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

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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

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.

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 Fiona Leitch

Huge congratulations to Fiona Leitch on publication of her fabulous new romcom Falling in Louvre. This is a romantic comedy with a lot of heart and a twist! It’s also a crime caper – essentially, a fun, romantic and thoughtful story by the Queen of Mashups! I know you will love it.

Cover of Falling in Louvre by Fiona Leitch
Skyline of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background and a couple kissing in silhouette on a balcony in the foreground. Also in the foreground inside of someone's apartment is the Mona Lisa.

About the book

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?

Check out the book trailer

Where you can get it

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU

About Fiona

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.

Her debut novel ‘Dead in Venice’ was published by Audible in 2018 as one of their Crime Grant finalists. Fiona also writes screenplays and was a finalist in the Athena Film Festival Writers Lab, co-run by Meryl Streep’s IRIS company.

Follow Fiona

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Congrats again, Fiona, and I hope you have a spectacular celebration!

Cover Reveal for my next book The Dating Game

Today I am sharing the cover of my next book, The Dating Game!

This is a standalone set in the world of Reality Television and here’s the blurb:

Abby Jones has a secret identity …

She is the Anastasia Blabbergasted, Queen of Snark and illustrious recapper of British reality television shows for online magazine, Feed Your Mind. When a recap of reality dating show, The Stag, goes viral, the show’s producers practically insist that she joins next season’s cast, undercover as a Doe – won’t that make her recaps all the spicier! Abby’s editor is all for the idea, but Abby can’t think of anything worse – even though next season is filming in Sydney!

That is until Abby meets scrummy Australian, Jack – rescuer from murderous elevator doors and the producer of the show.

Join Abby and the latest cast of The Stag for madcap fun and romantic adventures in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

And here’s the gorgeous cover!

Cover of The Dating Game by Sandy Barker
A man and a woman sitting on side by side sun-loungers drinking cocktails

Told ya, it was gorgeous! With huge thanks to my editor, Jennie Rothwell, for the concept and to the cover artist, the brilliant Lucy Bennett.

It’s out September 10 (ebook) and December 9 (print) and you can preorder now!

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon CA

Kobo | iBooks | Google Play | Nook

Waterstones | Foyles

Catching up with Author Kate Smith

A very happy publication day to debut author, Kate Smith, and thank you very much for having me on your blog tour for You’ve Got Mail!

Cover of You've Got Mail, a man and a woman. The woman is holding a phone,

Tell us what inspired you to write You’ve Got Mail?

It was the idea of receiving an anonymous email that sparked the premise of You’ve Got Mail. And the story blossomed from that. I love the romantic story of Cyrano de Bergerac, the writing of love letters anonymously, the pretence of being someone else. So, I toyed with the idea in my head of what would happen if, instead of wooing people anonymously, my main character dumped them instead.

When did you start writing seriously?

I was thirty, had just had my daughter and become a single mum, and I needed an outlet. I wrote a romcom that will never see the light of day (thankfully) and I found the whole process really cathartic. I could give my characters the happily ever after that I was craving in real life, I guess. I had an agent read it and say she loved my style of writing but that the story didn’t have a ‘hook’ so I went away and started on a new project that ended up being You’ve Got Mail.

I work part time as a therapist in social care, so between that and looking after my daughter there’s not a lot of time for writing. But I make sure I give it as much priority as I can.

What do you love most about being an author?

I love getting to know my characters. They tend to have a life of their own and often I find that I’m veering away from my (very loose) plan because they’re having none of it! I also love the hope and joy that writing romance brings. I know that whatever my characters have to deal with they will come out of it with their own happily ever after, and this is comforting for me.

And, especially at the moment as a front-line worker, I love being able to completely switch off from the real world and immerse myself in pure romantic fantasy.  

What are you working on now?

My deal with Orion Dash was a two-book deal, and I have just sent my second romcom manuscript to my agent and editor. So, while I wait for the feedback on that one (I’m not sure I can give you any more details yet) I am finishing up a third romcom manuscript I started during lockdown 1.0! Watch this space!

