Catching up with Author Christina Courtenay

Thrilled to welcome Christina Courtenay to Off the Beaten Track to mark the publication of her latest book, Tempted by the Runes. And oh my! This is such a terrific read. For those who are new to Christina’s books, this is the latest in her Viking timeslip ‘Runes’ series and it is incredible.

Also, look at that cover! Before I share my thoughts on the book, let’s talk to Christina.

Book Cover
Tagline: born centuries apart. Bund by a love that defied time.
A Viking ship is moored offshore of a  fjord with mountains in the background and a couple stand onshore embracing.

Tell us what inspired you to write Tempted by the Runes?

When I started to write the ‘Rune’s series, I knew that the Vikings had travelled far and wide and I wanted my books to reflect this. Therefore, I decided that the members of one family would all journey in different directions and have their own adventures. As Iceland was starting to be colonised at this time, it seemed the perfect place to send one of the brothers. The youngest was most likely to go there as he’d need to make his own way in the world. Becoming a settler on an island so far away, which only a few people had seen at this point, was a very brave thing to do and I thought that would be great for my hero. The rest of the story developed from that.

When did you start writing seriously?

After my oldest daughter was born I wanted a job I could do from home so that I could look after her at the same time. That’s when I decided to try my hand at writing, but it proved a lot more difficult than I thought. Eventually, I was published 21 years later just after my daughter had left home … (The best laid plans and all that!)

What do you love most about being an author?

The freedom of working at my own speed and when/where I want to. I’m a night owl and have always disliked having to get up early to go to work or school, so for me, being able to sleep late and work late is ideal. It also feels like a huge privilege to be able to write down the stories that appear in my head and call it work!

What are you working on now?

I have just signed a new four-book deal with Headline Review so at the moment I’m working on the first of those stories which is due out in August next year. It’s a standalone timeslip story called Hidden in the Mists. You can already pre-order.

What do you hope readers will take away from Tempted by the Runes?

I hope they will just enjoy the journey and the romance, travelling so far with the hero and heroine and experiencing their struggles in a new land. I would love it if my story leaves the reader feeling happy and relaxed and with a big smile on their face!

More about the book

before.

Madison Berger is visiting Dublin with her family for a Viking re-enactment festival, when she chances upon a small knife embedded in the banks of the Liffey. Maddie recognises what the runes on the knife’s handle signify: the chance to have her own adventures in the past.

Maddie only intends to travel back in time briefly, but a skirmish in 9th century Dublin results in her waking up on a ship bound for Iceland, with the man who saved her from attack.

Geir Eskilsson has left his family in Sweden to boldly carve out a life of his own. He is immediately drawn to Maddie, but when he learns of her connection to his sisters-in-law, he begins to believe that Fate has played a part in bringing them together. Amidst the perils that await on their journey to a new land, the truest battle will be to win Maddie’s heart and convince her that the runes never lie…

My thoughts on the book

The Queen of Timeslip Romance has done it again! I was completely immersed in this epic romance. The story of settling in Iceland was compelling, with Courtenay’s ability to build a rich and complex historical world really shining in this book. The slow-burn love story was sweepingly romantic and I completely fell in love with our hero and heroine.

This book is a total page turner.

Where you can buy it

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU

More about Christina

Author photo: Smiling woman with long red hair wearing a black jumper

Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014) and the RNA Fantasy Romantic Novel of the year 2021 with Echoes of the RunesTempted by the Runes (time travel published by Headline 9th December 2021) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).

Follow Christina

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Thank you for coming on Off the Beaten Track, Christina, and wishing you every success for this latest epic romance.

Catching up with Author Lizzie Chantree

Lizzie not only a prolific author, but she’s an inventor, a mentor and a wonderful supporter of the Romance writing community, so it is a great pleasure to welcome her to Off the Beaten Track today to mark the publication of The Woman Who Felt Invisible. And she’s even sharing an excerpt with us! First up, let’s talk to her about all things authoring.

Cover of the book as shown on a phone. The phone is sitting on a soft pink background and surrounded by roses. The cover is a woman sitting at a desk and working on a laptop as seen through a window.

