A Sunrise over Bali, the 4th book in the Holiday Romance series, is out next month. I wrote this book in 2020 and while I was writing it, I blogged about writing the ‘unlikeable’ character.
Written May 2020
In Bali, I am hyper aware that my main character is, based on her role as a supporting character in That Night in Paris, “unlikeable”―so much so, that when I mentioned to a friend who I was writing about, she cringed.
So, why write this character? Why give her a whole book?
In short, it’s because I love her.
I love the hard, prickly exterior she uses to mask a lifetime of being terrified of vulnerability. I love that, once she does care about someone, she is fiercely loyal and generous. I love that she is feisty and bold, independent and resourceful.
I am VERY excited and proud to show off this gorgeous cover for the 4th book in the Holiday Romance series, A Sunrise over Bali.
This is an evolution of the series covers, putting Jaelee Tan, our heroine, in the stunning location of Bali but still retaining the styling and ombré colour palette of the first 3 books in the series. I love it!
Jaelee Tan is going on sabbatical.
After meeting besties Cat, Lou, and Dani on a whirlwind trip around Europe, Jaelee is finding it difficult to settle back into Miami life, especially without her ex, Paco. When she shows up to her best friend Ali’s 40th birthday party and Paco and his new wife are two of the guests, she does what any self-respecting woman would do – she runs.
All the way to Bali.
Convinced that a two-month sabbatical away from her high-stress Miami life is just the ticket, she settles into UROP, a co-living resort for digital nomads in the heart of Ubud. There she meets an incredible group of people, each with something to teach her about life and love, including the Hot Scot, Alistair, who may just make her change her mind about man buns – and love.
I was inspired to write this book because in 2018, when Ben and I were on our year-long sabbatical, we kicked off with a 2-month stay at a co-living space called ROAM in Ubud, Bali. We worked (a little), we played (a lot), we explored, and we spent many days just being. It was a brilliant, revitalising time for us both and an excellent way to start an incredible year.
We also made lifelong friends in Bali, including a dog called Lu.
Lu made it into the book―I didn’t even bother to change her name―but in real-life, she was facing euthanasia during our last 2 weeks at ROAM. She lived there but not ‘officially’ and was very protective of the community members. This made her dangerous for the public, scuppering plans that the owners of ROAM had to expand. However, the community (current and former ROAMIES) rallied and we raised enough money to send her to California where she now lives on an enormous property with a former ROAMIE. I love Lu and I am so glad she has a proper home now.
And some other inspiration pics from Bali―I kept these close at hand throughout the writing process, so I could really capture the magic of this beautiful place.
And my fave shot of me in Bali (this made it into the book too)
I really hope you enjoy reading A Sunrise over Bali. It holds a special place in my heart and I’m really proud of it. It’s out on February 17 (ebook) and May 12 (print).
Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that each year I write not ‘resolutions’, but ‘absolutions’.
These are the things I absolve myself from doing the following year―GUILT FREE!
Either I will remove them from my mental ‘to do’ list or I will stop doing them because they do not ‘spark joy’. These are the things I have been told―by myself, by loved ones, by society―that I should do but really, really don’t want to.
So, on the list they go!
1.Reading the entire contents of my Kindle
As an avid reader, I have a problem―I cannot say no to books. I buy a lot of books, I get given a lot of books … but I have too many books. TOO MANY BOOKS! Every time I finish a book, I am paralysed by choice as to what to read next. I flick through the (literally) dozens of pages of unread books on my Kindle and often end up tossing it on the bed in frustration and turning on Netflix.
I like choice. Choice is good―there is a book for every mood on my Kindle: spy thriller, (gruesome) crime thriller, LA detective thriller, romcom, contemporary romance, contemporary women’s fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, historical romance, outback romance, even some fantasy, SciFi and horror …
The thing is, I have at least a dozen unread books in each genre (and sub-genre) taunting me.
In the past few days, I have taken steps to mitigate this paralysing guilt of owning so many unread books. Collections! I have decided my next 3 reads and everything else has gone into a TBR Collection―a neat little folder that I can swipe past all at once on my Kindle’s ‘home’ screen. Now I just need to stop acquiring more books. Hmm.
In mid-2022, I signed up for a weekly meditation session at work (facilitated by a colleague) to help us cope with the pandemic. Half-way through the first session, conducted via TEAMS, I received a Teams message―apparently ‘urgent’―and I spent the rest of the meditation session putting out a (small) professional fire―essentially, the opposite of meditating.
