The home stretch of sabbatical life

In 1979 and 1980, my dad and his then-partner embarked on long-term travel. Their trip included a 3-month drive from Cape Town to Cairo on a giant pink truck with a handful of other travellers, working on a Kibbutz in Israel, and buying a camper van and travelling in the UK and Europe while they picked up intermittent teaching work.

Essentially, they took a sabbatical, only when I think about what they did and when they did it, theirs was quite a bit more bad-ass than ours. Just quietly, my dad is one of my heroes. This is him.

We are ten months into a year-long sabbatical, and I recently posted on Facebook that I was having a ‘travel weary’ day, that I knew the funk wouldn’t last, but at that moment, I just wanted to go home.

One friend asked, “Where’s that?” and it was a good question. I have talked a lot this year about home being wherever lay my head (and where Ben is). I replied, “Just Australia.”

My dad’s comment on the post drew on his own long-term travel. “Once you sense the finish line, you just want to go. Hang in there.”

A friend, who last year completed a year’s sabbatical with her husband, posted, “Been there. Sending love.”

I don’t post this to complain.

This year has been brilliant. When Ben and I look back on the last ten months and all we’ve seen, the people we have met and reconnected with, the places we’ve been to, and all we’ve done and accomplished, it brings us a lot of happiness – even some pride.

But there are two months left, and I do not want to fritter those away by wallowing in homesickness. Ben and I are united in the belief that we are privileged and brave and must make the absolute most of every day for the next two months.

So, with that in mind, we will continue to get out and see Porto and enjoy the beauty and wonder it has to offer us. We will have a brilliant time with our family in the UK over Christmas and New Year. We will add a side trip or two – Wales looks likely, as does a return to London. We will plan out something spectacular for January (our swan song). And I will finish my third novel.

So again, I do not write this to complain, but to share the reality of sabbatical life. Sometimes, you just want to be home.


So, what exactly is #chicklit?

I published my first novel nearly a year ago and I’m about to publish my third. Something I’m often asked—and something I need to define as an author—is what genre I write in.

The long answer is ‘Contemporary Women’s Fiction’, but as this broad category also includes authors like Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult, whose books are brilliant but very different from mine, I tend to answer ‘RomCom’ or ‘Chicklit’.

RomCom is a little limiting, however, because in each of my books I delve into heartbreak, goodbyes, loss, and other harsh realities of life, like alcoholism and infidelity. The other day, Ben asked me if I was okay because I started sobbing while sitting at my computer. “I’m just writing a sad scene,” I said and he left me to it. My characters live and breathe in my head; when they’re heartbroken, so am I.

That said, I also write a lot of humour into my books. The main characters are funny women. They’re self-deprecating, smart and witty. Their inner monologues, where they ‘say’ whatever they like, are some of the funniest parts of the books.

In short, I write them to be relatable, well-rounded, flawed, and fabulous women—like your best friends, your sisters, your cousins/aunts/mums, like you.

So, is Chicklit a more apt description of the genre I write? Yes and no.

Yes, because fans of the genre know what type of book they’re getting when they buy one of mine—and it’s likely they’ll enjoy it. And I’m in good company in this genre. Take a look at the Goodreads list of most popular Chick Lit titles. You’ll notice some famous bestsellers, like Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Devil Wears Prada.

And no, because it’s (become) a loaded term. For those who don’t really know what it is, who are afraid to dip their toe in the pool, who might love my books and others that sit in this category if they actually read them, there can be the perception that Chicklit = fluffy nonsense.

This is not true.

Sure, like in any genre, books in this category span the entire spectrum from outstanding to atrocious, but the best examples of the genre are fantastic reads. And, like any genre, the lines are fluid. It includes everything from laugh-out-loud comedies (a la Bridget Jones) to heartbreaking tales like JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You.

A way I can narrow down my specific corner of the genre further, is to identify the books that would sit next to mine on the shelf, those ‘people-who-bought-this-book-also-bought…’ books.

My fave Chicklit author—the one who I want my books to sit next to the most—is Lindsey Kelk.


She’s written seven (soon to be eight) I Heart books and three Tess Brookes books, as well as several stand-alones. Her writing is fast-paced, funny, heartfelt, and relatable. She’s a full-time author and her books are sold worldwide, and I feel qualified to say this because I’ve read hundreds of Chicklit books, one of the best in the biz.

So, if I was pressed to give the Twitter pitch definition of Chicklit, I would say this:

It’s fiction about women, for women.

That would leave me 204 characters to further explain that men often read and enjoy it, and some of it is written by men, but I stand by my one-liner.

I am also trying (without a lot of traction at the moment) to get ‘travel romance’ to take off as a sub-genre: exploring the transformative effects of travel on the love-weary. But until it becomes mainstream, I’m happy to inhabit my little corner of Chicklit.


Character Description Must-Haves

Brilliant advice for writers from KM Allan.

K.M. Allan

There’s a lot of elements that go into writing a book, and each one has their own set of must-haves.

Take character descriptions, for example. Obviously, the easiest way to create a picture in someone’s mind is to list the physical characteristics. Often it’ll be something like; “She was tall, with long black hair and bangs that sat above her blue eyes, clashing with her pale skin.”

Do you create a picture? Sure, but unless you’re from the Nine-Nine putting out an APB for your solve (can you tell I’ve just discovered the TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine?), describing your characters like a police description doesn’t do you any favors.

Instead, try digging a little deeper. Think of new ways to work in height, weight, eye color, etc, and mix up the accurate facts with vivid details. Ones that touch on the five senses and include some of these character…

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A desk with a view

We have now been on sabbatical for nine months, and during that time Ben and I have both worked for our respective clients and I’ve written, edited and published one novel and I’m about 1/4 of the way through writing the next.

While we’ve also made time to explore the different locations we’ve visited or lived in, our working life is a big part of the sabbatical. This is a test case: can we live and work abroad for extended periods of time? We never know, this could become our new normal.

The kind of work we both do – Ben developing software, and me writing and editing content – means we need to work at desks. But ‘desk’ can be any flat surface. Ben’s current stand-up desk set up is an ironing board and the box the vacuum cleaner came in – yes, really.

Most of the time, we either use the dining table of the place we’re staying at, or we go to coffee shops. The coffee shop thing is tricky. The seats have to comfortable enough to sit on for at least a couple of hours, the WiFi has to be good, the coffee can’t suck, and there needs to be a generally good ‘vibe’.

Our fave spot so far in Porto is the cafe at the Concert Hall, which has great seats, fast WiFi and a buzz of energy from the groups of people who gather there to catch up or to work. The coffee sucks, but 3 out of 4 isn’t bad. The other day, when it was still sunny and warm, we worked in the park at a picnic table for a couple of hours – divine.

At the lake cabin, I’d often sit on the porch in an Adirondack chair (I love these) and write, stealing glances at the lake view from time to time. In Bali, my favourite place to work was on the sunlounger next to the pool.

So here are some of my fave desks with a view from the year so far.

In the park in Porto
At the park in Porto
Looking out the window in Amsterdam