Cover Reveal for The Christmas Trip!

I am very excited to share the cover of my next book with One More Chapter, The Christmas Trip.

This is the follow-up to The Christmas Swap (2020) and I SO loved reconnecting with your favourites from Book 1.

About the book

It’s a year on and our three May Ladies are all loved up but still living worlds apart.

Chloe has had a whirlwind year amongst the glitz, glamour (and demanding work) of Hollywood. She’s taken on the role of Assistant Producer on the film, ‘An Extraordinary Woman: The Eloise Capel Story’, Archer’s passion project and as Archer’s girlfriend, she’s now schmoozing with A-listers.

Jules is immersed in her Melbourne life, working for a non-profit and sharing an increasingly crowded flat on the waterfront with flatmate, Ash ― and their frequent visitors: Ash’s boyfriend, Davo, and Jules’ love, Matt, and his dog, Dexter. She’s considering moving out on her own, only Matt keeps hinting at Jules moving to his vineyard down south.

Lucy, meanwhile, is stuck in long-distance-relationship hell. While her career is flying high ― a promotion and frequent trips to the US for work ― her relationship with Will has stalled. She doesn’t want to be a part-time girlfriend, finding their time apart agonising, but Will seems perfectly content.

When Archer’s planned Parisian proposal at Christmastime is derailed by an ash cloud over Europe, he hatches a plan to bring all six of them together for a Christmas ― and a marriage proposal ― to remember. In Hawaii!

I invite you to join the May Ladies and their loves in the most beautiful destination yet for a Christmas filled with mayhem and misunderstandings, and rocking romance around the Christmas tree!

And check out this stunning cover! I am in love with it! Huge thanks to cover designer, Lucy Bennett.

Cover of The Christmas Trip: Couple sitting on a Hawaiian beach on the lower half, a cove covered with palm trees in the distance. At the top, a snowy scene of an English village; a cottage and a fir tree decorated with Christmas lights and a couple standing admiring the cottage.

Where you can preorder

It’s out in ebook on November 10th and print on December 8.

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA | Amazon US

iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Google Play | Waterstones

(Coming soon) Foyles | Dymocks | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia

I hope you love it as much as I do!

Catching up with Author Pernille Hughes

It is my great pleasure to welcome fellow One More Chapter author, Pernille Hughes to Off the Beaten Track today to celebrate the publication of her next book, Ten Years.

My thoughts on the book

This is a highly original story that had me hooked from the very first page. The author brings to the page two real, complex and well-drawn characters that I championed all the way through. This is a true slow burn and I loved seeing how the characters evolved each time they met up – how they change as people and how their relationship evolves.

No spoilers but a VERY satisfying ending , including a lovely twist. An absolute must read.

And loving this cover!

A closeup illustration of a man and a woman kissing. 'They're perfect for each other. They just don't know if yet.'

Pernille joins us to tell us more about her and this fabulous read.

Tell us what inspired you to write Ten Years.

The book came from a conversation over lunch with my lovely editor Charlotte Ledger. Normally I write comic romances, so writing Ten Years, blending funny and sad, was something new. I’d once heard the brilliant psychotherapist Julia Samuel on the History Hit podcast talking about our
modern attitudes towards grief. She described grief as “love that doesn’t know where to go.” That idea stayed with me and certainly sat with me in the writing of Ten Years. Becca and Charlie had to see that you can’t shoo the pain away or ignore it, you have to accommodate it, find a place for it
within you.


I also had the notion buzzing in my head of ‘all magic comes at a price’ which I think I might have got from Once upon a time, the TV show? It was something that came up at the end of my last book Probably the Best Kiss in the World, where Love is the ‘magic’. I was still thinking about it here. What would the price be for Becca and Charlie? Essentially, I came to the conclusion that if you’d asked them, they’d have said the same; in losing Ally, they’d already paid upfront.

When did you start writing seriously?

In 2012 I came runner up in a competition to have a story in a Women’s Fiction short story anthology. The Sunday Times had also printed 36 short stories of mine in their Travel section (Confessions of a Tourist), and those two things combined showed me that Women’s fiction was where my voice lay. So, I started writing a full-length novel (Punch-Drunk Love) and sending it out, which got me an agent, and it was published in 2018.

What do you love most about being an author?

