Catching up with Author Jennifer Irwin

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.

Cover of A Dress the Color of the Moon - a woman facing away in a mooncoloured dress on a dark blue background. A crescent moon rises above her head.

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 start writing 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.

Where you can get it (print and ebook)

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

Target (US) | Barnes & Noble (US) | Waterstones (UK) | Booktopia (AU)

More about Jennifer

Author Jennifer Irwin sitting on steps and wearing a pink top and dark purple trousers. She has long light brown hair and is smiling.

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.

Follow Jen

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Thank you for your thoughtful and candid responses, Jen, and wishing you every success with your stunning second book.

Catching up (again) with Author Fiona Leitch

I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for the wonderful book, Falling in Louvre by a favourite author (and person), Fiona Leitch.

Book Cover: A Parisian street with two people kissing on a balcony and the Eiffel Tower in the background. Through a window across the way, there is the Mona Lisa.

Tell us what inspired you to write Falling in Louvre?

Back in 2016, there were huge floods in Paris. The Seine burst its banks, Metro lines were closed after tunnels flooded, and the basement storage area of the Louvre also ended up under water. In order to protect the artefacts stored in the basement, the Louvre was closed and everything moved onto higher floors. I thought, what a fantastic time for an art heist! While everything is topsy turvy! I was working as a cleaner at the time, and I liked the idea of someone who was constantly underestimated and almost invisible being responsible for a massive art theft (which the Netflix show Lupin has done brilliantly since). But I also wanted them to be sympathetic, to not be your usual criminals, and so I decided to tie it in with a love story. Plus I’d been to Paris the year before, and it’s such an atmospheric city – no wonder so many stories are set there! I wanted to use some of the less well known parts of the city.

What do you hope readers will take away from Falling in Louvre?

I hope they fall in love with Sylvie and Philippe, as well as Paris. I hope they see as well that no problem is insurmountable, but you can’t always do it on your own and there’s no shame in asking for help.

What’s your most recent read that you’d like to recommend?

I recently read Richard Osman’s debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club, and loved it. Great to see some older characters take centre stage, and not all be doddery old dears! I love the gentle humour and the twisty plot too. Plus I’ve lived in some of the places in the book, which was nice.

What has been your author highlight over the past year?

There have been several! Probably the first three books in my cosy mystery series being released, and signing a contract for three more. And co-writing something completely different with you, Sandy!

What are you working on now?

The next three books in the Nosey Parker series – editing number 4, writing number 5, and planning number 6! I also have another, very different, completely standalone novel set in New Zealand that I want to write.

Blurb for Falling in Louvre

Bertrand is King of the Pigeons…

Unofficially. From his perch atop a gargoyle on Notre Dame cathedral, he surveys his kingdom. He sees Sylvie Cloutier, art lover and ex-antiques dealer, making dinner for her bullying husband Henri, trapped in their loveless marriage like a bird in a gilded cage. He sees security guard, hopeless romantic and bookworm Philippe Moreau cycling through the streets of Paris in his crumpled uniform, late (again) for his night shift at the museum.

When Sylvie begs her husband to let her go to work, he gets her a job as an evening cleaner at the Louvre. He thinks such a menial position will dispel any ideas about independence she might have, but his plan backfires when she falls in love with kind, gentle Philippe. They decide to run away together, but there’s a major problem: neither of them has any money.

One stormy night in the Louvre, the answer to their prayers falls into their lap… But is it really the solution, or just another, even bigger problem?

What follows is a romantic, wistful but madcap adventure through (and under) the city of lights, involving a stolen painting, an art heist in reverse, and Eric Cantona. Will love find a way?

My review of Falling in Louvre

This is a wonderfully written book, with moments of humour, a slow-burn romance, and a deep dive into an important issue all wrapped up in a heist. Terrific mashup from the Queen of Mashups – highly recommended for romance readers, cosy mystery readers, and those who want to read something special.

Where to get it

All online bookstores: mybook.to/Louvre

More about Fiona

Author Fiona Leitch. A middle-aged blonde woman with shoulder length hair and dark rimmed glasses and a pink-lipsticked smile.

Fiona Leitch is a writer with a chequered past. She’s written for football and motoring magazines, DJ’ed at illegal raves and is a stalwart of the low budget TV commercial, even appearing as the Australasian face of a cleaning product called ‘Sod Off’. After living in London and Cornwall she’s finally settled in sunny New Zealand, where she enjoys scaring her cats by trying out dialogue on them. She spends her days dreaming of retiring to a crumbling Venetian palazzo, walking on the windswept beaches of West Auckland, and writing funny, flawed but awesome female characters.

Follow Fiona

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Great to have you on Off the Beaten track, Fiona. I loved Falling in Louvre and no doubt your readers will love it too.

To my love

Fifteen years ago, I took myself off to Greece.