The thing is, I not only suck at meditating, I (really) dislike it. I spend the whole time chastising myself for sucking at it and not being better at ‘adulting’.
Well, I absolve myself from meditating in 2022 because there are other ways to ‘be mindful’. Any time you are completely immersed in something―reading, dancing, cooking, revelling in natural beauty, combing the beach for the prettiest shell, sipping great wine and really tasting it, playing with a child and making them laugh, in the midst of an in-depth conversation, smashing out a new chapter or editing one―you are being mindful.
So, I aim to be mindful in the way that works for me without beating myself up about how I get to that immersive, blissful state.
3. Watching ‘Squid Game‘
I tried (2 full episodes) and I hated it (not just the premise but the lead actor’s―in my opinion, terrible―acting). I know it’s considered ‘good TV’ by millions of people but no piece of fiction is for everyone―just ask my readers―so it’s okay that I didn’t like it and that I won’t finish the season.
4. Getting a TikTok account
It’s not that there aren’t many, many entertaining people on TikTok, nor that I haven’t enjoyed the occasional TikTok (I don’t even know if that’s the correct term―are the clips on TikTok called TikToks?) that people have sent to me (case in point, this is hilarious).
It’s that I already spend 5-12 hours a week on social media for author biz. That’s not just posting, but creating assets, and commenting and sharing―and thanking others for commenting and sharing.
I just don’t have room in my life for another social media account. I felt the same way about Snapchat (and I was right about that BTW―remember Snapchat, anyone?)
5. Not making travel plans because ‘what if I have to cancel them?’
This is a double negative, I know.
To be clear, I absolve myself from not making travel plans, which means that 2022 is FILLED with travel plans. Sure, we’re buying the best insurance we can get and we’re mindful (that word again) that any or all of these trips may be cancelled, but for me and Ben, travel IS life.
So, trips on the cards:
Southern coast of New South Wales to see friends (who live there)
Inland in Victoria to see my cousins (who live there)
Up to southern Queensland/norther NSW to see family and friends (who live there)
Western Australia to see family (who live there). They have been behind the COVID Curtain implemented by Premier Mark McGowan for so long, I can’t even fly there to be with my mom who is recovering from a serious injury and is bed bound. (Grrrr, Mark!)
The UK (!) to: see my family (sis, bro-in-law, nephew) in Rugby and Great-Aunt in Oxfordshire; meet my agent, Lina, and dear friend, Nina, face to face in Edinburgh; attend the Romance Novelists Association 2022 Conference; attend the HarperCollins author party; meet Pearson colleagues in London; meet my editor and other members of the One More Chapter publishing team, also in London; and catch up with other friends across the UK. (It’ll be a long trip.)
Sailing the Cyclades Islands in Greece! I am SO excited about this. Ben and I will be sailing with our skipper friend, Patrick―our 3rd time sailing with him. Athens to Syros―8 days, 7 nights―and we’re taking my nephew, who will be 11 by then. (Aside: for those who have read the Holiday Romance series, Patrick is the real-life Duncan, only he’s a Kiwi).
So LOTS to look forward to in 2022, especially as I am absolving myself of so many things that will save me not just time, but angst, guilt, and regret.
And what could be a better way to start the New Year?
Happy 2022, everyone, and may it be filled with reunions, grand adventures, and many moments that will make you smile, fill your heart, and bring you peace and joy.
Just a little post to pay homage to the humble em dash—oft maligned, oft misunderstood, but a punctuation mark that punches way above its weight class. And I know that authors shouldn’t play favourites, but of all the punctuation out there, the em dash is my fave. It’s just so versatile!
Know your em dash
Many will confuse the en dash – and the em dash — but my tip to remember which is which is a simple mnemonic device:
An ‘m’ (em dash) is twice as wide as ‘n’ (en dash) so it is the wider of the two dashes.
The power of the em dash
Use em dashes to:
1. offset parenthetical content from the sentence
e.g. Josh is planning a surprise for Sarah’s fortieth birthday. My thinking is that turning forty is surprise enough—Oh, my god, how on earth am I this old?—and that she hates surprises.
2. denote interrupted speech
‘But can’t we just—’
She talks over me. ‘Jaelee, I wasn’t super keen on this in the first place.’
3. to denote interrupted thoughts
‘I will see you tonight,’ says my sexy boyfriend—no, sorry, fiancé!
4. in place of a colon preceding a list
a. ‘That is the best part, the countryside—the fields of sunflowers, the towns, the castles.’
b. I round a corner and the wall drops to waist height, revealing a thick blanket of lush green—palm trees, ferns, thick brush with glossy leaves, and high grass.
