Reading my own books

When you are writing a series over many years, there comes a time when you need to re-read the first few books before you launch into a later book. And by ‘re-read’, I mean ‘read for the first time as an actual reader’.

Because by the time my books go to print, I’ve already read them a dozen times, each through a different lens – there’s all the editing and tweaking that occurs before I send them off to early readers, including my agent, then addressing feedback and final style edits and proofreads. Then they go to the publisher – I receive structural editorial requests and make those. I receive copy edits and address those. I even sign off on the proofread. By the time it hits a reader’s hands, I know each book inside and out, but not as a reader.

So, for the past few weeks I have been reading my first three books as a reader. This is necessitated because I’ve written 3 books outside the series since 2019 and I really want to immerse myself in the Holiday Romance series world. I want to remind myself of the character nuances that make those books special, to tease out little nuggets (Easter eggs for readers) that I can put into Book 5. And it is tricky to do that well without going back to the beginning.

I started writing the Holiday Romance series in 2015 with the book that was first self-published as You Might Meet Someone and then became One Summer in Santorini (published in mid-2019 by One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins UK). After self-publishing Book 1, I moved swiftly onto I Think I Met Someone , the sequel to Book 1, then Someone Unexpected, which was in the same series but about a supporting character from Books 1 & 2, Cat. By the end of 2018 (my year on sabbatical) I had written three books in the series, was about to self-publish the third, and was querying madly.

Then a miracle happened!

I got a publication deal!!! And as a result …

You Might Meet Someone became One Summer in Santorini (still Book 1)

Someone Unexpected (never self-published) became That Night in Paris (becoming Book 2)

and I Think I Met Someone became A Sunset in Sydney (becoming Book 3)

Did you follow all that?

Early 2020, right after I finished writing The Christmas Swap, my 4th book and a standalone (not in the series), I started writing Under Bali Skies, the 4th book in the series. Bali is about Jaelee, one of the supporting characters from That Night in Paris and I re-read Paris before I started writing it. I wanted to ensure that I had the right cadence and style for the series and to refresh my understanding of Jaelee’s character.

Well now, a year after finishing Bali, I am starting Book 5, A Wedding in Tuscany. This book will bring together all the fave characters from Books 1-4 so I needed to get reacquainted with Sarah, Cat, and the gang before I whisk them all off to Tuscany!

And how has it been reading my books as a reader, one who reads voraciously in the Romance genre?

Santorini was a little tricky for me. It was my first ever book (obvs) so I was a little green as an author and I have found dozens of tweaks I’d like to make if I ever get the chance. Paris was fun – and I’d read it most recently, so it was a quick read. But Sydney was the most fun. Even though it was the second book I ever wrote, by the time I was tasked with editing it, I was a lot more confident in my authorial voice and in it there are so many passages that make me laugh out loud – or cry.

Actually, all my books still make me cry. Ben found me the other day, forlorn with a tear-stained face. I confessed that one of my heroines was ‘so awful’ and ‘had really hurt him’ and ‘why did she do that?????’ He hugged me, somehow understanding that these characters are real to me, that they have their own thoughts and feelings and desires and fears – that it is not me who creates them, but it’s them who let me tell their stories.

So, on the whole, reading my first three books has been … well … just lovely, really.

Next up in the world of Sandy Barker books is The Single Girl’s Guide to Hunting (in August! Huzzah!). It’s a stand-alone and I consider it my funniest ever book. Bali comes out early next year followed by Tuscany.

The ‘Someone’ series cover art by the very talented Jane Dunnet (Jane on Insta)

The ‘Holiday Romance’ series cover art by the (also) very talented Lucy Bennett (Lucy on Insta)

Catching up with Author @Karen_King

To mark the publication of her next novel, One Summer in Cornwall, I am thrilled to have the wonderful (and prolific) Karen King on Off the Beaten Track today, as the next stop on her book blog tour.

Book Blog Tour Banner
Book cover and dates and names of contributors
Sandy Barker May 2

Congratulations, Karen, and welcome!