I’d been single for several years, dating occasionally but nothing serious as, after two back-to-back relationships with cheaters, I was convinced that all men should f*ck off and die. My status as a late-30s singleton was a concern to many of my family members and well-meaning friends and the topic of far too many conversations. In fact, when I booked the trip, I lost count of the number of time I heard ‘Oh, you might meet someone’.

But I didn’t want to meet someone. At 37, I had met enough someones to know that relationships were not for me. I would lose sight of myself, pretending to be someone I wasn’t just to keep them going.

So imagine my surprise when I said goodbye to two of my oldest and dearest friends, Greek-Australian siblings I’d just spent the week with in Athens and Santorini, and boarded a rickety bus to ride dusty roads to the small port on the southern tip of Santorini – Vlychada – and when I stepped off that bus, I met someone.

‘Are you on the sailing trip,’ said the tall, cute American I’d been watching on the bus.

‘Yep.’

‘Oh, thank god I’m in the right place.’ I smiled at him. ‘Sorry, I’m Ben.’ He held out his hand for me to shake it.

‘Sandy.’ He had a firm handshake and a friendly smile.

‘Should we go find our boat?’ he asked.

‘Sounds good.’

We found the right boat, met the people we’d be sailing with for the next 10 days and embarked on a remarkable friendship. I say ‘remarkable’ because despite have a 10-year age difference, living on different continents and having a vastly different upbringings, professions, and life experiences, I’d met someone who saw the world through similar eyes to mine.

And he was super cute too. See?

Me and Ben, Mykonos 2006

Our friendship turned romantic and by the end of the trip, I knew I wanted him in my life. But how would that work? I lived in Sydney and he lived in St Paul.

Well, we did make it work. We met up to travel together for more than 2 years – Hawaii, New Zealand, a road trip up the West Coast of the US – and then in 2008, we made the (exciting and terrifying) decision to move together to Seattle. There was a ‘hard-to-get’ visa to come by (mine), a job to leave (mine), a job to transfer (Ben’s), and an apartment to find and set up (both of us). There was also a MASSIVE LEAP OF FAITH for Ben to move across the country and me across the world to move in with someone we’d only spent (collectively) 3 months with, face to face.

Cut to 2021.

We’ve lived together in 4 apartments in 2 cities (not counting our 2018 sabbatical, which takes that tally to double digits).

We’ve added dozens more trips to our repertoire (longer international trips, interstate trips to see family and friends and to explore, and shorter local trips to ‘get away’). We’ve taken a year-long sabbatical, living and working in WA, Bali, Seattle, Minnesota, the UK, Edinburgh, and Portugal, and visiting LA, Chicago, Ireland, Wales and Amsterdam.

We’ve tasted wine in regions around the world – Australia, New Zealand, California, the Pacific Northwest, Italy, and Portugal – with many more on our wine tasting bucket list. We’ve been sailing, boating, white water rafting, sky diving, ziplining, abseiling, hiking, water skiing, glacier climbing, snowshoeing, skiing, and paddle-boarding. Ben learnt to surf in Hawaii, but I stayed (safe) on the beach.

We’ve loved 2 kitties – Lucy (sadly, she died in 2015) and Rocky (he found his forever home in 2017)- and are about to bring home a 3rd (disclaimer: no pet’s names have been used in passwords😉). We’ve had several career changes each, and I’ve published 5 books and am about to finish writing my 8th. I’ve gone from being a brunette to a (dark) blonde (really a silver vixen, but not quite ready to embrace that yet) and Ben has gone from a curly-haired cutie to a smooth-headed hottie.

We’ve made lifelong friends together.

We’ve changed, we’ve grown, we’ve evolved and we’ve stayed ourselves.

And the past 2 years, we have spent every day and every night together. And through a pandemic, he is still my person, my someone. There is no other person I could have gotten through this with, babe.

Thank you for your good humour, your sometimes lame, but more often clever jokes, for hugs and laughs and dancing in the living room. Thank you for cleaning our windows so we can at least enjoy the view. Thank you for keeping track of seventy million streaming services and finding fun and interesting things for us to watch. Thank you for letting me teach you backgammon and for the games of gin rummy, even though you almost always beat me. Thank you for reading books about philosophy and thinking and how the mind works, broadening my knowledge and perception both by example and in our fascinating conversations. Thank you for enjoying my cooking, even when I’m phoning it in. Thank you for making the bed each morning, taking out the rubbish, and vacuuming to keep our home a sanctuary. Thank you for walks around the city and listening and understanding when it all gets too much. Thank you for celebrating every minor milestone of my publishing career – and thank you for keeping us well stocked in bubbles for those celebrations.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for being my someone. Happy 15th(!) anniversary.

Publication Day for The Dating Game!

