Happy Halloween!

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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!! ❤❤❤”

You can buy the book here:

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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. 

Bread, the BBC and lessons in productivity

Reading is the basic tool in the living of a good life

This week in creativity…

How to spend creative hours productively – part one

To format your book’s paperback edition, use a pre-made template. It takes approximately an hour.

How to spend creative hours productively – part two

Use no templates. Insist on formatting word documents yourself because you know the measurements and you want to do fancy-smancy things. Get yourself in a pickle trying to work out page breaks, section breaks, odd page headers, even page headers, numbering, and so on.

Waste five hours + one hour uploading the document to KDP Print – time you will never get back – only for the system to reject it repeatedly because the margins aren’t correct, despite the fact that YOU HAVE USED THE MARGINS SPECIFIED BY KDP IN THE FIRST PLACE.

How to spend creative hours productively – part three

Skip part two.

Anyhoo, the paperback edition of my latest chick lit novel, Baked with Love, is now in the system and will be available in mid-March.

Adventures at the BBC

On Tuesday, I took part in a pilot show recording for BBC radio. Because the show is about books and reading, a small panel of us, led by Scottish author and broadcaster Damian Barr, discussed Kazuo Ishiguru’s sci-fi novel, Klara and the Sun.

I was the only one who found the book a chore to read. For me, there wasn’t enough description, making it hard to imagine the world he’d created, the dialogue felt awfully stilted and the characters weren’t particularly sympathetic, but everyone experiences books differently, which is why book groups are so fascinating to be a part of.

The others were drawn in by the simple prose and lack of description, and two mentioned binge-reading the book, whereas I read it as part of my ‘to-do’ list for the day.

A few words were bandied about that I had to look up afterwards, having no idea what they meant, and I’m afraid I’ll come across as the panel dunce when (or if) the show is eventually broadcast.

But, as a long-standing admirer of Aunty Beeb (an affectionate British term for the BBC) and almost everything she does, it was a privilege to be involved,

What I’m baking/eating

For years, I followed a low-carb diet. Bread was the thing I missed the most. These days, I eat low-carb-ish, but a small amount of bread is a daily staple because…

… bread is the GREATEST foodstuff known to (wo)mankind.

Like almost all foodstuffs, it is far superior made from scratch. Kneading, on the other hand, is tedious, especially for those of us with butterfly attention spans. But after seeing someone tuck into ‘no-knead’ bread on YouTube, I decided to make two loaves this week.

You’ll need to plan ahead of time because the bread takes fourteen hours plus to make (dough rising time)—but it’s so easy and so tasty*.

Best served with lashings of butter and a thick layer of Marmite.

What I’m watching

The Detectorists, photo BBC

We’ve recently discovered Detectorists on BBC iPlayer and binge watched the three series. The programme follows the fortunes of a small group of metal detectorists and was written and directed by Mackenzie Crook (left in the picture above). It’s sooooo lovely – great characters, acting, the setting, the wildlife. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for such a treat. I don’t know if it’s available outwith the UK, but if you are reading this and you’re in another country, I hope you can find it!

*As energy prices are through the roof at the moment, bread-making at home is a real luxury because you need the oven at a high temperature and the loaf takes an hour to bake.

American versus British accents

This week in creativity

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

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

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

Highland Books by Emma Baird book cover

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I’ll give it some thought.

Quote of the week

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

What I’m eating

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

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

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

cheesy wotsits

Game-changer. I promise…

What I’m watching

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

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

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

Are there ANY alternatives to head nodding or shaking?

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

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

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

No, you couldn’t. It sounds ridiculous.

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

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

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

Here’s an illustration…

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

Or,

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

Creativity part 2

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

This paragraph stuck out:

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

Kirsten Oliphant, Jane friedman blog on writing

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

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

And this one is for a board about my Highland books

This week’s Google searches related to writing

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

What I’m reading/watching

The book Klara and the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week in creativity part 2

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

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

Here’s what I created for mine…

Highland Chances product page on Amazon

This week in creativity part 3

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

Joke!

Note saying Do Tax Return

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

Quote of the week

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

What I’m reading this week

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

French revolutionary figure Camille Desmoulins

What I’m watching

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

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

This week in creativity

Quote of the week:

Just in case things get boring, I'm bringing a book

In 2018, I set myself the goal of becoming a full-time writer by the time 2022 rolled around (and out). Ach, it happened and didn’t happen… the money-side never materialised. I suck at selling books.

