Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!
Hello Denise, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book, box of chocs and glass of wine to hand!
Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself....
A. I’ve lived and worked in several places around the world, including America, in a huge variety of unrelated jobs, and enjoyed them all. I came back to England and studied for a BA(Hons) with Open University, whilst getting married and setting up and running a chain of estate agents. I sold my business (unfortunately to two con-men – which resulted in another book, Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business) for the sole purpose of seeing whether I could fulfil my dream of writing a novel. I spent many years writing a trilogy which I self-published, but the third one, Kitty’s Story, landed me a 3-book deal to write for Avon HarperCollins. This all took a decade to achieve. The road to publication is often a very long one.
Q. Where do you live?
A. I live on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells, though I actually come from Norwich, but I hope to move to Lewes next year, just to have a complete change.
Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. No hesitation – it would have to be Italy – somewhere near the coast.
Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. I love old character properties but the older I get the more I appreciate modern benefits. Am in a bungalow at the moment, which is perfect, having just fractured my pelvis!
Q. Cat, dog or budgie?
A. I have a handsome snow-white rescued cat. He came to us at 6 years and is now 13, but just as active and into naughty pleasures as he always was. He often wanders down to my cabin and jumps onto my workstation, then saunters across my keyboard. I wouldn’t be without him for the world.
Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. Oh, tray on the lap with TV – or a book. However, there’s nothing like a dinner party where everyone turns up looking rather posh (those were the days) and sitting down to a beautifully laid table. Will those days ever come back?
Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. I love documentaries, whether they’re on current issues such as the environment, political world news, historical, animal behaviour etc. Love sit-coms both American and English – no one was more upset than I was when Father Ted keeled over with a heart attack, but rarely thrillers, and no soaps unless you count Downton Abbey. You haven’t mentioned films, but I adore old black-and-whites which can get me in the mood for the era when most of my stories take place.
Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. It’s called Annie’s Story, under the pen-name, Fenella Forster and is the first of The Voyagers trilogy – what I would call a ‘real’ saga. It opens in 1913, when my heroine, Annie, and her husband (both of whom were servants in grand country houses) set sail for Australia, intending to emigrate. It ended in tears and they were forced to come home. This was based on my paternal grandparents who came from the same background. My grandfather persuaded my grandmother to go with him to Australia to ‘better themselves’. At the time they were only engaged to be married so they were assigned to separate areas of the ship – steerage – so no luxuries at all. Ninety percent is fiction, but the ten percent that’s true gives it, I hope, a real authenticity.
Q. What was your last novel about?
A. This is called A Sister’s Song, under the pen-name, Molly Green. It’s set in the 2ndWW and is the second of The Victory Sisters trilogy. Suzanne, the heroine, is the middle sister of three. She’s a musician and wants to do her bit in the war. She joins ENSA and is sent to Malta to sing to the troops, all the while wondering if she will ever see James, the naval officer she fell in love with, before his ship sailed. There’s also another secret in her heart that she’s determined to unravel. The third in the series, A Sister’s War, will be published in March 2021. Ronnie, the youngest sister, works on the Grand Union Canal taking cargo from London to Birmingham and back. It’s extremely heavy work – I don’t know how these girls did it with such stoicism.
Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. The last six novels under Molly Green have all been what the publishers call sagas. I call them romantic fiction. They are all set in the 2ndWW which seems to be what my readers like and now expect. I’m very comfortable in that genre because I’ve always been fascinated with anything to do with the last war, as it doesn’t seem so far away from my life, having had parents who went through the entire London Blitz. My mother told me lots of stories of how the people coped and the friendships they made, and most of all the way they really did all pull together. I think the virus gave us an inkling of those wartime years and inspired us to help each other. I do hope it will have a lasting effect.
Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. Yes. I have a romantic comedy tucked away in a drawer which I’m determined will one day see the light. It has the best title ever which I won’t disclose until I have a contract! I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, but the trouble is, when books sell successfully, publishers want you to keep on producing in the same genre, which is commercially logical. Maybe I’ll self-publish it one day.
Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. What a difficult question! I’m attached to all of them. I think I’d pick Juliet, the heroine of Juliet’s Story, Book 2 in The Voyagers trilogy. This is mainly because she’s much closer to my age, runs her own business and moves across the world to make a new life. I feel I have a lot in common with her. Then I’d choose Raine, the heroine of Book 1 of The Victory Sisters trilogy, because she is the most determined person I ‘know’ and against all odds manages to defy convention and her family and become a pilot, eventually joining the Air Transport Auxiliary to deliver the aeroplanes to the fighter boys. I think she and Juliet would get along beautifully as they’re both gutsy women.
Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. I’d take them to Biggin Hill. They have a new museum which opened just before Covid, so I’ve not seen it yet. Raine could explain to Juliet what the women in the ATA achieved in the war, contrary to one high-ranking officer who made the comment that women couldn’t even be trusted to scrub a hospital floor, let alone fly a plane. Juliet would immediately sympathise as she’s come across plenty of chauvinistic males in her own life and would be genuinely fascinated. Then we’d take the train to London and have a slap-up meal at the Ritz.
Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I’m crazy about trains. Preferably steam trains going on long journeys. I’ve been on the longest train journey in the world – all the way from London, picking up the Trans-Siberian Express in Moscow, and changing trains on the Chinese border to Shanghai. It took over a month and was an amazing trip. There was a terrifying incident in Belarus where I was thrown off a train at 2 am by two gun-toting soldiers for not having an in-transit visa. No one spoke English so I didn’t know what was going to happen to me until 8 hours later when they forced me on a train back to Warsaw. Yet it hasn’t spoilt my love of train travel.
Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what do you do?
A. I’d probably get into conversation with him. Ask him if anything’s the matter. If there was something very odd about him I’d probably avoid his eye and hurry past – then feel guilty.
We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...
Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)
1. Nefertiti Lived Here and City in the Sand by Mary Chubb (I hope I’ll be allowed this duo which would be perfect for a desert island!)
2. The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (supposedly the first autobiography ever published)
3. Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson (funniest travel writer since Mark Twain)
4. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
5. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome (just as funny as Three Men in a Boat yet not nearly so well known)
6. The Odyssey by Homer
7. Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (not read it but keep meaning to)
8. from Bad to Wurst: Bavarian Adventures of a Veggie Cook by Denise Barnes
I had to add this one to the list. It tells of my time when I worked in the kitchen of a Bavarian sanatorium in the 70s. It still makes me laugh when I re-read it.
Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. Definitely desert. Especially if there were a few camels, which are my second most favourite animal (cats first, obviously!) I could have wonderful rides and get some great views of … well, the sea, I suppose.
Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. A feather pillow. I can’t sleep in hotels who have those horrid spongy bouncy ones. I always take my travel feather pillow my sister made me wherever I go – it really comes into its own for my overnight train journeys.
Thank you for having me as your guest interviewee. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Universal buying link for Amazon: smarturl.it/ASistersWar