Today is publication day for my 5th book, The Dating Game! You can read about my inspiration for the book here and today I thought I would share the acknowledgements. It always takes ‘a village’ to publish a book and this one was no exception.

The Dating Game Acknowledgements

As we all know, 2020 was an incredibly trying year across the world (and 2021 has already had its challenges too), but something that came from that difficult time – when my home city of Melbourne was strictly locked down for the better part of the year – was this book.

The idea came from a sweepstake at work. The Bachelor (or Bachie, as we call it in Australia) was starting and for some mid-pandemic light relief, my colleagues created a sweepstake, with the pot going to whoever drew the winning Bachelorette. To add to the experience, I started writing recaps of each episode – snarky, funny recaps – which I would post in our group chat the morning after each episode aired.

I mentioned the recaps to a close author friend, Andie Newton, one of my fellow Renegades. She asked to read one and immediately replied with, ‘This needs to be a book.’ I couldn’t imagine how a recap could turn into a book, but she came back with, ‘Write the story about the woman who writes the recaps.’ Genius. I bounced ideas off her and the other Renegades, Nina Kaye and Fiona Leitch, sent a sample chapter to my agent, Lina Langlee, and we pitched it to my editor at One More Chapter. Once I had the ‘thumbs up’ from my publisher, I researched, researched, researched – meaning I watched every episode of The Bachelor and continued to write my recaps. When the season was over, I sat down and wrote this book.

An enormous thank you, Andie, for sparking the original idea and for being a brilliant sounding board in the planning stages. For a historical fiction author, you certainly have excellent ideas for romcoms. Thank you also to Nina and Fi, who have been right there with me throughout the entire authoring process and particularly for answering my endless ‘Does this sound British enough?’ questions. And thank you to Fi and Andie for being early readers and giving me (incredibly) helpful feedback.

Thank you also to my lovely colleagues (and work friends) who ran the sweepstake, LOLed at my recaps (which spurred me on), and encouraged me, especially Carla, Natalie, Amanda, Dee, Shileen, Sam, and Keely.

A huge shout out to my wonderful editors. Hannah Todd was still at One More Chapter when we pitched this book. Hannah, thank you for advocating for me and The Dating Game – I so appreciate it – and thank you for all I learnt from you while working on my first four books.

To Jennie Rothwell, although you are new to One More Chapter, I already know that we are going to be a great team. Your inciteful feedback and your vision for this book have elevated my writing and I so look forward to working with you on my next books with One More Chapter. And speaking of … thank you so much to the incredibly hard-working team at One More Chapter, especially Charlotte Ledger and Bethan Morgan for being champions of my writing and for working so hard through the toughest of times.

A big thank you to my (fabulous, talented, and dedicated) agent, Lina Langlee of The North Literary Agency. I so appreciate the leap of faith you took with me on this book, and your early feedback was instrumental in setting me up for success. And another big thank you to Julie Fergusson, also of The North, who stepped in while Lina was on maternity leave. Thank you for your expert guidance and unwavering support to help me get this book across the line.

As always, I am grateful to my fellow authors for their support, their empathy, their trust, and their inspiring work. It is an honour and a privilege to be part of your community and I am constantly in awe of how generous you are and of your incredible work. A special mention and thank you to the volunteers who run our associations, the Romance Novelists Association (UK) and the Romance Writers Association (AU) for continuing to support and elevate the Romance genre. And thank you to my fellow #AusWrites-ers and #6amAusWrites-ers – I love our catchups on the socials and sometimes even in person!

A special thank you to Julie Houston, who provided the cover quote for this book. Julie, I admire you as a writer, but also as a person – you are so generous, thoughtful, and talented. Thank you for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to read my book. It means the world to me that you loved it.

And when I cheekily asked some other fellow romance authors if they’d like to do an early read, they all said yes! Thank you, Jessica Redland, Katie Ginger, Lucy Knott (and Kelly too), Rachael Stewart, Nikki Moore, Kiley Dunbar, and debut novelist and writing community maven, Anita Faulkner. I am also grateful to belong to the incredibly supportive (and aptly named) Author Support Network.

Thank you also to the reading and reviewing community – the bloggers, podcasters, and reviewers who generously share their thoughts on reading and books – especially to the community of Chick Lit and Prosecco (particularly for supporting my cover reveal and the lead up to publication day); the Australian Romance Readers Association (particularly you, Debbie, for all your incredible work); Australian Book Lovers (Darren and Veronica) who have generously hosted me on their podcast twice; Kim the Bookworm (Kim Nash) for inviting me on Book Chat with Kim – you are not only a wonderful author in your own right, but a terrific supporter of our community; and to the Australian Writers Centre for hosting me on their podcast, ‘So You Want to Be a Writer?’ (thank you, Valerie and Allison). And I have worked with the wonderful Rachel Gilbey several times – Rachel, it is a pleasure to work with you and thank you for all you do to organise such incredible book blog tours.

