bee on a flower

Sausages in memorium

This week I’m…

Doing Sunday lunch. My family in total equals fourteen these days and it’s a tight squeeze fitting them all in our house. And if they want to eat at the table, we have to do it in two-three sittings.

Still, I like to play the grand hostess at least once a year. It means I get to make lists. A lot of them—five different menu possibilities, what we need to buy from the supermarket and a schedule for the day. (Which I never stick to. I’m writing this for instance when I should be making the pea and feta cheese salad. And Lord only knows when I’ll get round to chopping those carrot sticks.)

Too many sausages?

Today’s a special day for us as we’re celebrating the memory of John Gilmour Baird, (15/08/40 to 18/08/2010), and I’ve bought in some of his favourite things for us to eat—sausages, hard-boiled eggs, the fruit and nut version of Dairy Milk and beers. Can you eat too many sausages? My father often tried to prove you can’t put the words “too many” and “sausages” in one sentence. If we have any left post dinner, I’ll eat my… well, the rest of them obviously.

Writing THE END. Oh, the lovely, lovely satisfaction of typing out the words ‘the end’. I’ve finished Highland Wedding—the third book in the series that began with Highland Fling (available here). Initially, I thought three books would do it but truly successful indies publish what they call ‘deep’ series, so I’m going to aim for five books even if the prospect makes me shrivel up inside… I mean, what next? I’ve got Highland Fling, Highland Heart, Highland Wedding, so Highland Baby? Highland Divorce? Highland Funeral? Or, for that matter, Highland Tinder and Highland Grindr?

Reflecting on good fortune. The marvellous health care system that is the NHS system in the UK (if you ruin it, Boris, I’ll kill you with my bare hands) saw fit to reward me with a flash glucose monitoring system recently. I’m a type 1 diabetic and flash glucose monitoring allows you to check your sugar levels multiple times a day.

Flash glucose monitoring

I’ve got a sensor on my arm and I hold the meter to it to check the reading. Big, big plus—you can do it through clothes.

If you want to know the difference it makes to me, here’s the before example.

3am, chez Baird-Birnie household. I stir awake sweaty and head-achey, and think, “Blast it, I’m not feeling well. Better check what the heck my blood sugar thinks it’s doing…” Sticks out hand, pats around the floor trying to locate handbag. Handbag found and hauled onto bed. Make-up bag spills out, as do two pens, a purse, phone and the laminated bit of card that contains a four leaf clover my dad gave me twenty five years ago. Finally finds blood glucose testing meter kit at the bottom. Opens it up. Wrestles the top of the tube and inserts the stick into the meter. Pricks finger and tries to place blood droplet on the top of the stick. In the dark, so I don’t wake my husband. Give up as I can’t see it and switch the light on. Blood disposed. Wait five seconds. 3.2mmol. (Under 4mmol is too low.) Scrabble round for open bag of jelly babies and spill them all over the floor.

The after version.

3am, chez Baird-Birnie household. stir awake sweaty and head-achey, and think, “Blast it, I’m not feeling well. Better check what the heck my blood sugar thinks it’s doing…” Takes meter from bedside table and runs it over arm. 3.2mmol. Scrabble round for open bag of jelly babies and spill them all over the floor. (Yeah, haven’t nailed that bit yet.)

Finally, in case you were wondering, the picture up the top is one of the climbers in our garden (a special prize to any nature lovers out there who can tell us what it is—my husband bought it from Asda and didn’t keep the tag). The bees love it, and I love it for that reason. Save the bees, right?

Clothes in women’s fiction

Black trackie bottoms (elasticated waistband a must) scuffed trainers and a hoodie that has seen much, much better days… My writer/home worker’s uniform is far from glamorous.

But one of the joyous bits of being a writer—and particularly if you write women’s fiction/chick lit—is living vicariously through your characters. Mine get to wear all kinds of beautiful outfits and shoes. I find myself on fashion websites seeking out the dresses, shoes, skirts and tops they might don. It’s even more fascinating when coming up with men’s clothing. Traditionally, their outfits veer towards boring but I love to make my men hyper stylish. I reward then with loud check print skinny-fit suits, silk bomber jackets and brogues polished to within an inch of their lives.

