Tag Archives: Seller Beware

All change!

Photo: Alison Morton

I’ve been on a very long journey and this coming Thursday I’ll arrive.

No, it’s not one of my usual train or plane journeys to far-flung places, although in many ways this is not a bad way to describe my recent steps through the hallowed doors into a traditional publisher’s world, namely The News Building (opposite the Shard) where HarperCollins resides.

Although I’ve already had five books published – one of them a memoir which was traditionally published – I wanted my novels to be snapped up by one of the top five. Coming close so many times was dispiriting when I had proof that so many readers loved Books 1 and 2 of The Voyagers trilogy. But Lady Luck was with me one day at an RNA Conference when an author I’d never met before introduced me to the senior commissioning editor of HarperCollins. I asked her if I could give her my elevator pitch on the third of The Voyagers trilogy, Kitty’s Story. She grinned and nodded, and after I’d spouted the couple of sentences  (unrehearsed) she said she would like to see the full ms.

A long time passed. She obviously didn’t like it. Then one evening as I was closing my computer her email popped up. It was a long letter. Yes, she loved Kitty’s Story; it had all the right attributes for a war-time saga, blah, blah, blah. Where’s the BUT? I kept thinking as I frantically skimmed the rest. And there it was. BUT you’ve self-published the first two so we wouldn’t be able to take it on. Massive gut-wrenching disappointment. Then my eyes glued to the next paragraph. There was another BUT. But would you like to write a special war-time series for us? A no-brainer, if ever there was one.

Fast forward one year later and An Orphan in the Snow by Molly Green – a new name to suit the new series – will be published on Thursday 30th November. I’ve written two non-fictions under my own name, Denise Barnes, and The Voyagers trilogy under Fenella Forster, and now this new series set in a Dr Barnardo’s orphanage in Liverpool during the Second World War under Molly Green. Hopefully, I’ll soon start to get to know exactly who Molly Green is!

I do hope my journey will inspire dedicated writers out there who haven’t yet been discovered. Do keep your eyes peeled for that elusive opportunity, but until then, just keep writing the very best book you can. And if you believe (like me) that one day it will happen – then it will!

Out 30 November 2017!

Haunted by the death of her sister, June Lavender takes a job at a Dr Barnardo’s orphanage. June couldn’t save Clara from their father’s violence, but perhaps she can help children whose lives have been torn apart by war.

When June bumps into Flight Lieutenant Murray Andrews on the bombed streets of Liverpool, the attraction is instant. But how can they think of love when war is tearing the world apart?

As winter closes in, and the war rages on, can June find the strength and courage to make a better life for herself and the children?


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!

What’s in a pseudonym?

agatha_archaeoI’ve been fascinated with pseudonyms even before becoming a writer. Why would anyone change their name unless it was really awful, like D’eath or Ramsbottom, for instance? None of us would probably be too happy with either of those, though I do know of the D’eaths and the Ramsbottoms, and they are both really nice families.

Well, as a writer there is often a strong reason for having a pen name. It could be because you write in different genres and don’t want to confuse your different readerships. I was intrigued to read Agatha Christie’s pseudonym when she sometimes broke away from her famous detective stories to write about flawed introverted heroines and heroes. She wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott and apparently loved this genre. Strangely enough, I’ve never read one of her detective novels (though I loved her autobiography, Come, tell me how you live: an archaeological memoir), but I’ve read all six of her psychological novels and thoroughly enjoyed them.

It could be because you’ve written some steamy sex scenes, or even erotica, and you don’t want your mum to know.

Or you might want to change your real name because it has never sounded like an author.I write fiction and non-fiction so have a good case to choose a pen-name, particularly as I think Denise Barnes sounds rather businesslike, though it was perfect for my two published non-fiction memoirs, from Bad to Wurst: Bavarian adventures of a veggie cook and Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business. I just don’t think it has the right feel for my trilogy, which is a romantic family saga. So I’ve chosen to be known as Fenella Forster.

I didn’t pluck the name out of thin air. It happens to be the name of my grandfather whom I never met, and who might not have had any idea that he had a daughter (my mother), let alone that I existed. I will never be able to find any of his side of the family because I have no details about him, except my grandmother thought him the kindest man in the world, but at least I’ve acknowledged him by ‘borrowing’ his name as the author of my novels.

Trouble is, what do I sign the novel as – Fenella or Denise?

I would love to hear from other writers who have a pseudonym and why they chose it.

The (Paddy) Power of Networking

Ian Dale and Denise Barnes

Me with Ian Dale

An exciting invitation recently came through – well, I’d like to say the post, in a gilt-edged envelope – but of course that probably only happens if the Queen has invited one. Anyway, it popped into my Inbox, and was from my publisher, Iain Dale of Biteback Publishing. He founded the Paddy Power Political Book Awards last year (before I was published) and so being a Biteback author, though not political, I was invited to attend.

