The inspiration behind a story…

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Write, Writer, Type, Machine, Creative, Idea, Novel

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.

Anyway, if you’re at all curious about A Leap of Faith, you can read the story for free on Wattpad here…

*I’m way, way out of that station’s target demographic, by the way

Ten Little Stars – A Freebie for You

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Ten Little Stars by Emma Baird

Your incentive to join my mailing list.

While I try to figure out how to add an email sign up pop-up to my website (it a) has to be free, and b) incredibly easy to do) this week’s blog is an invitation to you, dear reader, to join my mailing list.

On the goals list I set for 2018 way, way back in January of this year, I wrote ‘mailing list’. This, the gurus of self-publishing who all sell far more books than I do, promise me is a must-have. You can promote directly to readers, it doesn’t depend on a pigging algorithm which could change any second (a la Facebook, a la Amazon) and it is still the best return on investment when it comes to marketing, even though three billion things have happened since emails first arrived on the planet.

Apart from bull-dozing my family into handing over their email addresses (and I won’t even bother asking on the premise they’re unlikely to report me to the Information Commissioner for breaking the GDPR rules*), this will not be an extensive list. But you’ve got to start somewhere. And I’m keen to get to the end of the year and say, “Well, EB, you ticked off a lot of the stuff on that list. Round of applause and a glass of fizzy wine for you.”

Ten Little Stars

One is also supposed to offer an incentive to join the list, a freebie the price you pay to someone to hand over their precious email address. Sadly, my killer white chocolate and raspberry cake isn’t the kind of thing I can hand out this way. A pity, because that cake is the bomb. Instead, my freebie is Ten Little Stars, an e-book collection of short stories. Some of them focus on characters who exist in my books and add back story to give you a better picture of them. Others are ones I entered into competitions—one’s a winner and the other was highly commended.

Another thing I promise is that I’ll keep the content less sales and more chatty. No-one likes sales bombardment or bombardment by emails. I unsubscribe rapidly whenever whatever mailing list I’ve signed up for—wine, self-publishing and cats all feature—gets a little too enthusiastic with their postings.

So, if you’d like to join my mailing list in return for a free collection of short stories, email me at pinkglitterpubs@gmail.com. As I’m not yet ready to embrace auto-responders, I’ll be emailing you back to say thanks individually, so it might take a little longer than usual. If you want it, I’m happy to hand over the recipe for that cake so you too can embrace its delightful deliciousness.

And of course, the usual rules apply. I promise not to sell your address on, I’ll use it only for the purpose of sending out MY newsletter and I will guard your address as carefully as I take care of my beloved and incredibly spoiled cat. Promise, cross my heart and hope to die.

Thank you!

*Here’s hoping, hmm—or Christmas will be very awkward. 

Walking in Ireland (sort of) and romance giveaway

Image by Jonas Fehre from Pixabay

This week, I’ve been waxing lyrical on the delights of County Galway in Ireland for a new client. Those white sandy beaches! The Wild Atlantic Way! The tiny Aran islands in Galway Bay! The green double-decker bus you can stay in!

There is something bitter-sweet about writing of the beauty of somewhere else when you have been stuck in the same place for months and months. I write about the wonderful walks you can do in Galway when my walking route has been the same day in and day out.

Still, I’ve promised myself that as soon as this is over, I’m heading for the hills of… anywhere else, as long as it isn’t West Dunbartonshire.

Sweet romance Valentine’s giveaway…

Need some romance in your life…? Highland Fling and more than 40 other books are up for grabs in the Sweet Romance Valentine’s giveaway.

They include:

A Novel Proposal by E.E Everly… Annalise Owings has fallen in love with her boss, Evan Andrews, editor of a small-press publishing company. What’s worse, Evan is clueless about her affections…

And Songbird Beginnings by Sylvia Price

Sam MacAuley and his wife Annalize are total opposites. When Sam wants to leave city life in Halifax to get a plot of land on Cape Breton Island, where he grew up, his wife wants nothing to do with his plans and opts to move herself and their three boys back to her home country of South Africa.

As Sam settles into a new life on his own, his friend Lachlan encourages him to get back into the dating scene. Although he meets plenty of women, he longs to find the one with whom he wants to share the rest of his life. Will Sam ever meet “the one”?

This book is the prequel to the #1 Amazon Best Seller, The Songbird Cottage.

