I write because I find bending words into shape hugely satisfying. The plot problem-solving element appeals too—so if a character does this, which results in that, how does the action move the plot on—kind of thing.
Inspiration comes from many things. During lockdown, I wrote a book based on a feature I heard on Radio 1*. When the UK’s shut-up-shop was announced at the end of March, Matt Hancock, the UK’s superb health secretary [inserts sarcasm font] was asked if people who had just started dating could still see each other.
Answer—no. But he did suggest if folks had recently hooked up, now was the ideal opportunity to find out if that relationship might work. The ultimate test. Locked up in one location 24/7, your only escape that one hour of allowed outdoor exercise every day.
Some days later, Radio 1 spoke to couples who’d done this. Met on Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, etc., and realised the new precautions against the spread of Covid-19 meant they wouldn’t see each other for weeks.
Right at the time when people had just hooked up for those heady first few dates. Hormones at the explosive stage, libidos fired up, every waking thought filled with the person they’d just met and what they wanted to do with them…
The people phoning into Radio 1 made that leap of faith and moved in with each other. My mind boggled. Fancy that! You’ve had three, four dates with someone and suddenly you’re in close proximity. Sharing a bed, bathroom, TV viewing habits, meals. Idiosyncrasies. Weirdness around food. Differing attitudes towards cleanliness in the home, etc. What an irresistible idea to explore.
And so A Leap of Faith was born—a couple who’ve only known each other three weeks and who make the decision to bunk up together. Even better, if the protagonist comes with too many pesky secrets and a long time aversion to talking about her past.
Last week, Radio 1 got in touch with one of the couples they’d spoken to at the start. Like a lot of people listening, I was on tenterhooks. In a world of relentless bad news—the Covid-19 cases are climbing steeply in the UK once more—please, please let Nigel and thingie (I can’t remember her name) still be together.
They were! They’d exchanged the l-word! They were dead happy! The nation, much in need to stories to cheer us up, rejoiced.
But I’m grateful for the exposure of Wattpad and the hundreds of nice comments I’ve had there about my books. I’ve got a few ones on the platform I’ve never published but one of them started getting lots of love recently, which encourages me to get down to its long over-due revision so that I can finally publish it.
Here’s the story hook for my contribution to the book…
You can read the book (it’s a paid story) on Wattpad here: https://my.w.tt/starsaligned and if you would like to read one of my complete novels on the platform, I’ve just finished A Leap of Faith, a COVID-19 lockdown love story. Find it here:
Chips eaten outside, dodging the jellyfish on the beach and long queues for ice-creams—welcome to the new look of holidays in the UK.
Our first Covid-19-tinged holiday took place this week when we went to St Andrews for a couple of nights. When I say, ‘new look’, our trip harked back to the 1950s and the days before mass market excursions abroad—the kind of holiday you see in black and white photos. Men in slacks, women in dresses, small children holding buckets and fishing nets.
Here in Scotland, the lockdown has eased more gradually than in England, but overnight trips were allowed on 15 July and we pre-empted it by booking two nights at the Premier Inn some weeks before.
The joy of difference
Just as well. Bookings shot up that week as people anticipated the joy of leaving your house and hometown. My sister tried numerous campsites in the south west of Scotland before managing to find a holiday home in Gatehouse for her family’s annual summer holiday. Their destination of choice is usually France.
Thanks to lockdown, collective expectations are much lower these days. I found myself genuinely thrilled to walk the streets of somewhere that was not Dumbarton. As for eating food I hadn’t made myself… my cup it runneth over.
Having travelled on the motorbike, we arrived in St Andrews on Thursday afternoon. The atmosphere in the town was 100 percent giddy ‘first day after the end of the school year’. I hadn’t seen so many people in the flesh in one place since March. It felt odd, liberating and foolish all at once.
We’d arranged to meet my mum and her partner, and my sisters and their families outside the Tail End chippie—its queue snaking down the street. My oldest nephew elbow bumped us seeing as hugs are still suspect.
Fish and chips bought and the weather obliging (never a guarantee in Scotland), we found a spot to sit in the grounds of Madras College all of us revelling in the novelty of in-person rather than Zoom chats.