I always rely heavily on the support of my close friends and family, and my partner, Ben, to get through each stage of launching a book – from conception to publication and beyond. Ben, thank you for understanding that even minor milestones should be celebrated (and usually with bubbles). Thank you to my sis, Victoria, my mum, Lee, and dear friends, Lindsey, Jen, and Kate, for being early readers of this book and supporting and encouraging me. Thank you to the best, most supportive and loving parents and family a woman could ask for – your unwavering support is such a large part of why I get to do this wondrous thing, be an author. A special shout out to my Aunties, Linda, Candyce, Fran, Carmel, Karen, and Jenny – and especially my Great Aunt Joan. I am so fortunate to have such incredible role models in my life.

And lastly, thank you, dear reader, for coming on this fun and fabulous journey with me, Abby, and the gang. I hope you had a blast!

Out now in ebook and print to come on December 9. Buy links can be found here.

Catching up with Author Kevin Klehr

Really excited to welcome one of the AusWrites originals to Off The Beaten Track today. Kevin’s latest book, The Midnight Man is out today – huge congratulations, Kevin and welcome!

cover of The Midnight Man by Kevin Klehr - attractive man in his 30s with dark hair and wearing glasses looking off and a clock face behind him

Tell us what inspired you to write The Midnight Man?

It was Kate Bush’s haunting hit, ‘The Man With the Child in His Eyes’. The idea of a lover who only appeared in your bedroom when it’s time to sleep, appealed to me.

When did you start writing seriously?

I think it was in the 2000s some time. And after my manuscript was assessed several times, and rejected many more times, I was finally published in 2012. It took a while but I got there.

What do you love most about being an author?

Telling tales. I like taking aspects of my own life and heavily fictionalising them. And stealing clever lines which my friends have said and including them in my work.

What are you working on now?

I have two projects at the moment. One is the sequel to my dystopian novel, Social Media Central. It’s called Virtual Insanity and features manipulative robots.

The other follows six friends through the Sydney rave party days of the 1990s.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Midnight Man?

When you’re a gay author, many people mistake you as a Romance writer, or think you write erotica. So it’s important for me to clarify what this novel is.

My editor told me she ‘liked what the story had to say about the good and bad aspects of getting older.’ While many other things happen in the novel, it’s basically an Urban Fantasy about seeing where you want to be in life and finding how to get there.

More about the book

Stanley is almost fifty. He hates his job, has an overbearing mother, and is in a failed relationship.

Then he meets Asher, the man of his dreams, literally in his dreams.

Asher is young, captivating, and confident about his future – everything Stanley is not. So, Asher gives Stan a gift. The chance to be an extra five years younger each time they meet.

Some of their adventures are whimsical. A few are challenging. Others are totally surreal. All are designed to bring Stan closer to the moment his joyful childhood turned to tears.

But when they fall in love, Stan knows he can’t live in Asher’s dream world. Yet Stan is haunted by Asher’s invitation to “Slip into eternal sleep.”

Check with Kevin’s publisher Ninestar Press for buy links.

More about Kevin

Kevin lives with his husband, Warren, in their humble apartment (affectionately named Sabrina), in Sydney.

His tall tales explore unrequited love in the theatre district of the Afterlife, romance between a dreamer and a realist, an abused man in search of himself on an enchanted ocean liner, and a dystopian city addicted to social media.

His first novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes, spawned a secondary character named Guy. Many readers argue that Guy, the insecure gay angel, is the star of the Actors and Angels book series. His popularity surprised the author. The third in this series, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, scored a Rainbow Award (judged by fans of queer fiction) for Best Gay Alternative Universe/Reality novel.

So, with his fictional guardian angel guiding him, Kevin hopes to bring more whimsical tales of love, life and friendship to his readers.

Follow Kevin

Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | Facebook | Website

Great to have you, Kevin, and all the best for The Midnight Man – it sounds fab!

Writing The Dating Game

Cover of The Dating Game by Sandy Barker - man and a woman sitting in side by side sun loungers sipping cocktails

Today marks Day 201 of lockdown in Melbourne since March 31 2020 – and that is full-on lockdown with only 5 reasons to leave home, no visitors or gatherings, not going more than 5km from home, and masks on everywhere including outside. Is it any wonder that the book I started in August – just as we commenced a 112-day lockdown – has the cast of a reality television stuck in the same house with each other for months?

It’s odd, I know, but it only just occurred to me last week – The Dating Game is both my lockdown book and my book about a ‘lockdown’. Though, that is not how or why it came about.