What a fantastic evening! The awards were held at the British Film Institute IMAX just below Waterloo Bridge. The taxi couldn’t take me right to the door, so I stumbled along in highish heels down the walkway under the bridge and over the pedestrian road and through the glazed doors of the cinema. I was warmly welcomed with a glass of (proper) champagne and directed up to a very large room where hundreds of people had already gathered.


Suzanne Sangster, Biteback PR

The noise level almost knocked me backwards. At first, I couldn’t make out anyone. People were standing practically shoulder to shoulder, and everyone seemed to know everyone. I walked round the room three times trying to spot my host, Iain, but although he usually stands out, being very tall, I couldn’t see him or any other Biteback members of staff.

I noticed a pretty blonde girl standing at the edge of the room with her drink and went up to her. We got chatting, and guess what? She was a writer from my favourite magazine, The Lady. She’s taken my card and is hopeful that my book Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business might tie in with an appropriate feature coming out soon.

440px-Widdebookclub_(cropped)MaryBeardI hobnobbed with Ann Widdecombe and Mary Beard which was very exciting, and then my editor introduced me to an agent who’s read the first three chapters of my novel and has asked for the full manuscript. She was absolutely charming. I’d love her to represent me. We had a really nice chat, though she’s not yet got round to reading the rest of my novel, what with the London Book Fair looming. She’s promised to do so as soon as she can, but at least I’ve met her in person – always a Very Good Thing.

Michael-DobbsThe awards, in several categories, were very exciting, and one of my favourite authors, Michael Dobbs, won the political fiction book of the year. We had a chat afterwards and I reminded him that he’d given a talk at my club, the University Women’s Club, and he’d signed his latest book at the time for me. He was very pleased when I told him I’ve had a book published since then. I gave him a bookmark which has the same blurb on the back as the actual book, and was thrilled when he read it, then put in his pocket. Another customer?

Two minutes later a gorgeous-looking woman came and chatted to me. She led me to the bar where delicious bowls of food were set out, and as we were tucking in I found out she is a journalist, presenter and interviewer. She was fascinated with my story when I sold my estate agency business to the wrong buyers. She kept introducing me to minor politicians (at least, I’d never heard of them) and telling them about me. I wanted to giggle as their eyes glazed over. Most politicians are not one scrap interested in business, but that didn’t deter her. She said I should be on Woman’s Hour and all sorts of business programmes, and she’s going to try to do something to get me some publicity, and suggested we keep in touch. I shall, don’t worry! When I got home and went on to her website I nearly fainted. She’s a real high flyer, and very much respected in the news world, both nationally and internationally.

champagne‘More champagne, madam?’ asked the waiter. ‘Oh, yes, please!’

Oh, I nearly forgot. I came away with a goody bag containing two of the shortlisted books, a tiny bottle of gin, and a pair of bright rainbow coloured shoelaces from Paddy Power himself!

All right, maybe nothing will come of any of all this, but it was certainly fun meeting such an interesting and diverse group of people, and you never know…

At last – the book launch!

DCF 1.0I thought I was all prepared for the book launch for Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business on Tuesday evening, 16th April at Waterstones in Tunbridge Wells. After all, I’d had weeks to plan it.

My several pages of the talk were now reduced to five lined index cards with odd words highlighted to prompt the (often failing) memory. I’d packed a box of spare books, special bookmarks, wine and soft drinks, corkscrews, nibbles and bowls, tablecloths, new Cross pink girlie signing pen (pen wasn’t cross; it was the make!), the banner, and some business cards.

I’d rehearsed my talk. I’d bought a gorgeous cerise-coloured frock.  My foot with the broken bone squashed nicely into one of the pair of shiny black wedges (none of my evening shoes would fit) and I was ready.

Nothing could go wrong.

I planned to leave at 5.30pm on the Tuesday to give myself plenty of time to unload all the stuff and help the staff to prepare the room ready for the expected 60 – 70 people.

On the Monday evening my estranged husband who is temporarily staying with me so I can look after him after a big bowel cancer operation followed by chemotherapy, didn’t want his supper. Next morning (my launch day) he only ate a small bowl of porridge. No lunch. By mid afternoon he was still in bed so I thought I’d better take his temperature. It was up. When that happens he has to go straight to the A&E.

Off we went. Thankfully, I live in Pembury where we have a brand-new hospital in the village, so it’s only a five minute drive. We sat in A&E, me looking surreptitiously at my watch every couple of minutes. I’d had no lunch and there’d be no time to eat now.
At 4.15pm I told him: ‘I’m going to have to leave you or I’ll be late.’
He nodded and mumbled: ‘I know. Good luck.’ He closed his eyes.

Feeling awful, I left him on a horrible metal chair in A&E, but at least I knew he’d be in safe hands. I rushed home, had quick cup of tea, showered, did hair, zipped into pink dress, earrings, necklace, shoes, and packed up the car with all the stuff. The car was out of the drive at exactly 5.30pm but I was trembling.

DB_Wstones_windowI arrived at the back of Waterstones where you can unload, telling myself I had to block out everything now, including Edward, and concentrate on the talk. The show had to go on!

So did it? All will be revealed in the next post…