What do you hope readers will take away from You’ve Got Mail?

I would love readers to grow with Gracey, my main character. To be with her on her journey of discovery as she learns she’s more than the sum of what others think of her. But mostly, I would love readers to enjoy the book and the escape it hopefully provides; with a little laughter along the way.

This sounds fabulous. Here’s more about the book:

It’s been fun, but I think we should stop seeing each other. Thanks for a great laugh x

When Grace Wharton is dumped by email from a relationship she isn’t even in, she adds it to the list of ways her life hasn’t quite panned out: twenty-five, single, and working a dead-end job she doesn’t enjoy. She fires off an angry response to Mr Obnoxious – how dare he try to dump someone over email?! – knowing that telling off a random stranger online means she has reached an all-time low.

Everything changes when her boss asks her to go to a big sales conference to secure an important client. Her partner is Jack Lockett, company Casanova and Grace’s long-time crush. What’s more, he seems very interested… But Mr Obnoxious keeps sending her emails and Grace keeps replying. Only to make sure he doesn’t send any more heart-breaking emails, obviously.

Grace’s life has suddenly gone from stagnant to brimming with possibilities. But is it all too good to be true?

A witty, charming and all too relatable debut romcom, You’ve Got Mail is perfect for fans of Sophie Ranald, Mhairi McFarlane and Joanna Bolouri.

Where can you get it?

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU | Kobo | Nook

More about Kate:

Kate Smith smiling woman seated in a garden

Kate Galloway Smith is a writer, editor, and an HCPC registered Occupational Therapist.

A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Kate can be found writing romantic comedies in Norwich, where she lives with her daughter and their cat and an increasing number of house plants.

You’ve Got Mail is her debut.

The Christmas Swap #OMCReadalong with One More Chapter

Very excited to announce that The Christmas Swap has been chosen as One More Chapter’s holiday read-along book from December 8-11.

How can you join in on the fun?

Grab a copy of the book today, mark your calendar, and follow the hashtags and posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

There will be an Instagram live event on December 11, as well as quizzes, challenges, sharing of Christmas traditions, reviews, Q&As and much more!

So if you love all things Christmas, sign up or mark your calendar today!

One More Chapter on Twitter | One More Chapter on Instagram | One More Chapter on Facebook

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Book bloggers, sign up here:

OMC Blogger Newsletter | OMC Blogger Facebook Group | OMC WhatsApp Group

The Christmas Swap Blurb

Chloe, Jules, and Lucy meet at a Maui resort kids’ club, aged 11, forging a lifelong friendship spanning two decades and three continents.

Twenty-two years later, they decide to swap Christmases, none of them expecting the hilarity and romantic escapades that will ensue.

Chloe from Melbourne spends her Christmas with Lucy’s mum and dad in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England, stunned to the core when she discovers who grew up across the road from Lucy.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend a balmy ‘Orphan’s Christmas’ with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away from her mundane life is just what she needed.

Join these three lovable women as they each get a Christmas to surpass their wildest dreams.

Buy Links

Amazon AU | Amazon UK| Amazon US | Kobo | Dymocks(AU) | Booktopia(AU) | A&R(AU) | Waterstones(UK) | Foyles(UK)

Paperback out now in the UK and coming soon to other countries.

It’s Publication Day for The Christmas Swap

Cover of the book The Christmas Swap. A snowy scene at the top of the cover, with a ski lodge and a man and a woman. On the bottom of the cover is a beach image with bathing boxes and surfboards and a man and a woman sitting together.

So excited that this day is (finally) here! I started writing this book in July 2019 for Camp NaNoWriMo with the goal of writing 30K words in 31 days. I wrote 35K words, then tweaked the manuscript with help from my agent, and we pitched it (with a synopsis) to my publisher, One More Chapter.

They loved it, then it was slotted into my publication schedule and today’s the day when it is out in the world!