The writing community, especially the romance writers community. It’s so generous and supportive. There’s no need to be competitive, as we
physically can’t write the books as quickly as readers read them, and so the focus is on revelling in the love of books and welcoming other writers who want to share their stories.

What are you working on now?
A bit of a passion project, one of those that sits in your head and keeps knocking to be let out. It germinated from a guided tour through Highgate Cemetery, which I would recommend to anyone interested in British social history, or just an interesting walk on a sunny day. It’ll still be a romance of course! I’m ‘out of contract’ so who knows whether it’ll ever see the shelves, but I need it to come out now, it’s been in there too long.

What do you hope readers will take away from Ten Years?
While I really wasn’t setting out to hammer anything home, I suppose there were a few things I worked to get across; that we all grieve differently, for example, and that ‘people change’. Also, that ‘good teams’ needn’t be identical people. Becca and Charlie are wildly different, but they bring out the best in each other. That yin yang image of two-different entities ‘clicking’ together to make a working whole is one that resonates with me.

More about the book

Becca and Charlie have known each other since university.
Becca and Charlies have also hated each other since university.

Until now. Until Ally’s bucket list. The death of their loved one should mean they can go their separate ways and not look back. But completing the list is something neither of them can walk away from.

And sometimes, those who bring out the worst in you, also bring out the very best…

Over the course of ten years, Becca and Charlie’s paths collide as they deal with grief, love and life after Ally.

Where to get it

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Waterstones | WH Smith

More about Pernille

Smiling woman with shoulder length medium brown hair, held back with reading glasses on top of her head, wearing a polka-dotted black and white top and a silver heart pendant.

Before she moved to writing full-time, Pernille Hughes studied Film & Literature at university. After she graduated she went on to market Natural History films before working in Children’s television, which meant living in actual Teletubbyland for a while! From 2011–2015, she was a regular contributor for The Sunday Times column ‘Confessions of a Tourist’. She’s had two novels published to date – Punch-Drunk Love and Probably the Best Kiss in the World – and her new book Ten Years is released on August 31st 2022. 

Pernille lives in Buckinghamshire, England and while the kids are at school she scoffs cake and writes stories in order to maintain a shred of sanity. 

www.pernillehughes.com  (Free short story here!)

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | TikTok

Publication Day for Fiona Leitch

It’s a pleasure to welcome my dear friend and writing partner, Fiona Leitch, back to Off the Beaten Track to mark the publication of Book 5 in her Nosey Parker cosy mystery series, A Cornish Recipe for Murder.

Cover of book: Illustration of baked goods in foreground and a marquee in the background where the baking competition is held. Tagline: 5 bakes, 1 killer

Tell us what inspired you to write A Cornish Recipe for Murder?

I’m a massive fan of The Great British Bake Off and I thought it could be a lot of fun, planning a murder around the big tent! Plenty of scope for suspects – not just contestants, but the presenters and judges, and the crew… Bake Off is such a popular show, with versions filmed all around the world (we have The Great Kiwi Bake Off here, which is almost identical apart from the presenters!), so I’m hoping that means there’s a wide audience for this book.

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

I love Jane Harper’s work, and I literally just finished The Lost Man. Oh my god, it’s so good! Lots of twists and turns, you think you know what’s going on and then…another twist! Highly recommended.

What has been your author highlight over the past year?

The relaunch of the Nosey Parker series, with all new covers (and titles). The old covers were lovely and colourful, but the new ones are beautiful; classy, and somehow more British! I think they really reflect the tone of the books inside.

What are you working on now?

Book 6 of the series, A Cornish Seaside Murder. I’m also working on an idea for a whole new series, set in London, still cosy and fun but very different. Plus I recently finished a quirky crime novel set in the Australian Outback, which I’m in the process of finding a home for.

What do you hope readers will take away from A Cornish Recipe for Murder?

I hope readers get a lot of laughs, and maybe a few new recipes!

My thoughts

This book is an absolute, twisty-turny blast. I am such a huge fan of Jodie and the gang. It’s a terrific series – funny and clever, as well as a great who-dunnit? series – and this latest book is a great addition.

More about the book

‘When popular TV baking contest and national institution ‘The Best of British Baking Roadshow’ rolls into town and sets up camp in the grounds of Boskern House, a historic stately home near Penstowan, former police officer Jodie ‘Nosey’ Parker finds herself competing to represent Cornwall in the grand final.

