Happy Halloween! Here in Scotland, Halloween has a long history. As child, I went out guising where you went from house to house dressed up and carrying a bag filled with treats. Unlike trick or treat, though, guisers had to ‘earn’ their treat usually by singing a song or telling a terrible joke.
If you were lucky, you would return home with a bag bulging full of treats, though often the bulk would be made up of monkey nuts. To this day, I can’t eat them. Those red skins get stuck between your teeth for days…
Halloween lanterns weren’t made from pumpkins either, as you didn’t get them in Scotland in those days. My dad used to make them from hollowed out turnips, and he didn’t mind eating the filling afterwards. Turnips my be an integral part of Scotland’s national dish – haggis, neeps and tatties – but you’ll never persuade me to like them.
My Wattys2020 award-winning book, Beautiful Biters, is out today. Here’s the blurb…
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.
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.
Here’s what the readers said:
“I enjoyed this book SO MUCH. I couldn’t stop reading – I just wanted to know what happens next. I think the world you’ve created is brilliant and so clever. It’s a really, really fun take on vampires that I’ve certainly never come across.”
“This is the very first time I’m going to say this to a client: your novel is amazing! Jesus, what a ride! What a pleasure to read!”
“Great job! Lots of fun, creative AF, very well written!”
“I started the book this morning and it was so addicting that I read it all in just a couple of hours. I would 10000/10 recommend this book to anyone and everyone.”
“The style of the book was really different than what I typically read on Wattpad so I didn’t know what to expect but I definitely wasn’t disappointed.”
“Ughhhhhhh I love love love this book!! It’s amazing!! So well written. I devoured it in a day! Keep it up!!”
“I admit this came up in my recommendations and glad I ended up taking myself into reading this story. I’m surprised I finished reading it within three days. :O” “Amazing. Love romance between Maya and Justin and challenges they face. Backstories. The world building. And people that are supporting Maya on MyTV and people (friends and family, unexpected allies) that have her back. Also, amazing response to reader comments and work put into re-editing this story. All in all, wonderful work and I wish you good luck with writing. :)”
“This was an ASTOUNDING story!!! I admit, I initially clicked on this just bc it was a vampire story…. but the world you have created – so raw and believable – powerful, I really felt as though I was there, watching it all unravel!! ❤❤❤”
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.
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 email@example.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.
*Here’s hoping, hmm—or Christmas will be very awkward.
I dunno… there aren’t many reasons to celebrate at present, what with the ongoing war in Europe, what’s happening to women in the US, the climate emergency and record inflation levels.
This week, a news presenter on the radio announced that we’d probably noticed how much more expensive our dinners were now than… and I honestly expected him to say, ‘last week’ there, rather than ‘last year’.
Still, I have my own small triumphs. First off, was undergoing tests in hospital that proved I do not have bowel cancer. A great result, eh? A routine bowel screening had shown blood in my sample, necessitating a colonoscopy.
As the literature said, less than 5 percent of those tested actually have cancer and I did not think there was anything wrong with that ‘bit’ of me. However, thanks to the dreaded C-word (the other one), there was a considerable wait for the colonoscopy.
But it went ahead the other week and there was nothing there. NOTHING. Which makes me fortunate indeed, not least because I live somewhere that offers such an efficient screening programme even though our National Health Service is creaking under the weight of backlogs and years of underfunding.
To prepare for a colonoscopy, you eat a low-fibre diet for three days. As a recently converted vegan that posed a real challenge (so challenging, in fact, that I abandoned the veganism for the three days, sorry oh much more principled people than I am). My celebratory post-colonoscopy meal was therefore this:
Tofu, brown rice, lots of veggies, a spicy peanut sauce and picked red onions—every single ingredient the instructions from the Endoscopy Clinic banned on the low-fibre diet.
(Thanks to yummylummy, who let me know about the role sugar-free jelly plays in prep for a colonoscopy… 😉)
Second, I have signed another contract with Wattpad, which will see my vampire book, Beautiful Biters (read the first chapter here) placed in its paid stories programme. While I am under no illusions about what this will do for my income, external validation for the stories I write is more than welcome.