5. to show a ‘change in direction’ of a thought, or in narration or dialogue
a. I look up from the shopping and her cheeks are pink with frustration—or maybe it’s exertion.
b. ‘Yeah, I don’t ever drink beer—unless it’s, like, craft beer.’
6. to expand on a point
a. And it’s hot. I mean, crazy, fricking, humid hot. And I’m from Miami—I know heat and I know humidity, but this stuff is next level.
b. Besides, I may have limited culinary skills but I am a master at making toast and tea—the perfect elixir for the infirmed.
Thrilled to welcome Christina Courtenay to Off the Beaten Track to mark the publication of her latest book, Tempted by the Runes. And oh my! This is such a terrific read. For those who are new to Christina’s books, this is the latest in her Viking timeslip ‘Runes’ series and it is incredible.
Also, look at that cover! Before I share my thoughts on the book, let’s talk to Christina.
Tell us what inspired you to write Tempted by the Runes?
When I started to write the ‘Rune’s series, I knew that the Vikings had travelled far and wide and I wanted my books to reflect this. Therefore, I decided that the members of one family would all journey in different directions and have their own adventures. As Iceland was starting to be colonised at this time, it seemed the perfect place to send one of the brothers. The youngest was most likely to go there as he’d need to make his own way in the world. Becoming a settler on an island so far away, which only a few people had seen at this point, was a very brave thing to do and I thought that would be great for my hero. The rest of the story developed from that.
When did you start writing seriously?
After my oldest daughter was born I wanted a job I could do from home so that I could look after her at the same time. That’s when I decided to try my hand at writing, but it proved a lot more difficult than I thought. Eventually, I was published 21 years later just after my daughter had left home … (The best laid plans and all that!)
What do you love most about being an author?
The freedom of working at my own speed and when/where I want to. I’m a night owl and have always disliked having to get up early to go to work or school, so for me, being able to sleep late and work late is ideal. It also feels like a huge privilege to be able to write down the stories that appear in my head and call it work!
What are you working on now?
I have just signed a new four-book deal with Headline Review so at the moment I’m working on the first of those stories which is due out in August next year. It’s a standalone timeslip story called Hidden in the Mists. You can already pre-order.
What do you hope readers will take away from Tempted by the Runes?
I hope they will just enjoy the journey and the romance, travelling so far with the hero and heroine and experiencing their struggles in a new land. I would love it if my story leaves the reader feeling happy and relaxed and with a big smile on their face!
More about the book
Madison Berger is visiting Dublin with her family for a Viking re-enactment festival, when she chances upon a small knife embedded in the banks of the Liffey. Maddie recognises what the runes on the knife’s handle signify: the chance to have her own adventures in the past.
Maddie only intends to travel back in time briefly, but a skirmish in 9th century Dublin results in her waking up on a ship bound for Iceland, with the man who saved her from attack.
Geir Eskilsson has left his family in Sweden to boldly carve out a life of his own. He is immediately drawn to Maddie, but when he learns of her connection to his sisters-in-law, he begins to believe that Fate has played a part in bringing them together. Amidst the perils that await on their journey to a new land, the truest battle will be to win Maddie’s heart and convince her that the runes never lie…
My thoughts on the book
The Queen of Timeslip Romance has done it again! I was completely immersed in this epic romance. The story of settling in Iceland was compelling, with Courtenay’s ability to build a rich and complex historical world really shining in this book. The slow-burn love story was sweepingly romantic and I completely fell in love with our hero and heroine.
Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014) and the RNA Fantasy Romantic Novel of the year 2021 with Echoes of the Runes. Tempted by the Runes (time travel published by Headline 9th December 2021) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).
Lizzie not only a prolific author, but she’s an inventor, a mentor and a wonderful supporter of the Romance writing community, so it is a great pleasure to welcome her to Off the Beaten Track today to mark the publication of The Woman Who Felt Invisible. And she’s even sharing an excerpt with us! First up, let’s talk to her about all things authoring.
Tell us what inspired you to write The Woman Who Felt Invisible?
This story is about a woman in her forties who feels like the world doesn’t see her at all. People bump into her at work as if she’s not standing there and she has forgotten who she is as a person after the loss of her dad. She used to have a successful career, but now lives in a tiny rented flat and has two jobs just does to survive. She meets her boss’s wife at a Christmas party and they become unlikely friends. The book is about trusting your instincts and following your dreams.