But with a fellow contestant who will stop at nothing to win and a drag queen host with secrets of their own, Jodie discovers that the roadshow doesn’t just have the ingredients for the perfect showstopper cake, but also for the perfect murder…

And when a body is found in the grounds of the house, Jodie is drawn into another high-stakes case along with local DCI Nathan Withers.

Can Jodie expose the culprit? Or will the murderer become the real showstopper?’

Where to get it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon CA

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Foyles | A&R | Dymocks | Booktopia

And all good book retailers

About Fiona Leitch

Fiona Leitch is a novelist and screenwriter with a chequered past. She’s written for footballing and motoring magazines, childbirth videos and mail order catalogues; DJ-ed at illegal raves in London, been told off by a children’s TV presenter during a studio debate, and she was the Australasian face of a series of TV commercials for a cleaning product. All of which has given her a thorough grounding in the ridiculous, and has helped her write funny stuff. She writes the Jodie ‘Nosey’ Parker series for HarperCollins, because she loves thinking about Cornwall, food, and murdering people (not necessarily in that order).

Follow Fiona

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website

Publication Day for Lynne Shelby

It’s my pleasure to welcome Lynne Shelby to Off the Beaten Track today to celebrate the publication of her latest book, Rome for the Summer. Not only am I a huge fan of her books, but I LOVE Roma! It is one of my favourite cities in the world and look at that cover! The perfect romantic read for those of us who love a little armchair travel!

Cover of Rome for the Summer:
A dark-haired man and woman riding on a red scooter past the Victor Emanuel II monument in Rome. Tagline: There's no better place to mend a broken heart. Quote: 'A wonderful fresh new talent' - Katie Fforde.

And now over to Lynne.

Tell us what inspired you to write Rome For The Summer.

Rome For The Summer, was inspired by a snatch of conversation between two girls – one American, one Italian – that I overheard some years ago when I was walking through Rome with my husband, heading back to our hotel after a day’s sight-seeing. The American told the Italian girl that ‘the job will only be for six months.’ I still have the notes I wrote that day as soon as we reached our hotel: ‘American in Rome. Why? Tourist? What job? Is she working in Rome for six months? Or going back to the States for six months? Does she have an Italian boyfriend who she’s leaving? Or is there an American boyfriend pining for her return?’ Not that I wrote the book immediately – I was half-way through writing another novel at the time – but some months later, back in England, I happened to fall into conversation with a woman sitting at the next table in a restaurant who turned out to be a professor from an American university with an extremely interesting reason for visiting Europe, which gave me the answer to what the American girl was doing in Rome, and sparked off my ideas for most of the plot for what was to become Rome For The Summer – although I visited Rome again, and wrote another novel, before I wrote this one! The American girl has become my English heroine, Kate, and the Italian girl has become her English colleague, but the novel’s location in Rome, and the first question I asked myself – What is this girl doing in Rome? – led to all the rest. 

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

My most recent read that I’d like to recommend is The Duke And I by Julia Quinn, the first of her Bridgerton Regency romances. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the first and second Bridgerton TV series, but have only just got around to reading the books. I found The Duke And I a wonderful read and I’ll certainly be reading the other books in the series.

What has been your author highlight over the past year?

My author highlight over the past year was having my novel Love On Location shortlisted for a Romantic Novelists’ Association Award. I was thrilled to be nominated, and I was particularly pleased that the award I was shortlisted for was the Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy, as I was lucky enough to attend one of Jane’s writing courses at Chez Castillon some years ago, and her advice was invaluable. The Awards ceremony itself was a glittering event held at a London hotel, and it was a fabulous evening.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently writing the first draft of a novel set in the world of the theatre, and doing some research for a novel set in Venice. Both novels are contemporary romances/romcoms.

What do you hope readers will take away from Rome For The Summer?

Most of all, I hope readers will enjoy the romantic elements in the book, and that they will be willing my heroine to find her happy-ever-after-ending. I also hope that readers will take away a sense of what it’s like to visit Rome. It’s one of my favourite cities, with so much to see and do, whether you enjoy sight-seeing or looking at art, or simply exploring the narrow streets, soaking up the atmosphere, and discovering a fabulously romantic restaurant for dinner.