To mark the occasion I am sharing my acknowledgements.

Acknowledgements and a note from the author

It’s hard to believe I am writing the acknowledgements for my fourth book, but here I am. I have dedicated this book to my parents―my mum, Lee, my dad, Ray, and my step-mum, Gail. I am extremely fortunate to have parents who not only love me, but champion me and inspire me. They have also instilled in me the importance of family―including the family members we choose―as well as having a sense of adventure and following your dreams.

Family is a prominent theme in this book and as I write these acknowledgements amid the second round of COVID-19 lockdowns here in Melbourne, ‘family’ has become more important to me now than ever. And for me, a person who has lived on three continents, that word encompasses all the people I love, all the people who inspire me, lift me up, confide in me, and ease my path. Thank you, family―wherever you are. Stay safe and we will meet again someday soon.

As always, I am grateful to my two partners-in-writing, my editor, Hannah Todd, and my agent, Lina Langlee. It is wonderful having you in my corner and you are both gifted collaborators. Hannah, thank you for being my champion at One More Chapter and HarperCollins, and for your excellent feedback, which always elevates my writing. I continue to grow as an author under your guidance. Lina, I greatly appreciate your advocacy, your astute guidance, and your ongoing support of my writing career. Ever onwards and upwards―together.

Thank you to my fellow authors for supporting, championing, and inspiring me, particularly my fellow Renegades, Nina, Andie, and Fiona. Our daily catchups sustain me; they are chocolate for my soul. Thank you to Lucy Coleman (Linn B. Halton) whose quote appears on the cover of this book. I hope that one day I will be as prolific and as accomplished as you. Your books are the stuff of dreams. Thank you to all my fellow romance authors who forge and shape this genre, and to the book lovers, bloggers, and reviewers whose passion for romantic fiction lifts us all, especially my friends at UKRomChat, The Reading Corner Book Lounge, and Chick Lit and Prosecco. Thank you to the volunteers at the Romance Novelists Association and Romance Writers of Australia for your tireless efforts to sustain and elevate romantic fiction. And thank you to my fellow Aussie authors at the Australian Writer’s Centre and #AusWrites.

Lastly, dear reader, thank you. Thank you for traveling across three continents with me and enjoying some Christmassy goodness. Christmas is my favourite holiday, and over my lifetime, I’ve spent it in the US, the UK, and Australia―each Christmas special for its distinct traditions and the loved ones I’ve shared it with.

Happy Christmas, happy holidays, and stay safe.

~ Sandy Barker

Read about my inspiration for writing The Christmas Swap

Read more about the book, including where to find it

Catching up with Author Daisy Tate

Today I welcome the lovely Daisy Tate for an author catch-up, whose latest book is A Bicycle Built for Sue.

We’ll find out more about Sue later. First let’s catch up with Daisy

Tell us what inspired you to write A Bicycle Built for Sue?

In all honesty, I came up with the title first. I’ve been on a couple of cycling tours myself and found them incredibly difficult, not just because of the physical challenges, but because of the thinking time. I’d also been on a charity run recently (I promise you, I’m not a gifted athlete, just too up for a challenge!) and everyone had on shirts saying why or who they were running the race for and I was in floods of tears for most of the race because I was making up stories for absolutely everyone. I don’t want to give anything away, but I narrowed it down to Sue (fictional, of course), and her story is about a woman reeling in the wake of a personal tragedy. She finds help and support from a trio of women she least expects, who crowd round and keep her head above water. It’s something I have found to be true on numerous occasions when you’re blindsided by loss or heartache of some variety. And yes, sometimes the people you expect to help do, but sometimes they don’t and it’s always interesting to see who steps in to lend a hand when you need it most.

When did you start writing seriously?

I started writing seriously about six years ago. I’d had lots of stop/starts along the way, but my husband and I had moved out of London to a farm and I found, particularly in the winter, I needed some intellectual stimulus. So, I thought, ‘Get yourself to a keyboard!’

