Artists Town – free book promotion

Nostalgic for the 90s, when Kate Moss reigned supreme, the mobile phone was something only self-important eejits owned, and most of the world did not use the internet?

Here’s where I come in…

Artists Town, my coming-of-age novel, is currently part of a free book promotion at Hello Books. Here’s the blurb…

First love—it will change your life for ever…

Daisy has been dragged along on a family holiday against her will. Still, the holiday has its compensations. Katrina, the resident ‘cool’ girl who takes Daisy under her wing, and her gorgeous, older cousin who sends smouldering looks in Daisy’s direction.

Is this holiday about to change her life for the better?

The escape from London has affected Daisy’s dad. He has madcap schemes in mind for how he’s going to invest in the town’s small businesses and improve them. But where is all the money for this coming from?

Daisy finds love, a close friendship and freedom in her new life but the secrets that lie buried there are about to surface, and their revelation will be explosive and life-changing.

Set in the early 1990s, Artists Town is a heart-warming coming of age tale that explores friendship, first love, learning to be cool and navigating life’s challenges. Featuring relatable, engaging characters and situations, the story will suit anyone who remembers growing up in the 1990s in the days before mobile phones and social media, those with a fondness for small-town life and those who like love stories with a twist.

Here’s what the reviews said:

“This is such a great story, full of real characters who I could really picture in my head, I felt like I knew all these people by the end if the book, and I’m desperate to know ‘what happened next’, which I don’t get too often.”

“Took me only 3 nights to start & finish this book. I absolutely loved it. Took me back to my teens, it was funny, uplifting, and also very sad.”

“YA Fiction at its finest and COMPULSORY for diabetic teens’ parents.”

You can get the book here:

And here’s the link for Hello Books if you would like to sign up for free e-books in other genres:


Boats, book groups and brilliant days out

Last weekend, the coronation took place in the UK, but there was only one queen as far as the Weegie Beegies were concerned…

(She’s even got her crown on, as you can see in the picture above.)

The Weegie Beegies is the jokey name for the book group I have belonged to for the past twenty years. The name, for those of you unfamiliar with Scottish patter, comes from the informal term for a Glaswegian—weegie—and beegie plays on the book group initials.

Last year, discussions were held about a celebration event marking the 20-year anniversary, and a boat/barge trip was mooted, but did not happen for various reasons.

Navvies Barge

We finally got round to it on 6 May, the date close to one member’s birthday, and what a memorable afternoon it was. If you’re looking for something different to do in Glasgow, I can’t recommend a trip on the Navvies’ Barge highly enough.

The canal boat is located on the Glasgow section of the Forth and Clyde Canal and offers boat trips for up to 12 people (our party consisted of eight) and involves a peaceful two and a half hour meander along the canal.

The 35-mile long Forth and Clyde Canal is a fascinating piece of Scottish history. It crosses central Scotland from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde, and opened in 1790, the first canal in Scotland and the largest engineering project at the time.

Transporting good and passengers

It allowed seagoing vessels to travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow and facilitated the transport of goods and passengers across the country. When the railways and roads came in, its use declined and it was closed to traffic in the 1960s, reopening in 2001 thanks to funding from the Millennium Commission and is now managed by Scottish Canals.

The name of the boat is in tribute to the navvies—the manual workers who undertook the brutal work of building canals and railways and died in their thousands because railway engineers like Brunel resisted any efforts to provide workers with adequate sanitation or safe working conditions.

Profits generated from Navvies’ Barge are reinvested or used to support charitable causes and community engagement with the barge and the canal.

The bespoke book-themed cake was made by the very talented daughter of one of our group.

We brought our own food and booze. It rained for first half of the journey and the sun came out for the second, allowing us all to sit out on the back.

Reader, a lot of Prosecco was consumed. There was a sing-along too. Those Gen Zs jogging or dog-walking on the tow paths might have been tempted to film us and upload the result onto TikTok, captioning the clip Why Middle-Aged Women Should Not Be Allowed Within a Mile of Wine…

All in all, it was a brilliant afternoon out.

PS – if I’ve tickled your tastebuds for Scottish life, I have a series of romcoms set in the Scottish Highlands and available on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes and Noble et al…

Bestsellers, experiments and print book satisfaction

There is something very satisfying about owning a physical copy of your own book—a LOOK WHAT I DID moment that never comes from staring at a thumbnail of the cover on a screen.