More about the book

Kate Harper has always loved the painting that has hung in her parents’ dining room for years, never suspecting that it is worth a fortune. When her art dealer boyfriend cheats her family out of the proceeds of the painting’s sale, she is left devastated and alone.

Kate discovers that two hundred years ago, the girl in the painting, Charlotte Browne, ran off to Rome with the artist who painted her portrait, but her eventual fate is unknown.

Hoping to uncover the mystery of what happened to Charlotte, Kate seizes the chance of a summer job in Rome, where she strikes up a friendship with Jamie Taylor, an English artist. As they explore the city and start to piece together the surprising secrets of Charlotte’s life, Kate finds herself wondering if a summer in Rome can mend a broken heart…

Where to get it (ebook & print)

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon CA

Google Play | Nook | Kobo

Waterstones | Foyles | Barnes & Noble

More about Lynne

Lynne Shelby: A dark-haired, smiling woman with shoulder length hair and wearing rose-coloured lipstick and a blue blouse.

Lynne Shelby writes contemporary romance/romcoms. Her debut novel, French Kissing, now re-published in ebook as Meet Me In Paris, won the Accent Press and Woman magazine Writing Competition. She has done a variety of jobs from stable girl to child actor’s chaperone to legal administrator, but now writes full time. When not writing or reading, Lynne can usually be found at the theatre or exploring a foreign city, writer’s notebook, camera and sketchbook in hand. She lives in London with her husband, and has three adult children who live nearby.

Follow Lynne

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon | BookBub | Goodreads

Thanks so much for being on the blog, Lynne, and so looking forward to this one.

Catching up with Author Alana Oxford

Today, I’m pleased to welcome author, Alana Oxford, to Off the Beaten Track to celebrate the upcoming release of her lovely romcom, Scotsman in the Stacks, which is out on June 14! And check out that cover! How sweet is that?

Cover of Scotsman in the Stacks. In foreground a librarian with a dark reddish brown bob, holding a stack of books. In the mid-ground, a redheaded man with a goatee reading on a sofa, one leg crossed over the other. The background is the silhouette of books.

Now let’s chat to Alana …

Tell us what inspired you to write Scotsman in the Stacks?

The very first seed of inspiration for this story is the real-life love story of my friend, Karen, and her husband, Rhys. Karen and I were both working as circulation clerks at a public library when a good-looking guy with a delicious accent walked in and asked Karen how to get a library card. After that, he came in all the time to talk to her. The whole staff got to know him and he was so kind and friendly to all of us, but it was clear from the beginning that he and Karen had something special.  They always said I should write their story someday. And here we are, quite a few years since they met. They’re happily married with kids and are still the love of each other’s lives. Scotsman isn’t the Karen and Rhys story, but their adorable relationship inspired my fictional exploration of how a beautiful international romance can be sparked at the library.

When did you start writing seriously?

Ever since 2nd grade, I loved to write and knew I wanted to be a writer someday. My wake-up call came when my daughter was born. At that time, I had a lot of ideas for picture books in my head and I remember sitting on the couch with her, reading a board book and thinking, “Awww, one day I’ll be reading my own books with her.” Then it dawned on me. What books was I planning to read with her? I wasn’t actually writing them down. How would they ever exist if I didn’t put my dreams into action? So I started right then and there – yes, with a new baby in the house. I wrote while she napped. On the good writing days, my husband would do the bedtime routine so I could squeeze in some more writing time in the evenings.

My first book came out in 2011. It was a digital picture book written under a different pen name, and I haven’t looked back since.

What do you love most about being an author?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t telling stories or enjoying books. My favourite thing is when I see a review from someone who really enjoyed my work. It’s that connection with readers that makes it all so special. An idea from my mind, that I worked on, usually for years, has resonated with someone who doesn’t know me. It’s mind-blowing every time.

What are you working on now?

I have a few things fighting for dominance of my writing time right now. I’ve been working on a women’s friendship story on and off for a few years now. I’m also working on a short story. Then, as writer brains love to do, I got hit with a quirky cast of characters who just popped into my mind and said, “Write about us. Now!” I couldn’t think about anything else until I grabbed my notebook and pen and started taking notes on who they are and what their story might be.

What do you hope readers will take away from Scotsman in the Stacks?

