Thrilled to be able to share this beautiful cover with you today. Lucy Knott’s Love Lessons in Starcross Valley is out early February and just look! Stunning!
About the book
With the recent breakdown of both her ten-year relationship and her parents’ marriage, thirty-five-year-old Marnie Barnes no longer believes in love. To give her life the shake-up it so clearly needs, she books a ticket to Canada.
Thousands of miles away from her home and her twin sister, she struggles to have the life-changing experience she dreamt of – until she meets Nova, a dinosaur-loving space nerd with a penchant for living in the moment. After a wonderful day together in Vancouver, they part ways. Though gutted, Marnie thinks it’s proof that she’s not meant to find love and tries to move on with her life.
But a few months later, back in England, she bumps into someone achingly familiar. As Marnie navigates her new feelings, takes chances and makes the first move for the first time in her life, can she regain her faith in love – and find it for herself?
Lucy Knott lives in Manchester England, just around the corner from her childhood home and less than five minutes from her twin sister Kelly and brother in law Chris. She loves spending time with her family in addition to writing, reading and cooking Italian food. When not buried in a book, scribbling in a notebook or having dance parties for one to Harry Styles, she works as a teaching assistant where the majority of her days are spent talking about dinosaurs and making Godzilla out of just about everything, from Blu Tac to cardboard boxes, and she loves every minute.
If she could up and move to the stunning Amalfi Coast, San Francisco or live in a cabin surrounded by fairy lights, she would, but for now she’s quite content writing about those magical places. Lucy loves to write uplifting stories that she hopes will put a smile on your face, fill your heart with joy, encourage you to embrace the awesomeness that you are and believe that any dream is possible.
Follow Lucy here
(as 1/2 of The Blossom Twins with sister Kelly Sharpe)
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.
‘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.
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?
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.
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?
I wrote this book while living in Bali. It was Spring 2018, and I was on a year-long sabbatical with my partner and love, Ben. Often I wrote poolside or perched on a sun lounger―yes, really. I also wrote at the beach, in our outdoor workspace, and at my favourite cafe.
The sabbatical was Ben’s idea. And after some cajoling and reassurance from him that it would be amazing, I put on my big-girl knickers and we quit our jobs, gave away a lot of our stuff, packed the rest into a storage cage, and bought a one-way ticket to the rest of the world, first stop Bali.
If it wasn’t for Ben’s bravery, support, and intrepid spirit I would not have gone on sabbatical and I wouldn’t have written this book or That Night in Paris. You see, while on sabbatical I gave myself “permission” to be an author, to throw myself into writing, editing, and querying, and to seek out writing as a career.
So, as my third book is published, and I have just sent across structural edits for my fourth book and am finishing the draft of my fifth, a huge thank you to Ben.
I hope you enjoy this latest instalment of The Holiday Romance series and the conclusion to Sarah’s story.
What other authors have to say about A Sunset in Sydney.
“Guaranteed to have you holding your breath to the very last page.” Julie Houston
“I’m such a fan of this series.” Ella Allbright
“Lose yourself in this perfect, escapist read.” Samantha Tonge
“Sandy Barker blends romance and travel to make the perfect summer read.” Lynne Shelby
To, I have the great pleasure of catching up with a fabulous author who I met through UKRomChat. Like me, Kiley writes love stories set in beautiful places, exploring the themes of self discovery and love. And, also like me, she is proudly a MASSIVE Shakespeare geek (dips head to The Bard). Today, we will be chatting about her latest book, Summer at the Highland Coral Beach, the first in a new series.
Tell us what inspired you to write Summer at the Highland Coral Beach?
I spend a beautiful week in Plockton, a seaside village in the Scottish highlands, in August 2018. The whole family was there, including my kids, husband, parents and Amos the dog. We stumbled across a little bay made of white coral pieces and with turquoise blue water to rival any tropical bay. I knew as soon as I set foot on that beach I was somewhere magical and the story ideas started fizzing.
When did you start writing seriously?
Surprisingly recently. I wrote as a child and teenager but when I got to uni I stopped and focused on an academic career. So I published lots of articles and book chapters about the Victorians, suffrage campaigners and their writings, but gave up on my creative writing. The need to write kept niggling away at me until August 2017 when I couldn’t hold back any longer and I started writing One Summer’s Night which turned out to be my debut novel.