When did you start writing seriously?
I have always loved writing but my daughter was unwell for ten years and I decided to write my first book as a way to keep myself awake at night to listen to her breathing. It’s so hard to stay awake when you are sleep deprived. I wrote a book full of sunshine and happiness to try and bring some light into a very dark time in my life. My daughter is fine now, although she has serious allergies, but she proudly tells everyone that she helped me start this amazing new career.
What do you love most about being an author?
I love the book community, chatting to other writers and most of all, the brilliant readers who pick up my books, read them and then tell their friends and family. I love talking to other book lovers and it inspires me to write more books. I always say that writing a review of a book you love is like handing the author a rainbow.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the sequel for my book, The Little Ice Cream Shop by the Sea. I am really enjoying all of the shenanigans between the pages and revisiting some of my favourite characters.
What do you hope readers will take away from The Woman Who Felt Invisible?
I hope that the story makes my readers smile, as this is why I write books. I like to feel as if a good book can give us a big hug. It’s about knowing we aren’t alone and bringing some sunshine into our hectic lives.
Oh, I love that – thanks Lizzie.
About the book
A gorgeous romantic story of love and new beginnings. Learning to love herself and be content on her own is the first step. But will Olivia be able to leave her past behind, follow her heart and find lasting happiness? A read full of humour, romance and tear-jerking reality, from international bestselling author, Lizzie Chantree.
Have you ever felt invisible?
Working as a stationery supervisor and a sitter to a pair of internet famous, delinquent dogs, wasn’t how former cyber-specialist, Olivia, imagined her life turning out.
Working in a tiny cubicle with a decrepit computer and being overlooked had suited her for a while, but now she’s fed up, lonely and determined to make the world ‘see’ her again.
Old school friend, Darius, wants to fill Olivia’s days with romance, but their love of technology has taken them on very different paths.
Gorgeous undercover policeman Gabe, is steadfast in finding out if Olivia was part of an online scam, but something doesn’t feel right and he suspects someone else was manipulating her life.
Can love blossom from the most deceptive of starts? And can someone who feels lost, find a way to flourish against all odds?
This was it. This was Olivia Tenby’s life, now. This was how low she had come. At the age of forty-one, she was sweating her guts out in a house that felt like a furnace, babysitting two delinquent Labradoodle dogs called Bertie and Belle, while their owners swanned around getting even richer somewhere else. Wiping her palms across her face, feeling glad she’d discarded her top so that she couldn’t drip on it, she pressed a button. Music blared out of speakers set into the ceiling. This house had everything – lights that came on when you spoke to them, a vacuum cleaner that tripped you over while it scurried along the floor of its own accord, and a fridge that dispensed perfectly shaped ice cubes into crystal glasses.
Olivia looked around furtively for a moment, and then laughed and decided to go for it. Her job as dog sitter extraordinaire had begun two weeks ago. She’d been told to entertain the excitable animals in any way she could think of, as they were naughty and destroyed everything while the owners were out – which they always were. Olivia hadn’t even met them, which was baffling. They left her notes with instructions on how to stop the dogs eating the walls and making a mess of the thick pile carpets. She actually quite liked the job, it was as easy as walking in a straight line. Then she thought about how wobbly she always was after three vodka and cokes, and quickly pushed that picture aside. The dogs were bored and, although her job included giving the house a cursory swipe with a duster, it was always immaculate when she arrived. Something was a bit weird, though, as the place was incredibly hot. The dogs liked to slobber all over her, making her even hotter. So she’d taken to stripping off as soon as she sat down with the pooches, otherwise she’d probably pass out and be found weeks later, mummified in dog hair.
International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.
Thrilled to be able to share this beautiful cover with you today. Lucy Knott’s Love Lessons in Starcross Valley is out early February and just look! Stunning!
About the book
With the recent breakdown of both her ten-year relationship and her parents’ marriage, thirty-five-year-old Marnie Barnes no longer believes in love. To give her life the shake-up it so clearly needs, she books a ticket to Canada.
Thousands of miles away from her home and her twin sister, she struggles to have the life-changing experience she dreamt of – until she meets Nova, a dinosaur-loving space nerd with a penchant for living in the moment. After a wonderful day together in Vancouver, they part ways. Though gutted, Marnie thinks it’s proof that she’s not meant to find love and tries to move on with her life.
But a few months later, back in England, she bumps into someone achingly familiar. As Marnie navigates her new feelings, takes chances and makes the first move for the first time in her life, can she regain her faith in love – and find it for herself?
