Guest Blogger: Tania Chandler – Authors for Mental Health

I’m pleased to welcome Tania Chandler to Off the Beaten Track today. Tania is a Melbourne-based writer, writing teacher, and editor. Her books have been published in Australia and internationally; shortlisted for awards and selected for reading programs. Tania writes about time, trauma, memory and mental health. All That I Remember About Dean Cola is her third novel.

Over to you, Tania.

A TORTURED MIND

I wrote All That I Remember About Dean Cola — a novel that examines mental illness and trauma — while battling a major anxiety disorder. Reading back through my journals from the time, I’m not sure how I managed to achieve anything. I have decided to share with Authors for Mental Health part of my experience to let others suffering with anxiety know they are not alone, and to contribute another voice to the conversation hoping to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

At the time, I thought that being unwell was helping me to write, to get into the head of my protagonist, so I didn’t seek help until a few months after finishing Dean Cola. I found a new doctor who ordered blood tests, which showed that some of my brain chemicals were at levels you would expect to find in a patient with a tumour. He introduced me to neuroplasticity brain science, which is about rewiring the brain, and — most importantly — he prescribed a medication that worked for me. Those things were life changing. Life saving.

I have had anxiety all my life. I was first diagnosed with panic disorder and GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) about 20 years ago. Back then, I didn’t believe I had anxiety. I argued with doctors that it was a heart condition and insisted on having tests. Anxiety disorders are different for everybody living with them. For me it has been mostly heart palpitations, insomnia, stomach pain, and fear that I’m dying. ALL THE TIME. Sometimes also breathing difficulties, chest pain, muscle spasms, numbness, tingling, odd aches and pains, shaking, migraines, dissociation, dizziness, visual disturbances, irrational thinking, and a million other emotional and physical symptoms that constantly change, just to keep me guessing. As soon as you get used to one set of symptoms, your anxiety disorder will produce a whole range of new ones for you to deal with. And anxiety disorder is: Sitting on the couch in the middle of the night with chest pain and heart palpitations, breathing into your cupped hands, paddling your feet and doing all the other things your psychologist has told you to do. Phone by your side, ready to call triple 0. Heart attack or panic attack? The symptoms are terrifyingly similar. A false-alarm trip to hospital is not appealing, even less so if you have health anxiety as well. So, you wait and see if you die; if you don’t, then it’s just another panic attack. A psychologist once summed it all up for me so perfectly in just three words: A tortured mind.

Cruelly, becoming a published author — my lifelong dream — only made my anxiety disorder worse. Possibly, I think, because the things that come with putting your work (which is really yourself; it’s hard to separate the two) out there — exposure, judgement, reviews, social media, public speaking — are things I would have previously run a million miles to avoid. And the fear of failure and rejection gets worse too. There is far more (mostly self-imposed) pressure on writing a third book than on a first. I have read a lot of advice recently about not putting your writing (or any kind of work) before your health. I am weighing this up before I commit to writing another novel, while at the same time wondering if not writing is just as hard as writing.

Anxiety sucks — you can’t fight it and you can’t run away from it; it will always win, it will always catch you — but there are ways to cope and learn to live with it. Things (aside from medication) that have helped me include exercise and talking to others. Anxiety doesn’t care much for exercise and usually leaves me alone when I go for long walks or sessions at the gym. Talking to somebody you trust, your GP or a therapist, also brings relief, as do the forums on mental health organisation websites. Lifeline is another helpful service. Anxiety is a terrifying and lonely place to be. It’s hard, but reaching out to find you are not alone feels like letting go of the heaviest weight you’ve been carrying around forever.

Guest Blogger: Davina Stone – Authors for Mental Health

Today I welcome the lovely Davina Stone to Off the Beaten Track for another in the Authors for Mental Health blog series.

Davina Stone writes romances about flawed but lovable characters who get it horribly wrong before they finally get it right. They also kiss a fair bit on the way to happily ever after.

Davina grew up in England, before meeting her own hero who whisked her across wild oceans to Australia. She has now lived half her life in both countries, which makes her a hybrid Anglo-Aussie.

When not writing she can be found chasing kangaroos off her veggie patch, dodging snakes, and even staring down the odd crocodile. But despite her many adventures in her heart, she still believes that a nice cup of tea fixes most problems—and of course, that true love conquers all.

Over to you, Davina!

Mental Health – Sometimes We Need to Laugh About It

My current day job is writing sweet, steamy romantic comedies. But for well over two decades, I worked as an occupational therapist (O.T.) in mental health settings. So, when I saw the Beyond Blue initiative, Authors for Mental Health, I had to put my hand up and get involved.

