Authors for Mental Health Blog Series

This month, I will be hosting some guest bloggers on Off the Beaten Track as part of the initiative Authors for Mental Health.

This initiative has two aims: increase awareness into the importance of good mental health and raise funds for Beyond Blue, an integral Australian organisation, particularly in today’s social, emotional and political landscape. Authors for Mental Health runs through to the first week of April, culminating in an auction (April 1-6) in which generous authors and publishing professionals have donated everything from books to their time and expertise.

So why have I raised my hand to be part of Authors for Mental Health?

That question is both simple to answer – I have suffered from anxiety since childhood and bouts of depression since early adulthood – and complex.

Mental illness affects me, and many of my loved ones – friends as well as family members – and colleagues. And good mental health is just as important as good physical health. Yet, we – as a society – still attach a stigma to mental illness. We make it difficult for people to put their hand up and say, ‘I suffer from mental illness’ or, ‘I need help.’ We don’t have enough support measure in place. For many of us, we don’t have the vocabulary to explain mental illness, even to ourselves, so how can we begin to understand it?

So, when Kate Foster reached out to ask if I’d donate an item for the auction, I said, ‘All the yeses.’ And then I offered to help with the blog series and other aspects that I could contribute to.

Because good mental health DOES matter. It is critical and should be a priority for all of us, looking after our own mental health. And for those who don’t yet have the vocabulary to understand it, or the courage to ask for help, maybe, just maybe, this initiative will make their path a little easier.

Depression has hit me hard at various times in my adult life. For me, it usually manifests as despondency, a feeling that creeps up on me until I am in the thick of it and see no way out of it – a feeling that it isn’t worth doing anything, going anywhere, seeing anyone. A feeling that it’s not worth participating in life at all, and yes, at times I have had thoughts of suicide.

With ‘lower-grade’ depression (as I think of it), something that has raised its head several times in the past two years, sometimes for weeks on end, I get frustrated and angry – from zero to fury in a matter of seconds – about things that really don’t matter. Or I’ll sob uncontrollably, my body wracked with pain and fear that it will never end – though, in the moment, not truly knowing what ‘it’ is.

And I still have the occasional panic attack, though usually in situations where I feel claustrophobic, as though I need to escape but can’t. For me, naming it is the most powerful tool for overcoming it. ‘I am having a panic attack,’ I’ll tell the person I’m with. In one instance, I had to ring the call button on a flight, so I could say, ‘I am having a panic attack.’ The man next to me quickly stood and let me out and the flight attendant ushered me to the galley where I was given water and space to breathe. My partner, Ben, has been with me for several attacks. At first, he’d ask, ‘What do you want me to do?’ He now knows to give me space, to speak to me in soothing tones, and to coach me to slow my breathing – his empathy helps.

With depression, I had a break-through when we were living in Seattle, a city I loved but one in which you live under grey skies for 10 months a year. I wrote about that in this post, The Gray, and it was only in retrospect that I realised I was smack dab in the middle of depression when I wrote it. Here’s an excerpt:

‘Your mood is gray. You crave nothing, hate nothing. Everything is neutral. Extremes have no place in your existence. Your soul has been doused in peroxide. Sometimes, just there in the periphery, you see glimpses of passion, of disagreement and debate. Yet you have succumbed to the numbing, and do not participate.’

When I showed up at the GP and she asked what she could help with, I burst into tears and sobbed through an explanation of what was going on. As a New Mexican (one of the hottest, sunniest states in the US), she had first-hand knowledge of the additional stress that grey weather puts on mental health. After listening to me blubber for a good five minutes, she said, ‘Honey, you’re depressed.’ More specifically, I had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The relief at having a diagnosis was overshadowed by self-flagellation. How had I not realised? I’d suffered from depression before – how had I not recognised that it had taken hold again?

The doctor prescribed Vitamin D supplements and medication. The medication, however, made me nauseous and woozy 24/7 and after several weeks, I decided, ‘No, not for me.’ What else could I try? Well, if I was missing the sun, I could replicate it, right? I bought myself a blue light and I started going to hot yoga three times a week. I also talked openly about my depression. I asked for help and understanding from my partner and friends – and (I am so grateful for this), I got it. Though, I never raised it at work. I didn’t feel safe enough in that environment to tell my colleagues, my boss. That stigma! In the throws of depression, I was simply ‘difficult to work with’ and ‘surly’ ‘always unhappy’.