Draft2Digital recently launched a super-easy and free print service for indie authors, so I’ve created paperbacks for the remainder of the Highland Books series, which had previously only been available in e-book form, and two of them were delivered this week.

Although the proof copies I ordered are not as pretty as the custom-made ones I have for Highland Fling and Highland Heart, the interior I formatted using Atticus software is just as good, if not better.

Because we don’t have the purchasing power of big publishers or the economies of scale, indie authors like me can’t sell paperbacks cheaply, so our print novels must be priced in the region of £12-£15, if not more, which is why most of our sales are e-books (95 per cent for me in April so far, which is about standard).

But when one kindly soul emailed me the other week asking whether there were print versions of the other Highland Books because she had enjoyed the first three so much, that spurred me on.

I live for those comments…

I still need to create and order copies of two of my other Highland Books, so that I can add them to my vanity book shelf, which is pictured below.

What I’ve read recently

As I raced through two books that I took out of the library this week, I’ll plug them here: Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, and Rose Tremain’s Lily.

The first book’s premise was intriguing—a historical fantasy about a man who has been alive for centuries—and I borrowed the second because I remembered how much I enjoyed Restoration by the same author.

Reading is a personal and subjective experience, but both books have sold plenty of copies, so what makes them so popular?

I’m about to embark on rewriting one of my books with the lofty goal of trying to create a best-seller (more on that later), so I’m analysing everything I read right now, trying to figure out what makes it resonate with so many people.

(This, incidentally, doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of reading.)

Here are my thoughts on How to Stop Time and Lily:

  • They are page-turners (both professional and Amazon reviewers agree on this). Short chapters, with a hook at the end of each and plenty of tension (i.e. a sense of something bad about to happen).
  • They are immersive—on the pages, the worlds of Elizabethan London (How to Stop Time) and Victorian London (Lily) come to life.
  • Because the main characters evoke our sympathies, we’re rooting* for them to find happiness/succeed.
  • The character’s actions make us wonder what we would do in similar situations.

*For my Australian readers, I know this word has a different meaning in your country… 😉

What I’ve watched (spoilers ahead!)

We came to The Last of Us a bit later than the rest of Western Civilisation, but once there, it took us less than a week to binge through the nine episodes, me occasionally with my fingers in ears, a habit that dates back to when I was a child and the Daleks appeared on Doctor Who.

Again, I’ve been attempting to analyse what made the series so popular:

  • Pedro Pascale. (I’ll leave that there… feel free to disagree and I’ll fight you in the comments).
  • The character arcs, particularly Joel’s, who goes from hardened, cynical mercenary to someone who will fight tooth and nail for Ellie, and Bill’s, who moves from survivalist loner to compassionate carer in episode three.
  • Ellie’s kick-assed-ness.
  • An ensemble cast—it keeps things interesting by flitting between a variety of characters and their backstories.
  • The tension is there in bucketloads because you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time waiting for something horrible to happen.
  • The focus on humanity and their adaptability to the reality in which they find themselves, rather than the infected, prompts the viewer to ask themselves, “What would I do under those circumstances?”
  • Re the above bullet—the ending. Was Joel right to save Ellie at the expense of humanity? And would Ellie have been able to provide the cure anyway…?
  • And finally, the giraffes. Just because.
Photo by Pixabay on

The How to Write a Bestseller Experiment

Where to go from here… I’m in the middle of an existential writing crisis.

I muddle along, writing fiction that doesn’t sell enough to recoup the money I spend on covers, critiques, proofreading, etcetera.

There has been a lot of talk about Substack and its benefits for writers, with famous names (Salman Rushdie) publishing novels on there, not as famous names serialising their books and becoming success stories (Elle Griffin) while others treat audiences to their amazing insights and wisdom (Dominic Cummings*).

[*That was sarcasm, by the way.]

I’ve been blogging on and off for 12 years now and have never really got the hang of what to write about/how to position this blog. If I was starting now, I would do things very differently.

Substack is supposed to make it easier for you to monetise your content, providing you can persuade enough people that is worth paying for. That’s a big ‘if’, though.