In addition, this week I made my romcom Highland Fling free on Amazon, so that it could be part of a Hello Books promotion and when I checked my sales dashboard this morning, the book had been downloaded a grand total of 2,123 times, the bulk of which were in the US.
(I’m not sure my sense of humour translates. We’ll see!)
The most downloads I’ve ever managed in a week before has been in the 50-odd range, so the figures were a proper, proper ego boost. Let’s hope the good folks who download the book are spurred on to download the other five in the series, i.e. the ones they pay for. If it helps boost my Amazon rankings, it might keep the book more visible for some time, which again should help with sales long term.
If you would like to take part in the Hello Books promotion, which also includes other free romance titles, including this one by Enni Amanda, who created the cover for Highland Fling (and the other five books in the series), you can download the titles for free here: https://hellobooks.com/romance
Third, another small thing, but it feels like a biggie. I’m back into reading again. During the pandemic, I stopped. Not completely, but instead of powering through three or four books a week, it was more like one every few months as I was too busy doom-scrolling through the news and on blasted Twitter (I have a serious love-hate relationship with the platform).
Some gems I’ve read recently include:
Hungry, photo courtesy of my book group chum, Lucy, who also made this delicious tray bake to accompany Grace Dent’s food-related memoir, which came across as very relatable because I grew up in the same era/same sort of world and got invited to a Cosmopolitan lunch too. (A story for another day.)
Small Eden by Jane Davis, which I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy for and read in two days.
The Cut by Christopher Brookmyre, whose writing and thoroughly Scottish sense of humour I’ve always loved.
My writing chum, Caron Allan, is busy putting together the final touches for her book, A Meeting with Murder, which I am very much looking forward to reading.
And finally, the two by-elections in the UK won’t mean much, if anything, to anyone outside the UK but I did a little dance of joy on Friday morning when the newsreader announced that the constituencies of Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton had voted out the Conservative Party.
So, this weekend I will crack open that bottle of Moet my sister bought me for my birthday and hope that soon, very soon, we will all come together and rid ourselves of nasty, populist governments, minority imposed judgements that condemn half the population and the terrible, terrible people who have ended up in power.
My book group is 20 years old this year. Something that I’m pretty sure none of us imagined would happen back at the very first meeting in autumn 2002.
Since then we’ve had at least 18 members, read at least 167 books and eaten at least 110 cakes.
Sadly, it didn’t occur to us to keep a record of what we were reading until I tried to reconstruct it from memory in March 2012. It’s definitely incomplete and the dates are often guestimates. From then, I kept a note of the books, but it wasn’t several years later that I started to systematically record other details: the person who had made the selection, the date and the cake we ate with the book.
But with all those caveats, here’s what our (slightly flaky) records reveal.
Who are the readers?
Here’s the members and the percentage of choices for each person.
Hello! Spring is in the air here in Scotland, though the temperature is still to get the memos and we had overnight frost two nights last week.
For various reasons, I’ve not stuck to my newsletter send-out schedule since the start of the year—not least because the world and the ongoing awfulness have made it feel pointless.
If you’re feeling powerless yourself, there are a few little things you can do… If you go onto Google maps, and type in Moscow (for instance) and then restaurants, you can leave reviews there along the lines of ‘Fabulous restaurant, but my appetite’s ruined because Putin has invaded Ukraine and is bombing hospitals and shelling civilians’.
I varied the wording for different restaurants because I assumed that copying and pasting the same thing would trigger some bot somewhere.
Channel 4 in the UK recently bought the rights to an old comedy show, Servant of the People, created by and starring one Volodymyr Zelenskiy. (As the joke goes in the UK, Ukraine elected a comedian, we elected a clown.)
We’ve watched the first two episodes and it’s incredibly funny (and I recommend it), but watching the programme feels surreal when you counter it with the images of the city that have been on the news of bombed bridges, mass piles of rubble and citizens wrapped up in hats and scarves as they try to flee.
My writing schedule has fallen behind too, though I hope to publish Baked With Love, a chick lit novel based on a fictional version of the Great British Bake Off in late spring.
After much umm-ing and ah-ing, I have decided to return to the Highland books and I’m going to give Mhari her own story. You can read the start of it here.
I’m also running a month-long sale of Highland Wedding, the third in the series of the Highland Books, on PayHip and you can buy it for the bargain basement price of 0.99p.