Goodbye 2020 – and what a year it was…

As many other bloggers do at this time of year, I thought I’d end with pictures… Notably, there will be few of travel or meals out, social gatherings and/or attendance at big events.

This year like no other has been frightening, tedious, frustrating, anger-inducing and plain weird. But, and it’s a big but, I am fortunate not to have lost anyone to Covid, nor fallen ill myself and my work, both the part-time job and the freelance gigs I do, continues. The economic fall-out hasn’t hit me yet, though I will not emerge unaffected when the recession kicks in.

If we’re counting silver linings, the A82 outside our house was blissfully quiet for weeks. I appreciated the novelty value of being in the same boat as so many other human beings world-wide, all of us united against this common enemy. And not spending nearly as much money as I would in a normal year proved a useful lesson on how little I really need.

Anyway, in the long-ago innocent days of January, Sandy and I were still adjusting to life with two cats, Lucy and William. Adopted from the SSPCA Milton Animal Home at the end of December, the cats got to spend a lot of time with us in 2020, what with the lack of holidays, days out, nights out and me working from home. As is always the case with cats, it’s hard to tell if they appreciated all that attention or not.

In February, as the news of the pandemic’s arrival in Europe came in, everything still felt okay-ish in the UK. My Catalan friend reminds me they were warning then that the exact scenario was coming for us while we all blithely assumed it wasn’t. With any luck, next year will see the well overdue death of British exceptionalism.

In March, we went to Chester for my birthday. There was a lot of umm-ing and ah-ing. Should we go? Organisers were cancelling the big events—Six Nations rugby matches, Glasgow’s Aye Write festival—but the Government wasn’t giving direct orders. We packed face masks, home-made hand sanitiser (by this time sold out in shops) and jumped on the train.

The highlights were an informative walking tour of Chester and some memorable meals. But the biggest thrill was a trip to Chester Zoo. The painted dogs, the lions, the tiger and the black jaguar (where I got as close as I’m ever likely to a big cat) all of them blissfully unaware of human troubles.

At the end of March and into April, full lockdown set in. Luckily, the weather that month was outstanding. Yes, even in Scotland. Walking took the place of almost every other leisure activity. That, and Zoom meet-ups which were an exciting novelty at that point. (I can’t be alone in wishing that I never have to use Zoom ever again once this is all over.)

We all did the quizzes and the words, “We can’t hear you—you’re on mute”, the defining phrase of 2020, along with the words furlough, lockdown and coronavirus itself. That and waving at people on-screen. Name me the in-person meeting you’ve ever attended where people wave at each other. You can’t? Thought not.

My mum’s was the first family birthday we held via Zoom—everyone putting on their make-up and fancy earrings in lieu of dressing up.

Outdoor drinking – also a hobby we cultivated par excellence in 2020…

May’s weather remained equally cheering. My husband’s hobbies, established just before this year, saw him in good stead. Home brewing, outdoor cooking and gardening are perfect for lockdown times. Everyone else thought so too. Homebrew kits ran out, as did all gardening and outdoor cooking equipment. Hot tubs and gazebos sold out.

By the time July arrived, there was a giddy feeling of ‘first day of the holidays’ when we travelled to St Andrew for a couple of nights as soon as the restrictions were lifted in Scotland. After months of not seeing them, I met with my mum and partner, and my sisters and their families, for fish and chips bought from a place doing a roaring trade. We ate them in the gardens of Madras College while the sun shone.

Most of the tourist attractions in St Andrews were still closed—the golf museum, the castle and the gardens—but we spent a nice afternoon on the beach watching other freedom seekers sending kites up into the skies and dodging the hundreds of jellyfish marooned on the shores.

Be careful what you order…

For Sandy’s birthday in August, we booked a meal at a small, local Indian restaurant attached to a takeaway. Thanks to Covid restrictions, we were the only people in it, the take-away owner darting back and forth between the takeaway business and us. He put music on, left us with ice buckets for the booze we’d brought with us and the evening took on a sparkly magical quality.

In September, the universities returned though my immediate colleagues and I were still working from home. Cases and hospital admissions rose sharply once more, and we were more or less back in lockdown in our area… Sandy and I managed a trip to Perth, the weekend bright and sunny. Scone Palace was the highlight this time. Stately homes with their big rooms can manage Covid-style restrictions, everyone in the guided tour party spreading out as the guide does her best to explain the treasures of each room while masked.