As a writer of only middling success, I don’t want to publish a novel on there but I came up with the idea of a regular newsletter—the How to Write a Bestseller Experiment, where I embark on a mission to produce one and document what I do.

It would focus on craft—turning the first draft of a book I’ve already written in a popular genre (crime/thriller) into something that is page-turning, gripping and enjoyable—and building a ‘platform’.

I know, horrible, horrible word but it does seem as if you make life easier for yourself if you build anticipation and then launch your book, rather than the other way around, as every celebrity who gets a book deal can tell you.

I’m very much a LOOK, THE SHINY NEW! type of person, forever jumping on bandwagons, convinced the next big thing will work for me. Only for it not to.

But to use the old cliché, it is better to try and fail than not to try at all.

Wish me luck! And if anyone reading this is on Substack, let me know in the comments and tell me about your experiences there. Thank you!

Location, location, location

Some years back, I went the book launch of Stonemouth, written by the late (and extremely great) Iain Banks, where he admitted he made up the town where the novel is situated because he despised doing research.

That little titbit lodged in my subconscious, as I did the same a few years later when I wrote Artists Town and the Highland Books.

If you create a fictional town or village, there’s no need to worry about confusing the site of the town hall with the derelict church or placing two streets close together for narrative purposes (and risking a chorus of criticism in the reviews from the town/village’s real inhabitants).

Nor need you fret about people from those places presuming you’ve used them somewhere in the novel and portrayed them in an unfavourable light. The author Brooke Magnanti at another book event I attended stated that she made up the setting for her crime thriller, The Turning Tide, so as not to offend her Lochaber neighbours.

Artists Town, a coming-of-age tale set in a small Scottish town, was inspired by Kirkcudbright, the small Scottish town where I spent my formative years.

Picture of Emma Baird sitting next to a street sign for Baird Way in Kirkcudbright
Once upon a time, Kirkcudbright had a creamery. When it was demolished, the council built social housing in its place, and named one of the streets, Baird Street, in honour of one of the creamery’s founders, my grandfather.

Let me let you into the secret of Kirkcudbright’s pronunciation. Those of us born in this tiny town nestled far from the madding crowds in the south-west of Scotland grew up chortling whenever the rare occasion of it meriting a mention on the national news arose and presenters mispronounced it Cur-cud-bright, when it’s—clearly—Cur-coo-bree.

Other Scottish place name minefields include Milngavie, pronounced Mull-guy, Strathaven, pronounced Stray-ven and Bearsden, pronounced Brendan.

(Kidding, Bearsden is pronounced exactly as it is written.)

Like Brooke Magnanti, I didn’t want to offend the locals, so I changed the name Kirkcudbright in the book to Kirkinwall. But because Kirkcudbright is one of the few places in the UK with a castle in the midst of it, any locals reading it will recognise the location straight away.

 © Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Mackies Fish and Chips plays a key role in Artists Town, and I based the establishment loosely on a sadly no-longer there chippie, Polar Bites, which had an excellent (and well deserved) reputation for its take on the UK’s favourite dish.

Since I couldn’t find a picture of the now defunct Polar Bites, I’ve treated you instead to a drool-worthy pic…

The Highland books, a series of romantic comedies/feel-good escapist novels, are set in the imaginary village of Lochalshie, which is a loose mix of Arrochar in Argyll and Bute, and Lochcarron in Wester Ross.

Lochcarron © Copyright Toby Speight and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Lochside Welcome, the local pub/hotel, is an important setting in the books and it resembles the Village Inn in Arrochar, appearance-wise, anyway. As far as I’m aware, it’s never played hosted the wedding of a reality TV star—also made-up—but given that she’s a member of a family who’ve been on MTV for many years and a ‘self-made’ billionaire whose fortune comes from a make-up and skincare company, there is no prize for guessing who she’s modelled on.

© Copyright Jim Barton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Book cover for Highland Wedding by Emma Baird
What the Village Inn looks like in my books.

When you set your novels in bigger towns and cities, it´s okay to go with the real version, and I´ve used Glasgow, London, Norwich and even Great Yarmouth in my books, but small town settings will always be my preferred choice because it´s much easier to create a sense of community, which is why books and TV series set in smaller places appeal to so many people.