Tell us what inspired you to write One Summer in Cornwall.

I love Cornwall, and have set several books there. The first romance novel I set in Cornwall, The Cornish Hotel by the Sea, was set in the fictional town of Port Medden, and became a Kindle bestseller both in the UK and Australia. As it was very popular I thought it would be nice to write a sequel. One Summer in Cornwall features some of the much-loved characters from The Cornish Hotel by the Sea. Marcus the chef at Gwel Teg, was named in the Cornish Hotel but never featured, so I thought it would be lovely to give him his own story. Then Hattie came roaring into my head on her electric blue Harley Davidson and I had my hero and heroine. My friends have a cheeky Amazon parrot, who is the inspiration for Buddy. Then I threw in a fisherman’s cottage left to Hattie and her father and my story was born.

When did you start writing seriously?

Well over thirty five years ago now. I was first published in the 1980’s, writing for Jackie Magazine, but it was writing for children’s magazines such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Postman Pat, Barbie and Winnie the Pooh that gave me my ‘big break’ and enabled me to earn a living by writing. I also wrote children’s books. My first romance novel, Never Say Forever, was published as a People’s Friend Pocket Novel in 2009, and is now republished by Headline. One Summer in Cornwall is my ninth romance novels and I’m contracted to write two more for Headline. I also had my first psychological thriller, The Stranger in my Bed published by Bookouture in November 2020 and a second one, The Perfect Stepmother, will be published in June this year.

What do you love most about being an author?

Making up stories! My mind is always bursting with ideas and I love it when a story finally starts to come right. Getting good feedback from readers is a lovely bonus too. When I was writing children’s books I enjoyed visiting schools to encourage children to read and write. Children have such an incredible imagination and we had a lot of fun making up stories as a class.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a Christmas romance for Headline, the second book in my three book contract. The third one will be out next summer. It seems odd to be writing a Christmas story in the summer, especially as this one is set in a little village in Devon, complete with snow and an outdoor carol service. I’m feeling very nostalgic as I write.

What do you hope readers will take away from One Summer in Cornwall?

I hope they enjoy the read and it leaves them feeling a little happier. We live in strange and worrying times so it’s nice to lose yourself in a feelgood, heart-warming book sometimes.

More about One Summer in Cornwall

Cover of the book, One Summer in Cornwall. Woman painting outside of a thatched cottage by the seaside. A boat is sailing offshore.


Escape to Cornwall this summer…

When Hattie is made redundant and evicted from her flat in one horrible week, she needs time to rethink. Her Uncle Albert left her and her father each half of Fisherman’s Rest, his home in the Cornish town of Port Medden, so this seems the perfect place to escape to until she can figure things out.

As Hattie stays in the cottage, clearing it out, tidying it up and getting it ready to sell, she starts to find her feet in Port Medden and making a new home here begins to feel right. If only her dad didn’t need a quick sale and things weren’t complicated by her unwelcoming neighbour Marcus…

A gorgeous feel-good read, perfect for fans of CATHY BRAMLEY and PHILLIPA ASHLEY.

Where you can buy it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Kobo | Nook | Waterstones (UK) | Foyles (UK) | Booktopia (AU) | Dymocks (AU)

More about Karen

Karen King author photo - a smiling with blue eyes and red hair wearing a floral top

Karen King is a multi-published author of both adult and children’s books. She has had eight romantic novels published, one psychological thriller with another one out later this year, 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, and several short stories for women’s magazines. Her romantic novel The Cornish Hotel by the Sea became an international bestseller, reaching the top one hundred in the Kindle charts in both the UK and Australia. Karen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Karen now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns with her husband, Dave, when she isn’t sunbathing or swimming in the pool, that is.

Follow Karen

Website | Amazon | Facebook | BookBub | Twitter

Thank you for sharing with us, Karen, and all the best for publication day!

Thank you so much for inviting me over to your blog, Sandy!

Catching up with Author Marie Laval

So pleased to welcome Marie Laval to talk about Angel of the Lost Treasure, her historical romance which will be released by Choc Lit this week! And look at that cover!