Now, 13 years after the SAD diagnosis, I am better at recognising the signs that depression may be taking hold. But only better, not perfect. It still catches me unawares at times, particularly during the ‘Groundhog Day’ existence of Melbourne lockdowns.

So, that’s why I have raised my hand to help bring awareness to the importance of treating our mental health the same way we do our physical health – by prioritising it, by be empathetic to ourselves and others, by building the vocabulary we need to talk about it openly and effectively – and without judgement.

Please, please, please – take care of yourself, make your mental health a priority, if you haven’t already, and if you need it, ask for help. It’s out there.

Writing the “unlikeable” character

A Sunrise over Bali, the 4th book in the Holiday Romance series, is out next month. I wrote this book in 2020 and while I was writing it, I blogged about writing the ‘unlikeable’ character.

Off the Beaten Track

Cover of A Sunrise over Bali: darkhaired woman standing on a Balinese beach with palm trees, huts, and a temple looking at a beautiful sunrise. Tagline: the adventure of a lifetime awaits

A Sunrise over Bali, the 4th book in the Holiday Romance series, is out next month. I wrote this book in 2020 and while I was writing it, I blogged about writing the ‘unlikeable’ character.

Written May 2020

In Bali, I am hyper aware that my main character is, based on her role as a supporting character in That Night in Paris, “unlikeable”―so much so, that when I mentioned to a friend who I was writing about, she cringed.

So, why write this character? Why give her a whole book?

In short, it’s because I love her.

I love the hard, prickly exterior she uses to mask a lifetime of being terrified of vulnerability. I love that, once she does care about someone, she is fiercely loyal and generous. I love that she is feisty and bold, independent and resourceful.

I love that, just like the…

View original post 332 more words

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).

New Year’s Absolutions 2022

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that each year I write not ‘resolutions’, but ‘absolutions’.

These are the things I absolve myself from doing the following year―GUILT FREE!

Either I will remove them from my mental ‘to do’ list or I will stop doing them because they do not ‘spark joy’. These are the things I have been told―by myself, by loved ones, by society―that I should do but really, really don’t want to.

So, on the list they go!

1. Reading the entire contents of my Kindle

As an avid reader, I have a problem―I cannot say no to books. I buy a lot of books, I get given a lot of books … but I have too many books. TOO MANY BOOKS! Every time I finish a book, I am paralysed by choice as to what to read next. I flick through the (literally) dozens of pages of unread books on my Kindle and often end up tossing it on the bed in frustration and turning on Netflix.

I like choice. Choice is good―there is a book for every mood on my Kindle: spy thriller, (gruesome) crime thriller, LA detective thriller, romcom, contemporary romance, contemporary women’s fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, historical romance, outback romance, even some fantasy, SciFi and horror …

The thing is, I have at least a dozen unread books in each genre (and sub-genre) taunting me.

In the past few days, I have taken steps to mitigate this paralysing guilt of owning so many unread books. Collections! I have decided my next 3 reads and everything else has gone into a TBR Collection―a neat little folder that I can swipe past all at once on my Kindle’s ‘home’ screen. Now I just need to stop acquiring more books. Hmm.

2. Meditating

In mid-2022, I signed up for a weekly meditation session at work (facilitated by a colleague) to help us cope with the pandemic. Half-way through the first session, conducted via TEAMS, I received a Teams message―apparently ‘urgent’―and I spent the rest of the meditation session putting out a (small) professional fire―essentially, the opposite of meditating.

The thing is, I not only suck at meditating, I (really) dislike it. I spend the whole time chastising myself for sucking at it and not being better at ‘adulting’.

Well, I absolve myself from meditating in 2022 because there are other ways to ‘be mindful’. Any time you are completely immersed in something―reading, dancing, cooking, revelling in natural beauty, combing the beach for the prettiest shell, sipping great wine and really tasting it, playing with a child and making them laugh, in the midst of an in-depth conversation, smashing out a new chapter or editing one―you are being mindful.

So, I aim to be mindful in the way that works for me without beating myself up about how I get to that immersive, blissful state.

3. Watching ‘Squid Game

I tried (2 full episodes) and I hated it (not just the premise but the lead actor’s―in my opinion, terrible―acting). I know it’s considered ‘good TV’ by millions of people but no piece of fiction is for everyone―just ask my readers―so it’s okay that I didn’t like it and that I won’t finish the season.

