Crete, Cats and #NaNoWriMo

This week I’m…

Drinking olive oil

olive oil picture taken by Emma Baird author of the diabetes dietWe’re back from a week in Crete, where it’s obligatory for any tour to talk about extra virgin olive oil and its many health benefits. The Cretans splish-splosh it on everything, so it’s not surprising they are the world’s biggest consumers of the stuff getting through an average 36 litres a year.

Because we’d opted for the hand-luggage only flight, we could only bring back a measly 100ml of the stuff but I promise my meals from now on will contain liberal amounts. As gastronomic destinations go in general, Crete is tremendous. I ate one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever had—lamb kleftiko, a paper packet of tender meat oozing luscious thick gravy, and juices-soaked carrots and potatoes added in.

Recovering from mozzie bites

Seriously, did those little gits love me because I’ve got sweeter than usual blood? By the end of the week I’d counted 26 bites and my husband kept wrestling me, strait-jacket style, to stop me scratching them. If you ever want to experience the perfect definition of instant gratification—and why it isn’t worth it—get yourself a dozen or so mosquito bites and claw at them with long nails as soon as they begin to itch.

Result? Two seconds of relief and then bites that get infected.

A resident told us this year the island has suffered more than usual. The Cretans themselves were experiencing problems too. Chania’s newspaper says the problem has been caused by cutbacks in Government spraying programmes and in the past few years, the population has gone wild.

Contemplating cats

Emma Baird with catEvery bar and restaurant we went to had its own resident cat, who could spot a sucker miles away. Here is the picture for proof. Up they came, positioning themselves beside your chair and yowling furiously until you gave them a bit of whatever you were eating.

My theory is that Cretan cats and cats in hotter countries are further along the evolutionary chain than those in the UK. They’ve lived alongside humans for far longer, and most of the ones we came across aren’t at all skittish around people. They are very noisy too. The cat’s miaow was developed to communicate with humans, but you don’t meet that many ‘talkative’ cats over here.

Unfortunately, part of the greater progress along the evolutionary chain is because they breed in vast quantities. We saw lots of kittens and young cats, and all kinds of amazing, unusual patterns. Again, in hot counties this is harder to control. Greece has suffered financially in recent years. There won’t be much money around for trap, neuter, release programmes.

Doing NaNoWriMo

For those of you outside the writing world, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual initiative encouraging writers to write the first draft of a novel or 50,000 words in one month. It sounds like a tall order, but if you break it down into 2,000 words a day every day, you’re in ‘eat that elephant one bite at a time’ territory.

My incentive is partly financial. I’m about to ditch Microsoft Word as I’m fed up of spending so much money on it every year when there are just as good freebies out there. Libre Office for example. And Scrivener is software specially created for writers, which you pay a one-off fee for. I’ve resisted it until now because I’m not keen on something that comes with a 45-minute tutorial. Manana never comes soon enough for me, so listening to that tutorial is a tall order. But Word isn’t great for working with long documents such as novels and I fancy Scrivener’s corkboard feature to help me plot.

How does this fit with NaNoWriMo? The folks that make Scrivener offer it at half-price if you complete NaNoWriMo. While on holiday, I outlined a plot using a one-page template I found online so in theory writing 2,000 words every day will be easier because I have an idea of what happens in each chapter instead of pantsing it.

Highland Fling book cover by Emma BairdI’m going to try my hand at a sweet romance, which will be a challenge for me. I’m filthy-mouthed (blame working in journalism and PR for that) so my novels tend to contain plenty of couthy language, the odd bit of sex and other adult themes. Sweet romance ‘rules’ mean no swearing, definitely no sex and the ‘climax’ is the kiss. Once that’s done, it’s game over. Sweet romance is HUGE in the indie publishing world and its top writers earn hundreds of thousands. As one writer put it, fans of ‘spicy’ romance, i.e. the sex stuff, will read sweet romance, whereas the opposite doesn’t usually apply.

Here are the first few paras:

“I didn’t mean to smash his heart into smithereens—and they were his words not mine—but if you want to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs, don’t you?”

“Stop right there!” My best friend excels at bossiness. She gets up from the sofa and holds a hand out, traffic cop style.

“Do NOT mix up metaphors like that,” she begs. “Please. You’re hurting my ears.”

She’s a copywriter and very fussy about what people say in front of her. If you ever dare utter, do you know what I mean? at the end of a sentence, she jumps down your throat. No, I don’t know. That’s why you’re telling me. I cut that habit out after about the hundredth time she said it.

