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!

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.

New Year’s Absolutions 2022

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

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

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

So, on the list they go!

1. Reading the entire contents of my Kindle

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

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

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

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

2. Meditating

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

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

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

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

3. Watching ‘Squid Game

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

4. Getting a TikTok account

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

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

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

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

This is a double negative, I know.

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

So, trips on the cards:

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

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

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

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

Catching up with Author Christina Courtenay

Thrilled to welcome Christina Courtenay to Off the Beaten Track to mark the publication of her latest book, Tempted by the Runes. And oh my! This is such a terrific read. For those who are new to Christina’s books, this is the latest in her Viking timeslip ‘Runes’ series and it is incredible.

Also, look at that cover! Before I share my thoughts on the book, let’s talk to Christina.

Book Cover
Tagline: born centuries apart. Bund by a love that defied time.
A Viking ship is moored offshore of a  fjord with mountains in the background and a couple stand onshore embracing.

Tell us what inspired you to write Tempted by the Runes?

When I started to write the ‘Rune’s series, I knew that the Vikings had travelled far and wide and I wanted my books to reflect this. Therefore, I decided that the members of one family would all journey in different directions and have their own adventures. As Iceland was starting to be colonised at this time, it seemed the perfect place to send one of the brothers. The youngest was most likely to go there as he’d need to make his own way in the world. Becoming a settler on an island so far away, which only a few people had seen at this point, was a very brave thing to do and I thought that would be great for my hero. The rest of the story developed from that.

When did you start writing seriously?

After my oldest daughter was born I wanted a job I could do from home so that I could look after her at the same time. That’s when I decided to try my hand at writing, but it proved a lot more difficult than I thought. Eventually, I was published 21 years later just after my daughter had left home … (The best laid plans and all that!)

What do you love most about being an author?

The freedom of working at my own speed and when/where I want to. I’m a night owl and have always disliked having to get up early to go to work or school, so for me, being able to sleep late and work late is ideal. It also feels like a huge privilege to be able to write down the stories that appear in my head and call it work!

What are you working on now?

I have just signed a new four-book deal with Headline Review so at the moment I’m working on the first of those stories which is due out in August next year. It’s a standalone timeslip story called Hidden in the Mists. You can already pre-order.

What do you hope readers will take away from Tempted by the Runes?

I hope they will just enjoy the journey and the romance, travelling so far with the hero and heroine and experiencing their struggles in a new land. I would love it if my story leaves the reader feeling happy and relaxed and with a big smile on their face!

More about the book

before.

Madison Berger is visiting Dublin with her family for a Viking re-enactment festival, when she chances upon a small knife embedded in the banks of the Liffey. Maddie recognises what the runes on the knife’s handle signify: the chance to have her own adventures in the past.

Maddie only intends to travel back in time briefly, but a skirmish in 9th century Dublin results in her waking up on a ship bound for Iceland, with the man who saved her from attack.

Geir Eskilsson has left his family in Sweden to boldly carve out a life of his own. He is immediately drawn to Maddie, but when he learns of her connection to his sisters-in-law, he begins to believe that Fate has played a part in bringing them together. Amidst the perils that await on their journey to a new land, the truest battle will be to win Maddie’s heart and convince her that the runes never lie…

My thoughts on the book

The Queen of Timeslip Romance has done it again! I was completely immersed in this epic romance. The story of settling in Iceland was compelling, with Courtenay’s ability to build a rich and complex historical world really shining in this book. The slow-burn love story was sweepingly romantic and I completely fell in love with our hero and heroine.

This book is a total page turner.

Where you can buy it

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon AU

More about Christina

Author photo: Smiling woman with long red hair wearing a black jumper

Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014) and the RNA Fantasy Romantic Novel of the year 2021 with Echoes of the RunesTempted by the Runes (time travel published by Headline 9th December 2021) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).

Follow Christina

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Thank you for coming on Off the Beaten Track, Christina, and wishing you every success for this latest epic romance.

