Tag Archives: women’s fiction

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.

‘Juliet’s Story’ launched!

Denise bannerOne of the great pleasures of writing a book and getting it published is that you have a perfect excuse for a party!

So for Juliet’s Story, Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy, I decided to once again hold the launch in the University Women’s Club in Mayfair, where I’ve been a member for almost 30 years.

Although publication day is TODAY, I had the London launch Saturday afternoon, just two days ago, which happened to be my mother’s birthday. If only she could have been there – she would have been so proud! (You know how mothers are.)

Celebrating with friends

With Sue Stephenson, Liz Harris, publisher Helen Hart and Gail Alwyn

The Diamonds

With Tessa Shapcott, Terri Fleming, Sue Mackender – The Diamonds

 

 

But I was surrounded and supported by family and friends, and ten other writers, which was fabulous. We had a high tea: sandwiches, scones, carrot cake, tea, coffee and, of course, lots of fizz.

 

 

 

 

 

The audience

 

 

 

 

 

After everyone had made a beeline for the groaning tables and had a good chat with one another, I gave a talk, primarily on the research I undertook for the novel.

One of the more unusual things was being aboard a freighter for a few days. My heroine, Juliet, goes on a voyage to Australia by cargo ship so I felt I had to go through a similar experience in order to breathe in the atmosphere of what it’s really like. My ship was a German one bound for Hong Kong but after calling at Hamburg, I disembarked in Zeebrugge (Bruges). I didn’t want to spend over six weeks at sea as at the time I was running a business, and unlike Juliet had no one to take it over for such a long period.

Denise in full flowThe voyage was a real adventure and telling details, together with some of the incidents which happened to me, have crept into the novel – which is what research is all about.

I sold a ton of books at the launch which won’t go anywhere near to paying for the afternoon, but that’s not the point. It’s a wonderful way of getting your first readers who you hope will spread the word – and write a review!

 

Denise and Alison

With critique partner Alison Morton

 

 

 

But mainly all their laughter, congratulations and love give you a huge boost to set you on your way.

I feel a bit flat now so I need to get the show on the road for Book 3. Another launch looming, methinks.

  

signing

Signing!

UWC team

The cake and champagne team

 

 

 

 

Julietcover

 

 

 

 

 

Juliet’s Story is now out!
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.
Julietcover

 

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

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

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) 

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) 

 

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…

Moving on

crateI don’t recommend moving two houses in the space of one week into one (quite big) house, with several hundred books, but that’s exactly what I’ve been involved in lately. Thankfully, we’ve sort of settled in, although it still feels like a very warm, comfortable 4-star hotel, and we keep wondering when we’ll be made to pack up our suitcases and go home. It’s probably because everything is either painted or tiled in cream and is crying out for paint colour, loads of pictures, and, of course, all our books.

Keeping up the writing every day has been difficult. Sometimes I’ve had a change and done a spot of self-editing. A couple of times I’ve managed to have a go with the third novel of my trilogy called The Voyagers and produced 1,000 words or more at a session. I’m so near the end of the first rough draft, but still haven’t quite worked out the ending. It’s hard to feel inspired and creative when you’re surrounded by all these dozens of boxes bursting out of every room, including my study. Luckily, all the rooms are generously-proportioned, but as soon as one room looks half-way decent, the overflow has got dumped into another room, making that room worse than it was before.

I decided to pay for a professional editor to edit the first novel of my trilogy: Annie’s Story. I found her through Cornerstones, a literary consultancy whom I’ve used before to edit my non-fiction book: Seller Beware: How Not to Sell Your Business. Not long after their report and my amendments I found a publisher for the book, so I have great faith in them. I was bowled over by this editor’s very encouraging and complimentary 13-page report on Annie’s Story which I received last week. I even get to have a face-to-face with her for an hour or two, which will take place at the beginning of March. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The editor’s comments and suggestions were mostly spot on, and I’ve made adjustments where I thought appropriate. The good thing was, she didn’t highlight any structural problems or plotholes. (I nearly said ‘potholes’ as you can hardly get down the lane leading to our new house without destroying the underside of your car.)

I guess I’m nearly ready to start sending Annie out to some agents!