You can buy Artists Town and the Highland Books directly from the Pink Glitter Publishing store here.

The robots are coming for our jobs…

A robot writing
A robot writing – an AI-generated image

Recently, there has been a lot of talk on the internet regarding AI and its usage in the creative professions, including fears that robots will take over the fun stuff, concerns that students will use it to cheat by creating essays, worries about plagiarism, the ethics of attribution, and more.

The founding editor of Clarkesworld sci-fi magazine this week reported a huge spike in the submission of AI-written short stories. The magazine received more than 500 submissions flagged for plagiarism in the first 20 days of February, alone, when typically it receives fewer than 30 such submissions a month.

The rise coincides with the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022.

‘Easy money using ChatGPT’

As a result, Clarkesworld has closed its short story submissions. The magazine typically pays 12 cents per word, and Neil Clarke, the magazine’s editor has attributed the problem to people outside the SF/F community driven by “side hustle experts” making claims of easy money using ChatGPT.

I signed up for the ChatGPT research release because a writers’ forum I belong to mentioned its uses as a research tool, with the caveats that it’s not fool-proof, and its knowledge cut-off is September 2021.

Can ChatGPT replace human writers, I asked, and this was the reply:

As an AI language model, I am capable of generating text on a wide variety of topics, and I can produce content that is grammatically correct and coherent. However, while I can create text that mimics human writing to a certain extent, I cannot completely replace human writers.

Human writers bring their unique perspectives, experiences, and creativity to their writing, and they are capable of producing content that is emotionally resonant, thought-provoking, and insightful in ways that AI language models like myself cannot replicate. Human writers also have the ability to adapt their writing to different audiences and contexts, to inject humor, irony, and other forms of figurative language, and to use language in ways that are not strictly logical or predictable.

The first person pronoun use is already an attempt to ‘humanise’ and make the tool less threatening, which feels inappropriate. I fed that back to the system and received a polite reply, thanking me for bringing the matter to its attention, apologising for any confusion, and that it was more appropriate to use third person pronouns (the inanimate ‘it’) when referring to “AI language models like myself”.

The second paragraph of the answer used the first person pronouns throughout. Maybe I should have made that clearer—don’t use first person pronouns when interacting with me—but it felt a bit… rude, proving the humanising point.

Awe-inspiring poetry (or not)

In the interests of research*, I also tried a tool for generating poetry. It isn’t particularly sophisticated as the example generated when I asked for a haiku for my husband telling him I love him shows.

Love that grows so deep
Your touch so tender and true
Forever I love you

The greetings card industry might welcome it; the various poetry blogs I follow have nothing to fear (yet).

The observant among you may have noticed that WordPress now offers AI-generated paragraphs and art. The picture at the top of this blog is one example, as is the one below because I couldn’t resist asking for an image of a cat reading.

The image below that is what happened when I asked for a Vector image of a handsome red-headed man wearing a kilt. I leave it up to you to decide whether the picture it produced fulfils that brief…

A hyper realistic picture of a cat reading a book
A hyper realistic picture of a cat reading a book
A Vector image of a handsome, red-haired man wearing a kilt
A Vector image of a handsome, red-haired man wearing a kilt

For some weeks now I’ve been using Quillbot, a paraphrasing tool, to copy edit my fiction. I used it to rewrite the first paragraph at the top of this blog, and you can see that I rejected some of the suggestions:

While I have the system set to British English, it still generates Americanisms, such as suggesting I use ‘line’ rather than queue or describing someone as a basketball fan, when I said the character was a Hoops fan meaning Celtic FC, and the trunk of a car, rather than the boot.

Would I use Quillbot to replace a human copy-editor/proofreader? No. But I rewrite sentences myself now, guessing that Quillbot will reorder them, and the thesaurus element is a God-send.

AI for fiction research

As mentioned, the idea of using ChatGPT to carry out research related to my fiction appealed, so the first question I asked was, “how can you tell if someone has shot themselves or been murdered?” relating to a detective novel I’m currently writing.

The 300-word reply contained enough detail for my scene, where the amateur detective’s suspicions that his nephew did not take his own life are proved correct, to sound ‘authentic’, though an actual police officer/forensics expert might not agree.

