This week I’m… #writerslife #amwriting

This week, I’ve:

Found out more about the Tudors… My friend bought me a couple of tickets for events at the annual Aye Write festival, a reading and writing festival that takes part in Glasgow every March/April. We’re both big Tudor fans; the fact that none of them were nice people and some of them downright dreadful doesn’t deter us.

portrait of Mary Queen of Scots

The first talk was by the historian and broadcaster, Kate Williams, discussing Elizabeth and Mary, the rival queens. Throughout her life, Mary was betrayed by those around her—from her half-brother, the lords at court, her husbands and finally Elizabeth herself. Kate Williams pointed out that Mary adopted many of the same statesmanship practices as Elizabeth and yet they didn’t work in Scotland for various reasons. The historian felt her mother’s sending her to France as a young girl was the first mistake, and if she had a time machine Kate Williams said she would have gone back to the 16th Century and stopped Mary going to England after her lords revolted against her.

Henry VIII

The second event focused on Henry VIII and the men around him, where writer Tracy Borman argued the king wasn’t “the one dimensional monster” he is often portrayed as. I’m not convinced, but her talk was fascinating and I loved her suggestion that Henry’s father was a long-lasting influence on his son. Fact fans—Henry VIII died on what would have been his father’s 90th birthday.

Friends, I’m not terrible cultured. I love book events because they are… er, short. Yes, and thought-provoking too but my focus isn’t required for too long and I have been to few book launches or events that I haven’t found worthwhile. I like hearing a writer read his or her own work as it adds something special to the experience. Some years ago, I heard the late author Andrea Levy read from The Long Song and it was spine-tingling.

Bird-watching in the Levengrove Park. So far, no-one’s told the weather spring is upon us. The daffodils have poked their heads out only to find themselves battered to bits by wind and rain. However, on Sunday the rain and winds took a well-deserved rest, and I took myself to the local park nearby for a bid-watching session organised by the local rangers. Since taking up bird-feeding last year, I’ve discovered a new-found appreciation for the birds of this fair island, whose numbers have nose-dived in recent years. As usual, humankind and its greedy acquisition of everything around us, is to blame.

Book sales

And finally, I’ve saved the best bit for last—selling books. In the last week, I’ve sold 107 copies of Ten Little Stars. Some qualifiers dear friends; the book is free. I paid £3 for a promotion deal on Kobo*. But I think any writer will tell you, the currency of readers often feels more precious than hard cash. I’m not that altruistic. My long-term aim is to be able to write full-time and make an income from it. I have four books for sale and only one of them has made me money so far. My years of not selling fiction don’t discourage me—visibility is my main problem—but the 107 sales in one week are gratifying. The Kobo dashboard tells me the bulk of them are in Canada (home of Kobo), but I’ve sold in 19 other countries too—from Latvia to Turkey, Australia to South Africa, the Philippines, the UK, Spain and others.

I’m one year older this week. Inside, my eighteen-year-old self survives though she objects to the wrinkles and grey hair, and sometimes pipes up, “Still, Emma? You keep doing this and have yet to get the message it doesn’t work?” To celebrate, Sandy and I went to Inverary for the night, travelling through snow-topped hills and past sun-danced lochs, ate sublime food at the Inverary Inn and drank wine. As birthdays go, it was hard to beat.

*Dear other writers—Kobo promotions and ads are three hundred times easier and more effective than Amazon ads.

Food in fiction #amwriting

When you love food as much as I do, it’s not surprising it turns up a lot in my writing. As a freelance copywriter, I pounce on jobs that have a food element to them—I’m currently writing a lot of copy about mushrooms for one client, and I’ve written and edited a few books about diet and lifestyle.

In my other blogging life (I’m sorry to say I two-time you, dear reader, with another blog), I create a lot of low-carb recipes for those who want to follow that way of eating. But where I get the most pleasure writing about food is in my fiction. There, I create the best versions of chocolate cake, cheese-topped pizzas, crisp, triple-friend chips, risottos and more. Call it food porn if you will, especially as I often write about the dishes I don’t eat that often what with the type 1 diabetes getting in the way.

Anyway, here are a few examples of the dishes I have featured. If I’ve done this properly, once you’ve finished reading, you’ll find yourself desperate for cake/pizza/risotto or whatever. Two of my favourite food writers are Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater, whose descriptions of often very simple dishes are mouth-watering. If I can write about food half as well as they do, I’ll be delighted.

Pizza and chips

From Highland Fling: When the pizza arrives, I’m not sure what to do. Should I eat it with my fingers or a knife and fork, or do we just dig in and rip it apart with our fingers? Ryan was funny about sharing food. He hated me taking chips from his plate and if I ever asked for a taste of anything he was eating, he would sigh, spear up a tiny bit of it with his fork and dump it on my plate. The pizza comes with chips wrapped in fake newspaper and a garlic dip.

You go first, Gaby,” Jack says, and I pretend lady-likeness. My mum once told me that when she was a teenager, girls weren’t meant to eat very much and especially not in front of men. Jack watches me spear a chip with my fork. He shakes his head and tips half of them onto my plate, dolloping spoonfuls of garlic dip on top and handing me the slice of pizza that is most generously covered in melted cheese. Oh heck. This is doing nothing for the campaign I wage where I persuade him Kirsty’s his one true love. I count up the chips he tipped on my plate and realise it’s not half the portion, more like two thirds.

He gave me two thirds of his chips, Katya. My best friend gets it straight away. Jeez, Gaby. He’s a keeper.