Lucy Knott lives in Manchester England, just around the corner from her childhood home and less than five minutes from her twin sister Kelly and brother in law Chris. She loves spending time with her family in addition to writing, reading and cooking Italian food. When not buried in a book, scribbling in a notebook or having dance parties for one to Harry Styles, she works as a teaching assistant where the majority of her days are spent talking about dinosaurs and making Godzilla out of just about everything, from Blu Tac to cardboard boxes, and she loves every minute.
If she could up and move to the stunning Amalfi Coast, San Francisco or live in a cabin surrounded by fairy lights, she would, but for now she’s quite content writing about those magical places. Lucy loves to write uplifting stories that she hopes will put a smile on your face, fill your heart with joy, encourage you to embrace the awesomeness that you are and believe that any dream is possible.
Follow Lucy here
(as 1/2 of The Blossom Twins with sister Kelly Sharpe)
It is my pleasure to welcome author, Jennifer Irwin to Off the Beaten track today to mark the publication of her second novel, A Dress the Colour of the Moon. Jen and I ‘met’ in 2018 as fellow indie authors right after I read her incredible debut, A Dress the Colour of the Sky. Honestly, that book blew me away. Jen’s writing is both taut – laden with tension – and beautifully poetic. Her understanding of our humanity is evident in both her stories and her prose. This is why I leapt at the opportunity to be an early reader ‘Moon’, but more on that later. First, let’s chat to Jen.
Tell us what inspired you to write A Dress the Colour of the Moon?
When I wrote the prequel, A Dress the Color of the Sky, I left the ending open in case I decided to continue with the story. When many of my readers expressed an interest in knowing how Prue fared in the world after rehab, that was all the motivation I needed. Deep down, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Prudence Aldrich either.
When did you startwriting seriously?
After my divorce, I was determined to write a book that was loosely based on my life. I began making writing a priority and scheduling time to write every day. It took me three years to complete my debut novel which released in 2017, so to answer your question, I’d say I started writing seriously in 2014.
What do you love most about being an author?
I love reading reviews and receiving messages from readers who have been touched by my books. It is truly the most incredible feeling and one which never gets old.
What are you working on now?
I’ve completed the first draft of my third novel called The Ad Agency. It is an unlikely love story between Sebastian who has been severely burned in a car accident and dreams of being a copy writer, and Bettina, an assistant art director who descends from Spanish royalty. They are two misfits from different worlds who fall in love regardless of the odds going against them.
Oh, that sounds fantastic. Lastly, what do you hope readers will take away from A Dress the Colour of the Moon?
Many people in our country have been affected by addiction either directly or indirectly. It is my hope that readers will learn more about the recovery process by following a few of my characters through their post-rehab journey. As a victim of sexual assault, I also hope that my readers find solace in knowing that it is possible to heal and move forward from past traumatic experiences.
About the book
Prudence Aldrich is a sex addict. Five weeks ago, she checked into the Serenity Hills rehab center to prevent that addiction from ruining every important relationship in her life. Now Prue must face the trail of destruction she left behind, including mending the broken bond with her teenage son, finalizing the divorce with her husband, Nick, and using a newly learned set of skills to ward off her insatiable cravings for male attention—a compulsion that puts her friendship with lifelong pal Lily to the test.
Adding ever further complications to the hurdles in her path is the arrival into town of Alistair Prescott, her in-rehab romantic obsession, and the one person in the world most capable of throwing Prue off her recovery. Meanwhile, Serenity Hills counselor Mike Sullivan is undergoing a crisis of his own—one that will drive him to the rediscovery of a lifelong passion . . . and causing him to cross paths again with Prue, his former patient.
A Dress the Color of the Moon tracks the rocky and sometimes disastrous path to recovery—a recovery that will require Prudence and her friends to face down the demons of their pasts while learning to accept the fearful uncertainty that comes with living life on your own two feet.
My thoughts on the book
This is a much anticipated read for me, as I was immediately captivated by Book 1 A Dress the Colour of the Sky, and Jennifer Irwin does not disappoint. This book has so much heart and truth, with beautifully written, flawed and relatable characters just doing their best to find their way. Irwin’s prose is superb – both succinct and poetic. I laughed aloud, I cried, and I highlighted dozens of passages.
This can be read as a stand-alone, but Book 1 is also highly recommended.