It’s a vastly-sped-up version of using search engines and trawling through the results.

Writers worry about where all this is heading, myself included. There are so many potential pitfalls, ones I’m aware of, others I don’t have the imagination or intellect to come up with. ChatGPT says it can be used to generate drafts, as the final paragraph of the answer the AI tool gave me when I asked if it could replace human writers:

That being said, I can certainly be a helpful tool for writers and content creators, and I can be used to generate ideas, provide inspiration, or even generate drafts that can be refined and polished by human writers. Ultimately, I believe that the most effective approach to writing involves a collaboration between humans and AI, where the strengths of both are leveraged to create the best possible content.

There are writers out there who can produce genre fiction incredibly quickly–there’s the odd writer who can write a first draft of a novel in a few weeks–whereas ChatGPT could do it in minutes.

Does that mean that people writing popular crime, romance, thriller fiction with its clear, recognisable tropes could be out of a job, or will they still make as much money refining or editing the AI draft?

Will they still enjoy the endeavour as much? Will people want to read these books? There are already books on Amazon marked as co-created with AI.

Change is a’comin’

Whether we like it or not, the changes are here already and the only thing threatening them is potential power outtages in the future where people decide their electricity rations are best used for heating/cooking/lighting (electricity rationing will and has to happen if we are to stand any chance of passing the world on to future generations) rather than powering up AI systems.

When I set out to write this, part of me was tempted to use ChatGPT and/or WordPress’s AI paragraphs generator to come up with almost all of the blog, as the topic’s so vast and complex. I knew I would ramble, I wouldn’t come to any definite conclusions, offer stunning insights or do anything other than state the bleedin’ obvious.

The blog has taken me almost four hours to write, and a lot of mulling over in between.

But the creative drive’s a powerful one. There are so many of us who will always want to write (even vapid, self-indulgent and not particularly interesting blogs like this one), draw, paint, make music, act, sculpt, screen-write and much more, and hopefully, all fingers and toes crossed, human creative endeavours will always find an audience.

*also known as procrastination, a skill in which I excel.

Food in books

The Bakewell tart was made by my own fair hand for a party. Retro dishes can be very popular…

My latest novel, Baked with Love, is now available for pre-order. The book features a fictionalised version of a well-known and loved baking show, so there are a lot of descriptions of cakes in it.

In general, there are a lot of descriptions of all kinds of foods in all my books, reflecting my other passions in life, cooking and eating. If I were any good at food styling and photography and filming, I’d run a food blog for sure. I toyed with the idea at one point and came up with the snappy (not) title, Emma Cooks the Books! along with fancy-schmancy graphics too, see above.

Anyway, as that did not happen (food blogs and vlogs look like a tonne of work – and many of them take place in immaculate kitchens, using state-of-the-art equipment that seems as if it’s being used for the first time), I’ve rounded up a collection of foodie pics and quotes from my books…

Highland Fling by Emma Baird book cover
Highland Fling – a romcom set in the Scottish Highlands.
High Heels and Pink Glitter cover by Emma Baird
High Heels and Pink Glitter – a chick lit novel available to read for free on Wattpad. I would love to claim credit for this beautiful chocolate cake, but my sister made it…
Highland Wedding by Emma Baird book cover
Highland Wedding – a romcom set in the Scottish Highlands.
A Leap of Faith by Emma Baird book cover
A Leap of Faith – a Covid-19 lockdown love story.
Beautiful Fighters by Emma Baird book cover
Beautiful Fighters – a NA vampire novel.
Beautiful Biters by Emma Baird book cover
Beautiful Biters – a NA vampire story. I made the carrot cake and decorated it, using my mum’s tried and tested fork method (lines across and then down).
Highland Chances – a light-hearted, feel-good book set in the Scottish Highlands.

Sally Wainwright – we are not worthy…

What I’m watching (no spoilers!)

Well… the end of Happy Valley! What did you think?

The series writer Sally Wainwright receives a lot of well-deserved praise for her depiction of strong female characters, her ability to create conflict and ramp up tension and her characterisation and dialogue (“I might have singed one of your crochet blankets”).

I would be grateful for teeny-tiny percentage of her writing talent.