For me there is a close link between what I write and the work I was involved in for most of my adult career. Often writers are advised to write what they know and so I guess that is what I have done. My work as an O.T. has been in hospitals, in people’s homes, in GP’s surgeries and at times on locked wards. I have seen hundreds of people in the depths of a mental health crisis, but more importantly, so much more importantly, I have seen hundreds of people come through those dark times.

I started writing after a health crisis of my own involving extensive heart surgery and a subsequent visit for many months by that unfriendly critter, the black dog depression (Science has proven the link between our heart and mind, a fact writers and artists have known forever—but I digress.) I knew that I wanted to write about characters who struggled with their mental health at times. I knew also that I wanted to write in the romance genre where happily-ever-after is guaranteed. In other words, I wanted to write happy books that weren’t afraid to touch on hard topics.

My characters deal with anxiety and panic attacks, depression, PTSD, and OCD and in my latest manuscript I am writing about self-harm. These are not light topics. But my aim is to write with a light touch, to take the heaviness and shame that often accompany a mental health diagnosis out of the mix. For people to read my books and say—as they have —”I felt like that was me, or I know exactly how it feels to act that way… and I loved the book, it was so much fun,” then I feel in some small way I have achieved what I aimed to.

I have run many group programs to treat anxiety and depression over the years, and what remains clearest in my memory is the resilience, strength and humour of my patients/clients. Life may have dealt them some heavy blows, but they weren’t defeated. They may have been admitted to an in-patient psychiatric ward, but that was not the sum of them. They were not their diagnosis. And they taught me more, I am sure, than I could ever teach them, despite all my training.

The fact that most of us—at least one in four, but honestly, I think that figure is still too low —will experience a crisis in our mental health at some time in our lives means that we are most definitely not alone. And yet the stigma remains; we may be fearful of putting a diagnosis of depression on a job application for example, and even sharing with those closest to us can be a struggle when we are in the depths of psychological pain. So, I guess, by writing these romances, I wanted to be part of a conversation that needs to be open and frank and normalised.

I also truly believe there are times when it is appropriate to laugh about our mental health struggles. Sure, mental health is a very serious topic but our conversations about it do not have to be grim and heavy, as my group participants would testify as we all laughed together at the vicissitudes of life. As one of my closest friends, who has had several incidents of major depression, says very matter-of-factly, “Yeah, I was barking mad at the time.” And then we laugh. What a relief it is to share like this.

So, let’s keep talking, having the conversations we need to have about our mental health, openly, courageously and with humour too in the mix.

And meanwhile, I’ll keep writing my romcoms …

ID: 4 female friends in a car, laughing.

Cover Reveal for A Wedding in Tuscany

I am SO excited to share this with you all, the beautiful cover for my next book, A Wedding in Tuscany.

A Tuscan villa (yellow walls and a terracotta tile roof) sits on top of a hill with a bride walking through an grove of olive trees in the foreground, and another villa and rolling hills covered in vines in the background. Tagline: The ultimate adventure is about to begin.

I mean, seriously, how gorgeous is that? (I think it is my fave cover since Santorini).

This is the final book in the Holiday Romance series and here’s the blurb:

The Parsons sisters are all loved up.

Sarah is living in Sydney with Josh and their cat, Domino, but is anxious about her fast-approaching fortieth birthday.

And Cat is still living in London with her flatmate, Jane, but is in a long-distance relationship with Jean-Luc, her childhood sweetheart and recently re-discovered love.

One of the sisters receives a surprise wedding proposal – it’s a yes! – and everyone heads off to Tuscany for a destination wedding.

Reunite with favourite characters from the Holiday Romance series in one of the most beautiful locations yet for love, laughter, wedding vows, and just a smidge of sisterly mayhem.

I had such a blast writing this book, especially setting it in one of my favourite places in the world. Here’s a few shots from the last time I was there.

A Wedding in Tuscany is out on June 17 (ebook) and September 15 (print) and you can pre-order now. Buy links found here.

Cover Reveal for Nina Kaye

I am thrilled to be able to share this gorgeous cover for Nina Kaye’s wonderful new book, One Night in Edinburgh. I absolutely LOVED this book. It clever and romantic and made me think as much as it made me laugh. Steph is a character I warmed to immediately and I couldn’t help falling for the lovely Jamie. This book will warm your heart and is an absolute must read.

Cover One Night in Edinburgh by Nina Kaye. Subtitle: Will it be enough?
Tagline: The fun, feel-good romance you need this year.
A man and a woman in the foreground, facing away as they stand at the back of a celebrating crown below Edinburgh castle. There are fireworks overhead.

