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

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

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.

Catching up with Author Lizzie Chantree

Lizzie not only a prolific author, but she’s an inventor, a mentor and a wonderful supporter of the Romance writing community, so it is a great pleasure to welcome her to Off the Beaten Track today to mark the publication of The Woman Who Felt Invisible. And she’s even sharing an excerpt with us! First up, let’s talk to her about all things authoring.

Cover of the book as shown on a phone. The phone is sitting on a soft pink background and surrounded by roses. The cover is a woman sitting at a desk and working on a laptop as seen through a window.

Tell us what inspired you to write The Woman Who Felt Invisible?

This story is about a woman in her forties who feels like the world doesn’t see her at all. People bump into her at work as if she’s not standing there and she has forgotten who she is as a person after the loss of her dad. She used to have a successful career, but now lives in a tiny rented flat and has two jobs just does to survive. She meets her boss’s wife at a Christmas party and they become unlikely friends. The book is about trusting your instincts and following your dreams.

When did you start writing seriously?

I have always loved writing but my daughter was unwell for ten years and I decided to write my first book as a way to keep myself awake at night to listen to her breathing. It’s so hard to stay awake when you are sleep deprived. I wrote a book full of sunshine and happiness to try and bring some light into a very dark time in my life. My daughter is fine now, although she has serious allergies, but she proudly tells everyone that she helped me start this amazing new career. 

What do you love most about being an author?

I love the book community, chatting to other writers and most of all, the brilliant readers who pick up my books, read them and then tell their friends and family. I love talking to other book lovers and it inspires me to write more books. I always say that writing a review of a book you love is like handing the author a rainbow.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the sequel for my book, The Little Ice Cream Shop by the Sea. I am really enjoying all of the shenanigans between the pages and revisiting some of my favourite characters.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Woman Who Felt Invisible?

I hope that the story makes my readers smile, as this is why I write books. I like to feel as if a good book can give us a big hug. It’s about knowing we aren’t alone and bringing some sunshine into our hectic lives.

Oh, I love that – thanks Lizzie.

About the book

A gorgeous romantic story of love and new beginnings. Learning to love herself and be content on her own is the first step. But will Olivia be able to leave her past behind, follow her heart and find lasting happiness? A read full of humour, romance and tear-jerking reality, from international bestselling author, Lizzie Chantree.

Have you ever felt invisible? 

Working as a stationery supervisor and a sitter to a pair of internet famous, delinquent dogs, wasn’t how former cyber-specialist, Olivia, imagined her life turning out. 

Working in a tiny cubicle with a decrepit computer and being overlooked had suited her for a while, but now she’s fed up, lonely and determined to make the world ‘see’ her again. 

Old school friend, Darius, wants to fill Olivia’s days with romance, but their love of technology has taken them on very different paths. 

Gorgeous undercover policeman Gabe, is steadfast in finding out if Olivia was part of an online scam, but something doesn’t feel right and he suspects someone else was manipulating her life. 

Can love blossom from the most deceptive of starts? And can someone who feels lost, find a way to flourish against all odds?

Where you can buy it

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

An excerpt from the book

This was it. This was Olivia Tenby’s life, now. This was how low she had come. At the age of forty-one, she was sweating her guts out in a house that felt like a furnace, babysitting two delinquent Labradoodle dogs called Bertie and Belle, while their owners swanned around getting even richer somewhere else. Wiping her palms across her face, feeling glad she’d discarded her top so that she couldn’t drip on it, she pressed a button. Music blared out of speakers set into the ceiling. This house had everything – lights that came on when you spoke to them, a vacuum cleaner that tripped you over while it scurried along the floor of its own accord, and a fridge that dispensed perfectly shaped ice cubes into crystal glasses.

Olivia looked around furtively for a moment, and then laughed and decided to go for it. Her job as dog sitter extraordinaire had begun two weeks ago. She’d been told to entertain the excitable animals in any way she could think of, as they were naughty and destroyed everything while the owners were out – which they always were. Olivia hadn’t even met them, which was baffling. They left her notes with instructions on how to stop the dogs eating the walls and making a mess of the thick pile carpets. She actually quite liked the job, it was as easy as walking in a straight line. Then she thought about how wobbly she always was after three vodka and cokes, and quickly pushed that picture aside. The dogs were bored and, although her job included giving the house a cursory swipe with a duster, it was always immaculate when she arrived. Something was a bit weird, though, as the place was incredibly hot. The dogs liked to slobber all over her, making her even hotter. So she’d taken to stripping off as soon as she sat down with the pooches, otherwise she’d probably pass out and be found weeks later, mummified in dog hair.

