Denise Barnes – serial series writing

Denise BarnesThis week’s guest is multiple-named, multiple published author Denise Barnes. She’s sold lipstick in Denver, modelled in Atlanta, worked as secretary to the UN Narcotics Director in Geneva, chauffeured a Swiss multi-millionaire in Zurich, assisted a famous film producer in the UK, and cooked in a sanatorium in Bavaria. 

Although she set up and ran her own chain of estate agents successfully for 17 years she unfortunately sold  it to two conmen. Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business emerged as a warning on how easily one can be conned (Biteback Publishing 2013).

After self-publishing The Voyagers trilogy – a saga stretching from 1913-2012 – under the pseudonym Fenella Forster, she is currently writing her fifth novel for Avon HarperCollins, all set in the Second World War, under the pseudonym Molly Green.

Over to Denise!

Thank you, Alison, for inviting me on to your very popular blog as a guest. You and I have both written trilogies/series and we’ve often discussed the pros and cons of such a slippery project, and come to many of the same conclusions.

Not all trilogies and series start off as such. When I wrote my first novel. it was never intended to be a trilogy. In my mind were two heroines. I wanted to tell the story of Annie, a young woman in 1913, and her granddaughter, Juliet, in modern day. In other words, a dual timeline – the kind of novel I love reading.

However, it became a hefty manuscript of over 150,000 words, and no agent or publisher would touch it, particularly as I was an unknown author. Many professionals told me it was like two different books jammed together, and I remember being very upset because I’d already begun a sequel about Kitty, the daughter of Annie, so this time set in the Second World War.

The Voyagers

Depressed, I Skyped my CWP (critique writing partner) who happens to be Alison. She said, ‘Just pull the damned stories apart (she might have used a stronger adjective) and Kitty then becomes the third of a trilogy.’ As soon as she said the word “trilogy” I was excited. But it was extremely challenging and I wish I’d known all the following tips before I started.

Make all of them standalones
People don’t always buy books in the order you write them. It depends how the readers come across your books. So at least if they are a complete story you won’t leave the reader dissatisfied. You may think you should leave the ending open, so readers are tempted to buy the next one. Don’t do it! You will get some grumpy readers who spot that particular selling ploy, and they may not bother to read your next one.

Tie up the loose ends.
This is really important to give the reader a satisfactory reading experience. But there is an exception to this non-written rule if you’re writing a series. If you leave what appears to be a minor question pertaining to one of the secondary characters unanswered in the first book, you can choose not to refer to it again, or more interestingly, you can make it significant in the next book, and it will provide a nice link between the two novels.

Trilogies or series must link up
You should form connections in more than one way or you might as well write completely unrelated stories. If it’s a saga series, you might well be writing about different members of the same family. Or it may have the same setting. And even some of the same characters. But you would normally have a different heroine and hero, although again, there’s no set rule. You may think you’ve created a writer’s gift in that several familiar characteristics in the first novel are already in place that you can repeat in Book 2.

But be careful. You will have to describe the same settings and same characters in a fresh light so as not to bore your readers who’ve already come across these descriptions in the first book. But you can’t skip over them either by being too eager to get on with the story, or your new reader to the series will be confused when you make allusions they can’t relate to.

Keep meticulous files on characters who will reappear in forthcoming novels, so they don’t end up with different eye colours, and worse, different personalities and goals.

The timeline is vital
Your characters should age correctly as the years move forward, and it will remind you of their birthdays, which might make a pivotal scene.

Examples of more links
A piece of jewellery, a diary, a bundle of letters, or a photograph might thread its way into two or more of the series. Or introduce a family secret such as a hidden identity, For something spine tingling, try an unknown name on a birth certificate, as I did in Kitty’s Story.

Trilogies or series don’t all have to be set in different period
My second and third series are chronological (set in the Second World War) but they all have many of the same characters. My ‘Orphan’ series has the same setting and many of the same children in a Dr Barnardo’s orphanage in Liverpool, thereby creating a strong link throughout.

In my latest ‘Linfoot Sisters’ series (first one: Flight Girl, due out this November), the overriding link is the three sisters, each one being the heroine of her own story. All three girls choose completely different ways of ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort, but they regularly meet in the three novels to keep the themes and links alive.

I’m sure you’ll think of many more reasons why it’s both frightening and exhilarating to write a trilogy or a series. As Alison will confirm, you really can have a lot of fun. I wish you the very best of luck.


The Orphan series
The Orphan series

More about Denise/Fenella/Molly on her website:
Follow her on Twitter:  @denisebarnesuk


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter.

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