If there is a finer meal than fish and chips when super-fresh fish has been cooked with skill, I’ve yet to find it. If there’s a better way to enjoy a meal than with those you love when you haven’t seen them for months, I’m not sure what that is either.
Later, my mum, sisters and their kids joined the queue for the ice-cream shop. Half of them gave up ten minutes later. My youngest sister and her son persisted, returning 45 minutes later ice-cream dripping down hands.
Later that day, Sandy and I ventured out for dinner. Not everywhere was open. Were some of the shuttered businesses casualties of Covid-19 themselves, unable to survive without the customers denied to them by lockdown? Those that had opened put arrangements in place—operating at a smaller capacity, hand sanitisers prominent, cutlery wrapped in plastic and no condiments on the tables. Staff all masked. Signs on the walls with QR codes you scanned in, so that you can be traced should the horrid virus resurface.
Sandy lifted his beer glass to clink against my wine. Throughout the day, I’d saved up snippets of conversation I thought might interest him, worried that we might have lost the art of talking to each other. When you’re stuck in the house for meal after meal, who bothers with conversation when you can switch on the TV instead?
The thrill of being out
An indifferent meal—I opted for the trendy vegan option of deep-fried cauliflower with vegan mayonnaise, the batter and sauce on it far too salty and chilli-hot—but the thrill of being out! Asking other people to bring you things! Dirty plates that you don’t need to wash whisked away!
We managed the chat.
On the Friday, we bought food for a picnic and decamped to the beach. Around us, groups set themselves up. Kites decorated the skies. Small children dashed into the waves, their parents calling out warnings about jellyfish. I fell asleep, cocooned in super-soft sand. We walked along the shoreline, water deliciously warm at foot paddling level, and eyes glued to where our feet landed to dodge the blue-y blobs.
Another pub—this one lined with photos of the owner with famous golfers. Even on the ceiling she smiled down on us. They’d erected Perspex screens around all the booths. Your eyes adjusted quickly, and the screens sort of disappeared. Next to us, a couple (regulars I gathered from the conversation they had with one of the members of the staff) tucked into a huge burger and chips, and nachos while we looked on tongues hanging out.
Restaurant food once more
In the evening, I requested an Indian. Takeaways are all well and good, but it’s the kind of food that tastes best straight from the kitchen. This one, the blackboard said outside, was run by a graduate of St Andrews. All well and good, but could whoever produce sublime food..?
Answer—yes. The aubergine and saag paneer I ate was fresh, expertly spiced and served in elegant sufficiency portions.
A change is as good as a rest, so the saying goes. I can vouch for it—two days of difference in weeks where Monday looks like Tuesday, which is the same as Wednesday and so on. The news yesterday that Scotland has seen the biggest daily rise in new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in almost a month—21 cases in the last 24 hours, the biggest daily increase since 21 June. What can you do though? Stay confined to your home and its immediate surroundings (and there are plenty of people who will choose to and who should do that) or muddle your way through in what you hope is as risk-free a way as possible?
Now I’ve tasted freedom, I want more… another two nights somewhere sleeping on an unfamiliar bed, trying out unknown restaurants (the good and the bad), walks on the beach, a view that isn’t the Crags and the Kilpatrick hills, magnificent as they are.
Here’s to more of them.
Quick writing update…
I’m working on what I hope is the fifth and final of my Highland Books. Highland Fling was going to be a one-off that changed to a trilogy. Then book four wriggled its way to the top of my conscious, so that demanded a fifth… In the meantime, I wrote a lot of short stories featuring the minor characters that I plan to incorporate into a companion book for the series.
You can buy and read the Highland Books via these links:
Anyway, Highland Christmas is about… well, no prizes for working that one out, Sherlock. Here’s a tiny extract (with apologies to Jane Austen for pinching part of one of her best-known lines):
“Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you!”
Evie, my daughter, was used to attention. As Lochalshie’s youngest villager, she spent most of her time being passed from person to person all of them cooing at her and exclaiming at her likeness to Jack. Whenever she found herself back in his arms, the cooing intensified.