Finally, it’s St Patrick’s Day on Thursday and my birthday. I have always wanted to spend my birthday in Ireland because of how seriously the Irish take their national saint’s day, so this year we are travelling to Belfast to do so…
Well, 2021 didn’t quite work out as planned—did anyone’s 2021?—but when you’re an optimist as I am, you seek out the good things when you look back on a year.
First and foremost, no-one I know and love died of Covid (or anything else). Last year, we joked about 2021 returning to the time when Corona was merely a beer, bubbles only belonged in champagne and self-isolation was not something so many people had to do.
But I am in the extremely fortunate position of living in a country where the vaccination was made available to the masses quickly and I’m starting 2022 having had both doses and the booster.
Let’s raise a glass to science.
Secondly, I didn’t lose my job. The pandemic has wrecked many sectors and businesses (compounded by the mess that is Brexit in the UK). My husband and I have been able to work throughout.
Thirdly, the dreaded writer burn-out didn’t hit. Many writers have talked about this—the inability to find enough concentration to put pen to paper and spin out stories while the hideousness of the pandemic plays out in the background.
(Ooh! Bonus points for three uses of alliteration in that sentence, right?)
I published two books, finished one and wrote another two this year. My book sales are slow but steady, rather like the running style I employed in the days when I jogged. I will never win awards, but I plod on, determined to get to the finishing line.
In the summer, I signed a contract with Wattpad in May for the audio-visual rights to one of my stories. In all likelihood, it won’t come to anything, but I enjoyed a few weeks of casting various actors as my characters, which is more challenging to do than you might expect.
On the minus side. I continue to find reading books a challenge. Ever since I can remember, I’ve read books, often getting through two or three a week. That stopped last year when I started reading newspapers and periodicals instead. Books feel like too much of an intensive work out for my dwindling attention span.
(Though if I can recommend one, I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and raced through it when we holidayed in Dundee in May this year.)
Here in Scotland, we are effectively back in lockdown with large indoor and outdoor gatherings banned, and people encouraged not to mix with more than three households/go out. It’s all a bit same old/same old, but the current situation will end at some point, and I force myself to make the most of it as I’m now at the age where time flies by frighteningly fast and it is wrong to wish it away.
Anyway, thanks for reading. May 2022 bring you health and happiness.
Ah, I always have issues with character names too!
“That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet”
William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare’s suggestion that names are not important is hopelessly wrong for writers. Who hasn’t sat, staring at a blank sheet of paper, agonising over what to call a character? And if it’s your protagonist, that only makes it harder. Without a character, you have no story.
Occasionally a name for a character just comes to me: Meredith Hardew from a book I plan to release next year, A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1, and Cressida Barker-Powell from Criss Cross: Friendship can be Murder: Book1 published 2013 (whose name was a deliberate mutation of Parker-Bowles). These are names that sprang fully-formed into my consciousness as I began to write the story. I couldn’t even think of calling any of those people anything else. In fact this whole opening…
At the risk of sounding like an alcoholic, let me say it anyway – I can’t wait to get back in a pub.
Here in Scotland, the emergence from lockdown is slow and controlled (rightly), but the sight of the four walls around me drives me mad. Ever since we got married, my husband and I have made a ritual of Sundays. In the spring/summer months, we hop on his bike and drive up north, heading for the lochs, the hills and the mountains that I love for the way they sit there, unchanging, ignoring our stupid human endeavours.
We watch the scenery. We park in small towns and villages, find the local pub—preferably one that offers food—plonk our well-covered bottoms in a booth and earwig on other people’s conversations. At least I do. Is there ever anything as fascinating as hearing part of a conversation and trying to figure out the rest?
Who are you people? How did you meet? What do you do, and why are you here?
There’s a pub on the A82 that we return to time and time again. Truth be told, the food will never win awards, but we go there because the motorbike journey up the side of Loch Lomond is, and I hate this too overused word, breath-taking. God almighty, I want to be back in that pub, eating the goat’s cheese salad I always order, nicking the over-cooked broccoli off my husband’s dish of choice, the steak pie and mustard mash, squeezing into the world’s tiniest pub toilets and drinking the far too sweet/far too rubbish/way overpriced Rose.