About Lizzie

Author photo
Lizzie has long blonde wavy hair and dark eyes. She is smiling and holding a mug. She is wearing a black top and has pink nail polish on.

International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.

Follow Lizzie

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Congratulations again, Lizzie, and all the best for your latest release!

Catching up (again) with Author Fiona Leitch

I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for the wonderful book, Falling in Louvre by a favourite author (and person), Fiona Leitch.

Book Cover: A Parisian street with two people kissing on a balcony and the Eiffel Tower in the background. Through a window across the way, there is the Mona Lisa.

Tell us what inspired you to write Falling in Louvre?

Back in 2016, there were huge floods in Paris. The Seine burst its banks, Metro lines were closed after tunnels flooded, and the basement storage area of the Louvre also ended up under water. In order to protect the artefacts stored in the basement, the Louvre was closed and everything moved onto higher floors. I thought, what a fantastic time for an art heist! While everything is topsy turvy! I was working as a cleaner at the time, and I liked the idea of someone who was constantly underestimated and almost invisible being responsible for a massive art theft (which the Netflix show Lupin has done brilliantly since). But I also wanted them to be sympathetic, to not be your usual criminals, and so I decided to tie it in with a love story. Plus I’d been to Paris the year before, and it’s such an atmospheric city – no wonder so many stories are set there! I wanted to use some of the less well known parts of the city.

What do you hope readers will take away from Falling in Louvre?

I hope they fall in love with Sylvie and Philippe, as well as Paris. I hope they see as well that no problem is insurmountable, but you can’t always do it on your own and there’s no shame in asking for help.

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

I recently read Richard Osman’s debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club, and loved it. Great to see some older characters take centre stage, and not all be doddery old dears! I love the gentle humour and the twisty plot too. Plus I’ve lived in some of the places in the book, which was nice.

What has been your author highlight over the past year?

There have been several! Probably the first three books in my cosy mystery series being released, and signing a contract for three more. And co-writing something completely different with you, Sandy!

What are you working on now?

The next three books in the Nosey Parker series – editing number 4, writing number 5, and planning number 6! I also have another, very different, completely standalone novel set in New Zealand that I want to write.

Blurb for Falling in Louvre

Bertrand is King of the Pigeons…

Unofficially. From his perch atop a gargoyle on Notre Dame cathedral, he surveys his kingdom. He sees Sylvie Cloutier, art lover and ex-antiques dealer, making dinner for her bullying husband Henri, trapped in their loveless marriage like a bird in a gilded cage. He sees security guard, hopeless romantic and bookworm Philippe Moreau cycling through the streets of Paris in his crumpled uniform, late (again) for his night shift at the museum.

When Sylvie begs her husband to let her go to work, he gets her a job as an evening cleaner at the Louvre. He thinks such a menial position will dispel any ideas about independence she might have, but his plan backfires when she falls in love with kind, gentle Philippe. They decide to run away together, but there’s a major problem: neither of them has any money.

One stormy night in the Louvre, the answer to their prayers falls into their lap… But is it really the solution, or just another, even bigger problem?

What follows is a romantic, wistful but madcap adventure through (and under) the city of lights, involving a stolen painting, an art heist in reverse, and Eric Cantona. Will love find a way?

My review of Falling in Louvre

This is a wonderfully written book, with moments of humour, a slow-burn romance, and a deep dive into an important issue all wrapped up in a heist. Terrific mashup from the Queen of Mashups – highly recommended for romance readers, cosy mystery readers, and those who want to read something special.

Where to get it

All online bookstores: mybook.to/Louvre

More about Fiona

Author Fiona Leitch. A middle-aged blonde woman with shoulder length hair and dark rimmed glasses and a pink-lipsticked smile.