It’s been a very difficult couple of years for everyone. I finished my first draft of this book in March 2020, just before the world shut down. All of my revising and editing took place in the throes of lockdowns, virtual life, and near-constant worry. The world was an uncertain, difficult place with new brands of terrible news everyday. I want my book to put the opposite energy out there. I purposely wrote this book to be a low-angst, happy place for readers. It’s meant to be a feel-good love story to escape into for a little while.

More about the book

Paige wants two things: to land a full time librarian job and find the man of her dreams. On the cusp of thirty, she finds herself suddenly single and working part-time in a Michigan library. A handsome patron with a delicious accent appears at the reference desk, inadvertently sparking an idea that might help her land the promotion she so desperately needs. But that’s not the only thing he sparks.

James is in town from Glasgow, Scotland, on a summer artist residency. Luckily, the trip got him away from the pressure he feels to take over his uncle’s river tour business. He only wanted to clear his head and make his art in peace, but he wasn’t counting on finding an attractive librarian to fill his days.

With only eight weeks before James goes home to Scotland, Paige knows she should protect her heart. After all, she already wasted years with her commitment-phobe ex. But the more she gets to know James, the less she can stick to her plan to just be friends. Is she just wasting her time again, or can they bridge the ocean between them to find a happily ever after of their own?

Where you can pre-order:

Readers who pre-order, can win a fun prize pack – see details on Alana’s website (link below).

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

Kobo | iBooks | Nook

More about Alana

A smiling woman with straight brown hair that falls just below her shoulders. She is wearing pink lipstick, a stripy shirt (vertical, various shares of pink) and glasses.

Alana Oxford is a Michigan author of romcoms, sweet romance, and humorous women’s fiction. She wants her stories to bring sunshine and smiles to her readers. She enjoys improv comedy, moody music, everything book related, and has an ongoing love affair with the United Kingdom.

Follow Alana

Twitter | Instagram | TikTok | Website

Thank you so much for being on the blog, Alana, and wishing you all the best for the launch of this book.

Guest blogger: Authors for Mental Health – Lucy McLaren

Welcoming Lucy McLaren to Off the Beaten Track today to wrap up the Authors for Mental Health blog series. Lucy is a fantasy author and professional counsellor, who is passionate about writing stories that include a realistic representation and exploration of mental health issues. Her debut novel, Awakening: The Commune’s Curse Book 1, releases on 1st May 2022 with Santa Fe Writers Project.

Over to Lucy…

How to implement positive mental health practice in your writing routine

As a writer and counsellor, I am really interested in the ways in which we can implement and explore mental health both within our stories and our lives. Writing is arguably a challenging pursuit, especially if you’re submitting your work out to various people and publications. The inevitable rejections that will come rolling in are bound to have an impact on anyone, no matter how thick their skin. In this post, I’ve collated some tips and advice that may help if you’re a fellow writer (or even if you’re not; this can really be catered to anyone) who sometimes finds yourself struggling with aspects of your mental health.

Comparison to others

This one can be tough, especially if you’re part of the many writing communities on the various social media platforms. Being part of these communities can be incredibly helpful, allowing you to find like-minded individuals, friends and readers who will support you in your journey. But with this comes the other writers sharing their journeys too—both their rejections and their successes. If you see a fellow author has a success, you’re likely to feel pleased for them, of course, but it can also lead to feelings of frustration, stress or anxiety. Research has found that social networking sites can negatively impact upon mental well-being because of the resulting feelings of envy that come from social comparisons (Krasnova et al, 2013; Lee, 2020).

So what can we do to counter this inherent urge many of us have to compare ourselves to others? Hagan (2015) suggests that rather than comparing ourselves to others, we could try comparing ourselves to our past selves, otherwise known as temporal comparison (Stuart, 1977). Utilising this method allows us to set goals for ourselves and see how far we’ve come, which can be really helpful for a writer. Perhaps you could compare a first draft of work to the current version, noticing the improvements in your craft. Perhaps you have written more short stories, received positive feedback from beta readers or met some great writer friends online. Whatever you may find through your temporal comparison, it is bound to be a more positive experience for your mental health because you are focused inwardly and not on comparing yourself to other people and their experiences, which will never be the same as your own. You will be able to keep focusing on what you want to achieve in your writing, realigning where necessary, and taking the little steps towards your bigger goals.