From Highland Fling: I grin at Ryan. Chips are our nemesis. He ordered them. I didn’t, therefore the chips are solely, exclusively Ryan’s. Last time I nicked chips off a man, he gave in with good grace. I move the bowl towards me and he yanks it back before remembering himself. It is pushed, begrudgingly, back. I adopt the same beaming smile and dig in, ignoring the tic in his jaw as I bite into and swallow chips number four, five, eight, ten, the last used as a stick to swirl through garlic mayonnaise, scoop up the biggest blob of it and plank it in my mouth.

Cake and chicken wings

From Highland Fling: Pink icing, the exact colour of the Blissful Beauty branding, holds together five layers of dark sponge, the lot covered in a ganache that sparkles with edible silver glitter. The chef has studded the top of the cake with stars made from white chocolate and piped a perfect BB in whipped cream on the top. We pick up the cake forks in unison, waiting for someone to fire the starter pistol.

Katya breaks the cake stand-off, using her tiny fork to scrape off a ginormous helping of cream and chocolate ganache. Mhari and I follow her example, and the three of us are silenced as smooth, rich cocoa flavoured with hazelnut, vanilla and what might be brandy hits the backs of our throats.

From High Heels and Pink Glitter:

Still sniggering to himself, Ryan headed back to the kitchen. There was a packet of coated chicken wings in the fridge that only needed heating up in the oven. He tipped the lot out onto a roasting tin and then decided one was not enough. He added the second packet to the tin and shoved them in the oven. He’d once been at the flat when Matt and Jamie embarked on a drunken discussion about the amazingness of chicken wings, and whether the ones you got from the supermarket could ever match those from KFC or Wetherspoon’s. Conclusion? No. The discussion had lasted roughly 15 minutes.

Seafood and fish

From Artists Town: I’m gonnae try out a new dish of the day today,” Mick said. “Would you two taste it for me?”

The dish he presented to them looked beautiful, reminding Daisy of the food you got in French restaurants. When she told him this, the grin he gave her split his face in two. The dish was seafood crepes, thin pancakes folded over a creamy sauce with prawns and scallops and garnished with watercress in a balsamic dressing.

Daisy took a generous forkful. It was as delicious as it looked, and she didn’t need any encouragement to take another mouthful.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Daniel blushed faintly and then shrugged. He grabbed two thick slices of the bread that had been made in the shop that very afternoon and buttered them thickly. He added in the cheese savoury filling (a blend of grated cheese and home-made coleslaw with chopped onion) and added in an extra spoonful of mayonnaise and some sliced tomatoes. The poor girl |looked so thin after all.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Years ago, when Cate lived in London fish and chips had been a weekly treat on a Friday night. Her cabbie father would pick them up for the family at the end of his shift, if he wasn’t working too late.

She recalled those happy Fridays. “Catey gal I got fish and chips!” he would chirp as he came in. By that time, the minutes they had sat in a cab added up to ten or 15, and they were soggy. Cate never minded. She and her mother received those newspaper bags of sodden fish and chips gratefully. As an only child, Cate had been a daddy’s girl and that smell – fried fish and potatoes – reminded her strongly of her father and Friday nights.

She remembered vinegar-saturated batter and chips. Warm and steaming in the newspaper, she loved the starchiness of the batter and the taste of potatoes off set with tongue-tingling acidity. Even the mushy peas were a welcome addition to post-war rations lack of variety. With a liberal helping of salt and malt vinegar they made the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips.

Characters and what they look like #amwriting #Scottishromance

I don’t know what my characters look like. That sounds daft, I know, but my idea of them is vague. Rough height and the space they take up is there, but the rest is hazy. Eye colour, hair texture, shape of face and all those other physical characteristics refuse to make themselves known.

It was interesting, therefore, when a graphic designer created a cover for me for Highland Fling. I described the male love interest as resembling Jamie Fraser, aka Sam Heughan, of Outlander fame, but I still didn’t know what he looked like. And as for my protagonist, I knew her heart and head but little else.

cover picture of Highland FlingAs you can see from the cover, Enni Tuomisalo of Yummy Book Covers fleshed them out for me. If you read Enni’s blogs on cover design, she explains the ‘rules’ of chick lit design thoroughly. Illustration is most commonly used, as photographs unless in the hands of an arty designer will scream self-published (though props often work well). But another rule is that faces aren’t shown—unless the book is turned into a successful film or series and then the cover is re-released with the actors’ faces in place.

‘No face’ rule

Enni has drawn my heroine with her back to us—a common convention in chick lit because of the ‘no face’ rule. Why is this rule in place? The argument is that romance readers want to imagine the main character themselves. Seeing their face imposes someone else’s interpretation of the character. And if you’re writing chick lit in first person as I tend to do, then I want my readers to be able to imagine themselves as my main characters. Easier if they don’t have a picture of what her face looks like.

And the male character? Again, it’s common not to show his face. Years ago, I remember watching the TV adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s Riders book and being disappointed with the actor who played Rupert Campbell-Black as he looked nothing like I’d imagined. Many of the books that do choose photos for front covers use ripped torsos with the head cut off—perhaps for that reason. Put your own blond, dark-haired, red-head interpretation on top*.

Enni’s cover shows a rough approximation of my main characters and I’m delighted to find out what he looks like. That isn’t contradicting all I’ve just said because as an illustration and one in the background, he’s still vague enough for people to let their imaginations run free.

Highland Fling is due out summer 2019. To keep up to date with launches and giveaways, please consider joining my mailing list – pinkglitterpubs@gmail.com. Thanks!

*One thing I’m conscious of here is the lack of diversity on covers. White men and women—and usually young and very glamorous ones—dominate, which must alienate an awful lot of people.