I wrote this scene some time ago, having Googled male fashion and found the outfit on Top Man…

Kelly twisted awkwardly in her seat to see who had attracted their attention. Oh, God. Nate Walker. She turned away quickly before he could catch sight of her.

Leon, his eyes still glued to Nate who had managed to pull off skinny chino shorts and a sleeveless pink hoodie over a white long-sleeved tee shirt, noticed the sudden move. “Do you know him?” he asked, awed.

Yes, he’s a rude arsehole,” she muttered. “And he’s straight.”

In that outfit? Kelly, are you sure? Ooh, he’s coming over…”

To her chagrin, Kelly realised she had been spotted. Nate had made his way over to their booth. “Hi Kelly. How are you?”

At least he looked faintly uncomfortable and the exaggerated politeness of the other day had gone.

Fine.” She bared her teeth in bad imitation of a smile.

Er… listen, sorry I was a bit rude the other day. Family problems. I wasnae in the best of fettle.”

As Leon and Martin were practically panting beside her, Kelly nodded quickly. “Apology accepted.”

Anyway, having made my last heroine, Gaby of Highland Fling, as scruffy as I am, I wanted to make Katya, who stars in Highland Heart, the stylish, well-dressed woman I’m sure lurks deep within me. So, here’s an insight into her wardrobe and what she would wear…

The Vampire’s Wife

Vampire's Wife dressI’m OBSESSED with this brand. Their dresses are out of this world beautiful, all styled along the same lines—slender bodices, a defined waist, high necklines and those voluminous sleeves. One day, one day I will own one and I will wear it do the housework in.

AUBERGINE_FIG_VELVET_7673_1024x1024As a fan of the big bag—all the better to carry around all your medical equipment, reading material, make-up and a couple of bottles of diet coke, I love the idea of matching your bag so precisely to your dress. This silk velvet version is a beauty, isn’t it?

Victoria Beckham

paw19_jk_ovr_51005a_black_2_3bcbb597-b9c6-4bdd-80e0-e148be2272e0_750xI’ve also a sneaky fondness for Victoria Beckham’s clothing line because of its simplicity and the exquisite tailoring. I’d give Katya this contrast sleeve biker jacket, and probably the trousers and polo-neck too. A word of caution though… VB’s clothes only go up to a size 16, which pisses me off. Honestly, any eejit can design for tall, skinny models. A few less small sizes, the 6s and 8s, and a few more bigger ones, the 18s and 20s would vastly improve the range.

Levi’s demi-curve jeans

Jeans aren’t a favourite of mine—it’s the non-elasticated waist thing—but I do own a pair of Levi’s demi curve straight leg jeans and they fit brilliantly. So Katya gets to wear them far often than I wear mine, dressing them up with heels or cork wedges, dressing them down with a pair of Converse boots.

Jimmy Choo’s

AW19_CROWNJEWELSAh, the shoes! It’s a women’s fiction cliché that shoes at the end of skinny, long bare legs often turn up on the cover of chick lit books. As someone who spends 90 percent of her life in flats, I do own some fabulous heels. But as Katya is fictional and doesn’t need to worry about walking too far in anything or how much that strap is going to rub the front of her foot, she’s like those women in Suits marching about the smart NY Pearson Spencer Litt office in their male fantasy cliché pencil skirts and sky-high heels. And we might as well go all out femme with this pair of Jimmy Choo heels that look wearable for precisely five seconds.

 

 

hands holding wedding ring

Picture inspiration for a Highland Wedding

Beautiful wedding dresses, hunky Korean male models and delicious rice dishes… I’m writing a new book and I’ve put together a board on Pinterest with pictures to inspire me.

I don’t consider myself all that visual, but this time Googling what things look like has been terrifically helpful. First off, I wanted an attractive man to serve as a secondary love interest so I typed in Korean male models. (Research—so hard!) I picked these two delightful gents and now I picture them when I’m writing the scenes my character appears in. I’ve called him Hyun-Ki in my book—partly because it sounds so close to ‘hunky’.