Tell us what inspired you to write The Woman Who Felt Invisible?

This story is about a woman in her forties who feels like the world doesn’t see her at all. People bump into her at work as if she’s not standing there and she has forgotten who she is as a person after the loss of her dad. She used to have a successful career, but now lives in a tiny rented flat and has two jobs just does to survive. She meets her boss’s wife at a Christmas party and they become unlikely friends. The book is about trusting your instincts and following your dreams.

When did you start writing seriously?

I have always loved writing but my daughter was unwell for ten years and I decided to write my first book as a way to keep myself awake at night to listen to her breathing. It’s so hard to stay awake when you are sleep deprived. I wrote a book full of sunshine and happiness to try and bring some light into a very dark time in my life. My daughter is fine now, although she has serious allergies, but she proudly tells everyone that she helped me start this amazing new career. 

What do you love most about being an author?

I love the book community, chatting to other writers and most of all, the brilliant readers who pick up my books, read them and then tell their friends and family. I love talking to other book lovers and it inspires me to write more books. I always say that writing a review of a book you love is like handing the author a rainbow.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the sequel for my book, The Little Ice Cream Shop by the Sea. I am really enjoying all of the shenanigans between the pages and revisiting some of my favourite characters.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Woman Who Felt Invisible?

I hope that the story makes my readers smile, as this is why I write books. I like to feel as if a good book can give us a big hug. It’s about knowing we aren’t alone and bringing some sunshine into our hectic lives.

Oh, I love that – thanks Lizzie.

About the book

A gorgeous romantic story of love and new beginnings. Learning to love herself and be content on her own is the first step. But will Olivia be able to leave her past behind, follow her heart and find lasting happiness? A read full of humour, romance and tear-jerking reality, from international bestselling author, Lizzie Chantree.

Have you ever felt invisible? 

Working as a stationery supervisor and a sitter to a pair of internet famous, delinquent dogs, wasn’t how former cyber-specialist, Olivia, imagined her life turning out. 

Working in a tiny cubicle with a decrepit computer and being overlooked had suited her for a while, but now she’s fed up, lonely and determined to make the world ‘see’ her again. 

Old school friend, Darius, wants to fill Olivia’s days with romance, but their love of technology has taken them on very different paths. 

Gorgeous undercover policeman Gabe, is steadfast in finding out if Olivia was part of an online scam, but something doesn’t feel right and he suspects someone else was manipulating her life. 

Can love blossom from the most deceptive of starts? And can someone who feels lost, find a way to flourish against all odds?

Where you can buy it

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

An excerpt from the book

This was it. This was Olivia Tenby’s life, now. This was how low she had come. At the age of forty-one, she was sweating her guts out in a house that felt like a furnace, babysitting two delinquent Labradoodle dogs called Bertie and Belle, while their owners swanned around getting even richer somewhere else. Wiping her palms across her face, feeling glad she’d discarded her top so that she couldn’t drip on it, she pressed a button. Music blared out of speakers set into the ceiling. This house had everything – lights that came on when you spoke to them, a vacuum cleaner that tripped you over while it scurried along the floor of its own accord, and a fridge that dispensed perfectly shaped ice cubes into crystal glasses.

Olivia looked around furtively for a moment, and then laughed and decided to go for it. Her job as dog sitter extraordinaire had begun two weeks ago. She’d been told to entertain the excitable animals in any way she could think of, as they were naughty and destroyed everything while the owners were out – which they always were. Olivia hadn’t even met them, which was baffling. They left her notes with instructions on how to stop the dogs eating the walls and making a mess of the thick pile carpets. She actually quite liked the job, it was as easy as walking in a straight line. Then she thought about how wobbly she always was after three vodka and cokes, and quickly pushed that picture aside. The dogs were bored and, although her job included giving the house a cursory swipe with a duster, it was always immaculate when she arrived. Something was a bit weird, though, as the place was incredibly hot. The dogs liked to slobber all over her, making her even hotter. So she’d taken to stripping off as soon as she sat down with the pooches, otherwise she’d probably pass out and be found weeks later, mummified in dog hair.