Bliss, in these constrained times, takes diverse forms.
And yet how many of these places will survive? I’ve written a series of books set in a fictional Highland village, where the local pub/hotel doubles up as community hub. Two of the series of five I wrote in lockdown, and now wonder if they are out of date. Historical fiction, rather than contemporary romance.
Would my made-up pub/hotel, the Lochside Welcome, come through the other side of lockdowns? Doubtful.
I hate that.
In the meantime, here is a short excerpt from one of my books featuring a scene from the fictional pub… Enjoy:
The public bar was noisy. It was nowhere near as busy as the George, but its smaller space packed in people who all grinned at each other and chattered loudly. From the snatches of conversations I caught, I gathered most of them were part of a hillwalking group from Glasgow who’d looked at the weather forecast this morning, circled the loch and descended on the village. They’d booked every room and were now desperate to knock back pints, pizzas, cake and whiskies.
Jack stood at the bar, fixed smile in place as two of the walkers their status marked by lightweight cagoules and sturdy boots, exclaimed at his resemblance to Jamie Fraser.
“‘Mon, ‘mon!” they cried. “We want a selfie wi’ you!”
He pushed up the serving hatch, gamely putting an arm around each woman. I watched one of them—a woman who had to be twice Jack’s age—let her hand linger far too close to his bottom as she and her friend cuddled up either side of him. A third one took hundreds of pictures.
“Gaby!” His greeting sounded relieved. “Maureen, Louisa—this is Gaby, my wife.”
Emphasis on wife. Maureen made no move to drop her hand.
“That right, hen? You’re an awfy lucky girl,” she beamed at me. “Mind, when ma daughter was up the duff last year, by the time she got to the nine-month mark, she went right off the bed bit. Me and ma friend here would be happy to help youse out. We could take yer man up they stairs and exhaust him so much, he’ll no’ touch ye for months.”
My jaw dropped, as did Jack’s though his expression was 100 percent pure fear. Behind the bar, there were snorts of laughter. Jolene and Xavier listening in and doing nothing to help us out. As soon as I got home, I was going to design a poster for the bar. One that made it clear in gigantic capital letters that the Lochside Welcome did not tolerate abusive, sexist behaviour towards its staff.
Oh hallelujah! Praise the skies, the sun, the moon and everything else. Here in Scotland, we’ve been given a timetable for when things will open again, case numbers permitting. As you can see from my picture, I am long overdue a haircut, but with any luck will be able to get into a salon come April.
This week, I celebrated my birthday in a lockdown way – lunch in the garden with my mum, a walk, and a family Zoom quiz in the evening. One of the rounds was on the Tudors (a specialist subject of mine) and my talented nephew came up with this picture to illustrate it…
The final round was on… jobbies. Yes, a picture round where the quiz participants had to identify the animal from its poop. Believe it or not, the bulk of people taking part in the quiz were aged over 40. That happened to be my worst round. Perhaps I’ll need to get a T-shirt made up that says ‘Proud to be Sh*te at Sh*te’.
To celebrate the occasion, we ordered a meal from Andi Oliver’s Caribbean restaurant, Wadadli in Stoke Newington. Andi is on the Great British Menu and Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet, so I was intrigued as to what the menu might offer… Chicken wings, goat curry, fried plantains, pickled vegetables, sweet potato roti, macaroni and fries. All delicious.
Given that I aspire to full-time writing, one of the ironic things that has happened to me over the last year is how I have struggled to read books. All my life, I have been an avid novel reader, and could easily get through three, four or more books a week.
A global pandemic hits and I find myself doom-scrolling through the news or Twitter. My attention span seems to have shrunk to a tiny limit, and it doesn’t feel healthy. Books are about escapism, but research has also shown that book reading makes you more empathetic. When I read all the angry, polarised opinions on Twitter, I worry that my own opinions are becoming entrenched. Not a good thing!
If you have any recommendations for anything page-turning, please let me know in the comments below!
And finally, In the interests of lining my own pockets, rather than contributing to Mr Bezos’ billions, I have set up my own wee bookshop… all the money on each book goes to me and I get it straight away. Happy days! If you are so inclined, you can buy directly from me by clicking on the button below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…