October, November, December—more of the same. A few highlights. Saturday 7 November when the election was finally declared for Biden. An online cheese and wine tasting we did (Comte, Goat’s Cheese and Pecorino in case you’re interested in the cheeses sampled) and winning a writing award for my paranormal story, Beautiful Biters.

Christmas turned out surprisingly well. We visited my mum and her partner in the morning for a walk, then in the afternoon entertained Sandy’s mum and her partner—two doorstep visits by other family members interspersed in between.

Everyone knows the best bit of Christmas dinner is living off weird combinations of leftovers for the next week, and we had tonnes of food waiting in line for its turn to star thanks to a smaller than usual celebration. I’m still mainlining the herby sausage and apple stuffing, serving up creamy baked leeks with Yorkshire puddings and pairing turkey curry with roast potatoes.

The pigs in blankets, I’m sorry to say, didn’t make it beyond Christmas Day…

Back in March when lockdown started, naïve me assumed it would all be over by Christmas. Sometimes, I look around me—everyone masked in the supermarket, the social distancing signs dotted everywhere, the testing station that was positioned outside our council office for weeks, the limits on travel and the empty trains and busses that pass you—and try to guess what the 2019 Emma would have made of it all.

No, she wouldn’t have had the imagination to come up with this year. A year like no other, unprecedented, weird times, etc., I can throw in all those words… they still don’t seem adequate to describe it.

Anyway, here it is now almost at an end, although the pandemic in our country is far from over and likely to worsen. But I still want to raise a glass to you and yours, and hope that together we get through the next few months and emerge from this experience more thoughtful, kinder, determined to join together with our fellow citizens and hold to account governments where necessary and willing to push for green recovery deals that favour the masses and not the few…

Here’s to you! Happy New Year.

Celebrations all round

Merry (almost) Christmas! Here in the UK, our celebrations will be far more muted this year as most of us are living under tight restrictions. Most households around where we live put their Christmas lights up a few weeks ago, as did we, breaking the habit of a lifetime. All of us are in need of cheer, aren’t we?

Anyway, talking of Celebrations (ooh, seamless segue!) the featured image at the start of this blog is what I consider the correct order of preference for Celebrations chocolates. The number one choice on the left—the Bounty—is controversial. Three members of my family agree—two don’t, one vociferously.

It seems people in the UK aren’t too happy with the Bounty Celebration either. (Bounty for those of you who don’t know is a chocolate covered coconutty sweet.) This year’s Celebrations advent calendar contained Bounties for three days in a row on 1, 2 and 3 December.

Ruining Christmas

They complained on Twitter, with one person saying: “I’m on day 4 of my celebrations advent calendar and someone tell me why i’ve gotten 3 bounties in a row??????? is this a sick joke or something @UKCelebrations. [sic]”

Other Tweets talked of Celebrations, owned by the Mars company, ruining Christmas after an already awful year.

Yes, of course there are much worse things going on in the world but sometimes I love it when people get worked up about silliness. And if they collectively want to gather up all those unwanted Bounties and send them to me, I’ll be delighted.

Wattys

In another celebratory moment, one of my other books got picked as a Wattys2020 winner, which obviously I’m pleased about. The Wattys are Wattpad’s annual writing prize. Wattpad is the largest online storytelling platform in the world and this year’s competition had more than 40,000 entries from 177 countries.

The prize was awarded for my vampire story Beautiful Biters. Project Over-Optimism, a trait I’m too often guilty of, started whispering in my ear straight away… This is it, Emma B! Netflix is coming for ya! I’ve calmed down considerably since then.

Anyway, this is the cover for the story, along with that nice winner badge on it…

And here is the blurb…

The first vampire attack happened on the way back from the hospital. My sister Rosie was four at the time. Miraculous it had taken that long…

Nineteen-year-old Maya has too much on her plate. Trying to protect her younger sister. Struggling with crushes on unsuitable guys.

Justin is a newly converted vampire, battling to resist the urge to kill and desperately worried about his brother, converted at the same time but AWOL ever since. If the authorities find him first, he’s toast.

When the two of them meet through the vampire Maya earmarks to help her with an exciting project aimed at making money, both are taken aback by the mutual attraction. First rule of vampire-human integration though…? You don’t go that far.

And while living in this bleak world poses its own hazards-not least because those in charge are too ready to ride rough shod over vampires and happy to accept backhanders, Maya and Justin still need to cope with the day to day stuff. Going to college, fighting with your mum, obsessing over the food you can’t eat, dealing with unpopularity and online trolls.