About Lizzie

Author photo
Lizzie has long blonde wavy hair and dark eyes. She is smiling and holding a mug. She is wearing a black top and has pink nail polish on.

International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.

Follow Lizzie

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Congratulations again, Lizzie, and all the best for your latest release!

Cover Reveal for Lucy Knott

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!

Book cover: Two women seated on a bench and looking away with an easel off to the side which holds a painting of the landscape they're looking at - an autumnal scene of a park.

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?

Preorder here

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon UK | Amazon CA

Kobo | Nook | Booktopia | Waterstones

About Lucy

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)

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website

Congratulations again Lucy – so looking forward to reading this!

Catching up (again) with Author Karen King

Today marks publication day for the The Best Christmas Ever, by the lovely Karen King and to mark this special occasion, we are welcoming her back to Off the Beaten Track! Congratulations, Karen – I am loving this cover!

Cover of The Best Christmas Ever by Karen King. Four stalls at a Christmas market across the background under a starry sky and a Christmas tree and white dog in the foreground.

Tell us what inspired you to write The Best Christmas Ever?

I think with Covid restrictions Christmas last year was difficult for most of us and we’re all looking forward to getting together for Christmas this year, to spending time with family and friends. I know I am. And this gave me the idea of writing a story about a young woman, Lexi Forde, going down to Devon to spend Christmas with her family. Her brother and his family are coming over from Canada too and it’s the first time the whole family has been together for a few years. The Fordes do Christmas in a big way and are all looking forward to being able to take part in their family traditions again. Despite discovering that her boyfriend is cheating on her just before Christmas, Lexi is determined to have ‘the best Christmas ever’ – as I think a lot of people will be this year. That’s why it’s so important for Lexi – and Granny Mabe – that the traditional Christmas Eve carol service around the tree on the green goes ahead. Christmas can be a lonely time for older folk, or people who live alone though, and a difficult time for people who work in the emergency services so I wanted to incorporate that into the story too. Lexi and her family love Christmas and her fight to save the tree draws the whole village in. I hope it draws readers in too, and that they enjoy the story.

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

I’ve just finished reading an ARC copy of My Daughter’s Mistake by Kate Hewitt. An incredible story told from both mothers’ POV when the teenage daughter of one of them is involved in a car accident where the six year old daughter of the other mother is seriously injured. It’s a thought-provoking authentic read.

What has been your author highlight over the past year?

I write psychological thrillers as well as romances and have recently signed a contract with Bookouture, my other publishers, for two more thrillers. I’m over the moon as my debut psychological thriller, The Stranger in my Bed, was published less than a year ago, and my second one, The Perfect Stepmother, was out in June. I can’t wait to start writing my third and fourth.

What are you working on now?

My third romance novel for Headline, The Spanish Wedding Disaster. When their best friend Kate’s partner Steve tells Sophie and Maddie that he’s planning a secret wedding to Kate when they are both on holiday in Spain in three months’ time, Sophie thinks it’s the most romantic thing ever but Maddie is horrified. So is Steve’s brother Josh, pointing out that Steve hasn’t even proposed to Kate yet. Steve refuses to listen to their objections and persuades them to help him with the wedding plans. But things don’t go according to plan and Sophie wonders if Maddie and Josh are right and it will end up a total disaster. Will Kate say ‘Yes’ or turn Steve down?

What do you hope readers will take away from The Best Christmas Ever?

I hope they find it a heart-warming, feel-good read that takes them away from the ups and downs of life for a while. We all need a bit of cheering up right now. And I hope that all my readers have ‘the best Christmas ever’ this year.

About the book

A heart-warming Christmas romance, perfect for fans of Sarah Morgan, Mandy Baggot and Milly Johnson.

Lexi Forde adores Christmas. She’s especially looking forward to it this year as it’s the first Christmas with her boyfriend Ben and her older brother is visiting from Canada with his family. So they’re having a family Christmas at her parents’ house in Devon.