You might find doing the following will assist you in keeping on track (and away from those pesky comparisons):

  1. Keep a journal noting down your hopes and dreams for your writing.
  2. Note down whenever you accomplish a certain goal such as meeting a word count or completing a story.
  3. Remind yourself of the positives such as feedback from otherwise and what you enjoy about writing.

Imposter syndrome—how can we counter it?

I’m not sure I was really aware of how imposter syndrome (Clance & Imes, 1978) strikes until I became a writer. It impacts upon people from all walks of life and in all sorts of situations, but for me it’s really taken hold since I’ve taken on the official title of “author”—and this is a sentiment I have seen repeated by others in the writing community.

In a nutshell, imposter syndrome involves “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud” (Dalla-Camina, 2018). This resounds with me and, I’m sure, with many other authors. In a profession that rejection is so intrinsically a part of, perhaps it is difficult to avoid feelings of self-doubt. If you’re persistently feeling inadequate and questioning your abilities, however, it can be difficult to keep going—to keep writing, keep submitting, keep reaching for your goals. Here’s a list of suggestions for how you can help yourself overcome such feelings:

  1. Recognise the persistent negative thinking. You could start by noting down whenever you notice a negative thought popping into your head. This is often the first step I note to counselling clients—if they are able to tell me about and recognise a negative voice in their heads that is repeatedly telling them bad things about themselves, that is the first move towards gaining self-awareness, and with self-awareness comes the ability to  change.
  2. If you’re struggling with being able to pinpoint the negative thoughts, utilise tools such as mindfulness. I have personally found the Headspace app to be very effective, but I’m sure there are many options to choose from. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of mindful breathing and relaxing to feel calmer and better able to sort through your thoughts. That may allow you to begin to notice certain patterns of thinking.
  3. Keep a gratitude journal. Being able to reflect on the positive aspects of your writing, and to keep reminding yourself of them, will help to combat those self-doubts. And the more you focus on gratitude, the easier it will become to keep reminding yourself. If you feel the imposter syndrome type worries sneaking in, bring up that gratitude journal and re-read over it.
  4. Notice whether there are any particular triggers to your negative thoughts and self-doubts. It might be that earlier tendency of comparing yourself to others I covered, or something totally separate. Whatever it is, if you notice a pattern then you are more likely to feel prepared to cope as and when you encounter those triggers in future.

Be kind to yourself

This is a piece of advice I give out far more than I implement—and I know it. What is so difficult about being kind to ourselves? I’ve asked counselling clients before whether they would speak to a friend the same way they speak to themselves… at the same time fully recognising the fact that this is an aspect of myself I should confront far more than I do. But I’m going to tell you what I tell my counselling clients: we are all human, we all have tough days, and we all deserve kindness. Self-care is the first step towards feeling that kindness we deserve, and if the earlier sections of this post have resonated with you then I’d argue that you need some self-care, too.

Self-care can look different for everyone. It might be having a bath, going for a walk, sitting in the garden, doing yoga… whatever it is for you, make a concerted effort to do a little something for yourself as regularly as you are able. Schedule it in your diary, if that’ll help. Step away from your laptop, phone, or tablet, and give yourself a breather. Your writing will be there when you get back, and you might just feel better for taking time away from it. From personal experience, I can say that I feel reinvigorated in my writing whenever I allow my mind time to unwind and my thoughts time to calm down.

Writer or not, we are all human and being kind to ourselves is a great step towards improving our mental health.

References

Albert, S. (1977). ‘Temporal comparison theory’. Psychological Review, 84(6), 485–503.

Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). ‘The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention’. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247.

Dalla-Camina, M. (2018) ‘The Reality of Imposter Syndrome‘.

Hagan, E. (2015) ‘3 Reasons to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others‘.

Krasnova, H., Wenninger, H., Widjaja, T., & Buxmann, P. (2013). Envy on Facebook: a hidden threat to users’ life satisfaction? Proceedings of the 11th international conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik. Universität Leipzig, Germany.

Lee, J. K. (2020) The effects of social comparison orientation on psychological well-being in social networking sites: Serial mediation of perceived social support and self-esteem. Curr Psychol. 2020 Oct 14 : 1–13.