Cover Reveal for Lucy Knott

Thrilled to be able to share this beautiful cover with you today. Lucy Knott’s Love Lessons in Starcross Valley is out early February and just look! Stunning!

Book cover: Two women seated on a bench and looking away with an easel off to the side which holds a painting of the landscape they're looking at - an autumnal scene of a park.

About the book

With the recent breakdown of both her ten-year relationship and her parents’ marriage, thirty-five-year-old Marnie Barnes no longer believes in love. To give her life the shake-up it so clearly needs, she books a ticket to Canada.

Thousands of miles away from her home and her twin sister, she struggles to have the life-changing experience she dreamt of – until she meets Nova, a dinosaur-loving space nerd with a penchant for living in the moment. After a wonderful day together in Vancouver, they part ways. Though gutted, Marnie thinks it’s proof that she’s not meant to find love and tries to move on with her life.

But a few months later, back in England, she bumps into someone achingly familiar. As Marnie navigates her new feelings, takes chances and makes the first move for the first time in her life, can she regain her faith in love – and find it for herself?

Preorder here

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon UK | Amazon CA

Kobo | Nook | Booktopia | Waterstones

About Lucy

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

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

Follow Lucy here

(as 1/2 of The Blossom Twins with sister Kelly Sharpe)

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website

Congratulations again Lucy – so looking forward to reading this!

Publication Day for Abigail Yardimci

Huge congratulations to Abi Yardimci on the publication for Everything is Yours, the final book in the Life is Yours trilogy, a stunning and evocative series about life, love and finding your heart. And look at this stunning cover!

Cover of Everything is Yours, A woman sitting contemplating on the road of life, and a large lotus flower in the background.

About the book

New Year’s Eve is in full swing. Jess and Lindy have met by chance and already they’re sharing a bottle of wine in a cosy Turkish restaurant. Lindy is hooked on a story Jess is telling, but midnight is coming and happy endings aren’t always guaranteed . . .

After Jess returns from the trip of a lifetime high on hope, ambition and new love, she’s ready to take on the world. She shuts down her business, cuts ties with her ex and announces to everyone the old her is gone.

But a violent encounter rocks her world and her past comes crashing back to haunt her. With a childhood demon to forgive, a long-distance relationship to navigate and that final layer of self-love to uncover, can Jess dig deep and put the final pieces in place before midnight comes knocking?

My thoughts on the book

This is a beautifully written love story – but it’s not just about love, it’s about finding your way, your heart. Abigail has a turn of phrase that made my heart sing – it’s unique and evocative and this is a fabulous finale to the series.

And catch these fab reviews on Goodreads.

Where you can get it

Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US | Amazon CA

About Abigail

Abigail Yardimci was born in Consett, Co. Durham in the UK. She has worked as a video rental person, a catalogue product-picker, a deli-sandwich-maker and an amazing barmaid. She eventually trained as an arts education consultant working across the North East of England, she sold her abstract paintings internationally and more recently trained to teach mindfulness meditation to young people and families. 

​Abigail now works as an author and is in the middle of unleashing the Life Is Yours trilogy on the world. The books are published by Soft Rebel Publishing and the first book, Life Is Yours and the second, Destiny Is Yours are available to buy on Amazon.

The Life Is Yours trilogy follows the adventure of one woman who goes from ‘heartbreak to heart awake’ in the space of a year. It’s a story of love, loss and the beauty of circling back to yourself.

Follow Abigail

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Website

Congratulations again Abi – a brilliant cover for a brilliant book!

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.

Where I was when Princess Diana died

I’ve watched The Crown since it started. Until now, season one was my favourite, with Claire Foy doing an exquisite job of portraying the young monarch. Then came season four.

I’m only a few episodes in, but with the incredible Emma Corrin having perfected Princess Diana’s voice, posture, and mannerisms, I’m finding myself overly emotional every time she is on screen.

You see, I loved Diana.

From afar, of course like most people, but she was … I cannot put into words what it was like growing up with her as an icon – of femininity, sure, but also of compassion, bravery, and humanity. She was an extraordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. I admired her and, yes, from afar, I loved her.