What do you love most about being an author?
I get to make people up, give them a world to inhabit, threw problems in their way, then soothe away all their sadness with love and romance. Then I get to share them with other people. What’s not to love about that!
What are you working on now?
I’m editing my fourth book, One Winter’s Night (that’s the working title anyway). It’s the sequel to my debut novel and it follows my heroine Kelsey Anderson as she stays in Stratford-upon-Avon over autumn and winter and sets up her photography studio. There’s a lot of steamy romance and festive feels in this one. It was a blast to write. (out September 2020)
What do you hope readers will take away from Summer at the Highland Coral Beach?
The message of Summer at the Highland Coral Beach is that there is always sweetness after difficulties and rainbows after storms, so hold on. Things will get better.
Also, I hope readers will take away an indelible impression of my craftsman hero – the grumpy, redheaded Scot, Atholl Fergusson, who is hotter than the sun.
Escape to the Highland Coral Beach – where broken hearts can be healed.
Beatrice Halliday needs a break from life. Booking a trip to the Highlands on a whim, Beatrice hopes learning Gaelic in a beautiful Scottish village might help her heal her grief after losing her baby, her husband and her much loved job in a space of months.
But Port Willow Bay isn’t exactly as the website promised. Instead of learning a new language, she’s booked in to learn the ancient skill of willow weaving, her hotel room is Princess and the Pea themed (with a stack of mattresses for her bed!) and worse still, her tutor is Atholl Fergusson, grumpy landlord of the hotel where Beatrice is staying – and she’s the only one doing the course.
But as Beatrice finds herself falling in love with Port Willow Bay and its people, and as she discovers the kind heart beneath Atholl’s stony exterior, can she really leave?
Escape to the beautiful Scottish Highlands with this utterly romantic, feelgood book; one visit to Port Willow Bay and you’ll want to come back! Fans of Sarah Morgan, Carole Matthews and Holly Martin will be captivated.
Kiley Dunbar is the author of heart-warming, escapist, romantic fiction set in beautiful places for Hera Books.
Kiley is Scottish and lives in England with her partner, two kids and Amos the Bedlington Terrier. She writes around her work at a University in the North of England where she lectures in English literature and creative writing. She is proud to be a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a graduate of their New Writers’ Scheme. She’s was a ‘Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers’ finalist in 2019 with her debut novel One Summer’s Night.
The wonderful Samantha Tonge warmly welcomed me to the writing community when I was a debut author and it is a pleasure to welcome her to my blog for a catch up.
Her latest book The Summer Island Swap is a wonderful way to vicariously travel to a far off destination from the comfort of home. So, let’s find out more.
Tell us what inspired you to write The Summer Island Swap.
My son returned from a conservation volunteering trip in the rainforest and I was fascinated by his stories of the work they did there and the rescued animals. And then I saw a photo of him with a monkey virtually wrapped around his head! I knew, in that instant, that I wanted to write a story about rescue animals and the kind of people who saved their lives.
Although I have to admit, I did also listen to tales of tarantulas and basic showers with horror and thought what fun it would be to drop a character into that environment who was expecting a rather more luxurious type of holiday – cue Sarah!
When did you start writing seriously?
When my youngest started school in 2005. Life had been a bit full-on until then although – corny as it sounds – I always knew that, one day, I would write. I was in my late 30s and it took a while, but I finally got my first publishing deal in 2013.
What do you love most about being an author?
Feedback from readers means EVERYTHING. To know that my work might have cheered someone up means the world. And sometimes my books have inspired people to follow their dreams and move abroad, or get help for a health condition, and finding those things out is extremely special.
What are you working on now?
My Christmas 2020 novel. I’m super-excited about it, even though it’s been extremely challenging to concentrate and write during lockdown. The male protagonist – funnily enough, Sandy! – is from Sydney and I hope readers find him as mesmerising as Jess, the female lead, does.
What do you hope readers will take away from The Summer Island Swap?