Oh, and did you know that George Costigan (Happy Valley’s Nev Gallagher) and Siobhan Finneran (Clare Cartwright) have acted together before? In a certain 80s comedy-drama also set in the north.

Click the button below if you want to see the NSFW clip.

What version of WordPress do you use?

Do you use the premium or business versions of WordPress, and what are the benefits and drawbacks?

Many of you who are reading this are also bloggers. I use WordPress’s bog-standard free version because it meets the majority of my needs, however I pay an annual price for the domain name.

WordPress for business is expensive—£240 per year (about $292)—for a lot of features I won’t use or need, though signing up for some of the premium services would also mean that the adverts and WordPress branding would be removed, giving the site a more professional appearance. I can also upload videos directly if I want to.

If I want to sell books straight from this site, which I do, the only option via WordPress is the business because you can install the required plug-in.

For the time being, I can link folks to my Payhip store, but best practise dictates that if you’re attempting to sell something online, you should make the transaction as simple as possible, i.e. one click.

Amazon will always account for most of my sales. Will this site generate £240 in book sales per year? Doubtful…

What WordPress version do you use? What would you want for your website if you could buy individual components rather than having them all grouped together in a plan?

Baked with Love

My latest book—Baked with Love—is now available for pre-order! Here’s the blurb…

Can lifelong baker Lissie turn down a last-minute invitation to appear on the popular TV show Best Baker UK, even though her ex-boyfriend is one of the contestants?

Not a chance…

Her current boyfriend isn’t thrilled, and Lissie’s decision to put herself under the intense pressure of a reality TV show while spending so much time with the man who broke her heart six years ago appears to be a recipe for disaster…

But could Lissie uncover the truth about what happened all those years ago, prove herself to her grandmother, keep her boyfriend happy, and win Best Baker UK, forever changing her life?

A spellbinding, warm-hearted read for romance and Great British Bake Off junkies, Baked with Love is a thoughtful, unforgettable story with characters you will love about second chances, forgiveness, and the search for true love.

You can read a short extract from the book here.

American versus British accents

This week in creativity

Picture (or rather, hear) the following scene. You choose an audio book, press play, and an American voice narrates the story.

No harm in that—there are plenty of American accents that send the heart a flutter (Stephen J Dubner could talk about the science of watching paint dry and I’d listen, transfixed) but what if you’ve specifically purchased a book set in the UK, featuring UK born-and-bred characters, and the story is read with a voice from across the Atlantic, rather than a home-grown accent?

I’m asking because I received an email from Draft2Digital this week. The company acts as an aggregator, distributing e-books to all the e-retailers, including Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and library services.

Highland Books by Emma Baird book cover

Draft2Digital has been collaborating with Apple Books on their digital narration technology, in which the programme generates audio books from e-books already published on the platform, which is currently free.

That’s a biggie. If I wanted to create my own audio book, it would cost at least £1,500. And audio books are the fastest growing book market. But here’s the catch. Apple currently only offers English with an American accent.

I’ve listened to it; it’s not bad, and it lacks that robotic quality of Word dictation, for example. And you could argue that in the western world, we’re all used to hearing American accents, so it wouldn’t be so strange.

However, the characters in my books frequently speak in dialect. Is digital narration up to the task? Ideally, I’d like the late Victoria Wood to narrate my stories because she would throw herself into the story with gusto and use different voices for the various characters but that’s not going to happen…

Anyway, I’ll give it some thought.

Quote of the week

As it was Burns Night on Wednesday, the quote of the week is by Robert Burns. While I didn’t attend a specific event, I did host Book Group friends for an afternoon of eating, drinking wine (the non-driving, non-Dry January some of us…) and discussing books and the environment, which seemed like a fitting tribute.

What I’m eating

Saturday Kitchen on the BBC is regular viewing in the Baird-Birnie household. When a celebrity appears on the show, usually to promote something, they are also asked what their food heaven and food hell are. Viewers of the live show vote on what the show’s professional chefs prepare for them at the end.

Whenever I watch this, I wonder why no-one says macaroni cheese for their food heaven. Isn’t that what everyone would want for their last meal on earth…?