Vaish, A., Grossman, T., and Woodward, A. (2008) Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development. Psychol Bull. 2008 May; 134(3): 383–403.

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: Jess Hernandez – Authors for Mental Health

It’s a pleasure to welcome Jess Hernandez to Off the Beaten Track today as part of the Authors for Mental Health blog series.

Jess Hernandez is a not only a writer, but also a librarian, teacher and all-around word girl.

When not being used as a human canvas for baby food art, she writes books for kids. Her debut book, First Day of Unicorn School, illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum, was published in 2021 with Capstone. 

Sometimes Jess writes essays, poems, and short stories for grown-ups, too. Jess lives in a very small, very loud house in Washington with her husband, their three children, a puppy and four chickens.

And now over to Jess.

Outrunning My Kidneys

It was an inconvenient time for a breakdown. I was four years into my marriage, five into my career and adulthood was in full swing. I had a dog, a loving husband, car payments, health insurance, and a 401K [superannuation fund]. Things were going pretty much according to plan.

Except I couldn’t have been more miserable if I’d tried.

An average night found me watching Food Network and binge-eating cupcakes on the couch, feeling exhausted and terrified by the things my mind kept telling me. “You’re useless. You’ll never be happy. There’s something wrong with you.” And most pervasively, “What right do you have to feel sad? Nothing really bad has ever happened to you.” For no reason and for every possible reason, it was the absolute worst time of my life.

Using Dr. Google, I tried to cure myself from the outside in. I filled my apartment with houseplants. I took up crochet and started playing the piano again. I prayed and I exercised. When that didn’t work, I quit my job, changed careers, and went back to school. I even moved to a tropical island. (Yes, really.)

But it only made it worse. My very soul hurt, and I fantasised about ways to make it all stop.

Trying to escape my depression was like trying to outrun my kidneys. My job, my apartment, and the weather didn’t make me like this. My brain did, and until I did something about that, nothing would ever change.

So I got help. I got a diagnosis, a therapist, and a prescription. And while the pills have saved my life many times over, the most helpful thing didn’t come in a bottle or on a therapist’s couch.

The best thing I’ve ever done for my depression is to accept it.

Unlike a lot of people, my depression will never go away. It’s not something I’m going to get over or leave behind like an outgrown sweater. I’m permanently and forever mentally ill. It’s part of me, like my crooked nose and bowlegs. I can treat it. I can ignore it. But I’m never going to get rid of it.

It was a tough truth to swallow. I wanted so desperately to be normal again. Every time I felt something like happiness, I wondered, “Is this it? Have I cracked it?” Tentatively, I’d wean myself off pills and declare myself better.

When the darkness inevitably came back, it knocked the wind out of me, and I would grieve the person I once was all over again. It took years, but eventually I learned to understand that this is who I am now. This person who gets hobbled by sadness and gutted by pointless guilt. This is me. I finally kept taking my pills and stopped trying to convince myself I was better. I know now that my depression isn’t going anywhere

It was a hard realisation. But there was some good news, too: there might not be a way out, but there was a way through.

I don’t always feel so bad. Not every day is an uphill slog through endless suck. Instead, it varies. Some days I have depression. It’s like having a cold – a nagging tickle in my throat that I can power through. But some days – not all, but some – depression has me. It kicks me in the teeth and shoves me down the stairs. It stands on my throat and screams in my face. Those days are bad. But I know now they won’t last forever.

What’s more, I survive them. With practice, I learned to see them coming and take cover. I learned to be kind to myself. I talk back to my brain when it tells me I shouldn’t be feeling this way. And I accept that this is not my fault.

Mental illness is not a moral failing or a lack of faith or will power. It’s a straight up medical condition that requires medication, not self-flagellation or guilt. I try forgive myself for being broken and glue myself back together the best I can.

I learned to do it openly, no longer hiding my struggles from people.

At first, I kept my diagnosis to myself. I was scared people would judge or run. Some did. But most didn’t.

Most love and accept me for me. Most wish I’d spoken sooner so they could help. They make space for my illness and try to understand. But that only happened when I stopped being afraid and talked about it. When I did, I discovered I wasn’t nearly as alone as I thought. Instead, my being brave helped others overcome their fear of telling the truth. So I learned to speak up and speak out. I learned there are people I can help.