The blurb

One night. But how many second chances?
Heartbroken on Hogmanay, Steph wanders through the Edinburgh street party until she bumps into Jamie. He’s funny, attractive and clearly interested. In a word, he’s perfect – but she didn’t get his number. All she remembers is his lime and mango beer.

Determined to be reunited, Steph tracks him by a milk carton style campaign, sticking a message to his favourite beer across local pubs. Although eventually reunited, Jamie is frequently uncontactable and evasive, and Steph worries she’s on the path to heartbreak once more.

There’s a fine line between being patient and being gullible, and Steph’s reaching her limit. When a chance encounter with Jamie reveals his secret, she faces an even tougher decision. Should Steph give love another chance, or was one night in Edinburgh all she and Jamie were meant to have?

Where you can buy it (out June 23rd – pre-order now)

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon CA

Waterstones | Foyles

Kobo | Nook

About Nina

Smiling woman with shoulder length dark curly hair, wearing a red top and black cardigan.

Nina Kaye is a contemporary romance author who writes warm, witty and uplifting reads with a deeper edge. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and much adored side-kick, James. In addition to writing, Nina enjoys swimming, gin and karaoke (preferably all enjoyed together in a sunny, seaside destination). Nina has previously published The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating and Take a Moment and has also been a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayson Award.

Follow Nina

Amazon| Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Cover Reveal for A Sunrise over Bali

I am VERY excited and proud to show off this gorgeous cover for the 4th book in the Holiday Romance series, A Sunrise over Bali.

A sun rising over the sea between two volcanic mountains. A temple and several huts in the mid-ground. A woman in a teal dress and a white hat walking into scene (on the beach) in the foreground. Palm trees either side of the beach scene.

This is an evolution of the series covers, putting Jaelee Tan, our heroine, in the stunning location of Bali but still retaining the styling and ombré colour palette of the first 3 books in the series. I love it!

The blurb

Jaelee Tan is going on sabbatical.

After meeting besties Cat, Lou, and Dani on a whirlwind trip around Europe, Jaelee is finding it difficult to settle back into Miami life, especially without her ex, Paco. When she shows up to her best friend Ali’s 40th birthday party and Paco and his new wife are two of the guests, she does what any self-respecting woman would do – she runs.

All the way to Bali.

Convinced that a two-month sabbatical away from her high-stress Miami life is just the ticket, she settles into UROP, a co-living resort for digital nomads in the heart of Ubud. There she meets an incredible group of people, each with something to teach her about life and love, including the Hot Scot, Alistair, who may just make her change her mind about man buns – and love.

My inspiration

I was inspired to write this book because in 2018, when Ben and I were on our year-long sabbatical, we kicked off with a 2-month stay at a co-living space called ROAM in Ubud, Bali. We worked (a little), we played (a lot), we explored, and we spent many days just being. It was a brilliant, revitalising time for us both and an excellent way to start an incredible year.

We also made lifelong friends in Bali, including a dog called Lu.

Lu made it into the book―I didn’t even bother to change her name―but in real-life, she was facing euthanasia during our last 2 weeks at ROAM. She lived there but not ‘officially’ and was very protective of the community members. This made her dangerous for the public, scuppering plans that the owners of ROAM had to expand. However, the community (current and former ROAMIES) rallied and we raised enough money to send her to California where she now lives on an enormous property with a former ROAMIE. I love Lu and I am so glad she has a proper home now.

Tan dog with white paws and black markings on her face, lounging on steps

And some other inspiration pics from Bali―I kept these close at hand throughout the writing process, so I could really capture the magic of this beautiful place.

And my fave shot of me in Bali (this made it into the book too)

Woman on a bamboo swing which is suspended from a tree branch overlooking a valley of lush green.
The swing on the Campuhan Trail

I really hope you enjoy reading A Sunrise over Bali. It holds a special place in my heart and I’m really proud of it. It’s out on February 17 (ebook) and May 12 (print).

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

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Facebook Group | Pinterest | Goodreads | BookBub | YouTube | LinkedIn

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 with Author Jennifer Irwin

It is my pleasure to welcome author, Jennifer Irwin to Off the Beaten track today to mark the publication of her second novel, A Dress the Colour of the Moon. Jen and I ‘met’ in 2018 as fellow indie authors right after I read her incredible debut, A Dress the Colour of the Sky. Honestly, that book blew me away. Jen’s writing is both taut – laden with tension – and beautifully poetic. Her understanding of our humanity is evident in both her stories and her prose. This is why I leapt at the opportunity to be an early reader ‘Moon’, but more on that later. First, let’s chat to Jen.