It’s a story about following your dreams and letting go of the past and I hope readers perhaps get inspired, in some small way, to do that. I faced 8 years of rejection to get published and it was difficult – and Sarah, the main character of this book, has faced hard times too to fulfil her dream which is to be independent and have her own home and a job she loves. So if readers took something from that, it would be brilliant. But more than that, I learnt a great deal about conservation whilst writing this book and doing so increased my love, even more, of the natural world. I hope readers find that interesting as well. However, having said all of that, what matters most to me is that readers simply enjoy the story and manage to escape from the difficult circumstances we are all facing at the moment.
Sometimes the best holidays are the ones you least expect…
After a long and turbulent year, Sarah is dreaming of the five-star getaway her sister has booked them on. White sands, cocktails, massages, the Caribbean is calling to them.
But the sisters turn up to tatty beaches, basic wooden shacks, a compost toilet and outdoor cold water showers. It turns out that at the last minute Amy decided a conservation project would be much more fun than a luxury resort.
So now Sarah’s battling mosquitoes, trying to stomach fish soup and praying for a swift escape. Life on a desert island though isn’t all doom and gloom. They’re at one with nature, learning about each other and making new friends. And Sarah is distracted by the dishy, yet incredibly moody, island leader she’s sure is hiding a secret.
So, we are in very strange times. The world has been sent to its room and now we must find a new kind of balance in all that we do, when all that we do is in the confines of our homes.
As a lifelong traveller, someone who longs to go, see, and do, this lockdown means I need to find a new way to travel. And to do that, I will be reaching for the books of my colleagues in the travel fiction and travel biography genres.
So in this unprecedented time when the only way to travel is from the comfort of home, seek out your travel adventures within the pages. And from me is a promise to keep taking my readers to wonderful locations.
It truly is a magical thing, so much so that I’m building a career out of writing about it.
And of course, true love is for better or worse, for richer or poorer, and in sickness and in health―whether or not you’ve stood before witnesses and said those words out loud.
My partner of fourteen years, Ben, has been by my side through shoulder surgery, foot surgery, two visits to the emergency room (both in the US and both at ridiculous cost to my respective insurance companies, but that’s another post), anxiety attacks, bouts of depression, the worst flu I’ve ever had, inexplicable dizzy spells, migraines, that weird rash I got in Bali that lasted the better part of a year, and various maladies that have visited me from time to time just because I am a human who lives in the world.
When it comes to being unwell, he’s my person.
But I’m starting to see social media populated with THE BIG QUESTION from fellow romance authors: Do we write COVID-19 into our contemporary romances?
My short answer―and this is me speaking for myself―is ‘no’.
The longer answer―again, just me speaking for myself―is ‘definitely not’.
I’ll tell you why.
We’re already living in a world that’s post-911, post-Brexit, post-GFC, post-Aussie Bushfire Crisis, post-Trump and mid-Climate Change Crisis. There are likely others, but this list was as much as my hopefully romantic brain could summon.
And those global events do permeate contemporary fiction, including romance, even if it’s just a line about getting a work visa, the winery being lucky to escape the bushfires, admiring Greta Thunberg, popping a bottle into the recycling, or what can and can’t be taken onto a plane.
Of course, with the #MeToo movement, contemporary romance authors are (more openly) addressing consent, and as a genre, we’ve been writing about safe sex for years.
So, why add COVID-19 to the mix?
There are some clever (and fast-writing) contemporary romance authors who have already published stories where the ‘meet cute’ is having to isolate with the best friend/long lost love/biggest nemesis/ex/soon-to-be ex/taboo love interest/the one that got away.
But, I can’t…
I write travel romances―stories about finding love when you travel. And in a mid-COVID-19 world, I am struggling to find the romance in lockdown love.
And as we sit amid yet another lockdown, having to isolate and forego hugs, travel, live performances, dinner parties, and a myriad of other (close-human-contact) joys, our time to read has increased exponentially. Some will want to read about people finding love during a pandemic, and others will want to avoid it altogether, escaping into a book the way we used to escape to somewhere new in a car or a plane.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What are your writing or reading during the pandemic?
In the late 90s, I was a European Tour Manager for a company that specialised in tours for 18-35 year olds. See?
Aside: Gotta love those ‘mom jeans’.
I always said I would never go on one of these tours, let alone work as a TM, but when you have a devastating breakup in Paris from a 5-year relationship and you still want to see all the places you were supposed to see on that trip with your now ex-boyfriend, you book a last-minute tour.
