A Wee Trip to Berlin!

As you’ll know, the Best from the East didn’t just hit Great Britain. It did a wee European tour too, stopping to blow icy kisses wherever it went.

Snow in Barcelona—I ask you!

We travelled to Berlin last Sunday (the 25th). #StormEmma* didn’t make an appearance, but the temperature barely rose above minus two. The storm kept away, but it meant our four-night break turned into six. Aside from industrial quantities of snow, nothing was getting into the UK’s air space.

Ah well. Enforced holidays have something to be said for them, once you’ve got past the ‘Argh, who will look after my poor frozen cat?’ and ‘Didn’t budget for this—wow, the pound goes far these days, doesn’t it?’**

I’ve been to Berlin before. There’s a tonne of things to do, especially if you’re museum-minded and you find history fascinating. This time, we did:

The Spy Museum. Berlin’s an obvious place to plant a spy museum, and this place details the history of spying. James Bond bears as much resemblance to a real spy as… well, me. But he’s maybe the best-known fictional one, so the museum pays him homage too.

The Topography of Terror, which is sited on the grounds of the building that housed the Secret State Police Office, the leadership of the SS and the Reich Security Main Office. Chilling.

The German History Museum. I tried and failed to imagine the collective worth of the artefacts in this museum which documents some 2,000 years of German history. If you go to this one, allow more time than we did… (two hours).

Bunker toured. The Underworlds Association runs underground tours, and this one explores an old bunker used by the population as an air raid shelter during the Second World War.

Found out about the Stolpersteine. Outside our hotel, we spotted these. Stolpersteine are part of a project that has been ongoing since 1992. The German artist Gunter Demnig designed it as a tribute to Europe’s holocaust victims.

They mark the last known sight where a Jewish person lived or worked voluntarily, and they are in 22 countries in Europe including Germany. They also include tributes to others murdered by the Nazis, such as Roma and Sinti people, gays and people with mental or physical disabilities, and political opponents.

Look them up on Wikipedia as they are fascinating. And controversial. Some cities have refused them. They see stones on the ground that people could walk over oblivious as disrespectful.

Took ourselves off to the Harrods of the East—KaDaWe, Berlin’s biggest department store and the second largest in Europe. My wee stock of euros would be viewed disdainfully in there, but the food department is lust-worthy. Wander those stalls with your tongue hanging out. There’s a champagne bar, an oyster bar, seafood, currywurst and Vietnamese cooking stalls and more chocolate than I’ve seen in one place for a while.


German food is well suited to the cold. If you’re not a fan of pork and potatoes, the native cuisine’s not for you. My husband adores it. Sausages, pork knuckle and a lot of great beer. You could say he’s a male cliché when it comes to eating. He wouldn’t argue.

For those not so keen on the Pig and its multiple products, Vietnamese restaurants are everywhere. You don’t have to wander far for a kebab in Berlin either. The Turks flooded into Germany post World War Two and the Germanised version of the kebab is a thing quite different from what you might have eaten in the UK. Lighter and fresher I reckon.

Berlin’s also jumped onto the vegan bandwagon. (I imagine its founding fathers spin in their graves at that.) If you’re looking for veggie and vegan options, you need not go far. This isn’t a vegan dish (spot the goat’s cheese) but I found it in a restaurant serving up an equal number of meat, vegetarian and vegan choices.

I wish Mama Nature had made me like beer. Had she tapped me with the hops-lovin’ wand, I’d have been happy as a pig in the proverbial. But I discovered a German sparkling wine I loved. You could even buy this stuff from vending machines in hotels.


On day four, we decamped from our hotel. The Thursday flight back to the UK was cancelled, and we needed somewhere cheap to stay. We went deep east, an area surrounded by huge tower blocks and little in the way of amenities even now.

On the theme of making your euros go as far as possible, we walked everywhere, skipped one meal a day and ate out in kebab shops.

Proof that a lot of walking was done (left). I had to take the picture to share with my family WhatsApp group. What are WhatsApp groups for, after all, but petty point-scoring?!

We also ventured into an old-school pub that’s easy to imagine being there when the divide existed. I don’t think it has changed since then. You could even smoke there if you wanted. It’s a long time since I’ve been in a public space where folks puff away. But a pint and a wee bottle of afore-mentioned German fizz cost five euros. We choked and bore it.

There are plenty of free things to do in Berlin. For a start, signs posts are dotted everywhere telling the history of a place.

Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial is free too. I’d been before, but we visited again to pay our respects. Particularly moving are the displays that feature individual families from different countries. You learn the before stories, how they lived and who they were.

This isn’t an extensive exhibit which perhaps is controversial. The installation outside is obscure, but then surely art’s point is to make you think?

The House of the Wannsee Conference is free too. It’s a trek, as you need to get a train out to Wannsee and then it’s a two-and-half kilometre walk from the station. It’s worth it, though. Transpose the beauty and tranquillity of the place with the evil of what was planned there.

Another freebie is the Willi Brandt museum, which offers a fascinating insight into arguably German’s most famous post-war politician.



*Kind of weirdly flattered such a huge weather event was in my name. Wrong, I know.

**It does NOT. The pound-euro exchange rate is terrible.






One Month, No Wine! (Part 2)

I kissed abstinence good-bye (get behind me, Satan!) mid-February. The six weeks were okay, but Lordy having wine in your life is three hundred times better.

The alcohol-free proponents promise all kinds of benefits, from better sleep to enhanced concentration. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t expected… well, nothing short of a MIRACLE, really.

Productivity. I write fiction when I’m under the influence. It often feels as if the booze allows creativity to surface. I have struggled to write so far this year, and that makes me sad. 😦 Long-term, I know I’m kidding myself if I think alcohol’s necessary for writing. Maybe I just hit a blank after an exceptionally busy writing streak last year.

Skin. I took pictures of my face every week to see if I could spot any difference. Again, for this one I expected to emerge from my alcohol-free cocoon with the skin of a… twenty-year-old. Or I would be demanding my money back. I didn’t notice any discernible difference. It did confirm, though, that I am a rotten photographer, and I’m exceptionally rubbish at selfie-taking.

Sleep. Ah, now that one I will give you. Oh, the sleeping I did in January! It was blissfully lovely. I’ve not yet managed my husband’s enviable fall-asleep speeds (roughly two minutes, whether he’s been drinking or not), but I do get to sleep more quickly and stay there. Bye-bye 3am wakefulness!

Weight loss. I didn’t weigh myself, but I did measure my waist before and after. Nada. It stayed the same. Big, fat HUH.

Moods. That, I grant you too. The mood elevator Emma Baird rides on every day glided up and down a few floors most days, instead of pinging to the top and performing sudden stomach through the mouth plunges to the bottom.

Money saving. Hibernation meant I didn’t spend money on nights out, or in. I did, however, put a fair bit of money behind the till at Holland & Barret stocking up on (snake oil) supplements as part of an overall health kick. I also bought a LOT of face creams.

New-found liking for chocolate. Argh, where did that come from?? Actually, it’s well documented. People who give up drink often turn to the sweet stuff instead. That’s why wine gums were invented, after all! Chocolate and a diabetic don’t make happy companions, especially one who favours the low-carb approach, so I’ll need to give my new-found friends the heave-ho asap.

#Amwriting Serials – The Alternative Answer

Indie authors know that writing serials are the way to capture a reader’s heart and hook them in. If they love your characters, they want to keep reading about them, right?

Most of the big names in both indie and traditional publishing know serials are essential for read-through, where the reader buys one book and then buys the others an author has written. It helps with e-books especially, as it bolsters earlier books and keeps them ‘fresh’ in rankings.

Crime fiction makes this process slightly easier, as you can use recurring characters – the crime solver – and slowly develop their character through the series, but still write a new story every time that focuses on one crime and how it is solved.

What if you feel a series is beyond you? Can stand-alone novels work as well to hook readers? One way of doing it is to give the bit part characters in the first book a starring role in another one. Your reader already knows your bit-parters, you’ve got that character’s backstory already, and you don’t need to worry about continuing a narrative arc over a series.

Marion Keyes has used this model for some of her fabulous books. Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, Angles, Anybody Out There, The Mystery of Mercy Close and Mammy Walsh’s A to Z of the Walsh Family are all separate and yet connected books about sisters (and their mother) and their different problems and how they solve them.

The ‘old’ reader knows a little bit about each sister from previous books and remembers; the new reader finds warm, likeable characters and relatable situations, and wants to read more.

I find plot structure and the narrative arc difficult enough as it is, which is why I don’t want to write a series. But the characters I’ve previously written about often scream for attention. I finished a book recently about a sixteen-year-old girl and her coming of age in a small Scottish town. I fell in love with the male character I wrote and decided he deserved his own story.