I was touring when she died – running a five-week tour for fifty 18-35 year olds and we were in Austria when the news broke the morning after a brilliantly fun dress up party.

This is an excerpt from my travel diary:

The kitchen was oddly quiet, only one rep, John, there preparing breakfast instead of the six or seven I expected. I asked where everyone else was and he casually replied, ‘Oh, haven’t you heard? Diana’s dead.’ Diana, who? I thought.

‘Diana who?’ I voiced aloud, still nowhere near connecting the dots.

‘The Princess.’ He continued his preparations, seemingly unaware of the bombshell he’d just dropped, so I thought he must be joking.

‘That isn’t funny, John.’

He stopped what he was doing and looked at me. ‘No, I’m serious.’

‘Well, you’d better be bloody serious, because I’m about to walk in there and tell fifty people,’ I said, indicating the dining room where my tour group was having breakfast.

‘It’s true, listen.’ He switched on the radio and the announcer was, of course, speaking German, but I could make out, ‘Prinzessin Diana ist tot,’ and had enough of the language under my belt to understand – the language at least. I still couldn’t comprehend the meaning of those words.

I fiddled with the dial on the radio, hoping to find an English speaking station, and finally found the BBC. ‘Diana, Princess of Wales, has been confirmed dead, killed overnight in an automobile accident in a tunnel in Paris.’

Well, there was no mistaking that.

Princess Diana was dead.

Without another thought, I walked through the swinging doors to the dining room and called for quiet, not looking at any of their faces. Some people still spoke, and I shouted, ‘Listen!’ I never spoke to my group like this and the tone of my voice must have conveyed the seriousness of the situation. There was immediate silence.

My eyes locked on the tiled floor, I said, ‘Last night, Princess Diana was in a car accident in Paris. She died.’ No one spoke, or maybe they did, but I choked back a sob and pushed back through the swinging door into the kitchen, vaguely aware that some of the people on my tour followed me, consoling me then crowding around the radio.

My sister! Victoria lived in London and she would be distraught. I needed to call her. It would be expensive, but she’d need me.

My fingers were shaking as I dialled the number and I made a mistake and had to start again. She answered sleepily on the third ring. ‘Hello?’

‘Hi, it’s me. Are you okay?’

‘Yes. Did you call me at 7:30 in the morning just to ask me that?’

She doesn’t know, I thought. ‘Vic, have you heard the news?’

‘What news?’ Oh, god.

‘It’s bad, Vic. Princess Diana died last night.’

Her screams, then her wailing, were so loud I had to hold the phone away from my ear. Tears streamed down my face and I caught the eye of several others who were also crying. I wiped my nose on my sleeve and someone handed me a napkin.

When Vic calmed down enough to talk to me – I could hear the news blaring from her TV in the background – I made her promise to call someone so she wouldn’t be alone and we hung up.

I made my way back into the dining room where someone had turned on the TVs, all tuned to BBC news. Fifty of us – give or take – sat either in silence or sharing quiet murmurs as we watched footage from Paris – the mangled car, the tunnel, and the security footage of Diana and Dodi al Fayed leaving the hotel. And scenes of the thousands of people converging on central London bearing flowers, cards, and signs, and wearing their grief for all to see.

I both could and couldn’t believe it.

The following days of the tour – we were only about 3 weeks in – were spent scouring English newspapers and watching newscasts where possible. As we headed towards the last leg of the tour, I had to tell the same group that Gianni Versace had been murdered outside of his house in Miami, and then on the last day of the tour, that Mother Teresa had died. A few people thought I might be joking – too many sad announcements for the same group – but no.

That day also happened to be the day of the cortege, September 6th. In the late afternoon, as we drove into London, it was like a ghost town. I had never seen the city deserted before and likely wouldn’t again. It was eerie, disturbing, and unsteadying.