Is the universe trying to telling me something? Tempting to say, yes. The world has spoken:

Emma, thou should put down thy pen and never pick it up again…

Look, the late Hilary Mantel, Maggie O’Farrell and anyone else who appears on Booker Prize/Orange Prize etc or lists has nothing to fear, but I’ve had enough praise from strangers—via reviews/emails/comments on Wattpad—to believe I’m not dreadful and I’ve won the odd prize here and there that spurs me on.

I write all the time. Busy day ahead? I get up early to cram words in. On holiday? I bring my laptop (or even my cheap, crappy Kindle along with a £10 keyboard) and tap the stuff out in hotel rooms. Christmas, New Year, birthdays and holidays? Pah! The words are squeezed in.

So yes. Goal accomplished, though perhaps not in the way I envisaged. Turns out crafting stories that no-one pays you for isn’t all that bad*.

Recently, I dug out a book I drafted way, way back in 2016. It was easy to write at the time, but when I was done, I shoved it in the metaphorical drawer with a sigh of, Well, that needs a TON of fixing.

And there it sat, accumulating dust over the years. When I re-read it at the end of last year, the errors, and more importantly, the solutions to them, popped up straightaway. Normally, I loathe revising a book but this one has been a pleasure. I scrapped most of what I’d written, and instead used the novel’s skeleton, fleshing it out much more satisfactorily with fresh words, scenes, dialogue and everything else that brings it to life.

An extract from my forthcoming novel, Forever, maybe

It’s so fulfilling.

Otherwise, I’ve spent the week grappling with book formatting for print, much of which has involved swearing at Word.

FFS, don’t start the numbers there. Don’t put them on blank pages! Keep this header, not that one! Look, I want each chapter to begin on the right-hand side. Just do it okay!

Weirdest Google search of the week

The writer’s search engine history is a weird and wonderful list that would raise the eyebrows of many a psychologist.

‘Names for parts’ is something I frequently Google. Settle down there at the back—I’m not alluding to anything filthy, just wondering what this bit of a vending machine/car/key/Calor Gas heater is called.

But recently, I was curious about how to get out of ankle tag. My main character had been tagged and needed to flee. Is such a thing possible?

Reddit (where else?) had the answers, and my favourite was—do your time and then it magically falls off. But, for dramatic purposes, I settled on the poster who suggested slipping a plastic bag over your foot, slathering it with lube, and wriggling out that way**.

Is it possible? Doubtful, but including it in the story allowed me to add an awkward conversation with the neighbours in which my main character knocked on the door and asked if they had any KY Jelly to spare instead of coffee…

What I’m eating/cooking

A selection of tapas dishes

We booked a late lunch at La Barca, a tapas restaurant in Helensburgh for Hogmanay. Tapas is food for gluttons—why try one dish when you can have three or four? The place was also buzzing, which I hope indicates that it is recession-proof in these high cost-of-living times.

At home, I’ve eaten a lot of this Rainbow Plant Life’s mushroom soup. If you love mushrooms, this is most mushroomy experience you will ever have…

Returning to the quote of the week… My first date with my husband took place in a pub. He recalls nipping to the loos and returning to find me engrossed in a book. (Manners prevailed; I put it away again.)

The world is divided into those who always carry a book with them—which is easier these days because those books can be on tablets or phones—and those who don’t.

But seriously, opportunities to read books while out and about arise on a regular basis. On a train, on a bus, in a GP’s waiting room, at the hairdresser’s, in a long queue, lunchtime at the office, coffee shops… why risk not being able to take advantage of them?

Which brings me neatly to…

What I’m reading

The Ministry for the Future

Re-reading this mahoosive whooper of a book for our book group. (I chose it—592 pages, small print. How to win friends and influence people…)

If you spend a lot of time fretting about the environment, this book might be for you because of the optimistic solutions it offers.

A Place of Greater Safety

In honour of the late, great Ms Mantel, I decided to re-read A Place of Greater Safety after watching Marie Antoinette on the Beeb this January (watch it, I beg you—the costumes, the sets, the acting).