Cover of Angel if the Lost Treasure
Wooden rafters of an old building; a dove flying to land on a rafter; a gold medallion hanging from the rafters

Tell us what inspired you to write Angel of the Lost Treasure.

Thank you so much, Sandy, for welcoming me on your blog today. I always loved historical fiction, and stories about secret societies, Knights Templar, lost treasures and of course romance! I grew up in a village near Lyon in France, a beautiful city with a fascinating old quarter full of meandering cobbled streets and Renaissance buildings… a city with many secrets and links to the occult. I always thought Lyon and surrounding Beaujolais and Pilat regions would make a great setting for a historical romance.  

When did you start writing seriously?

I have written short stories ever since I was a teenager in France. When I came to England I carried on writing, this time in English, and I was overjoyed when three of my stories were shortlisted for various competitions, and one of them won first prize. This was when I started thinking that I could write in English and make a success of it. Of course, it took me many years to actually complete my first novel and get my first publishing contract. Things haven’t always been easy or straightforward. I have three children, changed jobs several times and retrained as a teacher in my mid-thirties, and struggled through difficult periods in my life, but writing is what I really love doing and I have never let negativity put me off…

What do you love most about being an author?

There are so many wonderful things about being an author! Seeing my book cover for the first time is always tremendously exciting, and of course reading people’s comments when they enjoyed the story is the best feeling ever. What I love the most is when I can ‘hear’ the characters speak and ‘see’ them interact and when they become real people I think about and talk about all the time… a bit crazy, but true! I have been very lucky to make great friends in the writing community too, and meeting some of them for a chat, and attending workshops or the RNA conference is always a joy.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on two projects – a contemporary romance and a short story.

The contemporary romance is set on the Isle of Skye in Scotland and has been an absolute joy to write but has taken me far longer than anticipated. I hope to finish it and send it to Choc Lit in the next few weeks.  I always start with a fairly simple idea… then as I never plot anything things get terribly complicated!

I am also working on a short story for the Miss Moonshine anthologies to which I am a contributor along with eight author friends. This will be our third anthology together and it should be released in the spring. I also have two other projects in the pipeline and research is ongoing! It’s busy, and at time stressful to manage my writing along with my teaching job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There should also soon be another historical romance, this time featuring Hugo Saintclair’s son, but this isn’t for just yet!

What do you hope readers will take away from Angel of the Lost Treasure?

I want them to fall in love with Hugo Saintclair and Marie-Ange, be fascinated by the dark secrets and mysteries of the plot, be curious about the history of the Knights Templar and intrigued by Lyon -perhaps even book a plane or a train ticket to explore the city when travel restrictions are lifted!

More about the book

An ancient secret hidden within a mother’s song …
When young widow, Marie-Ange Norton is invited to Beauregard in France by the mysterious Monsieur Malleval to collect an inheritance, she has no choice but to accept.
But when she embarks on the voyage with her fiery-tempered travelling companion Capitaine Hugo Saintclair, little does she know what waits for her across the sea in turbulent nineteenth-century France on the eve of Napoleon’s return from exile. When she arrives, she is taken aback by Malleval’s fascination with her family – seemingly inspired by his belief they are connected to a sacred relic he’s read about in coded manuscripts by the Knights Templar.
As it becomes clear that Malleval’s obsession has driven him to madness, Marie-Ange is horrified to realise she is more the man’s prisoner than his guest. Not only that, but Hugo is the only person who might be able to help her, and he could represent a different kind of danger …

Where can you get it?

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU | Kobo

More about Marie

Blonde woman wearing blue and white floral dress, smiling

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie has lived in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire for the past few years. She writes both contemporary and historical romance. Her novels are published by Choc Lit and include best selling contemporary romantic suspense novels LITTLE PINK TAXI and ESCAPE TO THE LITTLE CHATEAU, shortlisted for the Jackie Collins Romantic Suspense category of the 2021 RNA Awards, as well as A PARIS FAIRY TALE and BLUEBELL’S CHRISTMAS MAGIC.