4. Getting a TikTok account

It’s not that there aren’t many, many entertaining people on TikTok, nor that I haven’t enjoyed the occasional TikTok (I don’t even know if that’s the correct term―are the clips on TikTok called TikToks?) that people have sent to me (case in point, this is hilarious).

It’s that I already spend 5-12 hours a week on social media for author biz. That’s not just posting, but creating assets, and commenting and sharing―and thanking others for commenting and sharing.

I just don’t have room in my life for another social media account. I felt the same way about Snapchat (and I was right about that BTW―remember Snapchat, anyone?)

5. Not making travel plans because ‘what if I have to cancel them?’

This is a double negative, I know.

To be clear, I absolve myself from not making travel plans, which means that 2022 is FILLED with travel plans. Sure, we’re buying the best insurance we can get and we’re mindful (that word again) that any or all of these trips may be cancelled, but for me and Ben, travel IS life.

So, trips on the cards:

  • Southern coast of New South Wales to see friends (who live there)
  • Inland in Victoria to see my cousins (who live there)
  • Up to southern Queensland/norther NSW to see family and friends (who live there)
  • Western Australia to see family (who live there). They have been behind the COVID Curtain implemented by Premier Mark McGowan for so long, I can’t even fly there to be with my mom who is recovering from a serious injury and is bed bound. (Grrrr, Mark!)
  • The UK (!) to: see my family (sis, bro-in-law, nephew) in Rugby and Great-Aunt in Oxfordshire; meet my agent, Lina, and dear friend, Nina, face to face in Edinburgh; attend the Romance Novelists Association 2022 Conference; attend the HarperCollins author party; meet Pearson colleagues in London; meet my editor and other members of the One More Chapter publishing team, also in London; and catch up with other friends across the UK. (It’ll be a long trip.)
  • Sailing the Cyclades Islands in Greece! I am SO excited about this. Ben and I will be sailing with our skipper friend, Patrick―our 3rd time sailing with him. Athens to Syros―8 days, 7 nights―and we’re taking my nephew, who will be 11 by then. (Aside: for those who have read the Holiday Romance series, Patrick is the real-life Duncan, only he’s a Kiwi).

So LOTS to look forward to in 2022, especially as I am absolving myself of so many things that will save me not just time, but angst, guilt, and regret.

And what could be a better way to start the New Year?

Happy 2022, everyone, and may it be filled with reunions, grand adventures, and many moments that will make you smile, fill your heart, and bring you peace and joy.

Ode to the em dash

woman's hands typing on a laptop

Just a little post to pay homage to the humble em dash—oft maligned, oft misunderstood, but a punctuation mark that punches way above its weight class. And I know that authors shouldn’t play favourites, but of all the punctuation out there, the em dash is my fave. It’s just so versatile!

Know your em dash

Many will confuse the en dash – and the em dash — but my tip to remember which is which is a simple mnemonic device:

An ‘m’ (em dash) is twice as wide as ‘n’ (en dash) so it is the wider of the two dashes.

The power of the em dash

Use em dashes to:

1. offset parenthetical content from the sentence

e.g. Josh is planning a surprise for Sarah’s fortieth birthday. My thinking is that turning forty is surprise enough—Oh, my god, how on earth am I this old?—and that she hates surprises.

2. denote interrupted speech

e.g.

‘But can’t we just—’

She talks over me. ‘Jaelee, I wasn’t super keen on this in the first place.’

3. to denote interrupted thoughts

‘I will see you tonight,’ says my sexy boyfriend—no, sorry, fiancé!

4. in place of a colon preceding a list

e.g.

a. ‘That is the best part, the countryside—the fields of sunflowers, the towns, the castles.’

b. I round a corner and the wall drops to waist height, revealing a thick blanket of lush green—palm trees, ferns, thick brush with glossy leaves, and high grass.

5. to show a ‘change in direction’ of a thought, or in narration or dialogue

e.g.

a. I look up from the shopping and her cheeks are pink with frustration—or maybe it’s exertion.

b. ‘Yeah, I don’t ever drink beer—unless it’s, like, craft beer.’

6. to expand on a point

e.g.

a. And it’s hot. I mean, crazy, fricking, humid hot. And I’m from Miami—I know heat and I know humidity, but this stuff is next level.

b. Besides, I may have limited culinary skills but I am a master at making toast and tea—the perfect elixir for the infirmed.

You see? A powerful (not so) little dash.

Till next time when we unpack ellipses …

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.

Follow Jen

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

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.

Follow Jeanna

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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.