What do you love most about being an author?

The surprises that blossom along the way. I love writing dialogue and sometimes something will come out of someone’s mouth and I’m all … whaaaaaaat? You’re saying that now? To them? I write almost every day but those moments definitely stand out as extra special ones. I also LOVE hearing from readers. I read a review recently where the reader thought she wasn’t going to like the book because it was ‘too relatable’ (the dark parts) but she persisted and said by the end she’d actually felt more hopeful about her own situation. Those kind of moments are amazing.

What are you working on now?

I have an alter ego – Annie O’Neil – who writes Christmas books, and I’ve just put the finishing touches on this year’s book, A Miracle on Christmas Street. It’ll be out later this month. I also have, and I’m not kidding, about ten pitches I’m polishing up for my agent and editor to see if any of them appeal. I love them all and can’t pick, so I’m definitely going to need an outside eye to help me home in on just the one.

What do you hope readers will take away from A Bicycle Built for Sue?

I hope, most of all, that they know they’re not alone, that no matter how sad or lonely or desperate or isolated someone can feel, there is ALWAYS someone there. They may not come in the package you expected, but they will be there. It’s not a mandate to join a charity cycle ride, but I have taken part in a few charitable events (even wiggling a tin in front of a grocery store) and it’s always rewarding. Most of all, I would like readers to take away a belief that everyone is stronger than they think they are and deeply, deeply lovable.

That is lovely, Daisy, and such a good reminder to us all.

Here’s the blurb for A Bicycle Built for Sue

Sue Young has never asked for much apart from a quiet life. She’s always been happy with her call centre job and dinner on the table at six o clock; that was until a tragedy tore her tranquillity into little shreds.

With her life in tatters, Sue is persuaded to join a charity cycle ride led by Morning TV’s Kath Fuller, who is having a crisis of her own, and Sue’s self-appointed support crew are struggling with their own issues. Pensioner Flo Wilson is refusing to grow old, gracefully or otherwise, and a teen goth Raven Chakrabarti, is determined to dodge the path her family have mapped out for her.

Can the foursome cycle through saddle sores and chaffed thighs to a brighter future, or will pushing themselves to the limit prove harder than they thought?

Get is here: Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US

Follow Daisy: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Website

Thanks for the catch-up, Daisy! Looking forward to your (Annie’s) Christmas book too!

Why Schitt’s Creek is the perfect TV show

I have a confession. I came very late to the Schitt’s Creek party, but in doing so, it has proven to be the perfect isolation viewing―and I consumed all six seasons in a matter of months. It was like molten chocolate for my brain.

schitts_creek_cast

But that’s not what this blog post is about.

Schitt’s Creek is the perfect TV show for a romantic comedy author, and here’s why…

[SPOILER ALERT: I will be as judicious with spoilers as possible, but if you hate them entirely, stop reading now.]

Character arcs

Having devoured the entire series over a short period of time―seriously, how did early adopters wait out those long periods of no new episodes for the past 6 years?―the character arcs were heightened for me.

When we meet the Roses, they have just lost their billion-dollar empire to a Ponzi scheme and when they realise they ‘bought’ a town in the middle of nowhere on a lark―just because the name was funny―Schitt’s Creek―they move there. They take up residence in two adjacent motel rooms, parents in one and adult children in the other, as though they are not in their late-20s and early-30s.

The Roses are spoilt, entitled, vacuous, and completely unlikeable―fish out of water in the most perfect, beautiful way.

What ensues over the course of 6 seasons is an unveiling of humility, humanity, and tight familial bonds. And, as a viewer, you come to love them all.

I posted recently about ‘Writing the Unlikeable Character‘ and there are two factors that are key in winning over the reader or viewer.

First, the character―initially repellent―must transform. They must self-reflect, learn lessons, and decide they want to be a better person.

Second, we must see the character’s vulnerabilities, their motivations and objectives, the backstory that explains why they are the way they are. It’s the chinks in the armour that that endear these characters to us as readers or viewers.

