Friday, 28 June 2013

Today's Guest: Jenny Barden, 'Mistress of the Sea'

How are you all? Enjoying the US edits here, heading towards the end of term and looking forward to being in the UK for a few weeks. There's been some exciting writing plans laid for the autumn this week, but more of that later. Today, I'm delighted to welcome Jenny Barden to the blog. Jenny is just back with news from the Historical Novel Society's conference in Florida. I'm not sure whether to say 'Welcome', or 'En Garde'! Over to Jenny - enjoy, and have a great weekend: 

Jenny Barden

Thanks for inviting me to contribute to this blog, Kate. I saw your beautiful book The Perfume Garden for sale at Gatwick Airport a few days ago, and it was lovely to think that I'd soon have this opportunity. At that time, I thought I'd be back home in Dorset a few days later and writing for your blog in peace and tranquility after attending the Historical Novel Society's Conference at St Petersburg, Florida. 

HNS Conference venue

Diana Gabaldon, Sherry Jones, Mitchell James Kaplan, 
Christopher Gortner and Donna Russo Morin

Little did I know! As it happened, the drive back from Gatwick took as long as the flight crossing the Atlantic. My hero husband spent six hours sitting in traffic behind an accident on the way to pick me up, then his network service went down so he had no way of getting in touch with me, and I was left not knowing when he'd arrive, if at all, and where he'd be if he did. I ended up standing outside the terminal for nearly three chilly hours in the hope that he wouldn't miss me, finally spotted him and caught his attention by waving madly, piled in the car after a U turn, and then sat in traffic for six hours on the way back behind roadworks and another accident. We were both wrung out by the time we got home - but thankfully in one piece. 'I hope the trip was worth the effort,' he said. Well, it was. Every HNS Conference I've attended has been magnificent. Even with the stress of coordinating the last one in London, I really enjoyed it. Networking is fun, but it's also part of an author's job; it's something we have to do. Without networking I wouldn't have met the many writer and industry friends who've been such an inspiration and help to me in getting started as a novelist. But that most certainly hasn't been easy, and the dream compared with the reality has been a bit like my flight back from Florida - much more exhausting than I ever imagined, though of course I'm glad I've made the journey; I hope the travelling never stops.

I'm rapidly finding out that authors must have the skill of circus performers in juggling the demands upon their time. They must never stop moving to keep everything in the air. If only being an author was all about writing books! But that's no more true than to say that being an agent is all about reading them. Take my own manic existence at the moment as an example. I've just finished writing my second commissioned novel for Ebury Press: The Lost Duchess, due out 7 November - 'finished' in the sense that the manuscript has been submitted, only to have a ream of notes in reply from my wonderful editor on how the novel could be much improved (and every one of her suggestions absolutely right). So on the flight to Florida I was working out how best to make these revisions, and, once that's done, I know that there'll be further revisions, copy edits and proof reading to look forward to. This may all be described as 'writing', even if some of it isn't particularly creative - but there's also 'promotion' to do, and these days it's not possible to neatly separate out the two; promotion can't be abandoned while in writing mode and vice versa (or risk missing the next deadline!). Thus I was also thinking about my programmed panel session at HNS2013, preparing what I'd say about 'Making the Breakthrough', and I was looking forward with some trepidation to the first signing of my newly released paperback, Mistress of the Sea, which would, because of the conference, be held in the US. As it happened, I ended up sitting next to 'over 15 million in print' internationally renowned thriller writer Steve Berry for my signing, which proved to be a sell-out, in the same hall as Diana Gabaldon, Christopher Gortner and a host of other great names in historical fiction. I couldn't really have asked for a better start.

Jenny and Diana Gabaldon

But promotion isn't just about book signings and talking on panels - Oh no - It's about trying to keep abreast of every single flicker of interest and responding with gratitude and enthusiasm; it's about anticipating opportunities and seizing them, planning and implementing tours on the ground and online, following developments and giving support to others, being helpful, being flexible, and constantly dreaming up new ways of being able to say: 'isn't this fun'! So I took a picture of Diana Gabaldon in the workshop on swordsmanship run by the gracefully energetic David Blixt and sent it to her, and she put it up on her Facebook page along with a picture of herself at the signing with my new paperback in front of her (how kind!). 

Diana Gabaldon

David Blixt - Swordsmanship

That was no sooner shared than a Google alert came in to the effect that the new paperback had a press review so that warranted a link on my website and retweeting with thanks. I met up with Deborah Swift in the States and got some excellent advice from her on reaching out to book groups, I refined my plans for events around the launch of The Lost Duchess, and my 'to do' list got even longer (in addition to start a Goodreads discussion group, set up a giveaway on my favourite blog, English Historical Fiction Authors, sort out a contribution to History Month through the Reading Agency and the HWA in association with local libraries and bookshops...). The list is never ending, it can be as long as any author is capable of making it, but at the same time the pressure never relents for more of the same kind of writing that got you published in the first place - in my case more of the 'sizzling, seafaring debut' that 'puts the romance back into English history.' All I can say is that I'll try my best, and that, so long as you keep moving, then waiting in the cold isn't too hard to do!

Thank you, Jenny, you've made me want to take up fencing again. Hope to make it to the HNS Conference 2014.

You can find out more about 'Mistress of the Sea', and Jenny's work, here:



  1. I really wish I could have made the HNS conference - it sounds so fabulous! I'm going to try to make it enxt year. And, Jenny, congrats on the new book - I'll look out for it!

  2. Exhausting but so so very exciting. Would love to sit next to Diana Gabaldon myself!

  3. Kate - I'm going to try to get to London too. Wouldn't it be great if we were all there ...

    Mystica, welcome! You and me both :)

  4. Hi Kate & Jenny.
    Great post, very inspiring. As a 'new' writer, still working on my first historical novel, it's always very interesting, fascinating and helpful to read about the experience of others. It instills confidence and is very therapeutic to those of us who are still relatively new to this world. It's almost like therapy by social media. Jenny, your book sounds great and the cover is beautiful. All the very best to both of you,


  5. Hi Suzy - thank you, think Jenny's post is a great insight to the networking/promo of novels.

  6. Hi everyone! Lovely to see so much comment on this so quickly! Thanks again to Kate for giving me the opportunity to open the window a little on a new writer's life. Kate F and Suzy H, thanks to you for your kind words about 'Mistress of the Sea' - I hope you get to read the book and enjoy the voyage!

  7. Yes, it was a wonderful conference, and you novel sounds fascinating, Jenny.

  8. Many thanks, Mitchell - really kind of you to say that about 'Mistress of the Sea'. I hope the novel will get across the water some day (other than in my suitcase!). I really enjoyed HNS2013 - Maybe see you at the next one in London!


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