It’s a truth universally known to mothers. All a dad needs to do is hold his baby, jiggle her up and down a bit and he qualifies as the father of the year. Meanwhile, we women stir ourselves from sleep three hours earlier than we would have liked, spend our days running around after our tiny tyrants juggling a job at the same time and dealing with our extended family before finally flopping into bed at 10pm, exhausted.
Only to shudder into consciousness an hour later when Baba decides she is bored of sleeping. She scrambles out of my arms, delighted at the escape from the cot. Planted on the floor, she makes a beeline for Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends, yanks them from the railway and smashes them together—one cheeky glimpse upward at me. I try bargaining. Evie, beautiful girl! Your cot is so cosy! And warm! Why don’t I pick you up, put you back in there and…
Cue wailing. That’ll be a ‘no’ then. We’re back to Smashing Thomas into the fat controller (who came up with these names?) and me bargaining with various deities, the universe, the moon and the stars that the first one of them who persuades Evie to sleep wins my undying loyalty.
But I digress. Today was Evie’s first birthday and we were celebrating it in where else but the Lochside Welcome. Parenting gurus look away now. Yes, it is the public bar of a hotel. But Jack and I are part of the consortium that owns it. Our daughter belongs here. When almost the entire village thought they’d received an invite to her birthday and told me how much they were looking forward to it, we decided it would be far easier to host her party there anyway. Our home was nowhere near big enough.
The party attendees were gathered here now. Jack had strewn the bar with the pink, silver and white bunting I had designed and helium balloons. You’d think he’d never had a kid before. He hadn’t.
Greetings from the north, where the summer weather has returned to normal (cold and wet) and lockdown continues. Unlike our compatriots in England, we won’t be flocking to the pubs this weekend as licensed establishments in Scotland are not yet allowed to open.
(And I’m perfectly okay with that. Heck, what’s a Sunday Times wine club subscription for if not to power us through?!)
Anyway, I continue to get my kicks from the small things… Last Sunday, for instance, I visited Marks and Spencer’s food hall for the first time since March. Reader, I went DAFT. Marinated anchovies! Port Salud cheese! Artichokes in dressing! The best burgers ever. (It’s a bold claim but Marks and Spencer’s often justify their adverts for amazing food).
Marks and Spencer has always been a food shop you linger in, jumping from aisle to aisle and back again as you work out what to spend those precious pennies on. The pandemic has robbed us of that joy… but maybe it’s a good thing. I emerged with one paltry bag of shopping and £59 down. What might have happened if I’d spent longer in there?!
There is always the joy of cats too… We started this ‘thing’ where we feed them a chewy stick as a late night snack. I don’t know who enjoys it the more—me or the cats. As you can see from the picture, the treat isn’t doing little Lucy’s tummy any favours. And I’m rocking the granny slippers, right? Ahem.
Book sale royalties for my books on Amazon hit an all-time high in April. There’s a two-month delay getting the royalties, so the money went into my account at the end of June. Pleasing. I say that; there’s a caveat. A friend and I (Caron Allan) had a conversation recently where we discussed what number of book sales might send our hearts soaring. And agreed that we are impossible to please.
Is it that the curse of the writer? One day, you hit your personal best—and yet, the inner critic starts up straight away. Very good, Emma, but why isn’t it XX-amount? And what happens tomorrow when it drops back to the dismal normal? The mass buying of e-books does seem to have slowed, however, as countries begin the gradual (or rushed in places… England and the US, I’m looking at you) process of emerging from lockdown, and I noted fewer sales in May and June.
As summer as at its peak, my thoughts have turned to Christmas. I’ve embarked on the fifth and final (for now—who know how I might feel a year from now) Highland Book—Highland Christmas. I know, ten out of ten for originality. But it seems lot of people out there love Christmas-themed books.
Highland Chances, the fourth in my Highland Books series, is due out next week—Thursday 18 June 2020.
I started writing the book on 1 January, a time that now feels as if it was in the dim and distant past. Who knew how much our lives would change? I write this from a privileged position. No-one I know contracted the virus and died, and so far—though that is likely to change—neither has anyone lost their job.