After said Parisian breakup, I arrived home (in London) on the Eurostar, got on the phone, and booked a 2-week trip that started the next morning at 7am. I was back in Paris within 24 hours of leaving and on that trip, I met 5 women who became my bus besties. I am still in touch with Michelle, the tall blonde.
Months later, while I was living in London and doing day-to-day relief teaching, I saw that the tour company was hiring. “I could do that job,” I thought. I applied, along with a couple thousand others, and after an interview process that would NOT pass muster in this #metoo world, I got a spot on the 7-week training trip.
Surviving that was like getting to the final four of Survivor. It was something akin to bootcamp, but with less creature comforts. We averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night and we slept in tents – in winter – in the snow. We were quizzed relentlessly on routes, opening times, history, currency conversion, places of interest, and architecture. I made lifelong friends, because, really, in the extreme circumstances, all we had some days were each other.
And then I was placed in charge of my own tour – a 5-week camper – the first of a long season that took me into November. It was one of the best and worst years of my life. The best because of the friendships I made, the places I saw, and the experiences I had. And the worst because … well, that’s another blog post.
But, one of the most incredible things about that time is the material it has given me for my writing.
In my 1st and 3rd books, the main character is Sarah Parsons, and like me, she once ran tours in Europe. When her sister, Cat (the main character is book #2), books a 2-week bus tour around around Europe to escape her lovelorn flatmate, Sarah is able to rattle off the full itinerary without hesitation.
And Cat booking that tour meant that I got to write a 2-week bus tour around Europe!
Cat’s 3 bus besties are inspired by my real life bus besties. Michelle inspired Mama Lou, Weyleen (far left above) inspired Jaelee, and Sophie (second from the left) inspired Danielle. I was able to write the places in great detail, because I’d been to them many (many) times. And I was able to write exactly what it’s like to travel on a bus tour – right down to the (ridiculously) early starts, the heinous ablution blocks, the tight schedules, the fast-but-firm friendships that are formed, and how wonderfully Europe excites and entices the senses.
Here’s a little peek into that world…
My first tour, Florence
My fifth tour, Florence
With my first crew, Lucy and Richard
It was brilliant fun writing That Night in Paris. Early readers are loving it, and you can preorder now (April 15 for the ebook and June/July for the print version) – just follow the link above.
Those of you who followed our sabbatical journey will know that we spent most of 2018 living (and often working) abroad. I blogged throughout the year, with posts specifically about the sabbatical at the half-way mark, and then again on the home stretch.
We’ve been back in Australia about six weeks now, and have just moved into our new home in Docklands. As I interview for fulltime work, as I’m about to sign a publishing contract for my first book, and as I unpack and find new homes for our belongings, it’s a good time to reflect on our year of sabbatical life.
The days are long and the weeks go by fast
A dear friend we made in Bali, where we lived for two months, reflected that when she looked back, the weeks seemed to be flying by, but that each day felt full and long.
I can honestly say that this is how I felt for most of the year.
When I am present, when I live the breadth and depth of each day, they seem longer, fuller. I want to carry that feeling with me, to bottle that secret sauce, because it makes life feel more purposeful and I’m more content.
Sunset in Minnesota by Ben Reierson
A sense of accomplishment
As well as consulting for clients (writing, editing, and review educational materials), I wrote and edited two books. TWO WHOLE BOOKS, each 100,000 words. I wrote 200,000 words – funny, heartfelt narratives set in beautiful locations. I made up people, their lives and their adventures. I created from nothing the things they said and did – well, I borrowed some anecdotes from loved ones, but for the most part, those fictional people came to life in my head.
I worked on building my author platform, engaging with readers and authors from around the world, learning from them, supporting them, befriending them. I’ve made some wonderful literary friends over the past year – people I can contact with questions and requests, people who can rely on me for support and help if they need it. I will champion them and their writing, and they will do the same for me.
I also queried publishers and agents, honing my messaging about me and my books. I am proud and excited to say that I recently got a big fat YES from a UK-based publisher, which I will announce officially once I’ve signed the contract. Because of this sabbatical, my first book is being traditionally published and I will get to hold my book in my hands. The others will hopefully follow (squee!).