Schitt’s Creek accomplishes this perfectly.

I cried so many times watching this show, but here are some fave moments of vulnerability.

  • Moira and the Jazzagals singing unexpectedly at Alexis graduation
  • Johnny seeing how hurt Stevie is by the travelling Lothario and treating her just like he’d treat his own daughter
  • Patrick singing ‘You’re Simply the Best’ to David and tears streaming down David’s face
  • Alexis and Ted’s ‘I love you’ dinner at the cafe in Season 6

The final episode of the series had me weeping. I loved these characters entirely and I championed their happiness.

Character arcs―booyah! This show is like a masterclass.

Comedy

I love a good ensemble, character-driven comedy (Brooklyn 99 is a fave) but (for me) what sets this show apart from others is that all four lead actors―and many of the supporting actors―are, quite simply, comic geniuses.

Their skills as actors lead to authentic comedy. There aren’t snazzy rim-shot one-liners, there’s no need for a laugh track. It is just hilarious. I laughed aloud―like a proper, throw my head back laugh―every episode.

The comedy in Schitt’s Creek comes from the whole (character) self―the vocal tones and intonations, the facial expressions, the gestures and postures, the pauses―as much as it comes from the lines.

Though the lines are brilliant.

David to Moira after she is insensitive to Alexis’ break-up: “I have never heard someone say so many wrong things one after the other, [pause] consecutively, [pause] in a row.” You can get that quote on a T-shirt. But what makes the line is the pause Daniel Levy (as David) incredulously takes before he says it, the pauses in the line to drive home David’s meaning, and the horror on his face. Genius.

Catherine O’Hara’s Moira is incredibly funnyher appearance, her dialogue, her gait, the intonation of her bizarre affected accent. There’s a whole compilation on YouTube of every time she says ‘baby‘. I laugh when she appears on screen, girding my comic loins for whatever is to come.

Moira

And Alexis’ posture, gestures and facial expressions, Johnny’s raised eyebrows and confused smileall of these comic nuggets is a masterclass in developing a fully-fleshed-out comedic character.

As a writer of romcoms, I aim to pepper my stories with authentic comedy―the humour coming from the ridiculous real-life situations that make us laugh at ourselves, either in the moment or in retrospect. And I can enhance comedic moments by hitting on all the details that make them up, not just the dialogue―just like in Schitt’s Creek.

Romance

Romantic love is one of the dominant themes in Schitt’s Creek.

At the heart of the show is the great love affair of Johnny and Moira―forty years and counting―and every time Moira mentions how they met, or remembers a romantic interlude, her eyes sparkle.

And, surely, only someone who is completely in love with Moira would be as patient and loving towards her as Johnny is. Moira tells Alexis, when she’s facing a love conundrum, that she and Johnny work so well despite their differences, because they want the best for each other and they love and respect each other. Swoon.

[Major spoiler]Patrick is the perfect love interest for David. Their love story is so romantic, so genuine, that when David doubted he was worthy of Patrick’s love, I wanted to reach into the TV and shake him. These are two people who truly see each other, and they are both better people for the love they share. Swoon.

first kiss_0

[Major spoiler]Watching Alexis fall in love was like watching a toddler take their first steps. Her relationship with Ted begins superficially―he’s the hottest guy in town, so ‘obvs’ she is going to pair up with him. It’s only when she loses him that she realises how kind, thoughtful, generous and incredible he is. When she gets a second chance, she does everything she can not to screw it up―including agreeing to live overseas in a tent―and ultimately realises that she loves him enough to let him go. Selfless, real, and heartbreaking love. Swoon and sob.

Even Roland and Jocelyn are madly in love, which provides it’s own comedy, because, really, Jocelyn? Roland???

At some point (probably soon, as we have just gone into our second lockdown here in Melbourne) I will start at the beginning and watch it all again―this time with fresh eyes as a masterclass in the romantic comedy genre.