Champagne glasses picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Bubbles, books and #NaNoWriMo

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">This week, we’ve been thinking about bubbles…This week, we’ve been thinking about bubbles…

The fizzy ones you find in champagne came into use today* when I finished this year’s #NaNoWriMo. Cheers to me and all that, having completed the 50,000 words in one month challenge. But before I get too self-congratulatory, there is a lot of revising and editing to be done. As someone once said, the first draft of a book is a ‘word vomit’, a hot mess of ill-conceived ideas, open loops and plot holes a plenty.

If I toss them all up in the air, maybe they’ll fall onto the ground and make sense… Said no editor in the world ever. But hey ho, that’s next year’s job. The book is available to read on Wattpad.

The other bubbles involve family and friends. For those of you out with the UK, we are back in lockdown and have been for a while as wave two (or is it still one, seeing as the respite lasted about two weeks?) sweeps its way over our shores. But the UK government and the devolved administrations put their heads together and came up with… bubbles for Christmas.

You can travel. You can see people not in your household. In their or your house too. Only, don’t mix too many households. Three only, so bubble one, bubble two and bubble three can mix but not with anyone else. So if bubble three had a bubble one and two of their own (say, people unrelated to those in bubble one and two), then they are not supposed to mix them up.

Impossible to enforce and relying once again on common sense and decency. Some of us will be more cautious/law-abiding than others. No judgement, except on those who flagrantly break the rules. Anyway, we’re aiming for a mix of dinner with one household/outdoor walks with another one if the winter weather permits.

Finally, not bubble related unless you put it in a bubble called ‘complete escapism from what is happening all around us’, Highland Christmas is now available for pre-order! I have a small but devoted Highland Books fan club on Wattpad, and they made lots of lovely comments about this book, which was gratifying.

You can pre-order the book here (Amazon UK) and here (Amazon US)

This is the blurb:

Christmas—joy, happiness and family fun, right?

As new parents and the co-owners of a village hotel, Gaby and Jack are looking forward to some time out come the end of December… Sure, being in the hospitality industry means working when everyone else is off, but once they’ve waved goodbye to the hotel’s Christmas guests, it’s all hands on deck for family festivities.

But Gaby’s mum has other plans in mind—ones that set Gaby and brother Dylan on a collision course with her. Nanna Cooper’s not in the best of health and Katya is coping with heartbreak once more. Just who is her baby’s daddy? Dexter demands to know…

Meanwhile, Lachlan seems to be up to no good, meeting strangers late at night and handing over brown envelopes while Mhari, as ever, is poking her nose in everywhere. Caroline, the once super enthusiastic grandmother, seems to have lost her appetite for babysitting Evie.

Featuring misbehaving grandmothers, secretive brothers and a whole lot of laughs, Highland Christmas is a heart-warming tale of rural life in Scotland.

If money is tight, you can read the book for free on Wattpad, where you will find it under my user name @SavvyDunn.

*last night. I’m not a lush. Well, only half the time.

#NaNoWriMo 2020

ARGHHHHHH. I swore I wouldn’t do it, even tweeted saying ‘good luck, everyone but it’s not for me this year’… In the end, the lure of #NaNoWriMo proved too much to resist. Fifty thousand words here I come (hopefully).

Beautiful Biters, the first in the series

For those unfamiliar with the term, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The aim is to write 1,667 words a day every day in November, which gives you 50,000 words by the end, providing you stick to it.

I first took up the challenge in November 2018 and LOVED the whole process. There’s a website where you upload your progress and watching those words mount up provided extremely satisfying. I published that book in June 2019 and have since written and published three more in that series. Book five is due out this Christmas.

If nothing else, Coronavirus’s second wave here in the UK has awarded me time-a-plenty this month as we’re more or less back in strict lockdown. No visits to family or friends, no restaurants, pubs, cinemas, festivals, outings, fun whatsoever.

Anyway, for this year’s challenge, I intend to write the second in a planned three-parter about vampires. In the world I’ve created, humans and vampires live alongside each other because there’s a vaccine that makes human blood poisonous to vampires. Unfortunately, the right-wing government privatised healthcare some years ago, so not all humans have been immunised and the vaccination is now incredibly expensive.

A state licensing programme for vampires exists, one that oppresses them, and the government is far too fond of handing out the contracts for all vampire-related programmes to its incompetent mates.

Any of this sounding familiar…?