Still, 1 January 2020… a very different time. My books are all set in the present day, and yet that version of the ‘present’ day’ has now changed for so many people all over the world. I write about pubs, public gatherings, people hugging left, right and centre. If someone had told me on New Year’s Day, “Hey, you do know you’re chronicling a world that is about to disappear with some aspects of it never to return?”, I might have tipped my head to the side in disbelief.
Highland Chances centres around a village pub/hotel in the north-west of Scotland. Most summers, I clamber on the back of my husband’s motorbike and we roar off in search of scenery, castles to visit, pubs where we’ll eat booze-soaked lunches (well, I do; as the driver he refrains), B&Bs with lochside views and indie hotels.
[In one Nairn establishment years ago, I shared its small gym with Tilda Swinton, no less. She asked me if I’d finished with the Swiss ball at one point.
Will many of these small places survive? April is/was the start of the tourism season in the UK. The road outside my house, the A82, should have been packed with cars heading north—especially because the weather throughout April and most of May was so warm and dry.
Social distancing in pubs
Now it’s mid-June. Pubs, restaurants and most hotels remain closed, while their owners grapple with how they can implement safety through social distancing in spaces where people are meant to squeeze together, all of us enjoying humanity at close quarters.
The best holidays I’ve taken with my husbands were those motorbike trips around Scotland. I can close my eyes and summon up a jumble of heavy velvet curtains, twin beds pushed together, the smell of chips that lingers everywhere, crisp white linen tablecloths, bacon for breakfast and wooden tables you need to shove beermats under the legs to stop them wobbling.
Not all the food is good. Some places charged a fortune for a glass of red wine. Depending on the time of year, there’s often a layer of boredom that hangs in the air—a place too quiet; its staff simply going through the motions.
And yet, so many of those pubs and hotels may well vanish. Will we speed through small towns and villages with too many buildings boarded up or marked with tatty for sale signs? The thought of it makes me want to cry.
On the upside, a surge in domestic tourism might be on the cards. Most people may feel like me—reluctant to fly anywhere for a while. Particularly if you need to quarantine upon return. Will they surge to pubs and hotels in their own country when they reopen, having been starved of such entertainment for months?
Greetings from lockdown Scotland where we are still officially staying at home while our English chums have been encouraged to return to work if they can’t work from home.
But not if they use public transport and only if they stay alert. Or something.
This week’s treat on the #smallpleasuresmatter front was going to be a trip to Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food in Dumbarton. Boy, was I salivating at the thought… ooh, I’ll stare at the deli stuff and toss a dozen or so of those dinky little tubs in my basket! Perhaps they’ll have their marvellous dine in offer on, where I get a main course, two sides, pudding and a bottle of wine for a mere £12!
Hummus! Smoked Salmon! Cornish Cruncher Cheddar! The world’s best looking fruit!
Then, a news item popped up about how many diabetics were among the frighteningly high numbers of COVID-19 dead in this country. I reassessed the wisdom of coming into contact with that many people.
Oh well. Trump’s promising us a vaccine by the end of the year so maybe I’ll get to Marks & Spencer’s in time to stock up for Christmas*.
In other news, Sandy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary earlier this week. Not with a meal out, obviously, but by walking around his golf course on a beautiful sunny day, sitting outside in the garden and drinking champagne, and rounding it all off with a nice meal.
And a short story I wrote earlier this year has been picked for a paid anthology that will be available on Wattpad later this summer. For the first time in my life, I signed a publishing contract. I even read it before e-scrawling my name on the dotted line.
Finally, after a lot of helpful feedback I have rewritten chunks of Highland Chances and hope to publish it in mid-June. Ebook sales have grown considerably, as you might expect seeing as many bookshops are shut worldwide and people aren’t ordering as many paperback deliveries from Amazon et al. I’ve noticed my own sales have increased, though I’m far off any time where I chuck the day job.
Here’s a picture of the lovely cover Enni Tuomisalo of yummybookcovers designed and the blurb.