Her latest novel, ANGEL OF THE LOST TREASURE, will be released in February 2021. Marie also contributes to the best selling Miss Moonshine’s Emporium anthologies together with eight author friends from Yorkshire and Lancashire

Follow Marie: Twitter | Facebook

Thank you for joining us Marie and all the best for this new book!

Catching up with Author Ella Cook

It is a pleasure to welcome Ella Cook to Off the beaten Track to talk about her debut novel, Beyond Grey. Thank you for joining us, Ella!

Tell us what inspired you to write Beyond Grey?

The idea for the book came from a very long, wet and difficult drive home. A storm hit us when we were around 50 miles from home, and the roads flooded really quickly. It was all too easy to imagine a situation in which an accident could happen. Thankfully, we got home safely, but in this book, I explore what happens when the journey home ends in tragedy.

I’ve experienced a few ‘white feather’ moments in my life, and times when we’ve believed there’s someone watching over us. I was going through my own period of difficulty, so was inspired to write a way to get through ‘the grey’ and come out the other side.

When did you start writing seriously?

Writing has always been a huge love for me – and I’ve been incredibly privileged to turn it into my career: I write bids and funding applications to help families and children who are facing challenges.

I started writing contemporary when my Mum was having treatment for cancer – quite often while I was sitting on oncology wards with her (some of the treatments made her very sleepy). It gave me something positive to focus on and her something to read.

I’d written before, when I was younger, but got distracted by life and work and other commitments for a few years, before coming back to fiction.

What do you love most about being an author?

Beyond Grey is my debut novel, so it’s quite early to ask this, but I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some amazing reviews, and I’m loving being able to share my stories with the world.

What are you working on now?

My next book is with my publishers at the moment: It’s about a little girl called Summer whose last Christmas was basically cancelled (sound familiar to anyone?) because she was so poorly. Her village community is tight-knit and they adore Summer and her family, and work together to bring the magic of the festive season into August to celebrate ‘Summer’s Christmas’.

What do you hope readers will take away from Beyond Grey?

In one word: Hope.

Beyond Grey is a story that deals with some really sensitive issues. It’s starts in one of the darkest places, with death and loss, but ends with healing and happiness. I’m going to be cheeky and quote a review here, because when I read it, I thought ‘Yes! That was the reaction I was hoping to give people’.

“Although the book is based around a difficult subject it was a genuinely heartfelt and life affirming read. You to get to know a family as they experience one of the most awful things to happen to anyone and discover the joy in living and loving.”

It might seem like odd timing, to publish a novel about death in the middle of a worldwide pandemic – but it truly is a book about healing and finding the spark of hope in the darkest, most painful of places. And I really think that hope is something we could all do with a little more of right now!

More about the book

Jenn and David had the perfect love story. They were teenage sweethearts who married, and had two wonderful children. Everything was going to plan and they were looking forward to growing old together. Until Jenn is killed in a tragic accident, leaving David distraught and struggling to cope without the love of his life.

But for Jenn, death is not quite what she expected. Instead of resting in peace, she is trapped in a ghostly, grey world, struggling to reach the people she loves the most. To reach beyond the grey to help her family find happiness again, even if it means forgetting her to move on.

Where can you get it? Amazon AU | Amazon UK | Amazon US

More about Ella

Ella Cook, smiling woman, with shoulder length hair

Ella grew up in London, where her grandparents has a miniature wishing well in their garden where fairies would leave gifts for well-behaved children. She now lives in Warwickshire where there are almost definitely more fairies. She shares her home with her ever-patient husband and two small, demanding parrots who like to chase her cursor across the computer screen.

She still looks for moments of magic in everyday life, and is surprised by how often she finds them.

Follow Ella: Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Catching up with Author Lyndsey Gallagher

Very excited to welcome a fellow romance author, Lyndsey Gallagher, to Off the Beaten Track to mark the publication of her next book, Love & Other Mushy Stuff, the first book in a new series. Lyndsey is an eternal sucker for a swoon-worthy, happy ever after. She lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, two small children and a boxer puppy. When she’s not writing, Lyndsey can be found curled up in front of the fire with a good book and a G & T.