Heroine number one found her feet in the story, transitioning from one phase of her life to the next. The guy in my book didn’t, so I felt it was time for him to do some growing up all of his own. The second book was a breeze to write.

I’m now looking at the bit characters in the second book to find my next leading lady/gent. There’s Dee, a 30-something who might be interesting to look at twenty years later, or Lillian who’s loves interfering in other people’s lives as a way of distracting herself from her own issues. Or what about a real challenge – a transgender guy struggling to shake off the shackles of a hyper-masculine, working-class background?

The great thing about this model is that always lends itself to future stories. And you can indulge yourself by allowing readers to catch-up with previous protagonists and antagonists. You can undo the last happy ending, for example, or you can make sure an antagonist gets his or her just desserts at a later stage.

The possibilities are endless!



The Girl Who Swapped – In An E-Book Store Near You!

The Girl Who Swapped

Fancy a fizzy, frothy, flirty read? The Girl Who Swapped is now available on Kobo, Playster, Barnes & Noble, Tolino, iBooks and Amazon. (And others. I lost count.)

The clever people at Draft2Digital give you a universal book link (UBL, geddit?) that you can customise. I made mine as easy as I could – books2read.com/tgws

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to wake up in a different body and country, The Girl Who Swapped will fill you in. There’s laughter, life lessons and a lot of champagne-fuelled flirting along the way.


One Month, No Wine!

Emma Baird

A writer friend and I signed up for the One Year No Beer challenge in January. Before you think us super-saintly, I’m duty-bound to point out that One Year No Beer offers different alcohol-free options – and most of them don’t last twelve months.

Its main one is the three months no alcohol (which doesn’t scan half as well as one year no beer) as well as a yearly version and the more achievable 28 days programme. My brave friend opted for three months; I picked the one-month version.

Writing is notorious for attracting its share of hard drinkers. Most people can name a bloke, but female imbibers include Patricia Highsmith, Jean Rhys, Dorothy Parker and Elizabeth Bishop. French novelist and filmmaker Marguerite Duras wrote about being a real writer and a real alcoholic. She’d drink Cognac in the morning and then a glass of wine every hour, and she wrote afterwards, astonishing herself by how much she managed to write.

Would going teetotal for a while help with our productivity, my friend and I wondered? If you spend your evenings binge-watching Netflix (as we’ve been doing) and steering clear of Prosecco’s siren call, will that make us more creative, fingers moving over keyboards in double quick time? And concentration is supposed to get better too when you aren’t fighting the after-effects of toxins.

I’ve done the odd bit of writing accompanied by a glass of wine. It often helps with blocks. I’ve reached this bit of a book, and I’m stuck. The wine seems to fire off creative sparks. Writing without it has shown that I imagine things. The process isn’t just thanks to alcohol. As the marvellous Lee Childs once put it, truckers don’t get trucker block, do they? Stick yourself in front of a blank page and just BLEEDIN’ write.

Anyway, to keep my friend company I’ve extended my challenge to six weeks. I’ll tot up my word count then and let you know.


PS – I sincerely promise not to be evangelical and annoying about this. No prude like the reformed rake, as the saying goes. The same often applies to folks who give up smoking and/or drinking. I love wine. Just sayin’.

The Discreet Charm of Mary Maxwell-Hume

https://emmabaird.comNew in print is The Discreet Charm of Mary Maxwell-Hume by Gordon Lawrie.

Here’s the blurb – Mary Maxwell-Hume is an enigma. She earns a living as a piano teacher but also belongs to an obscure order of nuns. Their rules appear curious: although the sisters wear red habits occasionally, the order has a peculiar dress code. Nuns wear ‘only as much as is necessary to preserve due modesty’, plus liberal doses of Chanel no.5 perfume.

There’s the faintest hint that Mary might be a bit of a hustler, but she uses her sensual powers in such a way that nobody minds – except for the odious Theodore Plews of Lambert’s Auction House in Edinburgh. Anyway, who would dare suggest that a woman of God might not be all she seems?

Eventually, she engages a young police constable as her faithful assistant. Read on to see what ensues…

The book is published by Comely Bank Publishing, and you can buy directly from CBP here. There’s a limited time offer, where you can also get Gordon’s first book, Four Old Geezers and a Valkyrie for £8.99 (including postage). If you want the e-book, the storefront has links to e.mobi (for Kindles) and e.pub versions (for every other e-reader).