Kim Sun Wang - male model

Antonio Berardi wedding dress

Next, I needed a wedding dress—the kind of thing you might find in a designer shop where the dresses on the mannequins never have a price label on them. I found this Antonio Berardi version. Isn’t it absolutely beautiful? I particularly like the high neckline and the asymmetric hem. And as for the train—a thing of beauty, no?

My characters go to a Korean restaurant so in the interests of research I looked up recipes, stumbling on the gorgeously-titled bibimbap—Korea’s national dish. It’s a mix of rice and veggies, topped with strips of beef, a fried egg and spicy sauce. You use chopsticks to break the yolk and mix it in to the dish along with the sauce.

If you’d like the recipe, it is here. And I’ve included the picture of the dish I made, which was the not-as-pretty as the BBC food version one.bibimbap - rice, beef, veggies and a fried egg Gochugang sauce isn’t widely available so I used sriracha instead, which is super spicy so you don’t need as much.

As my heroine’s intended looks like Jamie Fraser of Outlander fame (or Sam Heughan the actor who plays him), I needed pictures of Jamie/Sam for my board too, and found plenty of lovely ones.

 

Finally, I looked up wedding cakes. You can find amazing cakes online, but I decided my home-made one topped the lot.

You can see my Highland Wedding board on Pinterest here.

Highland Wedding #romcom

couple in wedding outfitsAh, the writer’s life… I’ve started the final book in my trilogy, the Highland Books. Called Highland Wedding, it’s a fascinating insight into the funeral industry… I’m kidding.

Highland Wedding is a rom-com starring the two characters from book one, Highland Fling. Here’s a short excerpt:

“Jack, will you marry me?”

Plenty of people are traditionalists. They believe, even though we are well into the 21st century, that it is still the man’s job to propose marriage. When I said to Katya I was thinking of proposing to Jack, she told me to go for it. The modern woman blah blah… before shuddering.

My best friend has a dim view of marriage, given her mother’s track record. And she hates the idea of being the centre of attention. As do I. Just not as much.

Jack and I live together and we share a cat—an old, grumpy moggie called Mildred. Not my idea, the name but her previous owner was an old guy who needed to go into residential care. The home didn’t allow pets (backwards of them) so we inherited her. I love Mildred. She thinks I’m okay and Jack she tolerates—just. This is the norm with cats. If dogs think they are human, a cat thinks it is God.

My point is there’s no need for Jack and I to get married—I just think we should. And I know our friends and neighbours in the small village where we live would be delighted. It’s a long time since there’s been a wedding in Lochalshie. Funerals are standard, but nuptials are few and far between. The only other candidates are our friends Stewart and Jolene, and Jolene point blank refuses. Katya says she reckons Jolene doesn’t want to tie the knot just in case someone better comes along. And with Stewart that bar isn’t high.

Back to my proposal… I’ve discussed it with Katya, sworn her to secrecy and chosen a date. A year—give or take a day or two—to the day we first got together, although we’ve known each other much longer than that.

The venue for where I pop the question? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the annual Lochalshie Highland Games and a rare sunny day in a remote village in the north-west of Scotland…

Summer sale – Highland Fling

advert for Highland FlingNeed some light-hearted, fun reading for your holidays? Highland Fling is now on offer at £1.99/$1.99 in a e-book shop near you… Or it will be once they put my price changes in place. I’ll be running the price promotion until the end of July.

Here’s a little excerpt:

That’s Christina the Dating Guru. Haven’t you heard of her?” Katya says.

Well, no. But then I haven’t needed dating advice for a long time. Ryan and I got together while we were still at school and we were together ten years so I’m bound not to be familiar with a dating guru. And what does that even mean?

Have you used her advice, then?” I ask, “and if so, does it work?”

Nope. I’ve just heard of her. An influencer and all that, and you’re not going to believe the weird co-inci… Oh, never mind. Her website address is datemate dot com. Look it up.”