Welcome Lyndsey!

Cover of the book Love & Other Mushy Stuff includes a radio and microphone

What inspired you to write Love & Other Mushy Stuff?

I used to host a monthly radio book club before COVID turned all of our lives upside down. While recording in the studio, an idea came to me about a radio agony aunt who didn’t follow her own advice. The character kept growing in my mind, until I couldn’t sleep for thinking about her! At around the same time, I stayed in a fabulous five-star hotel on the outskirts of Dublin, only to discover it was where the Irish rugby team trained. I decided that the men who play professionally might make for interesting main characters. This was the inspiration for creating ‘The Professional Players Series’.

In a world that can be harsh and cruel, I live for the Happily Ever After’s that are usually only ever found in a good book. Reading and writing romance provides the perfect lockdown escapism.

When did you start writing seriously?

I wanted to write since I was a little girl. I’m a massive reader and a huge romance fan, but like many women, I struggled with self-doubt. Who would want to read something that I had written? Imposter syndrome crippled me.

Following the birth of my daughter, I wanted her to be able to read the story of how I met her father, and I developed the confidence to get my own story off my chest, writing The Seven Year Itch.

Love & Other Mushy Stuff is my third novel and, in all honesty, it’s the first one I’ve taken seriously. The first two books I poured straight from my heart. Writing them was like therapy to me. I then spent a year reading books like, Save The Cat Writes a Novel and Romancing The Beat and concocting a plan using Gwen Hayes’ beat sheet. It was a game changer for me.

What do you love most about being an author?

I love all of it! Immersing myself in romance and writing about cities that I adore, places that I can’t currently get to with everything that’s going on in the world. I love creating flawed, raw characters and leading them into the excitement of a new love interest.

I love it when readers express how much they have related to a character. It makes the hours of torturous editing worth it. And I love it when I hold my book baby in my hands for the first time, wrapped in a gorgeous girly cover.

What are you working on now?

Love & Other Mushy Stuff is the first book in ‘The Professional Players Series’, and I am currently editing the second book Love & Other Games, which is due to be released at the end of July. And I’m midway through the first draft of the third book in the series, Love & Other Lies.

What do you hope readers will take away from Love & Other Mushy Stuff? I hope they take away that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from seeing a worthy heroine achieve her HEA, and I hope they get a few giggles on the journey, and maybe a longing to visit Dublin.

The blurb

When it comes to love, sassy psychotherapist Abby Queenan has a hard time accepting her own advice. Jilted at the alter by her childhood sweetheart, she prefers to invest in other people’s happy ever afters than strive for her own. When the radio station she works for announces a once in a lifetime competition, she begins to search for a swoon-worthy male to feature on her show and up her ratings.

Irish rugby legend, Callum Connolly is the classic example of male perfection. He’s not looking for the one, merely the next one. That is until his teammates bet he can’t keep the same woman long enough to attend his best friend’s wedding.

Abby and Callum strike and unlikely, but alluring deal. Will Abby finally learn to take her own advice? Or will Callum nail his most elusive touchdown yet?

Where you can get it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US

Follow Lyndsey: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Author Lyndsey Gallagher

Thank you for joining me, Lyndsey and all the best with the new series!

Cover Reveal for Julie Shackman

Thrilled to be part of the cover reveal for Julie Shackman’s upcoming book with One More Chapter, A Secret Scottish Escape! And look at this stunner!

Cover of A Secret Scottish Escape, a two-storey cottage on the banks of a loch in Scotland, with mountains in the background. A woman sitting at a table in the garden in front of the cottage. Quote by author, Julie Caplin 'Glorious...a wonderful taste of the Highlands'

Blurb

Escape to the beautiful Scottish Highlands for a heartwarming and feel good cosy romance that will whisk you away!