Last year, just as the Australian season of The Bachelor was about to commence, some colleagues asked around – who would be up for a sweepstakes? We’d all put some money in the kitty, be randomly assigned a bachelorette, and the last woman standing at the end of the season would win one of us the kitty. It was a fun way to liven up an otherwise (often) dull working-from-home existence. And after the season premier aired, I was inspired to write a witty recap. I posted it to our Teams chat the next day, got lots of LOLs and, as I am a sucker for positive reinforcement, I continued throughout the season.

I mentioned my recaps to an author friend, then sent her one and she said, ‘You should write that as a book.’

‘A season of The Bachelor as a book?’

‘No, write the story about the woman who writes the recaps. Then send her on the show undercover.’

I percolated on this (brilliant) idea then pitched it to my agent, (the fabulous) Lina Langlee, sending her one of the recaps. She said, ‘Write me chapter one. Show me who she is, this woman.’ I did, sending it back a couple of days later. She loved it. ‘Write the synopsis.’ I did. She loved that and we pitched it to my publisher, One More Chapter. Hannah Todd was my editor at the time and she leapt at it – she loved the tone, style, and premise, she loved Abby, my heroine, and we got the green light. Abby Jones a.k.a. Anastasia Blabbergasted would be strong-armed into going on The Stag as a contestant. (Thank you, Andie, you were right.)

The Dating Game is a little different from my other books. It’s still ‘destination fiction’ with a heroine from London and most of the book set in Sydney, but it isn’t really about travel the way that my other books have been.

It’s about love and relationships – about what you want and need in a relationship, and how that can differ from what you think you want. It’s also about what’s real and what’s not when you go on a reality television show seeking love. That was a really fun theme to explore and a lot of characters get to have that conversation – with themselves and with each other.

Another differentiator between this book and my previous books is the romantic tropes I got to play with – several, actually: slow burn, forbidden love, friends to lovers … I had a lot of fun exploring Abby’s relationship with her love interest, especially as it starts as a meeting of the minds (with a little lust thrown in). And even though this book doesn’t have as much heat as the Holiday Romance series, I think readers will love how Abby keeps her love interest on his toes – and deservedly so! She’s plucky and, sometimes, he’s a bit of a twit!

The book also includes recaps of The Stag written by Abby as ‘Anastasia’ and – oh my god – those were a blast to write. Anastasia loves word play and literary devices, she’s hilarious and just a little bit mean and, as I wrote her, she sounded a lot like Patsy from Ab Fab in my head.

There’s also an undercurrent throughout the book of being trapped by circumstance – of having no way out of the situation so having to make the most of it and, just maybe, discovering something about one’s self along the way. (This really resonated with me.)

One thing The Dating Game does share with my other books, is that female friendship is a strong theme. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the supporting characters and how friendships form, even under the unlikely circumstances of being in competition with each other. I’ve already had quite a few early reviews mention Kaz, one of the Aussie Does, and she could actually be fun to write as a heroine. Hmmm …

We also had some great early reader feedback about wanting an epilogue and on reflection, I wanted one too, so I wrote one! (Tip: If you downloaded the book from NetGalley before it was added, you can download it again to read the epilogue).

So, The Dating Game will forever be my ‘lockdown’ book, a little snapshot of what it was like to write while confined to home, and how ‘making the most of it’ resulted in my funniest book to date. I really hope you enjoy it – it’s light and fun and funny – and that it is as much an escape for you to read as it was for me to write.

For more info, click here.

Publication Day for Amanda Brittany

Huge congratulations to Amanda Brittany on publication day of The Island House, her stunning new contemporary thriller.

Cover of The Island House by Amanda Brittany
Ocean rocks in the foreground, eerie island in the background. Large stone house on the island with one room lit up.
Tagline: Once you're there, you'll never want to leave... Until you can't

Welcome Amanda. Tell us what inspired you to write The Island House?

I’ve always been a huge fan of Agatha Christie, and it’s fair to say the queen of locked room mysteries inspired me to write The Island House.

Visiting Burgh Island in Devon was the inspiration for the setting for The Island House – although Flynn House in the book is a Gothic residence, rather than Art Deco like Burgh Island Hotel. When writing the scenes on the actual island, Burgh Island Hotel was never far from my thoughts.

The locations of Whitby and the Suffolk coast are places I love to visit. I remember being in Whitby a few years ago when the Gothic festival was on, and thought then that I must include it in a novel one day.

And when did you start writing seriously?

I’ve loved writing and telling stories since I was young, and always had a good imagination. I dreamed of writing a book one day, but it wasn’t until 2006, when I was in a serious car crash, that I thought, ‘If I don’t try now, I never will.’ I studied Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University, and subbed my first story to My Weekly in 2008. 200 published stories later, my first novel Her Last Lie was published by HQ/HarperCollins in 2008.

What do you love most about being an author?

I love hearing from readers who have enjoyed my books. It really is the icing on the cake.