Writing by the pool in Bali
With fellow author Lucy from Wales
With my favourite author Lindsey Kelk
Writing with a view of Amsterdam
Feeding my soul
We lived in and visited some beautiful, exciting, and vibrant places. Bali, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland, rural Minnesota, London, the British Midlands, Amsterdam, Seattle, LA, Wales, New Zealand and my home state of Western Australia. Natural beauty, architectural wonders, history, and wildlife in copious doses. Our everyday life was a wonderful cacophony of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that we happily steeped ourselves in.
Walking the streets of Ubud, the sun beating down, the humidity hanging heavy in the air, the heady scent of tropical flowers mixing with petrol fumes and Indonesian spices – this became my idea of heaven.
Spending time with loved ones also fed my soul. Catching up with family and friends in WA, LA, Seattle, Minnesota, the UK, Ireland, and Amsterdam was a highlight. Living with Ben’s family and mine for extended periods of time was something special. Cooking a mid-week meal for people I love is – and has long been – a great pleasure for me. Chatting over that meal, as we recount our days, our mini-triumphs and challenges, heightens that joy.
‘Quality time’ it’s called. We all need that type of time with our loved ones. Even though I’ve lived my adult life ‘away’ from most of my family, I long for those times when I can look across the dinner table and meet the eyes of someone I love dearly but don’t see in person very often. The thing about being a traveller, someone who lives ‘away’ – you always miss someone. It’s the curse of the ex-pat. I had a year of topping up my soul with quality loved-ones time.
Grandma Ellie (MN)
With my Dad (WA)
With my mum (WA)
With my nephew (UK)
With our dear friend, Sinead (Ireland)
And, wonderfully, we made some very dear new friends from across the world.
Ubud with Lyndall
Dinner out in Ubud
Chicago with Kelly
The things you miss
Things are just things, really. We attach meaning to them. As I unpack boxes and find places for our things in our new home, I know (deep down) they’re just things, but they make me feel at home. Books I’ve loved, souvenirs and artefacts from our travels, family photos, my good knives, my cannisters (yes, really) – these things ‘spark joy’ as Marie Kondo would say. It’s nice to rediscover these things. Do I need them? No, I don’t. I spent the year with my clothes, toiletries and a stack of rectangles (laptop, iPad, Kindle, phone). I can live without things. For now, though, I will especially enjoy them.
I did really missed drawers, though. Like, really, totally, absolutely, completely missed putting my clothes into drawers. Even when we stayed somewhere for weeks or months, we kept our clothes in our packing cubes. Drawers are luxurious. Next time you take an article of clothing out of a drawer, just savour that feeling.
The things you get used to
In Bali, we slathered ourselves in sunscreen and showered several times a day. It was hot and humid and 80% of our time was spent outdoors. My hair looked like wool. And even so, Bali was my favourite place we lived in. I’d live there again in a heartbeat.
I am a creative home cook. In Bali, I cooked with tempeh for the first time and it became a staple. At the lake cabin in Minnesota, I had an electric frying pan and a microwave – that’s it – and I cooked a variety of dishes. In Portugal, it was difficult to get good fresh food – produce, dairy and proteins – but I adapted. In the UK (before and after Portugal), I was cooking for five instead of two, and three of the adults were eating Keto. Spoiled for fresh produce, because you are in the UK, I made giant pots of Keto-friendly stews, red sauces and soups.
I can write anywhere – and did. A sunlounger, a beach, a cafe (many cafes), the kitchen table (in many different kitchens), on planes and trains, and even on a boat. The world was my writing room. I loved it.
My big takeaways
I love Australia. It’s home – Melbourne especially. It’s a terrific city and we have loved ones here. I was happy to come back and I am excited to start the next chapter here.
I would do a sabbatical year again – or create a life where we live abroad for several months every year. There was a time when that thought terrified me – now I think it will become essential to us.
Ben is an incredibly brave, wonderful, supportive, imaginative person. “Why don’t we trade a year of retirement for now,” he said a couple of years ago. I am so grateful he did, but even more so that he gently nudged me to make the commitment. He is my bestie, my partner-in-crime, my travel buddy, my champion, my love. Thank you, Ben, for being all those things and more.