Jennifer Irwin’s debut novel, A Dress the Color of the Sky, was published in 2017 and has received rave reviews, won seven book awards, and was optioned for a feature film. Jennifer’s short stories have appeared in numerous literary publications including California’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction. Jennifer is represented by Prentis Literary and currently resides in Los Angeles.
It’s publication day for Jeanna Louise Skinner’s fantastic book, The Book Boyfriend, and I it a pleasure and honour to welcome her to Off the Beaten Track to celebrate.
I first ‘met’ Jeanna online when I was living in the UK while on sabbatical in 2018. She was the founder of UKRomChat, a Twitter chat for lovers and writers of romance, and I was fangirling from the sidelines. I loved the pacy Twitter chat, meeting new friends in Romancelandia and learning about the UK publishing scene. Not long after, early in 2019, Jeanna entrusted me with an early read of this fantastic book. I was captivated immediately. It is highly original with terrific plot twists and turns, a thoughtful theme of mental health and wellbeing – tackling the topic head on – and a magical thread that I loved. It also transcends several sub-genres of Romance, has a heroine you will fall in love with and want to champion and, yes, an utterly swoonworthy hero.
I completely fell in love with this book (and no doubt you will too). And look at this cover! Rawr!
Before we learn more about the book, let’s chat to Jeanna.
Tell us what inspired you to write The Book Boyfriend?
The initial inspiration for The Book Boyfriend hit me like a lightning bolt during a conversation with a friend. We were talking about our favourite romance heroes and how they had never let us down. I can still hear her lamenting the fact that they couldn’t just come to life! From there, the idea of a perfectly imperfect hero magically stepping out of the pages of a romance novel just grew. It was around the time The Tudors was popular, and as both my friend and I were (and still are) obsessed with Henry Cavill and his character on the show – the roguish Charles Brandon – he immediately became my blueprint for my hero, Lord Jonathan Dalgliesh. Writing him was an absolute delight! Finding my way to my heroine, Emmy, took much longer. I was determined to do her justice and ensure I that I get all the emotion and nuance that comes with her specific mental health conditions – schizophrenia and anxiety disorder – and her past traumas absolutely right, with the necessary sensitivity and care.
When did you start writing seriously?
I’m not sure I ever have, to be honest. I have multiple health conditions and I’m ADHD, so writing for me is both a blessing and a curse. My writer’s brain is constantly on the go, seeking new ideas and facts, but I find focusing a struggle. I can go months without writing a single word, and then other times stories drip from my fingers like spilt ink. I still can’t quite believe I actually wrote a whole book – or that people are going to read it!
What do you love most about being an author?
Gosh, that’s a tough question. On one hand I feel extraordinarily privileged to know people are going to read – and hopefully fall in love with – my words. That’s a wonderful feeling. But a part of me is slightly envious and more than a little terrified too. There’s something quite narcissistic in it, I feel. Like, what gives me the right to tell these stories and expect people to listen to them? Why am I so desperate to bare my soul like this? I think most creatives can relate, but there’s something about writing especially which feels naked. As for the envy, there’s a part of me that’s insanely jealous that my readers get to experience the thoughts in my head fresh and brand-spanking new for the first time. I’m fascinated and petrified by thoughts of what their reactions might be, and whether they’re the feelings I’d hope to invoke while writing a specific scene. Like I say, utterly narcissistic.
I love that take on writing – I haven’t quite thought of it that way before. So, what are you working on now?
I’m currently taking an extended hiatus from writing for personal reasons and to focus on the release of The Book Boyfriend. I have SO many more stories on my TBW (To Be Written) list though, including a follow up to TBB that will possibly be a sequel or maybe even a prequel. I will write again one day. I’m just not sure when that day will be.
What do you hope readers will take away from The Book Boyfriend?
SO much! I’ve spoken about this at length on my social media channels. It’s so important to me that readers can relate or at least respond well to Emmy. As far as I’m aware, she’s the first main character in a romance novel who has schizophrenia. I’m passionate about mental health awareness and bringing diverse stories to life and I really hope that readers fall in love with her as much as I have. It might be called The Book Boyfriend but this is very much Emmy’s story. I wrote her to show that people like her can and do lead relatively normal lives and that they deserve to get a HEA too.
My other biggest wish is that romance writers and readers enjoy all my references and nods to our wonderful genre. This is my love letter to Romancelandia and I’m just delighted to be a tiny part of it.
Oh, and I’m also hopeful that The Book Boyfriend will put Exeter on the Romancelandia map!
More about the book
“Let us find solace in the quiet…”
Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real. Maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren’t so far-fetched after all?