Fiona Leitch is a writer with a chequered past. She’s written for football and motoring magazines, DJ’ed at illegal raves and is a stalwart of the low budget TV commercial, even appearing as the Australasian face of a cleaning product called ‘Sod Off’. After living in London and Cornwall she’s finally settled in sunny New Zealand, where she enjoys scaring her cats by trying out dialogue on them. She spends her days dreaming of retiring to a crumbling Venetian palazzo, walking on the windswept beaches of West Auckland, and writing funny, flawed but awesome female characters.

Follow Fiona

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Great to have you on Off the Beaten track, Fiona. I loved Falling in Louvre and no doubt your readers will love it too.

Publication Day for The Dating Game!

Today is publication day for my 5th book, The Dating Game! You can read about my inspiration for the book here and today I thought I would share the acknowledgements. It always takes ‘a village’ to publish a book and this one was no exception.

The Dating Game Acknowledgements

As we all know, 2020 was an incredibly trying year across the world (and 2021 has already had its challenges too), but something that came from that difficult time – when my home city of Melbourne was strictly locked down for the better part of the year – was this book.

The idea came from a sweepstake at work. The Bachelor (or Bachie, as we call it in Australia) was starting and for some mid-pandemic light relief, my colleagues created a sweepstake, with the pot going to whoever drew the winning Bachelorette. To add to the experience, I started writing recaps of each episode – snarky, funny recaps – which I would post in our group chat the morning after each episode aired.

I mentioned the recaps to a close author friend, Andie Newton, one of my fellow Renegades. She asked to read one and immediately replied with, ‘This needs to be a book.’ I couldn’t imagine how a recap could turn into a book, but she came back with, ‘Write the story about the woman who writes the recaps.’ Genius. I bounced ideas off her and the other Renegades, Nina Kaye and Fiona Leitch, sent a sample chapter to my agent, Lina Langlee, and we pitched it to my editor at One More Chapter. Once I had the ‘thumbs up’ from my publisher, I researched, researched, researched – meaning I watched every episode of The Bachelor and continued to write my recaps. When the season was over, I sat down and wrote this book.

An enormous thank you, Andie, for sparking the original idea and for being a brilliant sounding board in the planning stages. For a historical fiction author, you certainly have excellent ideas for romcoms. Thank you also to Nina and Fi, who have been right there with me throughout the entire authoring process and particularly for answering my endless ‘Does this sound British enough?’ questions. And thank you to Fi and Andie for being early readers and giving me (incredibly) helpful feedback.

Thank you also to my lovely colleagues (and work friends) who ran the sweepstake, LOLed at my recaps (which spurred me on), and encouraged me, especially Carla, Natalie, Amanda, Dee, Shileen, Sam, and Keely.

A huge shout out to my wonderful editors. Hannah Todd was still at One More Chapter when we pitched this book. Hannah, thank you for advocating for me and The Dating Game – I so appreciate it – and thank you for all I learnt from you while working on my first four books.

To Jennie Rothwell, although you are new to One More Chapter, I already know that we are going to be a great team. Your inciteful feedback and your vision for this book have elevated my writing and I so look forward to working with you on my next books with One More Chapter. And speaking of … thank you so much to the incredibly hard-working team at One More Chapter, especially Charlotte Ledger and Bethan Morgan for being champions of my writing and for working so hard through the toughest of times.

A big thank you to my (fabulous, talented, and dedicated) agent, Lina Langlee of The North Literary Agency. I so appreciate the leap of faith you took with me on this book, and your early feedback was instrumental in setting me up for success. And another big thank you to Julie Fergusson, also of The North, who stepped in while Lina was on maternity leave. Thank you for your expert guidance and unwavering support to help me get this book across the line.

As always, I am grateful to my fellow authors for their support, their empathy, their trust, and their inspiring work. It is an honour and a privilege to be part of your community and I am constantly in awe of how generous you are and of your incredible work. A special mention and thank you to the volunteers who run our associations, the Romance Novelists Association (UK) and the Romance Writers Association (AU) for continuing to support and elevate the Romance genre. And thank you to my fellow #AusWrites-ers and #6amAusWrites-ers – I love our catchups on the socials and sometimes even in person!

A special thank you to Julie Houston, who provided the cover quote for this book. Julie, I admire you as a writer, but also as a person – you are so generous, thoughtful, and talented. Thank you for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to read my book. It means the world to me that you loved it.