What are you reading at the moment? Let me know in the comments… and if you’ve got a weird Google search, post that too!

*I say this from a position of extreme privilege. I have a part-time job, a partner with a full-time job and no kids.

**Please note. I am NOT condoning criminal behaviour.

WOMAN READING PIC: Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/nenadstojkovic/49982362222, reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence 2.0

A farewell to all that

How’s your year been? Twenty-twenty two had a blink and you miss it quality—the year dashing past so fast it is difficult to believe the end is almost upon us.

In 2022, I hit a milestone birthday, travelled all over the UK relishing that freedom after the pandemic restrictions of the past few years, joined in a national book group reading challenge*, signed a contract for one of my books, received payment for the retention of the audio/visual rights for another, and caught up with a lot of people I hadn’t seen for years.

I fell off the blogging horse in 2021 and didn’t remount it in 2022 (that is one HORRIFIC analogy, sorry) BUT I plan to address that in 2023.

Man falling off white horse

The best bloggers are consistent and single-minded about what they write about. I follow a good few of them. Alas, my scatter-brained approach has never lent itself to consistency or single-mindedness.

Great for writing fiction as it allows for flights of fancy, but not so good when trying to come up with a consistent theme for a blog. And the life of this writer doesn’t lend itself to thrilling blog content.

Got up early. Bashed out 1,231 words before grinding to a halt when I realised that I’d created a ginormous plot hole. Mulled it over for the rest of the day without coming up with a solution. Wasted time on Twitter working myself up into a righteous rage over the behaviour of terrible politicians. Did the paid job. Exercised. Wrote a little bit more. Ate dinner. Collapsed in front of the TV…**

Repeat ad nauseum.

Woman writing in a notepad

However, I loved blogging when I started in 2012, and blogs are still my preferred choice for keeping up with what other people are doing, following my interests (writing, cooking, travel and nature, diabetes, nature photography 1 and 2, books, reading and archiving) educating myself and more.

Many of the platforms that later supplanted blogging did not exist in 2012. And yet given the choice between reading blogs or scrolling my way through Instagram/TikTok feeds? No contest.

There is also plenty of evidence that scrolling through social media does little, if anything, for you.*** Creatives tend to suffer extensively from comparison-itis. There is always someone popping up in your feed, excitedly detailing their book/TV/film deal/number of reads/commissioning for a script, etc.

I can’t think of a single blog I follow that makes me feel dissatisfied, envious, helpless, furious or any of the other emotions I routinely associate with social media.

So, to the future! Back to blogging… every week I plan to write about my week and find some way of making it interesting, funny and engaging.

A tall order, yes, but nothing wrong with starting the year with a lofty ambition or two. And talking of lofty ambitions, I plan on publishing not one, not two but three books this year, starting with the one in the illustration below:

Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all. May 2023 bring you health and happiness!

*Sadly, our book group wasn’t chosen, but the experience was terrific fun and BBC Scotland then used us as sounding boards for a potential new programme about book groups and reading.

**Other writers’ experiences may vary.

***Sleep disturbances, emotional dysregulation, diminished academic performance and depression. Hilariously, there’s a pop-up on the article I read urging you to follow the website on Instagram…

Horse photo by Pixabay from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/action-animal-bronco-bucking-33251/

Woman Writing Photo by JESHOOTS.com on StockSnap

New Year photo: Jernej Furman on Flickr

The Booker Prize 2022 Book Group challenge

The world would be a better place if more people joined book groups… I have had the immense privilege of being part of one for 20 years now—the Weegie BeeGees* (no-one calls it anything but the Book Group; the moniker was picked for identification purposes) founded by Maryanne McIntyre.

In that time, we’ve had at least 18 members, read at least 167 books and eaten at least 110 cakes. Lucy makes a cake themed around each book, which, given the general love for baking in the UK, most people find intriguing.

Mostly, we have read general fiction (40.7 per cent) and historical fiction (21 per cent). (For more information on our stats, including which genres different members tend to choose, our authors’ geographical spread and when the books we have been reading were published, see Lucy Jane’s 20 years of books and cakes: a book group’s data story.)

This year, the organisers of the Booker Prize along with the Reading Agency decided to invite book groups to apply to be part of the experience. They invited book groups to apply to read the short-listed books and review them—a well-meaning attempt to make literary prizes more inclusive through inviting in we amateurs.

