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Guest blogger: Sandy Barker

26 September 2021

My inspiration for writing The Dating Game

Last year, just as The Bachelor was about to commence, some colleagues asked around—who would be up for a ‘Bachie sweepstakes’? It was a fun way to liven up an otherwise (often) dull working-from-home existence—What day is it? It’s Blursday!—so I leapt at it. And after the season premiere aired, I was inspired to write a 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 writing recaps throughout the season.

Now, if you watched the 2020 season, you’ll remember that the second half was filmed during lockdown. Everyone was sent to their respective home and we endured cringey ‘Zoom dates’, including the terrible one in which Lachie and Izzy took a bath together—well, at the same time—on camera. Yikes! With Zoom dates and meltdowns and the top two bachelorettes one-time besties, it was quite the season and there was a lot of fodder for those recaps.

Just before the finale, I mentioned my recaps to an author friend—she was having a hard time and I sent her one to cheer her up. She came back with, ‘You should write this as a book.’

‘A season of The Bachelor as a book?’ I couldn’t quite see how that would work.

‘No,’ she replied, ‘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, sending her one of the recaps. She said, ‘Write me chapter one. Show me who she is, this woman.’ I had a snarky recapper character, but not the woman behind the persona. I percolated again and ‘met’ Abby—a smart introvert who loves her mum and longs to be a proper journalist.

I sent chapter one back a couple of days later and my agent loved it, asking for a synopsis. A week later, we pitched the story to my publisher, One More Chapter. They loved the light-hearted tone and the characters, particularly Abby, as well as the concept—lots of opportunities to peek behind the scenes of a reality dating show—and we got the green light. Abby Jones aka Anastasia Blabbergasted would be strong-armed into going on The Stag as a contestant. And as we embarked on a nearly four-month intense lockdown here in Melbourne, I got writing.

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 mostly 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 played with—several at once, 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 eight 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 writing her was like playing.

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. Quite a few reviews mention Kaz, one of the Aussie Does, and she could actually be fun to write as a heroine. Hmm …

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.

Sandy Barker is a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob. Sandy lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her partner, Ben, who she met while travelling in Greece. Their real-life love story inspired Sandy’s debut novel, One Summer in Santorini, the first in the Holiday Romance series with One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins. The series continues in That Night in Paris and A Sunset in Sydney and there are two more to come in 2022. Her standalone novel The Christmas Swap celebrates her favourite time of the year, and next up is The Dating Game, a laugh-out-loud rom com set in the world of reality TV.

You can find Sandy here: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

The Dating Game

Once upon a time, twelve women joined the hottest reality TV show looking for love. Except one had a secret identity …

Abby Jones is a serious writer. Or at least she will be, one day. Right now, she spends her time writing recaps of reality television under a secret identity.

When a recap for The Stag—the must-watch dating show—goes viral, her editor thinks she should be on set, writing the drama as it happens. The good news: the next season will be filmed in Sydney. Sun, sea and a glamorous trip abroad, this could be Abby’s big break.

The bad news: the producers don’t just want Abby to write the recaps, they want her to be on the show. Abby can’t think of anything worse than being undercover and followed around by cameras. But her career depends on it, and when she meets gorgeous producer Jack, Abby begins to wonder if this job might not be so bad after all …

Buy it here: Amazon AU | Amazon UK | Kobo | Google | iBooks | Nook | Waterstones | Foyles

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