’re excited by the idea, so that’s the one to go with. You can do it.’

So I did.