A year to remember

I created this meme several months ago and it turned out to be a perfect foil for the despondency I felt when the Premier of Victoria announced that we were going into the strictest pandemic lockdown in the world ― and not for a pre-determined amount of time, but (seemingly) indefinitely, until we reached zero cases for two solid weeks.

It seemed impossible ― impossible ― that we would ever achieve such a lofty goal, something no other city, region, state, or country had achieved after having such a proportionately high number of daily cases of COVID-19.

Like many others, I felt trapped, claustrophobic in my home, my city, even in the state of Victoria. I started house-hunting online, seeking a rental property in coastal and/or regional Australia ― for when they let us out.

But as we emerged from Winter, as the days started to get longer, and as we started to see results from our compliance with the newly-enacted laws, hope started to show its face again.

I had some saving graces during this time, aspects of my life for which I am extremely grateful, and I wanted to share those with you. I do want to say that I write this post knowing exactly how fortunate Ben and I are. Throughout 2020, we have remained healthy, our loved ones are (as I write this) safe and healthy, despite many of them living in hot zones, such as the UK and the US, and we retained our income and, subsequently, our home.

Space

Our apartment is in an older building in downtown Melbourne (older meaning 15+ years) and that means an expansive floorplan and enough separate spaces for two people to cohabitate 24/7 for months on end without getting (too much) in each other’s way.

I have a super splodge work station for my day job and writing (I commandeered the guest room after realising we would have exactly zero guests for the rest of the year), and we have a stunning view (2 angles, 2 different times of the day).

Exercise

I need to exercise ― it is critical to my mental wellbeing and with our gyms closed and time outside limited (or just super shitty weather in the dead of Winter), I relied on home workouts and riding my spin bike (so glad I bought it in March!). I’d tee up back seasons of The Great British Bake Off and ride and ride and ride ’til I was a sweaty mess. Pure escapism. And when I ran out out of British Bake Off I watched the Aussie version. When I ran out of that, onto the Canadians. Oddly, it’s highly motivating to cycle while watching people make cake. Don’t ask me why.

When the gym opened back up, I was there ― mask and all.

Date night

Once we realised we would be in lockdown for months, not weeks, we committed to a weekly date night. When you can’t leave the apartment, this means dressing in nice clothes (and makeup for me), putting on some music, cooking something special or ordering in from a local restaurant, opening a nice bottle of wine, and eating at the table (how novel!).

Date nights reminded us that although we saw each other all day every day, we are still each other’s person. He’s the love of my life, the man who makes me think and smile and laugh out loud, who thinks of me and cares for me and lets me do the same for him. I chose him and he chose me and that doesn’t go away, no matter how much time we spend together.

(I love you, babe)

Getting out and about

We were allowed out. We could walk together for up to an hour a day (with masks). We could bike ride (without masks!). And at one point, we could have a socially distanced picnic in the park with our besties. And we took those opportunities to get outside, breathe fresh air, get a different perspective, and just be out. And, I have to say, our ‘hood, Docklands, is just gorgeous, which is great food for the soul.

Consuming creative content

People are clever ― really clever ― and a massive saving grace for me this year has been watching, listening, and reading other people’s creations (and not just Bake Off). I’ve watched entire television series from the beginning ― new, new to me, and old faves. I’ve watched films, concerts, plays, documentaries, and cast reunions. I’ve listened to podcasts, concerts, pop, classical, rock, techno ― really, just name it. And I have read a few dozen books this year ― mostly chicklit, some histfic, and (my fave) crime thrillers.

Busy, busy, busy!

For me, this year was not a time for much introspection. Perhaps 2021 will bring me the mental and emotional space to look inwards, but as well as voraciously consuming content, I’ve been creating it. I’ve published 3 books since the start of lockdown (including all the editing, marketing, and social media that go along with publishing a book). I’ve finished a work-in-progress and have nearly finished a book I started in August (my 5th and 6th books).

For me, lockdown meant ‘head down’. I threw myself into my work ― the ultimate distraction from a world on fire. I know this was not the case for a lot of authors, but for someone unwilling to spend much time on proper introspection (something I tend towards when the world is not on fire), it was an excellent panacea. With my fulltime job in online learning (and didn’t our industry pick up exponentially this year?) and authoring, it was typical for me to be at my desk 12 hours a day and most of the day on weekends. Work was an excellent distraction.