As Scotland’s sleepiest hamlet becomes the centre of hot gossip, Layla Devlin finds herself caught in a mystery…

When Layla’s fiancée has an unexpected heart attack and dies – in another woman’s arms, no less – Layla is determined to pack up and leave Loch Harris, the village she’s always called home. But an unexpected inheritance and love for her quiet corner of Scotland send her down a new path.

Now Layla finds herself facing a whole new kind of drama. Rumours swirl that a celebrity has moved into Coorie Cottage and Layla is determined to have him headline her opening night at local music venue The Conch Club. But the reclusive star is equally determined to thwart Layla’s efforts. Rafe Buchanan is in hiding for a reason, and soon his past comes to Loch Harris to haunt him…

Where can you pre-order it (ebook and print)? Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Nook | Kobo

Follow Julie Twitter | Instagram

Catching up with Author Kate Smith

A very happy publication day to debut author, Kate Smith, and thank you very much for having me on your blog tour for You’ve Got Mail!

Cover of You've Got Mail, a man and a woman. The woman is holding a phone,

Tell us what inspired you to write You’ve Got Mail?

It was the idea of receiving an anonymous email that sparked the premise of You’ve Got Mail. And the story blossomed from that. I love the romantic story of Cyrano de Bergerac, the writing of love letters anonymously, the pretence of being someone else. So, I toyed with the idea in my head of what would happen if, instead of wooing people anonymously, my main character dumped them instead.

When did you start writing seriously?

I was thirty, had just had my daughter and become a single mum, and I needed an outlet. I wrote a romcom that will never see the light of day (thankfully) and I found the whole process really cathartic. I could give my characters the happily ever after that I was craving in real life, I guess. I had an agent read it and say she loved my style of writing but that the story didn’t have a ‘hook’ so I went away and started on a new project that ended up being You’ve Got Mail.

I work part time as a therapist in social care, so between that and looking after my daughter there’s not a lot of time for writing. But I make sure I give it as much priority as I can.

What do you love most about being an author?

I love getting to know my characters. They tend to have a life of their own and often I find that I’m veering away from my (very loose) plan because they’re having none of it! I also love the hope and joy that writing romance brings. I know that whatever my characters have to deal with they will come out of it with their own happily ever after, and this is comforting for me.

And, especially at the moment as a front-line worker, I love being able to completely switch off from the real world and immerse myself in pure romantic fantasy.  

What are you working on now?

My deal with Orion Dash was a two-book deal, and I have just sent my second romcom manuscript to my agent and editor. So, while I wait for the feedback on that one (I’m not sure I can give you any more details yet) I am finishing up a third romcom manuscript I started during lockdown 1.0! Watch this space!

What do you hope readers will take away from You’ve Got Mail?

I would love readers to grow with Gracey, my main character. To be with her on her journey of discovery as she learns she’s more than the sum of what others think of her. But mostly, I would love readers to enjoy the book and the escape it hopefully provides; with a little laughter along the way.

This sounds fabulous. Here’s more about the book:

It’s been fun, but I think we should stop seeing each other. Thanks for a great laugh x

When Grace Wharton is dumped by email from a relationship she isn’t even in, she adds it to the list of ways her life hasn’t quite panned out: twenty-five, single, and working a dead-end job she doesn’t enjoy. She fires off an angry response to Mr Obnoxious – how dare he try to dump someone over email?! – knowing that telling off a random stranger online means she has reached an all-time low.

Everything changes when her boss asks her to go to a big sales conference to secure an important client. Her partner is Jack Lockett, company Casanova and Grace’s long-time crush. What’s more, he seems very interested… But Mr Obnoxious keeps sending her emails and Grace keeps replying. Only to make sure he doesn’t send any more heart-breaking emails, obviously.

Grace’s life has suddenly gone from stagnant to brimming with possibilities. But is it all too good to be true?

A witty, charming and all too relatable debut romcom, You’ve Got Mail is perfect for fans of Sophie Ranald, Mhairi McFarlane and Joanna Bolouri.

Where can you get it?