And with that she hangs up. I tap out the name on my keyboard. Wow. This woman is all over the internet. She’s got a blog, podcasts, YouTube tutorials and everything. Curiosity piqued, I read through some of them. They include guides to using dating apps, what to do the first time you go out with someone so that they ring you back (guaranteed), the best profile pics to use and what make-up you should wear for a first date.

I’m half-way through an article about what will make you a sparkling conversationalist capable of capturing his attention and keeping it when someone clears their throat behind me.

Ahem. Not interrupting anything am I?”

I whirl around on my chair so quickly, I fall off and land in an undignified heap at his feet. I had no time to minimise the screen either, and the site’s header—a riot of hearts and stars complete with the tag line, How to Go from Dating Loser to Loved Up, flashes there. I’m about to get up when another thought strikes me—he’s got the Dating Guru’s portrait upstairs, and he’s caught me looking at her website! I’ve just signalled loud and clear that I sneaked upstairs and had a good nosey. I might stay here, face down on the floor and praying the ground will swallow me until he goes away.

Do you want a hand up?”

No, no!” I straighten up slowly, keeping my eyes on that calming moss-green carpet until the last minute. Heavens, I’d forgotten just how… divine Jack is. Last week, his hair was army buzz cut, and now it’s grown in a little. Still short enough to show off those eyes and cheekbones but the extra millimetre of length emphasises its bright copper colour. The eyes regard me with amusement. Or perhaps it’s irritation. I’d better check with him that it’s okay for me to use his office.

Er… I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow. Doctor McLatchie said I could use your house as the broadband connection is much better here,” I say, dismayed when he rolls his eyes and says, “She would”. Oh heck, didn’t the blasted woman warn him? And what right does she have to offer strangers the use of someone else’s home? I should have asked her to find me somewhere else to work.

He heads for the kitchen, asking me if I want another coffee.

Yes please,” I follow him through. “Though I can make them, least I can do…” I trail off. He hasn’t actually confirmed I can use his house as my office.

In the kitchen, sunlight makes a brave attempt at cutting through the grey clouds to bounce off the redness of his hair. He leans against the kitchen counter, one foot up and his arms folded—one of those guys whose face gives nothing away. Does he ever crack a smile? I remember that photo Katya and I saw of him online when he’d worn this wide grin, the upturned mouth creating a dimple on one cheek, and how lush the smile made him seem.

Now though, those dark eyes remind me of the stand-offs I have with Little Ms Mena when she and I argue over how much smoked salmon she’s going to eat. Who will blink first? My wretched imagination peels clothes off him. He lifts his arms above his head and the tee shirt disappears. Before I know it he’s in front of me wearing only that white towel, neatly knotted over a perfect six-pack torso. I blink twice to dislodge the image.

The face in front of me cracks, a tiny upturn to the corners of the mouth signalling amusement. The change in expression is welcome but (ye gods) did he just read my mind?

Flippin’ heck, I hope not…

You buy Highland Fling on Amazon here.

Spoiled cats and Jamie Fraser lookalikes – all in a #romcom

Highland Fling

A fabulously spoiled cat

Do you like character lists at the start of a book? I do most of the time, though sometimes it’s hard to work out why they are there. Jilly Cooper did it a lot – probably because latterly her books contained so many characters it was hard to keep track of them.

I didn’t put a list in my romcom Highland Fling, but then added it to the version on Wattpad because I wanted to set the right funny note from the beginning.

Read on and tell me if the following list of characters intrigues you…

Gaby—the heroine of this story, fleeing a relationship gone wrong and too fond of the fictional Jamie Fraser.

Jack—an attractive Scottish red-head who frowns too often and refuses to take advantage of his resemblance to Jamie Fraser.

Mena—a fabulous, and fabulously-spoiled cat.

Katya—Gaby’s long-standing friend and an expert on Vitamin C and the signs that signal a person is lying.

Kirsty—the fabulously spoiled cat’s owner. Annoying and far richer than anyone her age ought to be.