“Kelly!” I too am on the sofa in my about to be vacated home. I love this sofa too. It took me five visits to the SofasRUs (and all on the days when there were sofa sales so I wasted a lot of bank holidays) to find my perfect one. This is it. Dark red velvet, super squishy and big enough to fit four people, five if you know each other really well.

And tomorrow I say goodbye to this sofa. Just like I wave farewell to the coffee table I rescued from a junk yard, sanded down and varnished myself, the book shelves I built from flat packs accompanied by a lot of cursing, the laminated floorboards I laid one hot and sweaty weekend, the curtains…

Charlotte Amelia Richardson! My mother’s voice. This moping will not do. Kelly backs her up. Not in real life, but in my head; the two of them competing to see who can order me around the most.

Kelly rummages through her handbag and emerges with a large bar of chocolate that she waves triumphantly in front of me.

“Okay,” she says, “if you promise not to mix up any more metaphors and refrain from terrible clichés, I will break this bar in two and give you half.” She inspects the bar, checking the label. It’s the Oreo cookie one, tiny bits of biscuit crumb encased in thick slabs of chocolate.

“The much smaller half.”

I am not having that. I lurch forward and grab the bar from her hands, dancing away from her as she shrieks and tries to get it back. My fingers move fast, ripping through purple foil while Kelly howls, “No, no, no!” I jam it into my mouth, bite off a quarter and hand it back to her, tooth marks and all.

All’s fair in love and war, or love and chocolate, right?

You can read the rest of this chapter on Wattpad here. https://embed.wattpad.com/story/164480382

Wish me luck…

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Murder, Mayhem and Indie Publishing

Dear lady, this month thou shalt stand up in front of people and attempt to inform and entertain… Not much of a tall order is it?

Up there on this year’s to-do list, which always includes something along the lines of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, was’do a workshop/book event’. As someone who’d rather have a tooth pulled out sans anesthetic than stand up in front of an audience*, this is a biggie. I’ve published four books so far and this is my first ‘launch’.

Night and Day by Caron AllanTo ease the experience, I bullied roped in another writer to join me and billed it as a Q and A session. Given that most people think they have a book in them, why not appeal to that audience by positioning our event as an exploration of the world of indie publishing? And unlike me, my author chum makes decent money from her books. Who better to treat the audience to her wisdom?

Here’s the billing: Ever wondered if you could make it as an author? The internet, Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and more have made it ridiculously easy to self-publish, and the quality of books available in this sphere is better than ever, thanks to the wide range of self-publishing services now available.

Self-published authors Emma Baird and Caron Allan discuss Caron’s books, and her writing and publishing process from start to finish. Do you need beta readers? And what are beta readers, anyway? How do you typeset a book? What’s the best way to edit your work, and what free online tools are available for authors?

The discussion will address these and other questions, and we’ll also be happy to take any questions you want to ask.

Caron Allan is the author of the Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy and the Dottie Manderson mysteries. Her latest book, Scotch Mist, came out this year, and The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish is scheduled for publication early next year.

Caron published her first book in 2012, and her books have gone on to sell tens of thousands of copies and providing her with a full-time income. She lives in Derbyshire with her husband and three cats.

Emma Baird is a freelance copywriter and has four books to her name—Katie and the Deelans, The Diabetes Diet , The Girl Who Swapped and Artists Town**. She lives in Dumbarton with her husband—and yes, a cat.

Our event takes place on 19 November, kicking off Book Week Scotland.

 

*It’s in one of West Dunbartonshire Council’s local libraries. The audience will be small select.

**About to be five. Ten Little Stars, a collection of short stories, is out now.

 

 

A Wee Trip Down 90s Memory Lane

Shift dresses, heroin chic and Brit pop—do you fancy a wee trip down 90s memory lane?

Thanks to the Friends revival on Netflix* and shows such as Derry Girls, the 90s are enjoying a moment. I’m grateful as I’ve just written a book set in the early 90s, and I’m hoping that fondness for the decade will spill over and translate itself into sales.

In the meantime, let’s do a list of terrific 90s things…

Jolly memorable lyrics – it’s the curse of age to look back on the era when you were young and think that’s when the best music occurred. I don’t. I promise I’ve sung along to George Ezra’s Shotgun all summer as it’s so darn catchy. But remembering those 90s songs to conjure up the world as it was then brought back some powerful memories.

My favourite 90s lyrics include:

So move away, Jimmy Blue, before your small, small town turns around and swallows you.

