Category Archives: University Women’s Club

‘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.




UWC team

The cake and champagne team











Juliet’s Story is now out!
Available now from your local bookshop and from Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

Writing is a lonely life…?

Denise UWC launchI completely disagree with the above (though I realise some writers might feel differently).

Writing when one is alone is not the same as being lonely. I’m so happy when writing completely on my own, but a close second is writing in the company of one or a few other writers. It’s a sedentary life sitting on your bottom day after day, but most writers interact with others. Where you write you’ll probably tap into Twitter and Facebook on most days, thus making connections and conversations.

My new diary is already filling up with writerly things which take me outside my writing cabin and into a world of real people instead of my ‘real characters’. Heading the list is the launch of Juliet’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy. It’s to be held at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair on 23 January 2016 (under a week to go!) and hopefully there will be writers, friends and relatives to celebrate with me. (If anyone would like to come, please get in touch with me by Friday by leaving  a comment below.)

In May I’m off to Portugal with three writing friends to stay in a private villa. We’ll have a week there working hard on our novels and catching up in the afternoons for readings and brain-stormings and critiques. Hopefully this won’t clash with the Romantic Novelists’ Association summer party!

In July it’s the RNA Conference which is always brilliant, and I come away exhausted but inspired, and often excited because an agent or editor has asked me to send them a full manuscript of my latest novel.

Then there’s the Historical Novel Society Conference in September in Oxford, which unusually is for writers and readers (Early Bird booking until 31 January!). A few days later I’m joining a small group of writer friends in Gladstone’s library in Chester for four days.

In November we don our sequins for the RNA winter party.

Denise_Alison RNA2015_sm

Denise and Alison

Throughout the year I go to a club in London where writers and media folk meet up every month; I formed The Diamonds writing group a couple of years ago where we take it in turns to meet in one another’s houses and stay the whole day – the host feeding and watering us; I have a regular Skype with my critique writing partner,
Alison Morton, who lives with her husband in France; I attend the London Book Fair…and so it goes.

So I can’t regard writing as a lonely life. But when I read through the above I think I’ll be glad to escape sometimes to my writing cabin for a top-up of loneliness!




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

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.

Mayfair launch of Annie’s Story

DSC09939The University Women’s Club in Mayfair is the perfect place for a book launch. I’ve been a member of the club for 25 years and it’s a real home from home for me, living in Tunbridge Wells. So for my London launch of my debut novel: Annie’s Story Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy, it was my first choice.

I’d had a fun and very successful launch in Waterstones, Tunbridge Wells the month before, but wanted a second one for different groups of people who might find it difficult to get to my neck of the woods. It was a mixture of family, friends, special writing friends, members of Connexions (a course on philosophy I’ve been attending for the last seven years – I’m probably one of the wisest writers I know – just kidding), and, of course, some special UWCub members.

Trouble was, on the Wednesday morning of the launch I woke up not feeling terribly well. Thinking I was just a bit tired and would be all right I packed my overnight case and with my sister, Carole, took the train to London. We were staying the night at the club.

DSC09922Still not feeling particularly great, I had arranged for a few friends to have lunch at the club. The day was so warm and sunny we were able to eat in the courtyard garden which was delightful. I decided not to have any wine, and kept to a light goat’s cheese salad, as did three other women. That evening, getting dressed, I didn’t feel excited as I should, and was beginning to feel a little queasy and light-headed. I knew I’d have to put on an act for about 35 people, 4 of whom had arrived from various countries especially for the launch.

DSC09930Thankfully, it all went well. Everyone seemed happy and enjoying the bubbly and canapés (I didn’t touch either), and the talk was my best one, I felt. The adrenalin must have kicked in!

Luckily, Carole was sharing a room with me at the club as all through that night I was really ill. Terribly nauseous, burning chest pain, back pain, headache, and feeling extremely dizzy. I honestly thought I was dying. Neither of us had a wink of sleep, and around 6am I was so sick she decided to dial 999.

Maybe I wasn’t dying after all as I managed to appreciate three gorgeous-looking paramedics who rushed to the rescue. They confirmed I wasn’t having a heart attack, but after various tests decided I should go to hospital for more checks. I’ve never been in an ambulance before and always thought I would be terrified, but I just wanted to get to hospital as quickly as possible for someone to make me better.

After a bumpy ride we arrived at St Mary’s and had I felt well enough to appreciate it, my room was overlooking a canal with bright little boats bobbing about. We were in Little Venice. As it was, I was still being sick and feeling quite spaced out.

More tests with nurses and two doctors later I was diagnosed as having a severe case of gastritis from a virus, so at least it didn’t sound life-threatening!

I stayed on at the club for two more days, and was wonderfully looked after by the staff until Carole came to collect me on the Saturday and take me back to Tunbridge Wells.

This happened three weeks ago and I’m still feeling an echo of the effects. Doc says it will probably take eight weeks before I’m back to normal (well, normal for me!).

The good thing was that I received lots of emails and phone calls from people telling me how much they enjoyed the launch – and reading the novel! – and were shocked to hear that I’d been whisked away to hospital only hours later.

I’m seriously wondering if I should turn to acting instead of writing…

Answers, please, on a postcard.




An evening with Mrs Moneypenny


Photo from

I’ve recently joined Women In Journalism (WIJ), and they’ve had their last two meetings at the University Women’s Club on which I have waxed lyrical in previous blogposts here and here.

Last Monday the speaker at WIJ was the most charismatic, clever, witty, erudite, fast-talking Mrs Moneypenny (Channel 4’s Superscrimpers). She spoke for well over an hour without a pause or an ‘um’, and had our full attention on what to do as ‘ambitious women’.
superscrimpWe screeched with laughter when she came up with true-life anecdotes, mostly of her family. I didn’t know she was also a stand-up comic and had just come back from the Edinburgh Festival. Somehow, I never think of a stand-up comic as writing a weekly column for the Financial Times. But she does.