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

Tell us what inspired you to write A Dress the Colour of the Moon?

When I wrote the prequel, A Dress the Color of the Sky, I left the ending open in case I decided to continue with the story. When many of my readers expressed an interest in knowing how Prue fared in the world after rehab, that was all the motivation I needed. Deep down, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Prudence Aldrich either.

When did you start writing seriously?

After my divorce, I was determined to write a book that was loosely based on my life. I began making writing a priority and scheduling time to write every day. It took me three years to complete my debut novel which released in 2017, so to answer your question, I’d say I started writing seriously in 2014.

What do you love most about being an author?

I love reading reviews and receiving messages from readers who have been touched by my books. It is truly the most incredible feeling and one which never gets old.

What are you working on now?

I’ve completed the first draft of my third novel called The Ad Agency. It is an unlikely love story between Sebastian who has been severely burned in a car accident and dreams of being a copy writer, and Bettina, an assistant art director who descends from Spanish royalty. They are two misfits from different worlds who fall in love regardless of the odds going against them.

Oh, that sounds fantastic. Lastly, what do you hope readers will take away from A Dress the Colour of the Moon?

Many people in our country have been affected by addiction either directly or indirectly. It is my hope that readers will learn more about the recovery process by following a few of my characters through their post-rehab journey. As a victim of sexual assault, I also hope that my readers find solace in knowing that it is possible to heal and move forward from past traumatic experiences.

About the book

Prudence Aldrich is a sex addict. Five weeks ago, she checked into the Serenity Hills rehab center to prevent that addiction from ruining every important relationship in her life. Now Prue must face the trail of destruction she left behind, including mending the broken bond with her teenage son, finalizing the divorce with her husband, Nick, and using a newly learned set of skills to ward off her insatiable cravings for male attention—a compulsion that puts her friendship with lifelong pal Lily to the test.

Adding ever further complications to the hurdles in her path is the arrival into town of Alistair Prescott, her in-rehab romantic obsession, and the one person in the world most capable of throwing Prue off her recovery. Meanwhile, Serenity Hills counselor Mike Sullivan is undergoing a crisis of his own—one that will drive him to the rediscovery of a lifelong passion . . . and causing him to cross paths again with Prue, his former patient.

A Dress the Color of the Moon tracks the rocky and sometimes disastrous path to recovery—a recovery that will require Prudence and her friends to face down the demons of their pasts while learning to accept the fearful uncertainty that comes with living life on your own two feet.

My thoughts on the book

This is a much anticipated read for me, as I was immediately captivated by Book 1 A Dress the Colour of the Sky, and Jennifer Irwin does not disappoint. This book has so much heart and truth, with beautifully written, flawed and relatable characters just doing their best to find their way. Irwin’s prose is superb – both succinct and poetic. I laughed aloud, I cried, and I highlighted dozens of passages.

This can be read as a stand-alone, but Book 1 is also highly recommended.

Where you can get it (print and ebook)

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

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

More about Jennifer

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

Jennifer Irwin’s debut novel, A Dress the Color of the Sky, was published in 2017 and has received rave reviews, won seven book awards, and was optioned for a feature film. Jennifer’s short stories have appeared in numerous literary publications including California’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction. Jennifer is represented by Prentis Literary and currently resides in Los Angeles.

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

Catching up with Author Jeanna Louise Skinner

It’s publication day for Jeanna Louise Skinner’s fantastic book, The Book Boyfriend, and I it a pleasure and honour to welcome her to Off the Beaten Track to celebrate.

I first ‘met’ Jeanna online when I was living in the UK while on sabbatical in 2018. She was the founder of UKRomChat, a Twitter chat for lovers and writers of romance, and I was fangirling from the sidelines. I loved the pacy Twitter chat, meeting new friends in Romancelandia and learning about the UK publishing scene. Not long after, early in 2019, Jeanna entrusted me with an early read of this fantastic book. I was captivated immediately. It is highly original with terrific plot twists and turns, a thoughtful theme of mental health and wellbeing – tackling the topic head on – and a magical thread that I loved. It also transcends several sub-genres of Romance, has a heroine you will fall in love with and want to champion and, yes, an utterly swoonworthy hero.

I completely fell in love with this book (and no doubt you will too). And look at this cover! Rawr!

Cover of The Book Boyfriend
A very beautiful curvy woman with long reddish brown hair in a clinch with a dark-haired knight in black leather armour. Background is the bookshelves of a bookstore and there is magical 'dust' in the air.