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

I have three projects on the go at the moment. I’ve just finished the first draft of my sixth psychological thriller, am working on the outline for my seventh, and Karen Clarke and I are presently writing out third co-written novel, which is always great fun.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Island House?

I hope that The Island House will entertain readers, that they will enjoy trying to work out the twists – and will hopefully be surprised by some of them.

More about the book

A DARK FAMILY SECRET

When Alice’s father dies after a tragic hit and run, his death stirs up unanswered questions about her childhood. Who was her mother, why did her father never speak of the past, and why can’t she remember anything before the age of seven?

AN ISLAND CUT OFF

But when she receives an anonymous letter containing a photograph of a refurbished gothic guesthouse surrounded by water, and an invitation to stay, old memories fight to resurface.

Alice has visited before. She is certain of it.

WHO WILL SURVIVE?

Convinced the clues to her past lie at the hotel, she checks in. But once on the island, a wild storm rages, waves crash violently into the rocks, and the house is cut off by the roaring sea.

Then two guests are found dead. And the hotel owner is missing. Will Alice ever uncover her secret past?

And will anyone leave the island alive?

Where you can get it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US

Kobo | Google Play | Nook

More about Amanda

Author Amanda Brittany - Smiling middle aged woman with shoulder length brown hair wearing a black dress and seated at a table in a restaurant with a bunch of flowers and a copy of the book

Amanda Brittany is the best selling author of five psychological thrillers Her Last Lie, Tell the Truth, Traces of Her, I Lie in Wait and now, The Island House.

Her debut, Her Last Lie is being made into a film supported by Creative Scotland, and she has raised almost £8500 for Cancer Research UK from her eBook royalties, in memory of her sister. (Huge congrats on this too, Amanda!)

Amanda lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and a crazy, cute dog. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family and friends, travelling, walking her dogs, reading & sunny days. Though, since childhood, she has loved the snow, which features in Her Last Lie and I Lie in Wait.

She also writes psychological suspense novels with Karen Clarke. The Secret Sister and The Perfect Nanny are out now, and the writing duo are presently working on their third novel.

Follow Amanda

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All the best with publication day, Amanda!

Catching up with Author Rosie Travers

Welcoming the lovely Rosie Travers to Off the Beaten Track today to celebrate the recent release of her latest book, A Crisis at Clifftops. I’ve loved Rosie’s first two books and am excited for this new cosy mystery series.

Cover of A Crisis at Clifftops by Rosie Travers, English Manor in the background, gardens in the foreground. Additional text: Eliza Kane Investigators Book One

Tell us, what inspired you to write A Crisis at Clifftops?

A Crisis at Clifftops is a humorous cosy mystery set on the Isle of Wight. It would be difficult to reveal the actual incident which inspired this novel, without giving away a major plot twist! However, the original idea was conceived while taking a short break on the island a few years’ back. I initially planned a ‘coming home’ story, featuring a jaded sportsman who returns to rejuvenate the family’s seaside business. My sportsman soon became a sportswoman (after all, why not?) and as soon as the opening line, “My grandmother had picked the perfect day to get arrested,” popped into my head, I decided it would be far more fun to write a cosy mystery. I realised I could use my main character, professional golfer Eliza, to solve a whole string of vintage mysteries based on the island’s geographic landmarks and cultural history.

When did you start writing seriously?

I began writing seriously about ten years ago.  We had moved from our home on the south coast of England to California, I changed from being a busy working mum, to a lady of leisure with plenty of time on my hands. I started a blog about my somewhat surreal life as an ex-pat wife. I’d scribbled a few stories as a teenager and the blog rekindled that desire to become a writer.  When we returned to the UK three years later I took a part-time creative writing course at my local college, thinking I’d write a book about my US experiences, but soon discovered I preferred writing fiction to fact. When my husband took another overseas assignment to the Netherlands a couple of years later, I was able to concentrate on writing full-time, and my first novel, The Theatre of Dreams, was published by Crooked Cat books in 2018.

What do you love most about being an author?

I was an avid reader from a very early age and have always loved escaping into a good book. When you’re engrossed in a book you can shut out the rest of the world, and I love the idea that as a writer, I can now provide that sense of escape to my own readers. I have a very vivid imagination, and I enjoy creating puzzles, setting my characters challenges and giving them dilemmas. It’s like being a puppet-master, although the puppets quite often take over! Having now decided to take the plunge into self-publishing I’ve also realised I don’t have to conform or write to a market, which has reignited my creativity.  I have the freedom to write the books I want to read.

What are you working on now?

I’m hoping to publish my second Eliza Kane mystery, The Puzzle of Pine Bay, early in 2022. Having also regained my rights to The Theatre of Dreams, I’m working on a sequel to that too, which all being well, I’ll publish later next year.

What do you hope readers will take away from A Crisis at Clifftops?