Lord Jonathan Dalgliesh is the handsome stranger-wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past-who appears in Emmy’s bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse imprisoning him inside an ancient book. But when growing threats to Emmy’s safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, she must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page?
Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.
Jeanna Louise Skinner writes romance with a sprinkling of magic. Her debut novel THE BOOK BOYFRIEND is out in 2021 and she is working on a prequel. She has CRPS, a rare neurological disorder, ADHD and Anxiety Disorder, and is passionate about mental health and disability rights. In 2020, she co-founded the RNA DISCO Chapter, for members with disabilities and chronic health conditions. She’s also the co-creator of @UKRomChat, a Romance-centric live Twitter chat, which was nominated for the RNA Media Star Award in 2019 and 2020. She lives in Exeter, Devon with her husband, their two children and a cat who sounds like a goat.
What an absolute delight it is to welcome Anastasia Blabbergasted to Off the Beaten Track today. Those of you who have read The Dating Game will be familiar with Anastasia and for everyone else, Anastasia is well-known across the UK for writing witty recaps of reality TV shows for the online magazine, Feed Your Mind.
Welcome, Anastasia, and over to you!
Well, thank you, Sandy, and what an absolute treat to be invited back Down Under for another season of ‘love amongst the film crew’ – only instead of The Stag, this time I’ll be recapping The Bachelorette! Now for those who aren’t familiar, The Bachelorette riffs on the tried and tested format of The Stag, swapping out Pin Rituals for Rose Ceremonies, the Manor for a Mansion and Soirées for Cocktail Parties, but you get the gist. It’s a ‘reality’ show where one unlucky person seeks love amongst desperate, hopeless, attention-seeking hopeful contestants.
And this season’s Bachelorette (Bachina?) is attracted to both men and women, so we have eight of each – how fabulous!
Aside: With eight women in the Mansion who are attracted to women, will we see love amongst the contestants? I’m no mathematician but one Bachelorette divided by 16 contestants equals 15 disappointments (or a lot of blood and gore but this is a TV show, not a slasher movie). Or does it? Perhaps we will see some pairings amongst the cast offs. Isn’t that how Jamie-Lee ended up on this season – but let’s come back to that later.
We commence the season with our host, Osher (rhymes with Posher – and really, what is posher than an enormous velvet bowtie? No really … did he borrow it from his grandfather? I mean, I’m into retro fashion too, but I draw the line at wearing my nana’s bloomers), speaking ominously to camera as though he’s delivering a report on climate change. Oh dear. Perhaps he left all his enthusiasm in the Masked Singer studio. Come on Osher, buck up, it can’t be that bad. Surely, they are paying you a mint to wander about the Mansion casting forlorn looks and speaking in hushed tones.
We are so relieved when bubbly Bachina Brooke shows up that we immediately forgive that horrendous ‘Alexis Carrington called – she wants her gown back’ dress. No seriously, she’s 26 for crying out loud. Iris Apfel’s outfits are more youthful than this debacle. And please don’t get me started on the gloves! Does Halloween come early in Australia?
(Aside for Gen Y and Z readers: Alexis Carrington is a character from Dynasty, a night-time soap from the 80s, and she is an icon of 80s fashion for middle aged women of means. Go ahead and Google her. I’ll wait.)
The set is rather lovely with all those trellises covered in faux blooms – someone on the crew must be handy with a glue gun – and outdoor illumination that would make West End lighting designer proud. And aren’t the producers getting their money’s worth out of that drone! There are so many fly-over shots, I’m getting vertigo. Must be a b-i-t-c-h for the sound editors though.
A serious moment to acknowledge the beautiful Welcome to Country, with this recapper reaching for the tissues faster than you can say, ‘This show is sponsored by Kleenex.’ Truly extraordinary.
And now it’s time for our contestants to walk the red carpet. Aside: those ‘insider’ shots from the limousines are hysterical. Did they script those or are our contestants just well versed in awkward patter while holding aloft a bizarre prop and trying not to come across as desperate, bitchy or a bit of a muppet? I wonder.
A few standouts on the red carpet:
Bombshell Holly – honestly, I adore anyone who can slow dance like that and it looks like I’m not the only one. Brooke nearly called a halt to the whole proceedings. ‘Stop the show, I wanna get off … with Holly!’ Well done to the producers for trotting her out first!
Speaking of trotting … Emily shows up with a horse! Albeit a teeny one, but oh how I wish we’d seen the inside of her limo ride. How do you get a (teeny) horse into a limousine? More to the point, how do you get it out!