Before we learn more about the book, let’s chat to Jeanna.

Tell us what inspired you to write The Book Boyfriend?

The initial inspiration for The Book Boyfriend hit me like a lightning bolt during a conversation with a friend. We were talking about our favourite romance heroes and how they had never let us down. I can still hear her lamenting the fact that they couldn’t just come to life! From there, the idea of a perfectly imperfect hero magically stepping out of the pages of a romance novel just grew. It was around the time The Tudors was popular, and as both my friend and I were (and still are) obsessed with Henry Cavill and his character on the show – the roguish Charles Brandon – he immediately became my blueprint for my hero, Lord Jonathan Dalgliesh. Writing him was an absolute delight! Finding my way to my heroine, Emmy, took much longer. I was determined to do her justice and ensure I that I get all the emotion and nuance that comes with her specific mental health conditions – schizophrenia and anxiety disorder – and her past traumas absolutely right, with the necessary sensitivity and care.   

When did you start writing seriously?

I’m not sure I ever have, to be honest. I have multiple health conditions and I’m ADHD, so writing for me is both a blessing and a curse. My writer’s brain is constantly on the go, seeking new ideas and facts, but I find focusing a struggle. I can go months without writing a single word, and then other times stories drip from my fingers like spilt ink. I still can’t quite believe I actually wrote a whole book or that people are going to read it!

What do you love most about being an author?

Gosh, that’s a tough question. On one hand I feel extraordinarily privileged to know people are going to read – and hopefully fall in love with – my words. That’s a wonderful feeling. But a part of me is slightly envious and more than a little terrified too. There’s something quite narcissistic in it, I feel. Like, what gives me the right to tell these stories and expect people to listen to them? Why am I so desperate to bare my soul like this? I think most creatives can relate, but there’s something about writing especially which feels naked. As for the envy, there’s a part of me that’s insanely jealous that my readers get to experience the thoughts in my head fresh and brand-spanking new for the first time. I’m fascinated and petrified by thoughts of what their reactions might be, and whether they’re the feelings I’d hope to invoke while writing a specific scene. Like I say, utterly narcissistic.

I love that take on writing – I haven’t quite thought of it that way before. So, what are you working on now?

I’m currently taking an extended hiatus from writing for personal reasons and to focus on the release of The Book Boyfriend. I have SO many more stories on my TBW (To Be Written) list though, including a follow up to TBB that will possibly be a sequel or maybe even a prequel. I will write again one day. I’m just not sure when that day will be.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Book Boyfriend?

SO much! I’ve spoken about this at length on my social media channels. It’s so important to me that readers can relate or at least respond well to Emmy. As far as I’m aware, she’s the first main character in a romance novel who has schizophrenia. I’m passionate about mental health awareness and bringing diverse stories to life and I really hope that readers fall in love with her as much as I have. It might be called The Book Boyfriend but this is very much Emmy’s story. I wrote her to show that people like her can and do lead relatively normal lives and that they deserve to get a HEA too.

My other biggest wish is that romance writers and readers enjoy all my references and nods to our wonderful genre. This is my love letter to Romancelandia and I’m just delighted to be a tiny part of it.

Oh, and I’m also hopeful that The Book Boyfriend will put Exeter on the Romancelandia map!

More about the book

“Let us find solace in the quiet…”

Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real. Maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren’t so far-fetched after all?

Lord Jonathan Dalgliesh is the handsome stranger-wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past-who appears in Emmy’s bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse imprisoning him inside an ancient book. But when growing threats to Emmy’s safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, she must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page?

Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.

Where you can get it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon CA

Foyles | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Waterstones

SIGNED print copies

More about Jeanna

Author Jeanna Louise Skinner - a woman in her late 30s or early 40s with large blue eyes, full cheeks and smiling. She has long reddish purple hair and is wearing a T-shirt with a Vampuur - a cat vampire.

Jeanna Louise Skinner writes romance with a sprinkling of magic. Her debut novel THE BOOK BOYFRIEND is out in 2021 and she is working on a prequel. She has CRPS, a rare neurological disorder, ADHD and Anxiety Disorder, and is passionate about mental health and disability rights. In 2020, she co-founded the RNA DISCO Chapter, for members with disabilities and chronic health conditions. She’s also the co-creator of @UKRomChat, a Romance-centric live Twitter chat, which was nominated for the RNA Media Star Award in 2019 and 2020. She lives in Exeter, Devon with her husband, their two children and a cat who sounds like a goat.

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Brilliant to have you on the blog today Jeanna – and huge congratulations on the publication of your wonderful book. I hope you have a fabulouus celebration.