The Booker Prize 2022 shortlist includes the shortest book and oldest author ever to be nominated, three second novels, authors from five countries and four continents, three independent publishers and several titles inspired by real events.

The shortlist consists of

  • Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
  • Treacle Walker by Alan Garner
  • The Trees by Percival Everett
  • The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

The winner will be announced on 17 October.

My friends Lucy and Morag Pavich put in the hard work of applying, and we were chosen. The six books shortlisted were allocated to each of the book groups (so unlike a real book group situation, none of our members chose the book we read) and off we went to read, digest and discuss Glory…

Two members of our Book Group, if we win the reading challenge with our fascinating insights (!) will be invited to attend the 2022 Booker Prize ceremony and dinner at the Roundhouse in London on 17 October.

Lucy and I were interviewed by Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsyth talking about the Booker Prize book we read and our book group in general. It was a nerve racking experience not least because it was live. I coped by pointing at Lucy every time Janice asked one of the more difficult questions (sorry, Lucy!) and waffling on a bit about if everyone joined a book group, the world would be a better place.

You can listen to the audio here: https://lucyjanes.blog/2022/10/06/the-booker-prize-book-club-challenge/

To cut to the chase though, what did we actually think of Glory?

Over the years, very few books have met universal approval or dislike, and so was the case with Glory. Here’s my review of it…

The joy of belonging to a book group is that you read outside your comfort zone, which can turn up gems. The reverse is true as well of course. Personally, I found Glory a struggle to read. I’m not keen on allegory, and sometimes the satire seemed rather laboured.
Having stared off disliking the repetitive nature of some of the book, after a while it became more ‘rhythmic’ to my ear—tuning into the author’s voice, I suppose—and the writing and descriptions were beautiful in parts. You can’t help but admire the author’s ambition in attempting to tell such a ‘big’ story about a nation and I came away from the book determined to read up more on a history and culture I have so little knowledge of.
I enjoyed Destiny’s story (particularly when she returned and had to ‘tune’ back into the place where she came from) and the social media stuff felt very relevant—not just in relation to the fictional country, but as related to all kinds of events these days. And of course it raised a smile when some thinly disguised bigwigs turned up.
This is the first time I have seen George Floyd turn up in fiction, and I found that part of the book incredibly moving. The multiple points of view added to the novel too. Most novels published in this century concentrate on only a few, whereas this technique felt as if it was the only way you could tell a story like Glory.

Wish us luck in the competition!

My own writing

Reading prize-nominated and prize-winning books is inspiring, though sometimes you end up thinking, “I might as well give up now! I’ll never manage to write as beautifully as that.” But I persevere.

My vampire novel, Beautiful Biters, is now in the Paid Stories programme on Wattpad, which is nice from a validation point of view. Somebody somewhere recognised it as ‘worthy’ of publishing.

I have self-published a lot of books, which gives you control over everything—from the blurb to the uploading and the commissioning of covers. When my story entered the Paid Stories programme, Wattpad changed the cover of Beautiful Biters to the one on the left:

I much prefer the cover I commissioned (on the right), which was created by the talented Jennifer Mijatovic (@wee_mij on Instagram). The Wattpad cover is very ‘American’ and with traditional publishing, you often see two different covers for the UK versus the US market, which is an interesting fact in and of itself.

To me, covers with photographs of people often look cheap, and are cheap because it takes less time and effort to create them than to come up with an original image, such as the one Jennifer did for me, which also does a better job of conveying the adventure element of the story.

I’d love to know what you think, and which cover you prefer…

*We live in and around Glasgow and the slang name for people from Glasgow is Weegies (from the word Glaswegian, pronounced glas-wee-gin for those outside of the UK) and BeeGees from the initials, geddit?

Reasons to celebrate

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.

Cheers, everyone!

20 years of books and cakes: a book group’s data story

A fascinating look at all the books the book group I’m part of has read over the 20 years we’ve been in existence…

Lucy Janes

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.

View original post 2,146 more words

Spring, fake restaurant reviews and a flash sale

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.

Growbags ready to deliver lots of lovely home-grown veg (hopefully) if we can persuade our cats and those of our neighbours that this is not a giant litter tray.

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…

Can’t wait.