There were about 60 of us in the audience and just one man, so not entirely sure how he slipped in. But what was incredible was a mountain of books she’d had one of the waiters lay out on the table and told us after the talk to help ourselves to one. The book Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women was published last year at £9.99, so it was an incredibly generous gesture, and we all grabbed a copy.

bookBefore the talk I chatted with the woman sitting next to me, and a ten-pound note (special discount on a one-to-one) flashed from her hand to mine when she bought a copy of my book Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business that I ‘happened’ to have in my handbag, so that was a small bonus.

By the way, WIJ are a very welcoming group of women and you don’t actually have to be a journalist. So long as you’re a published writer they would love to have you on board. And because they’re all dealing with the media you might meet someone who proves to be a useful contact… Why not give them a try? .

Faber Academy writing week

F&F buildingWhat a week was the last week of the short hot summer! I spent it doing a Faber Academy intensive novel-writing course called: “Summer Fiction Booster”.  If you’ve never done a Faber course you’ve missed a treat. First, it’s easy to get to, being practically next door to the British Museum (only a small distraction) and the people who work at Faber are all very friendly and helpful.

In 2011 – 12 I did a six-month advanced fiction course with Richard Skinner at Faber, and it was terrific. So when I saw this one advertised I thought it was just what I needed to push me over the half-way mark where I’d been stuck for months in Book 3 of my trilogy, The Voyagers. The course was run by the lovely Maggie Gee, but when we allowed her a day off on Thursday(!) Joanna Briscoe took the class. She was equally lovely.

There were only seven of us attendees which was perfect as it gave everyone lots of attention and a longer 1 – 1 with Maggie.  My 1 – 1 stretched to half an hour!  Maggie was so wise and encouraging and enthusiastic about all our stories which were widely different, yet we all bonded in the first five minutes.

It was great fun getting to know each other’s work, and seeing how the stories developed over the week. The group were quick to come up with ideas for plot holes (nice change from pot holes) in the critique sessions, and no matter whose work we were focused on in that particular session, it invariably had relevance to our own writing problems. Then while ideas were fresh in my mind I would stay behind in the afternoon to get on with my own writing. In five days I’d put another 3,500 words into Book 3.

I stayed at my club in Mayfair throughout the week so I didn’t have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking and all the other trivia we writers are forced to do every day. It was also an excuse to enjoy London. I saw ‘What Maisie Knew’ at the cinema, ‘Strange Interlude’ at the theatre, and listened to Mozart and Bruckner at a wonderful Proms evening. One night I had supper in a Lebanese restaurant in Shepherd Market and was joined by two handsome strangers, beautifully-dressed businessmen, one from Saudi Arabia, the other from Pakistan. We talked and laughed for four hours and I ended up giving them a bookmark each of Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business which they promised to buy. If I’d had two copies with me I could have sold them on the spot (That was my own Strange Interlude. Do I feel a short story coming on?).

After all that excitement I’m home. Back to hum-drum. But writing is still the most exciting thing ever, and I’m delighted to say I’ve kept up the momentum from the week and added another 3,000 words to the novel.

Looking back, instead of calling it ‘Summer Fiction Booster’ I think it should have been named ‘A Summer Kick Up The Bum For Your Novel’.

What boosts your writing?

Dining in, in Mayfair

DB-Mayfair012_sm_crppd‘Yes, please, I said enthusiastically to the chairman when she asked if I would give a talk on my recent book: Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business. I was to be the guest speaker for the summer ‘Dining In’ evening at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair. And the good news was, she said I could bring Seller Beware to sell.

As mentioned in one of my previous posts I had my launch of Seller Beware at the club in April, having been a member for twenty years. But that occasion was very definitely a party. This time it would be more formal. Now the date had come round, my heart beat a little faster. Many members in the audience would have high-flying careers, and they would have paid good money to hear the talk. I needed to up my game.

We would begin with canapés and wine in the drawing room, and then repair to the elegant dining room where we would eat, drink and not get out-of-hand merry (a big no-no at the club), before I came on. At least by then they would be a little relaxed after a few glasses of wine.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was having my nephew, Adam, present with his wife, Liz; they had come all the way from Tennessee. My aunt and cousin who lived round the corner in Pimlico, and who hadn’t seen Adam for thirty years were also there to watch me! None of them had ever heard me give a talk, so it had better be good, I thought, as I stood up. Not a drop of wine had touched my lips, in case it went to my head.

‘Just out of curiosity,’ I began, ‘who owns their own business?’

Out of around thirty women, at least ten raised their hands.

‘Presumably, one of these days, you’ll want to sell. But don’t even think of selling until you’ve read my book,’ I told them, waving it in the air. ‘Take heed of the sub-title: One Woman’s Road To Ruin. Reading this could save you from heading along the same path.’

There was a ripple of laughter.

Immediately, I forgot I was addressing a roomful of academics. It was as though I was talking to my friends and family about what had inspired me to write the book, the search for a publisher and how it came to be published by Biteback Publishing.(posts on 3rd & 10th November 2012 – My Journey to Publication – and Beyond, Part 1 & 2), Relating my unexpected meeting with Ian Hislop on the evening train from Charing Cross caused my audience to chuckle (post on 8th December 2012 – My Journey to Publication, Part 3), Afterwards, I answered all sorts of searching questions: how I coped; how I felt; was it cathartic to write the book; what did I hope to achieve by writing it?

The forty-five minutes flew by, and I’m delighted to say the pile of my books which the restaurant staff had displayed near the door (making it difficult for anyone to leave without one under their arm!) flew off the table.

Now, who would like to book me in for the next talk?