“But, but, but what will you do with Highland Tours! No, not Highland Tours. Highland Handsome Tours, remember? Best Outlander experience in Scotland. You, number three on ‘the man my partner would give me a free pass to sleep with’ list and I don’t even mind!”
The Lochside Welcome is at the heart of Lochalshie—where the villagers gather to meet, gossip and eat Scotland’s finest pizzas.
Now, it’s under threat. The landlord’s ill, business has dropped away frighteningly quickly and the hotel at the end of the village keeps muscling in, scooping up tourists, weddings and even locals…
Can Gaby and Jack save the day? What with the ever-increasing work demands, rival hotel owners not above dirty tactics and the small matter of a life-changing event our couple are woefully ill-prepared for, it’s all hands on deck to try to ensure the Lochside Welcome survives another day…
If you love heart-warming, frothy fiction which comes with a side order of laughs, you’re in the right place.
What day is it—March the 97th as someone asked recently? One set of 24 hours segues into the next with little to differentiate them.
COVID-19—you’ve well outstayed your welcome on planet Earth. Not that we wanted you in the first place.
But boredom and confining ourselves to our homes is a tiny price to pay when the alternative is mass infection and deaths. So far, I know five people who have had the virus and recovered. No-one close to me has died. Fingers crossed tightly that continues.
The powers that be have now deemed it okay to get in your car and drive a short distance to a local beauty spot to go for a walk. My husband has promised me a trip to his golf course and a meander over it.
One of the regulars at my online Pilates class is now a grandma. We clapped. She has seen the baby from a distance.
Any meal I make that involves a creative reimagining of ingredients retrieved from the freezer or the back of cupboards (one year old? More?).
This new and beautiful cover for the latest novel in my Highland Books series, Highland Chances… the graphic designer who made it for me is herself finishing off her latest book—a chick lit novel that features people travelling to New Zealand and working in cafes and bars, etc.
Did it now count, she asked, as historical romance?
Highland Chances, coincidentally, touches a lot on working from home. But similar to my designer friend, the book also has that feel of a time that will not return for months if not years. People in pubs. Large gatherings. Big parties in offices. Shaking hands with strangers*.
Some weeks ago, the radio station I listen to (BBC Radio 1—I’m way, way out of their target demographic) featured a couple of stories of people who’d only been dating for a few weeks when the lockdown kicked in.
As a writer, I found that impossible to resist, even though it feels crass and exploitative… But hey, writing is truly narcissistic. That urge to put it down on paper (well, the screen) overrides everything.
Anyway, here’s the intro:
The Leap of Faith
Things I don’t know about Tom:
What he takes in his coffee. If he likes coffee.
Who he voted for in the last election. Though I think I can guess.
When he came to Scotland.
His romantic history. A childhood sweetheart? A steady girlfriend up until now? Serial monogamy? Sexual encounters too numerous to list?
If he has siblings. His position in the family. (As the youngest child in a family of high achievers, I place a lot of stock in older/younger sibling dynamics and how that shapes you.)
His second name.
And yet tomorrow we are moving in together. More specifically, Tom will pack his bags into an old Ford Focus, drive the 35 minutes it takes to cross the city (less now we are in lockdown?) where I will welcome him with open arms. And try not to bleat, “Wipe your feet!” if he doesn’t do it automatically the second he enters my home.
Modern life, hmm? That old Abba classic keeps playing in my head, Take a Chance on Me. My family and friends queue up behind me, their expressions astonished. “Sophs! You’re, like, the least impulsive person ever! Why are you doing this?”
My brother nods his head fervently. My sister threatens a visitation. One where we conduct a two metres apart conversation. It takes place. I stand in the doorway and she yells at me from the garden gate, teenage daughter in tow, her phone in hand. She glances up briefly. “Yo, Aunt!” I sketch her a wave and hope it counts as cool in her world.
“Sophie!” my sister shrieks. “What do you know about this guy? He’ll have Googled you, you idiot! I bet he’s rubbing his hands together in glee.”