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU | Kobo | Nook

More about Kate:

Kate Smith smiling woman seated in a garden

Kate Galloway Smith is a writer, editor, and an HCPC registered Occupational Therapist.

A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Kate can be found writing romantic comedies in Norwich, where she lives with her daughter and their cat and an increasing number of house plants.

You’ve Got Mail is her debut.

Catching up with Author Andreina Cordani

Very excited to welcome Andreina to Off the Beaten Track on the publication day for her intriguing first novel, The Girl Who… Welcome Andreina and huge congrats on your publication day!

So, tell us what inspired you to write The Girl Who…

I was in a features meeting at the women’s magazine I was working for – the editor was talking about a child who had been a victim of crime years ago. Her face had been on the front of every newspaper, she’d won awards for bravery, been the subject of a couple of books and by then would have been about eighteen years old. It suddenly struck me how impossible it would be to grow up in a situation like that, with the whole world thinking you’re an angel/martyr/inspiration. You woudn’t be free to make the usual teen mistakes, to decide for yourself who you are. So that’s where the idea started – it kind of got darker along the way.

When did you start writing seriously?

I always knew I wanted to write books, but when I left university I didn’t feel qualified somehow, so I trained in journalism thinking that, at least, I could hone my writing skills while I waited for inspiration to strike. In a way it was a good move – I learned so much from my interviewees and the amazingly talented people around me – but it also meant I took my eye off the writing ball a bit. Then a few years ago I suddenly realised that if I didn’t do it now – right this minute – I’d never do it. I had to step back from my career to give myself the mental space and time to do it. My bank manager is not so happy about this, but I feel much better for it.

What do you love most about being an author?

As a journalist I wrote within very stringent requirements – producing x-amount of words based on hard facts and designed to appeal to a very specific set of readers. Now I love being in charge of the story and creating characters from scratch. Of course, I work closely with my editor and change things as needed but it’s a much more flexible process. I really enjoy it and hope I get to keep doing it!

What are you working on now?

I’ve just delivered book two to my editor and while writing it I learned so much more about twists and turns… and planning. Definitely more planning next time. So now I’m doing outlines for book three – it’s the fun stage where all sorts of possibilities are swimming through my head, where the idea could morph into pretty much anything. That’s always exciting.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Girl Who…?

I think a lot of what I write is about understanding people in impossible situations, often under the glare of a media spotlight. These days I think we all understand that what we see in the news and online is only one part of the truth, I’m hoping that this book helps people think about that even more.

More about The Girl Who…

The girl who… survived
The girl who… inspires
The girl who… has something to hide

People can’t bring themselves to say what happened to her. They just describe her as ‘the girl who… you know…’. But nobody really knows, no one sees the real Leah.

Leah is the perfect survivor. She was seven years old when she saw her mother and sister killed by a troubled gang member. Her case hit the headlines and her bravery made her a national sweetheart: strong, courageous and forgiving.

But Leah is hiding a secret about their deaths. And now, ten years later, all she can think of is revenge.

When Leah’s dad meets a new partner, stepsister Ellie moves in. Sensing Leah isn’t quite the sweet girl she pretends to be, Ellie discovers that Leah has a plan, one she has been putting together ever since that fateful day. Now that the killer – and the only one who knows the truth – is being released from prison, time is running out for Ellie to discover how far Leah will go to silence her anger . . .

Where can you get it?

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Waterstones | UK Bookshop | Hive

More about Andreina

When she was at school, Andreina Cordani used to get out of gym class by saying she would use the time to write a book and dedicate it to her gym teacher. Sadly it took years of exercise-dodging before she was able to complete The Girl Who…, and she hasn’t been able to touch her toes since 2002.

In the following years, she pursued a career in journalism, working for women’s magazines including Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. Specialising in ‘real life’ stories, she interviews seemingly ordinary people about their extraordinary lives – most of which you wouldn’t believe if you read it in a novel.

She lives on the Dorset coast with her family where she reads voraciously, watches YouTubers with increasing fascination and swims in the sea.

