Exclusive Interview with

Sandy Barker

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When did you start writing?

I've always loved writing - I was an English major and an English and drama teacher for 14 years but I started writing seriously in 2017, basing my first novel on my own 'meet cute' - meeting my partner, Ben, on a sailing trip in Greece. I self-published that book just ahead of leaving for a one-year sabbatical.

While on sabbatical in 2018, we lived in Bali, the US, the UK, and Portugal, and I wrote the second and third books in the series, also inspired by my travel adventures.

During that time, I was also seeking a publisher and agent, and on arrival back to Australia, I secured a publishing deal with HarperCollins UK and a UK-based agent. I'm now writing my 8th book for HarperCollins!

Sandy Barker
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What makes writing your passion?

It is my dream job and one day, my aim is to have it be my only job (I also work in adult education). I absolutely love creating characters, watching them grow and develop, and letting them surprise me (which they often do). I have been able to draw on many of my own travel experiences too, which I love - vicariously traveling back to some favorite places while I write. It's also incredibly fun creating love interests. And I've created some very hot, very lovely men (if I do say so myself).

Sandy Barker
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How long have you been writing?

Dabbling since I can remember and I wrote plays for my Drama students when I was a teacher, but this is my 5th year of writing novels.

Not only am I writing my 8th book under contract, I've also co-written a contemporary suburban drama/crime thriller with an author friend. We share an agent and have been collaborating on it for the past 10 months. It's with our agent now to submit to publishers. It's very different from my other books though, Fiona is a mystery writer, so not such a departure for her. We call it Big, Little Lies meets Gone Girl.

Sandy Barker
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What was the feeling when you published your first book?

Surreal. Joyful. Exhilarating.

On publication day, my publisher sent me a box brimming with copies of my book. Holding that book in my hands, after working so hard and dreaming of that very moment, was just incredible.

I still get a thrill each time the box of books arrives and I can add the next 'book baby' to my shelf.

Sandy Barker
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What’s the story behind your choice of characters?

My first book, the one that kicks off the Holiday Romance series, is based loosely on my own experience of meeting my partner on a sailing trip in Greece and the main character, Sarah, bears a remarkable resemblance to my 35 year old self.

Her sister, Cat, who features in all 5 books and has 'her own' book (Book 2, That Night in Paris) is inspired by my own sister, Cat. And many of the supporting characters in the 5-book series are inspired by real-life people I've met while traveling.

In The Dating Game and The Christmas Swap, my characters are markedly different from me. In The Dating Game, my main character, Abby, has a sarcastic, snarky alter-ego which was really fun to write and I actually started with that and 'worked backwards' to create Abby, who is the antithesis.

In The Christmas Swap, which is about 3 women who meet as children and form a lifelong friendship - an American, an Aussie and a Brit - I wanted to create three distinctive personalities that could play off each other.

And my love interests ... well, they are the stuff of dreams - sometimes literally.

Sandy Barker
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What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?

I'm not sure 'annoyed' is the right word, but I find the marketing side of writing challenging at times - knowing the best way to reach readers.

Sandy Barker
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How do you get over the “writer’s block”?

I read! Truly, I know I can't be productive all the time, so when I am not 'feeling it', I will switch off and read for pleasure. Reading others' books inspires me and immersing myself in another story (besides the one I am writing) is a great way to let my mind work on my 'block' in the background.

Sandy Barker
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We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?

Read widely, seek feedback, be an active and genuine member of the writing community, hone your query letter and synopsis until they are the best things you have ever written, and never, ever, ever, ever give up.

Sandy Barker
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If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?

That travel fiction is a legitimate genre. When I first started writing seriously, my first agent had great difficulty selling my first book. At that time, travel fiction was just getting a foothold, and I got a lot of ‘No’s because my book ‘read like a travel biography’. I am glad I stuck with it, but I had a lot of doubt about writing in that genre when I was starting out.

Sandy Barker
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Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?

I do! There is nothing more buoying than reading a positive review or hearing from readers who took something special away from one of my books.

The bad reviews - well, some make me laugh, especially when I get the occasional 1-star review that says something like 'I'd rather clean the oven'. The only time a bad review really affects me is when the reviewer attacks me personally. The book wasn't to your taste or it didn't resonate with you, that's totally fine - no book will be for every reader - but there is no need to get personal in a review. Authors have feelings too.

Sandy Barker
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What is the feeling when you get a good review?

As I mentioned, it is incredibly buoying.

I write because I want my stories to be out there. Some are super light and fun, and I want to bring joy - if I make someone laugh out loud, then it's great to hear that.

Some of my books also deal with heftier topics and I've heard from many readers that these stories have meant something to them - that they've been 'stuck' as well and that my book has inspired them to get 'unstuck'.

Those sorts of reviews and messages are one of the main reasons I write.

Sandy Barker
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Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

Absolutely! I often mine my own travel adventures for my books as I only write about locations I have been to or have lived in and know well enough to really evoke the setting.

I am also a shameless thief of other people's anecdotes. If you tell me a hilarious story, I will probably write it into one of my books - be warned.

Sandy Barker
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Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?

Sarah from the Holiday Romance series is a lot like me in my thirties but she has her own personality traits too.

I think all my main characters have a little bit of 'Sandy' in them - that's how I can empathise with them and write them so completely.

Sandy Barker
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What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?

Readers are spoiled for choice. There are so many books! So book covers have become an important signpost to readers about genre and sub-genre. It's a way for us (I am a voracious reader too) to narrow down our choice. So, it is definitely an important part of the selection process.

My cover artist is a genius (I think). I love all my covers and am so grateful for the care she's taken, especially those in the Holiday Romance series where the location is an integral part of the story.

Sandy Barker
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Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?

I absolutely do connect with my readers. I am on Insta, Twitter and Facebook so happily reply to readers who message me about my books. It's a pleasure.

Sandy Barker
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How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?

I am not shy about graciously accepting praise or recognition.

In 2021, The Christmas Swap was nominated for best Christmas/Holiday book by the Australian Romance Readers Association (reader voted awards) and I was THRILLED to be on that shortlist.

I work hard, I aim to put out the best books I possibly can, so being recognized is frosting on the (publishing) cake.

Sandy Barker
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Who is your favorite author? Why?

Lindsey Kelk is my fave. I fell in love with her 'I Heart' series when I was bed ridden early 2013, reading 5 books in 5 days. She's now written 17 books and I've read them all. She's a hilarious writer and I aspire (one day) to be as prolific and accomplished as she is.

She's also a wonderful person and has been very supportive of my writing career - I got to meet her at a book signing in 2018 and she was just lovely.

Sandy Barker
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What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?

The dream is that Reese Witherspoon LOVES The Passion Project (my co-written book) and wants to option it for a film! Dreams are free, right, so why not aim high?

Writing wise, I'd like to be able to support myself by writing fulltime - I am about half-way to that goal and get a little closer to it every day.

Sandy Barker