Anyway, my main characters are Maya (human) and Justin (vampire), both trying to work out how to flourish in this challenging world.

Here’s a short extract:

The vampire advancing on me, teeth bared and arms spread wide, stopped—his eyes rolling back, head tipping behind him as he tumbled to the ground.

“Are you okay?” I shrieked, darting over so I could thrust out a hand to help him up. We had been working on mind control techniques for an hour and this was the first time I’d disabled him. The kitchen floor was cheap laminate but solid underneath. The drop must have hurt.

Justin gripped my hand, grimace turning to grin.

Never date a vampire. They operate on crude levels. Sleep, blood lust and… plain ol’ lust. A sudden yank and I found myself on top of him.

“Now that you’re here,” he murmured in my ear, warm breath tickly. “Shall we forget this stupid lesson and do something else instead…?”

No mistaking the intent. That told me loud and clear. I hovered above him, propped up on my hands, hair falling forward. He blew out air, sending strands flying. I dipped my elbows to kiss him. Justin liked to work out. He approved of press-ups, particularly ones that brought two bodies closer together.

“Well, sir, if you insist,” I said, “though I should try it a few more times? Otherwise, how else am I going to fight off the baddies that want to suck the life out of my as yet unvaccinated sister?”

You can read the first book, Beautiful Biters, for free on Wattpad. The cover you can see above was created by the talented Jennifer Mijatovic (@wee_mij on Instagram check out the gorgeous sketches she does of her daughter). Isn’t it beautiful?

The month in pictures

Enni Tuomisalo at yummybookcovers designed the beautiful cover for my fifth in series book, Highland Christmas. Isn’t it gorgeous…? The book is due out in December, so I’d better get on with finishing it…
This year, we managed to grow beef tomatoes for the first time. They may not be pretty, but they’re tasty as were the peas also harvested this month.
We ventured out to eat a few times—once for the eat out to help out initiative. This was the offering at the Riverside Courtyard in Helensburgh. Deep-fried calamari with a soy dipping sauce and tres yummy too.
This August, my dad would have been 80. My mum, sisters and I gathered together to mark the occasion with sausages (Dad’s favourite food). This is an old pic of him and my mum at a wedding, now given pride of place next to my computer upstairs. It never ceases to make me smile.
Graphic illustrator Jennifer Mijatovic created beautiful pictures for me to advertise my vampire book, Beautiful Biters. It never ceases to astonish me how designers manage to get into your head and pull out the characters in there. Jen’s Instagram account is @wee_mij, where she showcases incredible line drawn pictures of her daughter..
It wouldn’t be a picture round-up without the cats. William often keeps me company when I’m writing.
I’m running a wee sale on Highland Fling – 99p until 5 September. Available in all e-retailers, including Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

The One That Got Away on #Wattpad

My writing journey took on a new direction this week—a short story of mine is included in one of Wattpad’s paid story anthologies. Theme; The One That Got Away.

(The British Englisher in me yearns to change ‘that’ to ‘who’. But I’m prepared for grammar gurus who are more educated than I am to correct me.)

Trivial worries aside, I’m delighted to have been included in the anthology, which features 29 others too who all pondered on what scenarios ‘the one that (who) got away’ might conjure up.

I took one of my existing characters, a guy exploring his sexuality post ‘coming out’ in the early 90s and gave him a poignant encounter. It led nowhere; it was still important.

Most of my books are available to read for free on Wattpad, which puts me in the same place as the writer, Paul Coehlo, a believer in finding readers before customers. (Though with his millions of sales, he can afford the freebies.)

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…

advert for the one that got away

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:

https://www.wattpad.com/story/221184355-a-leap-of-faith-a-covid-19-love-story-15%2B-complete

Chips, jellyfish and ice-cream—the Covid-19 holiday

St Andrews Scotland Golf - Free photo on PixabayChips 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.

Elbow bumping

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.

Ice-cream queues

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:

Highland Fling

Highland Heart

Highland Wedding

Highland Chances

Highland Books the Boxset

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.

Or none we knew of anyway…

Highland Christmas will be out mid November 2020.

©Emma Baird 2020

More #smallpleasures in lockdown

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.

I’ve also finished my urban fantasy/paranormal romance book (for any of you unfamiliar with the genre, its basic meaning is vampire romance) and if you are so inclined, you can read it on Wattpad for free: https://www.wattpad.com/story/207891524-beautiful-biters-an-urban-fantasy-paranormal