For the Book Group, I made a big batch of it, and unleashed the secret ingredient. Was it a fancy cheese, you ask? Did you make the sauce with cream? No, I picked up this tip from Nadiya Hussain. Crumbled up cheesy wotsits. (In the US, these are known as cheese puffs).

cheesy wotsits

Game-changer. I promise…

What I’m watching

Tonight’s the night—Happy Valley series 3. There are only two episodes left, and according to the press, the producers filmed five different endings in an attempt to keep the ending secret, and even the cast is unsure which ending will be used.

Waiting a week for episodes feels peculiar in this day and age, and last Sunday, Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: Moves a bill in parliament that a week is too long to wait for Happy Valley, and it received over 6,000 likes.

What would be your food heaven if you appeared on Saturday Kitchen, and what would you hope voters didn’t choose for you? And how would you feel if a book set in the UK with British characters was narrated in an American accent?

Are there ANY alternatives to head nodding or shaking?

The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety. quote by Deepak Chopra

This week in creativity, I’ve been wrestling with characters shaking/nodding their heads. Human communication relies heavily on head nods and shakes. We all do it, and we do it constantly.

While characters may bolt, dash, dart or flee rather than simply running away, there is no other way to say nod or shake his/her head. At a pinch, you could say, ‘made a shaking notion with his head’ and…

No, you couldn’t. It sounds ridiculous.

What’s a writer to do? So far, 34 head shakes and 38 nods have popped up in the 64,000 words I’ve written so far. That’s five head bobs too many*, though on the plus side, at least my characters are more positive than negative.

Other physical actions that are difficult to describe in any other way include:

  • Raised his/her eyebrows (quirked them?)
  • Shrugged (raised her shoulders up and down?)
  • Grinned (the corners of his mouth lifted upwards?)
  • Smiled (as above)
  • Opened/shut the door.

Here’s an illustration…

Nell opened the door. Daniel glanced up at her and smiled.
“Are we going out for dinner?” she asked.
Daniel shook his head. “Too busy, sorry. How about tomorrow night?”
Nell shrugged. “Let’s see how I feel after work. I might be too tired.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Too tired? You do nothing at work.”
He grinned to soften the insult.


Nell fastened her hand to the door and swung it open. Daniel glanced up at her, the corners of his mouth tilting upwards.
“Are we going out for dinner?” she asked.
Daniel turned his head from side to side. “Too busy, sorry. How about tomorrow night.”
Nell lifted her shoulders up to her ears. “Let’s see how I feel after work. I might be too tired.”
He piqued an eyebrow. “Too tired? You do nothing at work.”
He widened his mouth to soften the insult.

Creativity part 2

After reading a post about Pinterest for authors on a blog about writing, I’m revisiting the platform.

This paragraph stuck out:

For those of us overwhelmed by conversations and connections, Pinterest is a refreshing platform. You can spend hours (or minutes) looking at pretty things and not have to talk to another human. It is an introvert’s dream: a social platform where you don’t have to be social to be successful. This also means that it’s really easy to get started with Pinterest as compared to other platforms.

Kirsten Oliphant, Jane friedman blog on writing

Hooray! Permission granted to ditch Instagram and TikTok, where my feeble attempts to build a platform have failed miserably. Does anyone in the world put down their phone after scrolling through Instagram, and think, Well, I feel TONNES better now…?

So, after spending two years creating zillions of square and horizontally-shaped graphics, I’ve reverted to Pinterest-friendly rectangular ones, like the ones below.

And this one is for a board about my Highland books

This week’s Google searches related to writing

  • What weekday was May 28 in 2016
  • Waldorf doormen uniform
  • Photos of Waldorf reception (hard to come by, but I did chance upon the magnificent ‘swan’ bath towel pictured below)
  • Industrial estates in Anniesland, Glasgow
  • Pegasus in Greek mythology
  • Jobs in tech       
Bath towels folded to look like a swan

What I’m reading/watching

The book Klara and the Sun

Last year, the book group I belong to participated in a reading challenge set by the Booker Prize’s organisers. You can find out more about that here. We did not win (boo!); however, taking part led to other things…

BBC Scotland consulted us about a new radio programme about books and reading, and as a result I’m reluctantly excitedly taking part in the pilot show, in which a group of us discuss Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.

According to the blurb: In Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro looks at our rapidly changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator to explore a fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

Fingers crossed I don’t come across as too thick… If any of you have read the book, what did you think of it?