Publication day celebrations:

I’m in WA now (Western Australia), where we’ve been fortunate enough to travel to for the holidays. Spending time with our family and friends in my home state has been our ultimate reward for what has been an unforgettable year.

And when they ask how we survived it, there is one simple answer: together.

#ArmchairTravel is (literally) the only way to go

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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.

I’ll be picking up Frances Mayes and Julie Caplin, Kiley Dunbar, Linn B. Halton, and Paige Toon. There are dozens of us who write about faraway places and evoke just what it’s like to be there.

My next book, That Night in Paris, will take you on a whistle-stop tour of Europe, and the one after that, A Sunset in Sydney, to London, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Sydney. You could even catch up on my first book, One Summer in Santorini, which will whisk you off to the Greek Islands.

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.

See you amongst the pages.

Image by Hans Braxmeier.

Love in the Time of C̶h̶o̶l̶e̶r̶a̶ COVID-19

Ahhh, love…

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?

Catching up with Author Nina Kaye

It is a pleasure to welcome fellow author, Nina Kaye to my blog. I asked her some questions about her debut novel, The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating, which I absolutely loved, and about her work as an author.

Tell us what inspired you to write The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating?

The seed of my debut novel, The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating, was first planted when my literary agent, Kate Nash, said to me, ‘whatever you write about, make sure it has gin in it’. But obviously there was more to it than that. The three key ingredients were the beautiful setting of Edinburgh, my experience working in the hospitality industry, and (of course) my appreciation of gin! It was important to me to bring real life issues into my novel, but I also wanted to show the light-hearted side of life in Scotland. I’ve actually written a guest blog post on ‘the story behind my story’. You can read it here.

When did you start writing seriously?

I started writing properly just over five and a half years ago when I was fighting a debilitating illness and desperate to get my life back. This is a story I intend to share when I’m able to bring my most recent work in progress to my readers, so I’ll park that for now and focus on my journey to publication instead.

My initial goal was to see if I could write a full-length novel. It was daunting to begin with, but it came more easily than I expected, and after six months I had my first full draft. Then, after lots of editing to shape and polish it, I asked myself: what next? I knew nothing about the publishing industry, so I did some research and decided I had nothing to lose by querying with Literary Agents. Fifteen rejections later (thankfully, with encouraging feedback!), I accepted that my first novel wasn’t going to be my big break and self-published instead. But a month later, a late response came back from my querying, and this turned into an offer of representation.

After more shaping and polishing, my manuscript went on submission to publishers for their consideration. I spent months biting my nails as one rejection after another flowed into my inbox (but with very encouraging feedback once again). By then, I was writing book number two and the focus had shifted to that. We then went through the same process, and first came the inevitable flurry of rejections – which I was used to by then. People kept saying to me, all it takes it one person to say ‘yes’, and they were right. The day my publishing offer flashed up as a notification on my phone, my legs went to jelly and I shared an emotional hug with a perfect stranger in the ladies toilets of my then workplace.

That was last June and after working closely with my publisher on yet more shaping and polishing, my debut novel, The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating, was released in November. It’s been an amazing (and nerve wracking!) process, and I’m so glad I kept at it. Now my focus is on building my profile as an author and getting visibility for my book.

What do you love most about being an author?

There’s so much I love about being an author. Someone once referred to me as a ‘frustrated creative’ and that label really struck a chord. In my day job I’m creative, but I’m also very structured and focused – and it’s those skills that people tend to seek me out for most often. I’ve long needed a creative outlet that’s mine and mine only, and writing is perfect for that. I love that I can escape into this whole other world where the story takes whatever direction I choose. It’s so vivid, I feel like I’m there watching it unfold.

I also love the new friendships and connections I’ve made through being a client of the Kate Nash Literary Agency and a member of the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA). So many like-minded people I can really connect with, and we’re all on this journey together. The RNA is fantastic. I’ve never been part of something that has such a sense of community before. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a newbie or an esteemed author, you’re welcomed and included – and everyone cheers each other on!

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on two different pieces. My main work in progress is another romantic fiction novel about a character who’s diagnosed with a life changing illness, and her determination to reclaim her life (including her romantic life). I’m using my own personal experience as inspiration for this. It’s perhaps a bit more poignant than my debut because of the subject matter, but I’ve used plenty of humour to keep it as light and engaging as possible.