Her words are nothing I haven’t already said to myself. My mum’s face shimmers in front of me. Dark hair streaked with grey and wide-tipped glasses she pushes up her nose all the time. Her mouth twitches. “Well,” she says, “this is a turn up for the books! Devil may care. I love it!” In my head, she blows me a kiss. My eyes prickle.
I close my door, thanking Josie for her concern. Darla winks at me. Fifteen-year-old approval. I wait till her mother has turned to point her key at the car and wink back. Darla lifts her phone and mouths something at me. ‘Tell me what happens, yeah?’ my best guess.
The timing couldn’t be better though. As Josie’s ginormous pristine Land Rover pulls away, a dusty black Ford Focus slowly edges its way along the street, its driver alternately peering down and up—the universal look of someone using his phone to find an address.
I wave. He stops.
“Tom!” My enthusiasm is double, treble, quadruple what it might have been. Blame it on Josie. “Welcome to my humble abode.”
He gets out of his car and swears—the f-word too loud in our now traffic-subdued streets. “Jesus!” he says, the Irish accent turning it into Jayzus. “I’d no idea you were that grand.”
Things Tom doesn’t know about me.
Thanks for reading! Highland Chances is now available for pre-order at Amazon here, and if you want to find out if Sophie and Tom’s fledgling relationship makes it, you can read the story for free on Wattpad.
How is everyone finding the almost worldwide lockdown? I hope you and the ones you love are safe and well and finding ways to make this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in bearable.
I’m extremely fortunate. I don’t live in a city, and I have access to a garden and the internet. Interestingly enough, I’ve never spoken to so many people in such a short space of time. From phone chats where I catch up with people I never usually call, to the Zoom meetings that are now a regular part of many people’s lives, I’m grateful for the technology I have at my fingertips. I’m doing online Pilates, yoga and Spanish classes, and every day my family and I catch-up to exchange news
(Much of which is taken up by discussion of what we will be having for dinner—food and the state of our supermarkets the now national obsession. That and what everyone is binge-watching on iPlayer or Netflix.)
And of course there is the new neighbourliness where we chat over fences and wave at each other every Thursday night when we stand outside and clap for the carers.
Anyway, if you are seeking a bit of distraction, I’ve rounded up a few light-hearted spoiler-free extracts from my next book, Highland Chances due out 1 June.
Stay safe everyone.
The perils of online planning
“Same. Can we skip the pub quiz and…?” He paused, finger and thumb gripping the tiny brush and glanced up to catch my eye, dirty grin in place. His other hand slid up my bare leg, fingers sure and warm.
When we got married, I wondered if that would kill lust stone dead. Didn’t couples moan all the time that the wedding ring acted like a chastity belt? In a previous job, my colleagues and I once stumbled on our boss’s online calendar, the one she’d not made as private as she should. Sunday mornings 8-8.30am were highlighted—SEX WITH GREG. She’d added a 15-minute-in-advance text alert too. Josh, the guy I worked with, changed the day to Tuesdays and shortened the time slot to ten minutes. Not sure how that worked out for them.
A hazy grasp of geography
“Oh shut up! He still should hae asked, shouldn’t he? I want a proper boyfriend!”
News to me. Katya, who’d also lived with Mhari once upon a time, reckoned Mhari preferred other people’s love lives to her own. All that opportunity to ask personal questions and not bother with the complicated bits yourself.
“What about Xavier? He’s nice, isn’t he?”
A big sniff. “Dinnae be daft. He’s no’ gonnae stay here. When we leave the EU, he’ll need tae go back tae Canada.”
“Canada isn’t in Europe, Mhari.”
“Is it no’? Anyway, he’s loads younger than me.”
Four years. The same age gap as her and Hyun-Ki. I referred to this. A drunken explanation that this was exactly why she wasnae going to waste her time on younger men. Shallow. Totes immature. She ended the last statement with a loud fart, which made the two of us giggle for ages.
The scramble for freebies
Carnage. A mad scramble started up straight away as hands darted everywhere, trying to snaffle the freebies. Angus ended up with his back to everyone, body hunched over the table to protect the bags. Several of the women tried illegal Rugby scrum moves on him that would have got them blacklisted from the game. He put up with it for a few minutes before straightening up and bellowing, “Oi! Stop that!”