Del Amitri

Wake up the dawn and ask her why? A dreamer dreams she never dies.

Oasis

I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now, entertain us.

Nirvana

Ever seen a young girl growing old? Trying to make herself a bride.

The Stereophonics

Zephyr in the sky at night I wonder. Do my tears of mourning sink beneath the sun?

Madonna

I could go on, but we’d be here all day. And just to keep things challenging for you, I’ve not specified the song…

Kate Moss—the world’s coolest super-model, and the woman for whom the term heroin chic was coined. Those cheekbones! Those elbows sharp enough to injure a person!

The shift dress – see above for the woman who won the top prize for styling out appearing in public in what looks like your nightie.

Blur versus Oasis—yes, you were meant to choose a team and stick with it. I weighed up Damon Albarn’s gorgeousness versus Liam’s singing technique (I defy you to watch what he does with a microphone and not end up hot and bothered) and came down slightly in favour of Oasis.

Double denim. It was a thing. Match your jacket to your trousers for effortless style. Even better, do a Brittany and Justin and wear it together. No-one will laugh or think it’s naff. Oh no, they won’t.

Madonna. That coffee table book**. The Erotica album every young 90s woman bought and left lying around, even when singing along to Hanky-Panky felt problematic. The pointy-bra you wished you had the confidence to wear.

Artists Town is out now. You can buy it here (UK) and here (US).

*Many of us in the UK will argue Friends never went away; cf Comedy Central and Gold Friends groundhog day.

**Nowadays, she writes kids’ books. My 90s self rolls her eyes.

Ten Little Stars and Half-Marathon Recovery

This week, I’m…

Recovering from the Glasgow half-marathon

Ladies and gents, I did it. It wasn’t fast, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but yours truly stumbled across the finishing line two hours and fourteen minutes after setting off.

Glasgow’s half-marathon is popular as the course is flat (ish, not quite as my rose-tinted ten years ago experience recalled) and many people achieve personal bests. I was thankful for its flatness, but speed wasn’t coming into it. Glasgow joggers run the gamut of weather types in late September, and the day was no exception – overcast and cloudy at first, then bright sunshine, heavy rain half-way through and repeat.

The crowds turned out to cheer us on. Little kids high-fived as many runners as were willing (me, every time), witty signs read Good Luck Random Stranger! This is great practice for the zombie apocalypse, and someone who’d drawn the poo emoji and asked if anyone needed one yet…

Grateful thanks to my support crew—my husband, my mum and her partner Neil, who cheered me on at the start and the end.

Eating pasta

A race always means a reward meal—I opted for a protein, carb and fat overload in the form of Beef and Mac ‘n’ Cheese. You can buy this, but have you ever eaten a shop-bought mac ‘n’ cheese that made you sigh in contentment? No, I thought not. Most manufactured versions stint on the best bit, when the dish should be more a case of, would you like some pasta with your cheese?

To continue the celebration theme, I washed the lot down with a decent helping of pink Cava.

Writing short stories

Ten Little Stars by Emma BairdIn an attempt to the ‘game’ the Amazon system, I’m putting out a book of short stories a mere thirty days after publishing the last book…

I’m not sure what this achieves, except that I’ve seen it written about in ‘places’. My search history* is too vast to revisit anything unless I remember to do so an hour later, so heaven alone knows where I read that or if it’s even viable. But I have read it a few times so here goes!

Book marketing experts also bang on about the importance of the mailing list—*sighs*—and this book might end up being my freebie incentive. Sign up to my mailing list** and you too could be the proud owner of this free book, kind of thing.

I’ve served up a mix of vampire tales, modern love dilemmas and a bit of historical fiction. The book is available for pre-order here and here.

Making spicy stuff

This year’s chili crop will outlast us. Good people, we grew a lot of chilies this year as you can see. And I’ve already made the rookie mistake—gosh, aren’t they small, better put a few of them in YEOWCH—so it’s one or two per recipe max. Thankfully, they freeze. Our house is about to become Curry Central.

Dieting the cat

Cat emotional manipulation expertise 1. Emma determined to hold out on number of feeding intervals 0.

Freddie’s vet visit and vaccination beckons, and I’d like to escape the annual lecture on the size of him. He’s bordering on moggie obese. So, a few weeks of strict portion control, no treats and definitely no sly helpings of ham.

Yeah, good luck with that one.

 

*And VERY confusing for Google.

**Which will of course be 100 percent GDPR compliant.