My second piece is the sequel to my very first novel, which is currently unpublished. This ‘two-parter’ is a fast-paced, humorous story about a woman who’s very ambitious but who lacks the confidence to be the assertive, successful person she wants to be – and there’s a dollop of romance in there too.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating?

The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating is a light-hearted romcom, so I have no unrealistic expectations that it will change anyone’s life. But this is a tough world we live in, and I felt it was important to represent some of that struggle within the story. I also believe it’s important that we (and by ‘we’ I mean the human race) never lose our sense of humour. People say ‘laughter is the best medicine’, and while I realise this saying has become a bit of a cliché, I know that having a sense of humour has helped me through some very difficult times.

Ultimately, what I hope for is to give my readers a good laugh, make them think a bit, make them feel good – and give them that satisfying happy-ever-after.

If you haven’t read it already, here’s the book blurb:

When life gives you lemons… add a splash of gin! 

When Liv’s high-flying career goes off the rails, she finds herself working at a glitzy new gin bar to pay the bills. She’s never let romance distract her, but with one very hot colleague, a mysterious online follower who might just be her soulmate, and a lot of cocktails, her dating life is about to be shaken up…

But is Liv looking for a sparkling flirtation, or something a little stronger?

Sometimes you have to face up to your past, seize your future, and mix your own recipe for happy ever after…

And here’s where you can get your own copy:

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US

 

Catching up with Author Sasha Greene

Today, I am thrilled to welcome author, Sasha Greene.

Sasha Greene

She is a writer and computer programmer who lives in Glasgow, and struggles to stop the books in her house from multiplying mysteriously and overflowing on the bookshelves. (I think many of us can relate to that). Sasha is also an adaptive snowboard instructor, in which she passes on her love of mountains and racing down a hill to people with physical and mental challenges.

I asked Sasha about her debut novel, Something like Happy, and being an author.

Please note that some of the content in this post talks about mental health and suicide.

Tell us what inspired you to write Something Like Happy? 

I’ve always wanted to set a book in Glasgow, because it’s such an amazing city and it tends to get passed over in favour of more glamorous locations. I also really wanted to write a book which touched on the theme of mental health in a positive way, because there is still so much stigma regarding the topic, especially around suicide. There are so many people who seem to be fine at first glance but are actually really struggling with their mental health on a daily basis. All these people inspired me to create my characters, Jade and Nick, who are just doing their best to navigate their way through the issues they’re facing. 

When did you start writing seriously? 

When I was a child, I was very serious about my writing. I wrote fairy tales about witches and talking houses and illustrated them too. I still have copies of them somewhere. I think I was about 15 when I tried to write a historical crime romance story. It wasn’t very good (I know, because I still have a copy of it!) and I think I got a bit disheartened and gave up on writing. I didn’t start writing seriously again until about eight years ago, when I found a course run by Kate Walker on writing romance. She encouraged me to apply to the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, and the rest is history. 

What do you love most about being an author?

There are so many things it’s hard to pick! Seeing my book and being able to physically turn the pages was so exciting. Getting my first five-star review was exhilarating. But I think the most amazing experience was when someone told me that they had given the book to a friend who never reads books and they loved it and now they want to read more. Knowing that I’ve helped someone to find a joy in reading is something I really treasure.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a follow-up to Something Like Happy, where one of the supporting characters gets his own story. It’s about two people who have both been through traumatic experiences and need to figure out if they can trust each other. PTSD is quite a challenging topic to write about, so it’s taking a lot of work and research but I’m really excited by how it’s all finally starting to come together. It’s going to be another great story.

What do you hope readers will take away from Something Like Happy?

I really like the title of the book because it’s a good reminder that life will not always be happy, but as long as it’s something like happy, then that’s enough. Most of all, it’s just a good story that I hope people will love reading, but if it also gets people talking about mental health then that would be great. I went through a period where I had some serious issues with my mental health, and reading positive stories was what kept me going. Everyone deserves a happy ending.

You can follow Sasha on her website and on Twitter.

More about the book:

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Something Like Happy is an emotional and thought-provoking novel about friendship, love and day-to-day struggles with mental health. Jade is just trying to get by. She doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t want a fuss. But one day she meets Nick and everything changes.

Out of the most difficult of situations, Nick and Jade’s friendship grows into something neither never knew they needed. Jade used to be sure that she was better off alone. But could it be that together, with Nick by her side, she can start to feel something like happy again?

Where can you get it?

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Kobo | Waterstones | WHSmith | Booktopia | Dymocks | Angus & Robertson