Angus was six foot five and twice the width of me. The yell worked, the crowd of women retreating expressions cowed.
He folded his arms. “Now, everyone of ye is gonnae queue nicely, show us your ticket tae the games and say ‘thank ye very much’ when Gaby and Jamal here hand ower the bags. Agreed?”
Fervent nods from the crowd.
“Anyone who doesnae,” he growled, “will be thrown in the loch.”
Two women looked far too delighted at the prospect of a dookin’. “Does that mean you would put us over your shoulder?” one asked, her smile gleeful.
“And,” her friend threw in, “spank our bottoms?”
If you would like a reminder of when my next book is out, please feel free to sign up for my newsletter via email@example.com and I’ll give you a free short story in return. All my ebooks are available for free from your local library. Most libraries are closed at present, but you should still be able to borrow ebooks.
Valentine’s Day on Friday began well for me… I ❤ Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs, ‘love’ and a tax-collecting body not usually words that belong together in the same sentence, hmm?
As I’ve already received a refund for overpaying tax, this must be a mistake. Better stop those fantasies where I imagine what £641 could go towards… As an example, the laptop I’m using to ‘talk’ to you today will celebrate its seventh birthday this April.
Experts shake their heads at its age and tell me I’ve done well, your average laptop lasting five years before it explodes (or something). My HMRC cheque won’t stretch to an iMac but it would run to gear that doesn’t weigh a tonne and has a battery life of more than an hour.
Millions and millions of words
The sentimental attachment though… I bought this laptop (an Acer) when I gave up work to embark on a freelance writing career.
It’s powered me through millions of words—blogs, articles, features and books. I’ve used it to speak with people all over the world, taken it with me to Australia, Crete, Tenerife and lots of the places in the UK and personalised it with photos of Freddie, my late cat.
Sure, most of that stuff isn’t fixed to the laptop itself but if it ain’t broke… maybe I’ll wait for it to explode after all.
On the writing progress front, I’m three-quarters of the way through Highland Chances, the fourth in my Highland Books series. Confession. I’m at the mucky middle bit. The plot’s gone AWOL, I hate every character and just wish they would all get on with the story with no further help from me…
As a writer friend once said, “If you don’t hate a book by the time you’ve finished it, you’re doing something wrong.”
Milestones on the writer journey
There are many milestones on the author journey—some absolutely wonderful. When strangers write to you and tell you how much they enjoyed your books. The satisfaction you get from finally wrenching that mess of a first draft (see above) into something readable. All sales to people who aren’t your family or friends (though I’m awfully grateful for that too).
This year so far has brought me two further milestones—one nice, one nasty. The nasty milestone was the one-star review. It’s a rite of passage. Read the reviews of most books on Amazon and you’ll find them.
To put a positive spin on it, the one-star review is a sign you are finally selling a decent number of books. (As long as you assume your family and friends like you enough not to do so!) As I’ve been putting out books for a few years now, I’m lucky to have escaped the one-star review thus far,.
Humans tend to dwell on the negative, so I spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about that one-star review. “Wah! Everybody hates me! I’m rubbish! So embarrassing. It’s there for everyone to see! I need to stop writing now!” By day three (okay, seven) I was over it, and taking on board ages-old wisdom. Do not read your reviews… bad or good.
A (Wattpad) Star is born…
Milestone much nicer was the invitation I got last week to join the Wattpad Stars programme. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Wattpad is a story-telling/reading website. I’ve been on it for five years, my books mainly read by very few. However, Highland Fling took off on there at the end of December and now has more than 36k reads.
The Stars programme offers writers opportunities to pitch books to their paid stories, publishing and studio arms. A great quote I read recently said, “the brain often needs to be treated like a hostile witness”. Too true! See also the reaction to the one-star review above. When the invite to join the Stars landed in my inbox, my first thoughts were—Emma B, Netflix is coming for ya!.Pack your bags, Sandy and cats! We’re moving to a house miles from any busy roads!