I’m not saying this is some sort of blessing in disguise. It’s not. But it’s not a death sentence either. I will survive it. I just have to believe that the good things in my life outweigh the daily pain of living. And they do. The biggest things in my life are the good things. And the longer I live, the more good things I have. Like a family and a home and a job I love.

So I stick around.

I keep breathing, even when it hurts. Because there are beautiful things still on the way and I want to be here when they come.

Image ‘Holding You’ by li.fe fotografie. Flickr.

Guest Blogger: Dani Vee – Authors for Mental Health

Today, I welcome guest blogger, Dani Vee, as part of the blog series for Authors for Mental Health. Dani is the host of the popular literary podcast Words and Nerds. Her debut picture book ‘My EXTRAordinary Mum’ is out in August (huge congratulations, Dani) and she loves dark chocolate, camomile tea, and books that surprise her. And she thinks Oscar Wilde is the bomb!

Over to Dani …

AN ANXIOUS MIND

Anxiety is something I’ve always lived with, but haven’t always talked about. It’s taken many forms over the years; sometimes it sits beside me quietly, sometimes it ebbs and flows, and occasionally it swallows me whole. 

If anxiety has always been part of my life, so have creative pursuits, and there have been many – theatre groups, drama classes, bands, writing, podcasting – however, regardless of the creative activity itself, these are the times I feel most as peace. 

NOTHING TRUMPS THE MOMENT

If anxiety is caused by an uncertainty of the future or a sensitivity to a complex world, its kryptonite is presence. Creativity forces us to live in the moment, because when you’re creating something new there is no space to think about what the future may or may not hold. 

BEING AFRAID

The Words and Nerds podcast was born from that fear. I had just come out of the fog of one of the most terrifying and debilitating episodes of anxiety I had ever experienced, triggered by a challenging IVF pregnancy and the sudden passing of my aunty/godmother two weeks after having my first child. I couldn’t function, I woke every morning at three am in the middle of a panic attack and spent every moment as a new mother feeling afraid. 

I went to psychologists, I meditated, I experimented with prescription medications. My mental health improved little by little but there was still something tugging at my gut. Despite knowing very little (aka nothing) about podcasting, I started one. I learnt as I went, I made mistakes, I asked questions but what I didn’t do was stop, because when I was recording an interview, it was the only thing I focused on. For thirty minutes my anxiety no longer existed and this feel good emotion became addictive!

TRIGGERS & CURES

With a clearer head I discovered three confronting things about anxiety: 

  1. anxiety wasn’t always always caused by a specific trigger, 
  2. anxiety didnt have a cure and
  3. creativity was the key to managing an anxious brain.  

The freedom that came with the idea that anxiety is not always caused by a specific trigger was a huge relief! Gone was the over analysis of every single thing I’d done that week and I began to accept that my anxiety was mostly caused by a psychological and physiological response to a complex world. 

The realisation that my anxiety would never be cured was as confronting as it was liberating. So if I have this thing and it’s unlikely to go away, I needed to learn to live with it, maybe even make friends with it and accept that it probably always going to sit beside me. 

As my creative pursuits increase my anxiety decreases. I’m learning to live with its ebbs and flows, and have accepted that my anxiety is dependant on my environment, sleeping pattern, diet, menstrual cycle, health, unexpected stuff life throws my way and sometimes nothing at all. I’m learning to accept that I am likely to have another debilitating episode of anxiety in my future, but I also know I will come out the other side relatively unscathed. 

An anxious brain needs to be gently reminded to live in the moment, and because of this knowledge, I make sure I carve out something creative every single day. I’ve come to view vulnerability as a strength and I’m working on not being so afraid. 

The School of Life says it best ‘Anxiety is not always a sickness, a weakness of the mind or an error to which we should locate a medical solution. It is mostly a reasonable and sensitive response to the genuine strangeness, terror, uncertainty and riskiness of existence.’ 

Coming next: Kate Foster and I will be on Dani’s podcast April 3, with special guests Wendy Demarte, a Mental Health First Aid trainer, and fellow author Anna Whately. We’ll be discussing the how we explore mental health in our writing, how we can practice self-care, and how we can reach out to others to support them.

Artwork by: Devil Katy. Image description: Illustration of smiling woman with her eyes closed and ideas and creativity flowing from her mind, depicted as different patterns and swirls.

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.