Carissa brings another tear to my eye – though I’m not sure if it’s her earnestness or concerns about how close we are to shifting from a PG to an R rating. Just one itty bitty sneeze and (literally) all will be revealed. Thank god those aren’t real flowers! Let’s just hope she’s not allergic to horses!
Darvid rolls up on a mower. I’m fairly certain the grass is as faux as the flowers, lovey, but you do you. And then they have tea! Zzzzzz. Oh, sorry – dozed off for a moment there. I’d love to know why the producers have turned the meet and greet into a parade of mini dates. Just imagine how many times those limousines are having to lap that circular driveway. No wonder Jess is tetchy. One bump in the road driveway and she’ll sprinkle that black velvet with icing sugar.
Aside: I wondered why anyone would bring a plate of brownies to the red carpet, but with Brooke sitting down to tea and building furniture while the others drive round in circles waiting for their turn, it was actually a spark of genius for Jess to bring a snack.
I’ve lost count by the time we get to the last man, but I think 7 out of 8 are carpenters. Very handy for when those trellises start to buckle under the weight of dried glue and silk flowers.
And I don’t often choose favourites – all right, I do – but I absolutely adoreKonrad and here are the reasons why:
He’s ridiculously handsome in that boy-band-of-the-90s meets male model way
His million-watt smile could light up the Mansion should there be a power outage
No other man in the history of the world has ever made high visibility wear look so good (honestly, you could pop a fluorescent orange vest on Chris Hemsworth and even he wouldn’t be as gorgeous as Konrad)
He’s a perfect gentleman when Jess (in a totally cowish move) usurps his plan for the inaugural sitting on the love seat
He ridiculously handsome (have I already mentioned that?)
Beau – This poor chap is hilarious but, unfortunately, not on purpose. The only way he could be more narcissistic is if he showed up with a cardboard cut-out of himself as a gift to Brooke. It’s too bad he didn’t, as it would have had far more depth than he has. Fairly certain he won’t be around for long, which is a shame. Every season needs a buffoon – so entertaining.
The final standout on the red carpet would have to be Jamie-Lee – former contestant on The Bachelor, former Brooke bestie (though only distanced, not estranged) and former (potential) crush. No guessing who the plant is this season – plant as in ‘deliberately cast to ruffle feathers’ rather than foliage, though there is an awful lot of that, as I’ve mentioned.
And I’m (not) sorry, but her note to Brooke sounded like she was reading out bumper stickers while driving along the motor way. But you just be true to yourself and have faith in the universe, Jamie-Lee. You deserve every happiness – natch.
And then onto the Cocktail Party, which reminds me of Christmas lunch with the family – the menfolk huddled around the fire while the woman do all the work. There’s so much collective terror in their eyes, they look like fourteen-year-olds at a school dance. Meanwhile, the women are as bolshie as and line up to sweep Brooke off her feet faster than any of the men think to say, ‘Sorry to interrupt, but …’
The tete-a-tetes unfold in a series of handholding and relocating, each new pairing off to explore a different part of the garden as though we’re having a guided tour of the Chelsea Flower Show. The men eventually grow some … er … courage and some time around 3:00am (my best guestimate), the assembled hopefuls set down their (hideous) red and green champagne flutes (seriously, where did the producers get those? The £2 Shop’s post-Christmas sale?), and head to the Rose Ceremony.
Ah, yes, the Rose Ceremony – just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be a faux flower left in all of Australia, this set will set you straight. It looks like a showroom at a funeral home.
Our contestants assemble in rows, as though readying for their class photograph, while Darvid of the ride-on mower holds aloft the ‘First Impression’ rose and tries to not to look smug. One by one, the producers whisper names in Brooke’s earpiece and with only a few hours to get to know the rest of the cast, she does a stellar job of remembering which one goes with which person. Finally, there is one man standing and we say goodbye to Johann – though, not a total loss as we still have six carpenters left.
So! At this early stage, who are the frontrunners for ‘Bride’ or ‘Groom’? I do think Jamie-Lee is one to watch, though she may have peaked too early by snatching that kiss at the Cocktail Party and she’s already showing signs of ‘jealous girlfriend’ with all those side-eyes at the others. Darvid is also an early front runner, but a sneak-peak at Episode 2 reveals an almost unforgiveable wardrobe choice – a 70s style turtleneck – ghastly.
So, I’d have to say Holly. She seems as smitten as Brooke and no doubt, she’s already choregraphing the bridal waltz when the cameras aren’t rolling.