And when I cheekily asked some other fellow romance authors if they’d like to do an early read, they all said yes! Thank you, Jessica Redland, Katie Ginger, Lucy Knott (and Kelly too), Rachael Stewart, Nikki Moore, Kiley Dunbar, and debut novelist and writing community maven, Anita Faulkner. I am also grateful to belong to the incredibly supportive (and aptly named) Author Support Network.

Thank you also to the reading and reviewing community – the bloggers, podcasters, and reviewers who generously share their thoughts on reading and books – especially to the community of Chick Lit and Prosecco (particularly for supporting my cover reveal and the lead up to publication day); the Australian Romance Readers Association (particularly you, Debbie, for all your incredible work); Australian Book Lovers (Darren and Veronica) who have generously hosted me on their podcast twice; Kim the Bookworm (Kim Nash) for inviting me on Book Chat with Kim – you are not only a wonderful author in your own right, but a terrific supporter of our community; and to the Australian Writers Centre for hosting me on their podcast, ‘So You Want to Be a Writer?’ (thank you, Valerie and Allison). And I have worked with the wonderful Rachel Gilbey several times – Rachel, it is a pleasure to work with you and thank you for all you do to organise such incredible book blog tours.

I always rely heavily on the support of my close friends and family, and my partner, Ben, to get through each stage of launching a book – from conception to publication and beyond. Ben, thank you for understanding that even minor milestones should be celebrated (and usually with bubbles). Thank you to my sis, Victoria, my mum, Lee, and dear friends, Lindsey, Jen, and Kate, for being early readers of this book and supporting and encouraging me. Thank you to the best, most supportive and loving parents and family a woman could ask for – your unwavering support is such a large part of why I get to do this wondrous thing, be an author. A special shout out to my Aunties, Linda, Candyce, Fran, Carmel, Karen, and Jenny – and especially my Great Aunt Joan. I am so fortunate to have such incredible role models in my life.

And lastly, thank you, dear reader, for coming on this fun and fabulous journey with me, Abby, and the gang. I hope you had a blast!

Out now in ebook and print to come on December 9. Buy links can be found here.

Writing The Dating Game

Cover of The Dating Game by Sandy Barker - man and a woman sitting in side by side sun loungers sipping cocktails

Today marks Day 201 of lockdown in Melbourne since March 31 2020 – and that is full-on lockdown with only 5 reasons to leave home, no visitors or gatherings, not going more than 5km from home, and masks on everywhere including outside. Is it any wonder that the book I started in August – just as we commenced a 112-day lockdown – has the cast of a reality television show stuck in the same house with each other for months?

It’s odd, I know, but it only just occurred to me last week – The Dating Game is both my lockdown book and my book about a ‘lockdown’. Though, that is not how or why it came about.

Last year, just as the Australian season of The Bachelor was about to commence, some colleagues asked around – who would be up for a sweepstakes? We’d all put some money in the kitty, be randomly assigned a bachelorette, and the last woman standing at the end of the season would win one of us the kitty. It was a fun way to liven up an otherwise (often) dull working-from-home existence. And after the season premier aired, I was inspired to write a witty recap. I posted it to our Teams chat the next day, got lots of LOLs and, as I am a sucker for positive reinforcement, I continued throughout the season.

I mentioned my recaps to an author friend, then sent her one and she said, ‘You should write that as a book.’

‘A season of The Bachelor as a book?’

‘No, write the story about the woman who writes the recaps. Then send her on the show undercover.’

I percolated on this (brilliant) idea then pitched it to my agent, (the fabulous) Lina Langlee, sending her one of the recaps. She said, ‘Write me chapter one. Show me who she is, this woman.’ I did, sending it back a couple of days later. She loved it. ‘Write the synopsis.’ I did. She loved that and we pitched it to my publisher, One More Chapter. Hannah Todd was my editor at the time and she leapt at it – she loved the tone, style, and premise, she loved Abby, my heroine, and we got the green light. Abby Jones a.k.a. Anastasia Blabbergasted would be strong-armed into going on The Stag as a contestant. (Thank you, Andie, you were right.)

The Dating Game is a little different from my other books. It’s still ‘destination fiction’ with a heroine from London and most of the book set in Sydney, but it isn’t really about travel the way that my other books have been.

It’s about love and relationships – about what you want and need in a relationship, and how that can differ from what you think you want. It’s also about what’s real and what’s not when you go on a reality television show seeking love. That was a really fun theme to explore and a lot of characters get to have that conversation – with themselves and with each other.