Follow Andreina

Twitter | Instagram | TikTok: @acordanixo

Thank you, Andreina, and all the best for your new release. No doubt it will fly!

Catching up with Author Davina Stone

I am very excited to welcome Davina Stone to Off the Beaten Track today, especially as it is publication day for her debut novel, The Alice Equation! I have been fortunate to read an early copy and absolutely loved it. Here’s my review on Goodreads.

Tell us what inspired you to write The Alice Equation?

I love the idea of how love can change us, make us a better version of ourselves. So it started with Alice, the painfully shy bookworm and her unrequited love for her charming but womanising friend, Aaron. And it grew from there. In fact it went through a complete rewrite before either Alice or Aaron (particularly Aaron, he kept behaving very badly), were ready to be introduced to the world!

When did you start writing seriously? 

I’ve always written stories and I won a prize in a young writers competition with a novel I wrote when I was twelve. (Painstakingly hand-written it was called Grandpapa’s Secret, and was all rather “gothic”  if I remember rightly.) But I can pin-point when it became serious. I was diagnosed with a large hole in the heart four years ago. I had to undergo open heart surgery and that was a wake-up call that life is short and we need to live our dreams. I’d always wanted to write romance so I closed my health counselling business, my husband and I moved  away from the city to a bush block near Margaret River and I focussed “whole-heartedly” on my goal of becoming a writer.

What do you love most about being an author? 

The wonderful quirky characters my mind comes up with. I love sending them out to play, watching them tie themselves – and each other – in knots, then helping them fathom out how to get to their Happily Ever After. When you write romance the world you build is a world of emotion and the five senses. Nothing is more intense than truly falling in love. And that’s probably what I  enjoy about it most of all.

What are you working on now? 

I’ve just finished the second book in the series, about Alice’s best friend, Polly. It’s more enemies to lovers, because Polly is very feisty, and Solo her love interest, well, let’s just say he’s got some secrets in his past he’s running from. The Polly Principle will release in April 2021. And I’m now working on the third book, The Felicity Theory which is set in London and Sydney, two of my favourite cities.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Alice Equation?

I hope it leaves a smile on their face. It may sound a very simple goal, but I really just want to write stories that make people happy. Because we need a whole heap more happiness in the world right now, and I reckon writing romances is the best way I can contribute to that.

About Davina

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.

Davina’s short stories have been published in five Romance Writers of Australia anthologies. Her first novel, The Alice Equation was a finalist in the 2020 Valerie Parv Awards. Her second novel, The Polly Principle (release April 2021), took second place in The Romance Writers of Australia 2020 Ripping Start Competition.

Follow Davina

Facebook | Instagram | Website

More about The Alice Equation

Alice Montgomery’s life is like Groundhog Day. Five years after graduating, she’s still working in her mum’s bookshop, hiding her stash of romance novels under the bed and pining for the gorgeous guy who helped her over a panic attack before her final uni exam.

Aaron Blake loves to party – hard. His idea of commitment to anything other than his legal career is strictly three months. Until landing a job with the most prestigious – but conservative – law firm in town means he has to convince the partners he’s deeply committed to family values.

Aaron needs a fake date fast – and who could be safer than his bookish friend Alice?

Soon Alice finds herself dating her secret crush, sporting a daring new look of vintage frocks and itsy-bitsy lace lingerie.

Now the heat is notching up. Aaron’s feelings for his fake date are proving anything but safe, and Alice is discovering her inner sex-goddess.

But when secrets are revealed and lies uncovered, both Alice and Aaron will have to work out the hardest equation of all… what this crazy thing called loved is all about.

Author confession: Okay, things do get a bit hotter than kissing. Heat level: 3–4 sizzling flames.

Where can you get The Alice Equation?

Amazon AU | Amazon US | Kobo | Books2Read

A year to remember

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

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

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

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

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

Space

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

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

Exercise

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

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

Date night

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

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

(I love you, babe)

Getting out and about

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

Consuming creative content

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

Busy, busy, busy!

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

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

Publication day celebrations:

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

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