At the hotel, we said our goodbyes – for most of us, long and tearful and I felt especially close to this group. Alone in my room, I watched a replay of the full cortege, my heart breaking as I watched 12-year-old Harry and 15-year-old William walking behind their mother’s casket, that handwritten card on top, the envelope reading, ‘Mummy’. Those brave, brave boys.

Why was I so sad? Why had the death of a woman I didn’t know affected me so acutely?

I think it was especially tragic, as she finally seemed happy. She’d endured a trying marriage, and she’d been in the spotlight for her entire adult life, enduring scrutiny and criticism for every move she made. Yet she’d emerged more beautiful than ever, as though a light had been switched on inside her. That she should die at 36, at the beginning of her newfound life, was a cruel twist of fate.

Image by Mario Testino

Someone on the tour said, ‘This will be our Kennedy.’ That was true then and still is today.

It’s Publication Day for The Christmas Swap

Cover of the book The Christmas Swap. A snowy scene at the top of the cover, with a ski lodge and a man and a woman. On the bottom of the cover is a beach image with bathing boxes and surfboards and a man and a woman sitting together.

So excited that this day is (finally) here! I started writing this book in July 2019 for Camp NaNoWriMo with the goal of writing 30K words in 31 days. I wrote 35K words, then tweaked the manuscript with help from my agent, and we pitched it (with a synopsis) to my publisher, One More Chapter.

They loved it, then it was slotted into my publication schedule and today’s the day when it is out in the world!

To mark the occasion I am sharing my acknowledgements.

Acknowledgements and a note from the author

It’s hard to believe I am writing the acknowledgements for my fourth book, but here I am. I have dedicated this book to my parents―my mum, Lee, my dad, Ray, and my step-mum, Gail. I am extremely fortunate to have parents who not only love me, but champion me and inspire me. They have also instilled in me the importance of family―including the family members we choose―as well as having a sense of adventure and following your dreams.

Family is a prominent theme in this book and as I write these acknowledgements amid the second round of COVID-19 lockdowns here in Melbourne, ‘family’ has become more important to me now than ever. And for me, a person who has lived on three continents, that word encompasses all the people I love, all the people who inspire me, lift me up, confide in me, and ease my path. Thank you, family―wherever you are. Stay safe and we will meet again someday soon.

As always, I am grateful to my two partners-in-writing, my editor, Hannah Todd, and my agent, Lina Langlee. It is wonderful having you in my corner and you are both gifted collaborators. Hannah, thank you for being my champion at One More Chapter and HarperCollins, and for your excellent feedback, which always elevates my writing. I continue to grow as an author under your guidance. Lina, I greatly appreciate your advocacy, your astute guidance, and your ongoing support of my writing career. Ever onwards and upwards―together.

Thank you to my fellow authors for supporting, championing, and inspiring me, particularly my fellow Renegades, Nina, Andie, and Fiona. Our daily catchups sustain me; they are chocolate for my soul. Thank you to Lucy Coleman (Linn B. Halton) whose quote appears on the cover of this book. I hope that one day I will be as prolific and as accomplished as you. Your books are the stuff of dreams. Thank you to all my fellow romance authors who forge and shape this genre, and to the book lovers, bloggers, and reviewers whose passion for romantic fiction lifts us all, especially my friends at UKRomChat, The Reading Corner Book Lounge, and Chick Lit and Prosecco. Thank you to the volunteers at the Romance Novelists Association and Romance Writers of Australia for your tireless efforts to sustain and elevate romantic fiction. And thank you to my fellow Aussie authors at the Australian Writer’s Centre and #AusWrites.

Lastly, dear reader, thank you. Thank you for traveling across three continents with me and enjoying some Christmassy goodness. Christmas is my favourite holiday, and over my lifetime, I’ve spent it in the US, the UK, and Australia―each Christmas special for its distinct traditions and the loved ones I’ve shared it with.

Happy Christmas, happy holidays, and stay safe.

~ Sandy Barker

Read about my inspiration for writing The Christmas Swap

Read more about the book, including where to find it