My main aim is always to provide escapism and entertainment, so I hope readers come away with a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. Although the book starts off as a murder mystery, it also explores the relationship between the main protagonist, amateur sleuth Eliza, and her grandmother Lilian, the chief suspect. I hope this book may also make readers take a closer look at their own elderly relatives. Sometimes it’s easy to forget they weren’t always old!

More about the book

When Lilian Hathaway is named as the chief suspect in a murder enquiry, her granddaughter Eliza drops everything to rush to her side. After a string of crushing defeats, professional golfer Eliza is facing a career crisis of her own. She seizes the opportunity to hide away with Lilian at Clifftops Hotel, the family’s home on the Isle of Wight, determined to defend her beloved nanna’s innocence.

But just how innocent is Lilian?

As the evidence starts to mount up, Eliza turns amateur sleuth in a race to uncover the truth. Family loyalty is stretched to the limits when she discovers a series of events in her grandmother’s past which could have far-reaching consequences, not just for Lilian but also for Clifftops, and Eliza’s own future.

Available from

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon CA

More about Rosie

Author photo, a middle aged woman with shoulder length blonde hair and blue eyes.

Rosie Travers grew up in Southampton on the south coast of England. She spent many years working in local government before moving to California in 2009. With time on her hands she started a blog about life as an ex-pat wife which rekindled a teenage desire to become a writer. Now back in the UK, Rosie lives with her husband Neil and cat Ed on the edge of the New Forest.

Her debut novel The Theatre of Dreams was published in August 2018 and her second, Your Secret’s Safe With Me, followed in February 2019.   She is currently working on a series of humorous cosy mysteries set in the Isle of Wight.

Follow Rosie

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon

Great to have you on the blog today, Rosie!

Reading my own books

When you are writing a series over many years, there comes a time when you need to re-read the first few books before you launch into a later book. And by ‘re-read’, I mean ‘read for the first time as an actual reader’.

Because by the time my books go to print, I’ve already read them a dozen times, each through a different lens – there’s all the editing and tweaking that occurs before I send them off to early readers, including my agent, then addressing feedback and final style edits and proofreads. Then they go to the publisher – I receive structural editorial requests and make those. I receive copy edits and address those. I even sign off on the proofread. By the time it hits a reader’s hands, I know each book inside and out, but not as a reader.

So, for the past few weeks I have been reading my first three books as a reader. This is necessitated because I’ve written 3 books outside the series since 2019 and I really want to immerse myself in the Holiday Romance series world. I want to remind myself of the character nuances that make those books special, to tease out little nuggets (Easter eggs for readers) that I can put into Book 5. And it is tricky to do that well without going back to the beginning.

I started writing the Holiday Romance series in 2015 with the book that was first self-published as You Might Meet Someone and then became One Summer in Santorini (published in mid-2019 by One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins UK). After self-publishing Book 1, I moved swiftly onto I Think I Met Someone , the sequel to Book 1, then Someone Unexpected, which was in the same series but about a supporting character from Books 1 & 2, Cat. By the end of 2018 (my year on sabbatical) I had written three books in the series, was about to self-publish the third, and was querying madly.

Then a miracle happened!

I got a publication deal!!! And as a result …

You Might Meet Someone became One Summer in Santorini (still Book 1)

Someone Unexpected (never self-published) became That Night in Paris (becoming Book 2)

and I Think I Met Someone became A Sunset in Sydney (becoming Book 3)

Did you follow all that?

Early 2020, right after I finished writing The Christmas Swap, my 4th book and a standalone (not in the series), I started writing Under Bali Skies, the 4th book in the series. Bali is about Jaelee, one of the supporting characters from That Night in Paris and I re-read Paris before I started writing it. I wanted to ensure that I had the right cadence and style for the series and to refresh my understanding of Jaelee’s character.

Well now, a year after finishing Bali, I am starting Book 5, A Wedding in Tuscany. This book will bring together all the fave characters from Books 1-4 so I needed to get reacquainted with Sarah, Cat, and the gang before I whisk them all off to Tuscany!

And how has it been reading my books as a reader, one who reads voraciously in the Romance genre?

Santorini was a little tricky for me. It was my first ever book (obvs) so I was a little green as an author and I have found dozens of tweaks I’d like to make if I ever get the chance. Paris was fun – and I’d read it most recently, so it was a quick read. But Sydney was the most fun. Even though it was the second book I ever wrote, by the time I was tasked with editing it, I was a lot more confident in my authorial voice and in it there are so many passages that make me laugh out loud – or cry.

Actually, all my books still make me cry. Ben found me the other day, forlorn with a tear-stained face. I confessed that one of my heroines was ‘so awful’ and ‘had really hurt him’ and ‘why did she do that?????’ He hugged me, somehow understanding that these characters are real to me, that they have their own thoughts and feelings and desires and fears – that it is not me who creates them, but it’s them who let me tell their stories.