Bank of Dave on Netflix
Bank of Dave. Picture: Netflix

Do you need something cheery and not too brain-taxing to watch? The Bank of Dave on Netflix is delightful. The good guys win, the bad buys get their heads to play with and there’s a message about how the ‘establishment’ works only for a tiny minority of the UK’s population. (The Rupert Murdoch-owned Times critic described the film as ‘alarmingly simplistic’, proving the point oh-so-flipping well.)

*Characters in the novel Twilight are notorious for repeatedly nodding/shaking their heads.

Writing book descriptions and paying more tax than Bezos (sort of)

Quote of the week:

Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's - Stephen King

You might think for someone who has managed to write a first draft of at least twenty novels, writing the blurb (otherwise known as the book description) would be a piece of cake…

Not so. This week, I’ve been struggling with the blurb for a chick lit book that will be coming out in the spring. For inspiration, I copied and pasted book descriptions from three of Amazon’s best-selling chick lit books into a word cloud generator, which resulted in this image…

Word cloud using words commonly found in descriptions of chick lit novels

Right then, EB, I told myself, try to incorporate some of the words mentioned here into your book description.

A common mistake when writing a book description, especially your own, is to reveal what happens, so my first attempt was to try to focus on what people might feel when reading the book, or what they might be looking for when seeking out books (escapism, romance, etc).

"I really loved the story... As ever, your descriptive narrative is a delight, as is the humour and the pathos in the story."
Whisk together a high-stakes TV baking competition, an ex-boyfriend and the ghost of a grandmother whose death haunts the main character Lissie and what do you have…?
A recipe for a warm-hearted, poignant and spellbinding story with unforgettable characters who will capture your heart.
When Lissie, a lifelong baker, receives a last-minute invitation to appear on the popular TV show Best Baker UK, she is both thrilled and terrified. There’s a lot at stake, not the least of which is Lissie's chance to win the competition in the memory of her beloved grandmother. 
Baked with Love, the perfect read for romance and Great British Bake Off fans, is about second chances, forgiveness, family and the search for true love. Come along and join Lissie, Rob, Kieran and Jo on this feel-good journey!

The second approach is more traditional. Which one do you think would would make you want to read the book more?

Can lifelong baker Lissie turn down a last-minute invitation to appear on the popular TV show Best Baker UK, even though her ex-boyfriend is one of the contestants? 
Not a chance…
Her current boyfriend isn't thrilled, and Lissie's decision to put herself under the intense pressure of a reality TV show while spending so much time with the man who broke her heart six years ago appears to be a recipe for disaster...
But could Lissie uncover the truth about what happened all those years ago, prove herself to her grandmother, keep her boyfriend happy, and win Best Baker UK, forever changing her life?
The perfect read for romance and Great British Bake Off fans, Baked with Love is all about second chances, forgiveness, and the search for true love.

This week in creativity part 2

As someone who scraped a ‘C’ in o’grade art many moons ago, I’ve never been particularly good at artsy stuff, but this week I also added A+ content to all of my Highland books’ product pages.

A+ content is the information under the book that says ‘from the publisher’ and Amazon allowed indie publishers to use this facility in the same way traditional publishers have always used it two years ago.

Here’s what I created for mine…

Highland Chances product page on Amazon

This week in creativity part 3

This week, I have also been doing some creative accounting, ensuring that I cling on to all my hard-earned dosh as tightly as I can…


Note saying Do Tax Return

For the tax year 2021-2022, I will pay a much higher percentage of my income in tax than Jeff Bezos did in 2021. Well done me, eh?

Quote of the week

The Stephen King quote above shows how books differ from films and the intimacy of reading. When you read, your imagination that fleshes out the world and the characters in your head, which is why no two people will read the same book in the same way.

What I’m reading this week

Still ploughing my way through A Place of Greater Safety and have now reached the part where journalist and politician Camille Desmoulins delivers his impassioned call to arms, which inspires the Storming of the Bastille a few days later.

French revolutionary figure Camille Desmoulins

What I’m watching

Happy Valley, which as discussed with one of my fellow bloggers last week, is SO GOOD.

Thanks for reading and let me know in the comments which of the book descriptions you think sounds the most enticing.