Another differentiator between this book and my previous books is the romantic tropes I got to play with – several, actually: slow burn, forbidden love, friends to lovers … I had a lot of fun exploring Abby’s relationship with her love interest, especially as it starts as a meeting of the minds (with a little lust thrown in). And even though this book doesn’t have as much heat as the Holiday Romance series, I think readers will love how Abby keeps her love interest on his toes – and deservedly so! She’s plucky and, sometimes, he’s a bit of a twit!

The book also includes recaps of The Stag written by Abby as ‘Anastasia’ and – oh my god – those were a blast to write. Anastasia loves word play and literary devices, she’s hilarious and just a little bit mean and, as I wrote her, she sounded a lot like Patsy from Ab Fab in my head.

There’s also an undercurrent throughout the book of being trapped by circumstance – of having no way out of the situation so having to make the most of it and, just maybe, discovering something about one’s self along the way. (This really resonated with me.)

One thing The Dating Game does share with my other books, is that female friendship is a strong theme. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the supporting characters and how friendships form, even under the unlikely circumstances of being in competition with each other. I’ve already had quite a few early reviews mention Kaz, one of the Aussie Does, and she could actually be fun to write as a heroine. Hmmm …

We also had some great early reader feedback about wanting an epilogue and on reflection, I wanted one too, so I wrote one! (Tip: If you downloaded the book from NetGalley before it was added, you can download it again to read the epilogue).

So, The Dating Game will forever be my ‘lockdown’ book, a little snapshot of what it was like to write while confined to home, and how ‘making the most of it’ resulted in my funniest book to date. I really hope you enjoy it – it’s light and fun and funny – and that it is as much an escape for you to read as it was for me to write.

For more info, click here.

Cover Reveal for my next book The Dating Game

Today I am sharing the cover of my next book, The Dating Game!

This is a standalone set in the world of Reality Television and here’s the blurb:

Abby Jones has a secret identity …

She is the Anastasia Blabbergasted, Queen of Snark and illustrious recapper of British reality television shows for online magazine, Feed Your Mind. When a recap of reality dating show, The Stag, goes viral, the show’s producers practically insist that she joins next season’s cast, undercover as a Doe – won’t that make her recaps all the spicier! Abby’s editor is all for the idea, but Abby can’t think of anything worse – even though next season is filming in Sydney!

That is until Abby meets scrummy Australian, Jack – rescuer from murderous elevator doors and the producer of the show.

Join Abby and the latest cast of The Stag for madcap fun and romantic adventures in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

And here’s the gorgeous cover!

Cover of The Dating Game by Sandy Barker
A man and a woman sitting on side by side sun-loungers drinking cocktails

Told ya, it was gorgeous! With huge thanks to my editor, Jennie Rothwell, for the concept and to the cover artist, the brilliant Lucy Bennett.

It’s out September 10 (ebook) and December 9 (print) and you can preorder now!

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon CA

Kobo | iBooks | Google Play | Nook

Waterstones | Foyles

Publication Day for Leonie Mack

Huge congrats to Leonie Mack on the publication of Italy Ever After. I was fortunate enough to get an early read and absolutely LOVED this book – it’s romantic and whimsical and is set in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, Northern Italy. To celebrate the occasion, I asked Leonie a few questions about writing the book and about her author life.

Cover of book Italy Ever After. Man and woman riding scooter along coast of Lake Garda in Italy.

Tell us what inspired you to write Italy Ever After?

As with most of my ideas, it started with the setting and the character dynamic. I had the idea for a romance between a divorced mum and her daughter’s teacher. The music camp setting allowed them to get to know each other in close confines (while having a lovely summer holiday) and then the characters exploded from there.

When did you start writing seriously?

I started writing with a serious intent to publish about three years ago, although I’ve always written as a hobby and finished my first experimental novels in my early twenties. It took me more than ten years to realise I had to put in a bit of hard work if I wanted to make something from it! My first book, My Christmas Number One, came out last year and now I have two coming out in 2021 and another already contracted to my publisher for 2022!

What do you love most about being an author?

I love spending my days in amazing places with my characters. I love dreaming up people and crafting situations that bring that satisfying tension. And I love that moment when the book is getting really complex and I feel like I have a universe in my brain.