But then Lexi sees Ben kissing someone else and discovers he’s been having an affair. Devastated, she travels to Devon alone. She’s determined not to let her break up with Ben spoil her family Christmas. But when she arrives, Lexi discovers the council won’t allow the Christmas tree on The Green to be decorated this year; it’s too dangerous and has to come down. Lexi is desperate to save their favourite family tradition and make this Christmas extra special.

Can she save the tree and mend her broken heart in time for Christmas?

Where you can get it

Print and ebook: Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US

ebook: Kobo | Google Play | Nook | Apple Books

About Karen

Smiling woman with shoulder length red hair, blue eyes and wearing a floral top

Karen King is a multi-published author of both adult and children’s books. She has had ten romantic novels published, two psychological thrillers, 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

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Thank you for joining us today Karen and congrats again on The Best Christmas Ever!

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.

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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 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.

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

Publication Day for Leonie Mack

Huge congrats to Leonie Mack on the publication of Italy Ever After. I was fortunate enough to get an early read and absolutely LOVED this book – it’s romantic and whimsical and is set in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, Northern Italy. To celebrate the occasion, I asked Leonie a few questions about writing the book and about her author life.

Cover of book Italy Ever After. Man and woman riding scooter along coast of Lake Garda in Italy.

Tell us what inspired you to write Italy Ever After?

As with most of my ideas, it started with the setting and the character dynamic. I had the idea for a romance between a divorced mum and her daughter’s teacher. The music camp setting allowed them to get to know each other in close confines (while having a lovely summer holiday) and then the characters exploded from there.

When did you start writing seriously?

I started writing with a serious intent to publish about three years ago, although I’ve always written as a hobby and finished my first experimental novels in my early twenties. It took me more than ten years to realise I had to put in a bit of hard work if I wanted to make something from it! My first book, My Christmas Number One, came out last year and now I have two coming out in 2021 and another already contracted to my publisher for 2022!

What do you love most about being an author?

I love spending my days in amazing places with my characters. I love dreaming up people and crafting situations that bring that satisfying tension. And I love that moment when the book is getting really complex and I feel like I have a universe in my brain.

What are you working on now?

It’s very exciting. My next two books are a little series set in Venice, so I have spent winter (virtually) on the canals, watching glassblowers, going to a ball for Carnevale and eating lots of delicious fish and fried pastries. One day we’ll all be able to go there for real!

What do you hope readers will take away from Italy Ever After?

I want readers to feel like they’ve been on a holiday to Italy with their best girlfriend and a handsome love interest!

More about the book

TV journalist Lou feels battered and bruised after her divorce from Phil, the father of her daughter Edie. Her confidence and sense of fun have steadily been drained away, and she isn’t sure who she is any more.

When the opportunity arises to accompany Edie on a music camp in Italy for a month in the summer, Lou jumps at the chance for new adventures, new horizons and new friends. The hazy warmth of the summer sun, shining brightly over the stunning Lake Garda, slowly brings Lou back to life.

Nick Romano, Edie’s music teacher, loves being home in Italy, but coaching his students for their concert in Milan, is bringing back difficult memories. His blossoming friendship with Lou is the perfect distraction, although a summer fling would be easier to conduct without the scrutiny of his mother Greta, not to mention the interference of his extended Italian family.

As the summer passes, full of sunshine and breath-taking scenery, gelato and delicious feasts, Lou and Nick get ever closer. But as the time for farewell creeps up on them, will they be able to say goodbye and leave their memories behind in the Italian sun, or can a summer romance last a lifetime?

Where you can get it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Kobo | Google Play

More about Leonie

Smiling woman in her 20s or 30s with long brown hair and brown eyes

Leonie Mack is an author of romantic comedies with great locations and big feelings. She loves a happy ending and shares that love in every book she writes! Leonie is a journalism graduate, a language nut and loves to travel, particularly on foot, by bike and by train. After growing up in Australia and living most of her adult life in London, she now lives in Germany, among the vineyards on the Main river.

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Thanks for visiting Off the Beaten Track, Leonie and all the best with Italy Ever After.