Mhari—an about-to-be ‘friend’ of Gaby’s. A woman who has turned nosiness into an art form.

Dr McLatchie—a GP with an unhealthy interest in other people’s genitals.

Stewart—part-time coder, full-time bore and dog walker.

Scottie—his dog. Loves food, walkies and sitting in the pub, which is just as well given it’s his owner’s favourite place to be.

Jolene—a surprise in more ways than one.

Jamal—owner of a general store in which you can buy anything and everything, including over-priced smoked salmon, organic chicken and venison.

Dexter—an American, fond of hyperbole. Able to do the downward facing dog AND put his feet flat on the floor at the same time.

Ashley—the owner/manager of the Lochside Welcome, and maker of out-of-this-world pizzas. No-one is better at the 12-inch than this guy.

Big Donnie–a chap tall of height and big of berth. Wears a Barbour jacket at all times and displays an unhealthy interest in paintings of women.

Lachlan—an international man of mystery. Dodgy.

Ryan—a douche-bag. End of.

Guest appearancesAlex Jones and Matt Baker of The One Show. Also, Caitlin Cartier, a reality TV star and ‘self-made’ billionaire at the age of 21, thanks to the beauty company she set up. Some of you might think she is based on a real-life person. The author refers you to her disclaimer where she tells you everything in this book is fiction and any resemblance to real-life characters completely co-incidental.

Highland Fling is now available on Amazon – UK here, and US here.

 

I need a new bum and other mysteries

Click bait title, hmm? I’m running an ad campaign for Highland Fling, attempting to educate myself in the mysterious world of keywords.

I plugged my romcom book’s details in the Google Adwords keyword planner and one of the suggestions it threw back was ‘I need a new bum’. Low competition for that one apparently, but between 1k to 10k searches a month and a bid range of between 14-17 pence.

I get it—sort of. The Algorithm Gods who now rule our lives have waded their way through the tonnes of data we willingly hand over and decided a fair proportion of people who buy romantic comedies also worry about the gluteus maximus bit of themselves. Therefore, as they type the words (or ask Alexa) ‘I need a new bum’, a link to a romantic comedy book appears and they decide to buy that instead.

At least I hope they do. I’d much rather the women of the world were distracted from their gluteal quest and decided to buy a book instead* of chasing snake oil or dangerous surgery. Last year, an article in a newspaper highlighted one woman’s horrific experiences when she underwent a filler operation designed to give her a curvier backside. And another story told of a doctor who went on the run after one of his patients died following filler injections.

Body dissatisfaction

Tempting as it is to snigger at those stories, it is part of an overall trend towards body dissatisfaction fuelled by social media. As a teenager I only had magazines, TV and film to worry about and that was bad enough. Imagine living with a constant stream of too perfect images you hold in your hand…

Talking of which… Instagram announced this week that it might phase out visible ‘likes’ for posts on the platform—i.e. the likes for posts will be private so there is less competition between people to get reactions. This doesn’t bother me. As someone who has a following of less than 80 people, I never get that many likes anyway. So if only one or two people like my self-congratulatory posts about my books and there is no display of it, who cares?

Instagram, like other social media platforms before it, gave rise to influencers—i.e. people with huge followings who were then courted by companies to promote their products. The most famous example are the Kardashians whose social media accounts are reckoned to bring them in millions of dollars.

Kylie Jenner

Kylie Jenner’s make-up company leveraged that popularity, helping to turn her into a ‘self-made’ billionaire by the age of 21. (Like many other people, I dispute the Forbes’ classification of Kylie Jenner as ‘self-made’.)

If the likes for a picture of a fashion influencer wearing a pair of trainers or new duds courtesy of Top Shop or the likes do not show up, how do those influencers ‘prove’ their worth? Will they still get the freebies and the bungs if others cannot see how popular a post was?

Anyway, back to keywords. Will ‘I need a new bum’ get me sales and am I cynical enough to try it? Here’s hoping and yes.

*Not least because it puts money in my pocket…