What are you working on now?

It’s very exciting. My next two books are a little series set in Venice, so I have spent winter (virtually) on the canals, watching glassblowers, going to a ball for Carnevale and eating lots of delicious fish and fried pastries. One day we’ll all be able to go there for real!

What do you hope readers will take away from Italy Ever After?

I want readers to feel like they’ve been on a holiday to Italy with their best girlfriend and a handsome love interest!

More about the book

TV journalist Lou feels battered and bruised after her divorce from Phil, the father of her daughter Edie. Her confidence and sense of fun have steadily been drained away, and she isn’t sure who she is any more.

When the opportunity arises to accompany Edie on a music camp in Italy for a month in the summer, Lou jumps at the chance for new adventures, new horizons and new friends. The hazy warmth of the summer sun, shining brightly over the stunning Lake Garda, slowly brings Lou back to life.

Nick Romano, Edie’s music teacher, loves being home in Italy, but coaching his students for their concert in Milan, is bringing back difficult memories. His blossoming friendship with Lou is the perfect distraction, although a summer fling would be easier to conduct without the scrutiny of his mother Greta, not to mention the interference of his extended Italian family.

As the summer passes, full of sunshine and breath-taking scenery, gelato and delicious feasts, Lou and Nick get ever closer. But as the time for farewell creeps up on them, will they be able to say goodbye and leave their memories behind in the Italian sun, or can a summer romance last a lifetime?

Where you can get it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Kobo | Google Play

More about Leonie

Smiling woman in her 20s or 30s with long brown hair and brown eyes

Leonie Mack is an author of romantic comedies with great locations and big feelings. She loves a happy ending and shares that love in every book she writes! Leonie is a journalism graduate, a language nut and loves to travel, particularly on foot, by bike and by train. After growing up in Australia and living most of her adult life in London, she now lives in Germany, among the vineyards on the Main river.

Follow Leonie

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks for visiting Off the Beaten Track, Leonie and all the best with Italy Ever After.

Cover Reveal for Lucy Knott

Very excited to be part of the cover reveal for the next book by the fabulous Lucy Knott, The Little Barn of Dreams.

Book Cover: Woman reading a book in front of a bar on a farm; dog and stack of books in the foreground

About the book

Boy meets girl meets… happy ending? Flo has one summer to make it happen…

Quirky bookworm Florence Danver spends most of her time lost in whimsical daydreams about characters from her favourite books. Who wouldn’t rather be fighting dragons or falling in love with impossibly perfect heroes than stuck behind a computer doing boring data entry all day? But when she loses her job, Flo knows it’s time to make some changes.

Her beloved Nanna Margot encourages her to spend a week at Camp Calla Lily, but this is a place she hasn’t been since she lost her mum and dad, and her return is bittersweet… until she meets Jo Hadlee.

Fellow dreamer Jo is a writer and soon the pair are inseparable as they talk books and build castles in the air. But what happens when the fantasy bubble bursts and real life comes roaring back in? The real world is a place of pain and loss where bosses frown upon her distracted air, where people tease her, and where nothing ever has a happy ending.

If Florence wants to turn her fairy-tale summer with perfectly imperfect Jo into a happily-ever-after of her own, she will have to accept that love, like life, is best when it’s messy and very, very real.

Release date: July 8 (ebook) & October 14 (print)

Pre-order now:

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Kobo

About Lucy

Lucy Knott lives in Manchester England, just around the corner from her childhood home and less than five minutes from her twin sister Kelly and brother-in-law Chris. She loves spending time with her family in addition to writing, reading and cooking Italian food. When not buried in a book, scribbling in a notebook or having dance parties for one to Harry Styles, she works as a teaching assistant where the majority of her days are spent talking about dinosaurs and making Godzilla out of just about everything, from Blu Tac to cardboard boxes, and she loves every minute.

If she could up and move to the stunning Amalfi Coast, San Francisco or live in a cabin surrounded by fairy lights, she would, but for now she’s quite content writing about those magical places. Lucy loves to write uplifting stories that she hopes will put a smile on your face, fill your heart with joy, encourage you to embrace the awesomeness that you are and believe that any dream is possible.

Follow Lucy (and Kelly)

Twitter | Instagram | Website

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.