So, on the whole, reading my first three books has been … well … just lovely, really.

Next up in the world of Sandy Barker books is The Single Girl’s Guide to Hunting (in August! Huzzah!). It’s a stand-alone and I consider it my funniest ever book. Bali comes out early next year followed by Tuscany.

The ‘Someone’ series cover art by the very talented Jane Dunnet (Jane on Insta)

The ‘Holiday Romance’ series cover art by the (also) very talented Lucy Bennett (Lucy on Insta)

Catching up with Author @Karen_King

To mark the publication of her next novel, One Summer in Cornwall, I am thrilled to have the wonderful (and prolific) Karen King on Off the Beaten Track today, as the next stop on her book blog tour.

Book Blog Tour Banner
Book cover and dates and names of contributors
Sandy Barker May 2

Congratulations, Karen, and welcome!

Tell us what inspired you to write One Summer in Cornwall.

I love Cornwall, and have set several books there. The first romance novel I set in Cornwall, The Cornish Hotel by the Sea, was set in the fictional town of Port Medden, and became a Kindle bestseller both in the UK and Australia. As it was very popular I thought it would be nice to write a sequel. One Summer in Cornwall features some of the much-loved characters from The Cornish Hotel by the Sea. Marcus the chef at Gwel Teg, was named in the Cornish Hotel but never featured, so I thought it would be lovely to give him his own story. Then Hattie came roaring into my head on her electric blue Harley Davidson and I had my hero and heroine. My friends have a cheeky Amazon parrot, who is the inspiration for Buddy. Then I threw in a fisherman’s cottage left to Hattie and her father and my story was born.

When did you start writing seriously?

Well over thirty five years ago now. I was first published in the 1980’s, writing for Jackie Magazine, but it was writing for children’s magazines such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Postman Pat, Barbie and Winnie the Pooh that gave me my ‘big break’ and enabled me to earn a living by writing. I also wrote children’s books. My first romance novel, Never Say Forever, was published as a People’s Friend Pocket Novel in 2009, and is now republished by Headline. One Summer in Cornwall is my ninth romance novels and I’m contracted to write two more for Headline. I also had my first psychological thriller, The Stranger in my Bed published by Bookouture in November 2020 and a second one, The Perfect Stepmother, will be published in June this year.

What do you love most about being an author?

Making up stories! My mind is always bursting with ideas and I love it when a story finally starts to come right. Getting good feedback from readers is a lovely bonus too. When I was writing children’s books I enjoyed visiting schools to encourage children to read and write. Children have such an incredible imagination and we had a lot of fun making up stories as a class.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a Christmas romance for Headline, the second book in my three book contract. The third one will be out next summer. It seems odd to be writing a Christmas story in the summer, especially as this one is set in a little village in Devon, complete with snow and an outdoor carol service. I’m feeling very nostalgic as I write.

What do you hope readers will take away from One Summer in Cornwall?

I hope they enjoy the read and it leaves them feeling a little happier. We live in strange and worrying times so it’s nice to lose yourself in a feelgood, heart-warming book sometimes.

More about One Summer in Cornwall

Cover of the book, One Summer in Cornwall. Woman painting outside of a thatched cottage by the seaside. A boat is sailing offshore.


Escape to Cornwall this summer…

When Hattie is made redundant and evicted from her flat in one horrible week, she needs time to rethink. Her Uncle Albert left her and her father each half of Fisherman’s Rest, his home in the Cornish town of Port Medden, so this seems the perfect place to escape to until she can figure things out.

As Hattie stays in the cottage, clearing it out, tidying it up and getting it ready to sell, she starts to find her feet in Port Medden and making a new home here begins to feel right. If only her dad didn’t need a quick sale and things weren’t complicated by her unwelcoming neighbour Marcus…

A gorgeous feel-good read, perfect for fans of CATHY BRAMLEY and PHILLIPA ASHLEY.

Where you can buy it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Kobo | Nook | Waterstones (UK) | Foyles (UK) | Booktopia (AU) | Dymocks (AU)

More about Karen

Karen King author photo - a smiling with blue eyes and red hair wearing a floral top

Karen King is a multi-published author of both adult and children’s books. She has had eight romantic novels published, one psychological thriller with another one out later this year, 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, and several short stories for women’s magazines. Her romantic novel The Cornish Hotel by the Sea became an international bestseller, reaching the top one hundred in the Kindle charts in both the UK and Australia. Karen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Karen now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns with her husband, Dave, when she isn’t sunbathing or swimming in the pool, that is.

Follow Karen

Website | Amazon | Facebook | BookBub | Twitter

Thank you for sharing with us, Karen, and all the best for publication day!

Thank you so much for inviting me over to your blog, Sandy!