Mists, mellow fruitfulness and books

This week I’m…

Revelling in autumn. You can keep spring. Autumn is GORGEOUS—the trees turning such beautiful colours and the spiders webs you spot on hedges, doors, railings (everywhere, really). Plus, we get to wear more clothes (always a bonus), dig out boots and feel less guilty about getting into bed with a book at 7pm just because. (For much, much better outdoor autumn pics, check out Sunshine and Celandines post about Strid Wood here.)

Wishing I was braver. This ties in with the paragraphs above. Enjoying nature means you automatically worry about the future, and the lack of action governments and businesses are making to ensure Planet Earth remains habitable. I’ve been following the Extinction Rebellion revolts, applauding as ordinary people glue their hands to pavements, deliver climate change lectures on planes and ultimately get themselves arrested. I love the ‘uncooperative crusties’ and what they are doing. “Emma,” I said to myself this week, “you could handle an arrest, couldn’t you?” Promise, promise, promise next year I will carry out action.

Eating more plant-based. See above! Most of the time, I follow a low-carb diet because I have type 1 diabetes and that is the way of eating that works best for me. It’s never sat well with how I feel about animals. (Love ‘em!) But I’ve been making more of an effort to explore alternatives such as tofu and Quorn and reduce how much meat and dairy I eat.

Eating at a Glasgow institution. Despite having lived in Glasgow or nearby for seventeen years now, I have never visited Rogano’s—Glasgow’s oldest restaurant. As the great Cunard liner, the Queen Mary, was built on the Clyde in the 1930s, a restaurant was refitted in the same Art Deco style and a Glasgow stalwart was born. The 30s feel is delightful and the food delicious. (I, er, veered away from plant-based, too tempted by the Stornoway black pudding topped with a perfectly poached egg and chorizo crumb.)

Publishing books. Ah yes! Highland Heart, the second in the Highland Books came out this week. Funnily enough, it begins in autumn…

Highland Heart – out October 10

Ah, the modern world! Fabulous in so many ways… where once upon a time if you wanted ad images for anything you needed a ginormous budget, nowadays cheap tech solutions will rustle you up something in no time at all…

These images for Highland Heart are via BookBrush.com – you upload your cover and voila! Seconds later, there’s the image. My favourite one is the picture above left because I love the hardback version. But the featured image also appeals because who doesn’t love the idea of a cosy autumn night in, slippers on, hot drink nearby and book in hand?

Highland Heart is the second romcom book in my series set in the highlands of Scotland (as the title suggests), and it explores what happens when the honeymoon stage of a relationship wears off… It’s out October 10.

Wishing you all a great week!

Pic of home-made millionaire's shortbread

The Magic of Baking—a short story

As it’s now autumn and the Great British Bake Off is back on the TV, I wrote this short story to celebrate. Enjoy…

Caroline, what’s your favourite memory of Ranald?”

She did this sometimes. Pretended she was being interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland. Who took her seriously and sought her opinion on everything and anything. In this instance, material they could use to help listeners understand Ranald McLatchie better.

“Och, easy!” she said. Kay Adams interviewed her. Kay didn’t stand for any nonsense. Caroline liked her. If the two of them got together afterwards for a wee chat, she knew Kay would warm to warnings about the perils of the menopause. Kay wasn’t afraid to discuss dry vaginas, inconvenient weepiness or that wretched extra flesh that welded itself round your belly.

When Caroline said, “Coconut oil—the cure for everything!”, Kay nodded sagely. Even if she had trouble figuring out how oil might stop you greeting every time you saw an ad for a cancer charity on the telly.

“Here it is, my memory,” Caroline told Kay. “I have tae set the scene. We’re in a farmhouse kitchen. Have ye been in one, Kay? They’re awfy big. Draughty too. A table in the centre, a dresser to the left filled wi’ blue and white Adams cattle scenery plates and silver cutlery. To the side, a Raeburn stove, the wire shelf above it topped wi’ tea-towels and a chancer cat sleepin’ there to catch the warmth…”

“A lovely scene, Caroline,” Kay butted in, “tell me what happened.”

No nonsense, remember? Caroline had vanished into la-la-land memories, the look and the smell of the place whisking her back twenty years. She’d stumbled on it too, returning from a day at the university doing her medical studies course and there they were. Ranald and her son in that kitchen.

“No, no, don’t mix it too much!”

They hadn’t heard her come in. She’d lifted the latch on the kitchen door quietly, an old habit left over from Jack’s father’s days. If he got a fright when she came in, he lashed out first and asked questions later.

Ranald had pulled out the old milking stool. It gave her eight-year-old son the height he needed to stand at the kitchen counter. They both wore pinnies, aprons over their clothes meant to protect them from the splatter of flour. Whiteness dotted their cheeks and dusted their sleeves. She saw patches of it on the floor, the counters. Even in their hair.

“Can I try it?”

Jack’s question made Caroline smile. She was broad Scots. Ranald wasn’t. His own father had beaten elocution into him and his sister. And yet her own son picked up on Ranald’s proper speech and copied it. He said the odd ‘aye’ and ‘mebbe’ just like his mother did, but Ranald was the man he wanted to be. So now he emphasised the ‘I’, differing it from his mother’s ‘Ah’.

“Might give you a sore tummy,” Ranald said, spoiling the warning when he stuck a finger in, scooped up a bit blob of sugary dough and stuck it in his mouth. Jack copied him, his face lighting up.

“The rice flour makes it special, doesn’t it?”

Ranald took another bit of dough, worked it in his mouth thoughtfully and smiled. “Aye, I think so, Jack.”

The ‘aye’ was the sign he’d seen her. Speaking properly all the time made him self-conscious. “I don’t sound like anyone else around here, Caroline,” he told her. “And I dinnae care,” she said, and laughed. They exchanged their usual eyeball greeting over Jack’s head. If questioned about it, Caroline would say the eyes asked, are you okay? Yes? Good.

a plate of shortbread biscuits“Makin’ shortbread boys?” she asked, Jack twisting from his stool to look at her. His eyes shone.

“Yes, Mum! Ranald’s teaching me. The rice flour is the secret ingredient.”

She opened one of the drawers on the ancient dresser. Like everything in this old house, it was crammed with random stuff. Old pens, notepads, diaries, mouse pads and… here it was, the heart-shaped biscuit cutter she’d bought a year ago.

She gave it to her son.

“Mum!” he said, holding the thing at arm’s length. “We’re not making soppy biscuits!”

Ranald’s eyes met hers once more and then flashed away before Jack saw them. ‘Soppy biscuits’ referred to the chocolate ones she’d made a few months ago on Valentine’s day, the first one she’d spent with Ranald. Caroline didn’t believe in Hallmark rubbish but the joy of being with a soul as gentle and kind as Ranald sparked joy. She wanted to celebrate. Jack helped her, folding chocolate chips into dough and rolling it out. She wasn’t a cook. The biscuits were far too sweet. Ranald ate them anyway, toasting her in whisky and crushing her hand in his.

She scrambled in the drawer. “What about this one?” A circle cutter.

Ranald took it from her. “Oh yes. Jack, we could dip the shortbread in melted chocolate if you like?”

Her red-headed son did that thing—he clapped his hands, he turned his face, and he bestowed beatific smiles on both of them. He didn’t do ‘that thing’ often, but when he did Caroline experienced the closest she ever got to religious ecstasy. How to describe it? (Kay might probe.) “It’s like the truest, purest form o’ joy, and I believe in anythin’ and everythin’. Ma wee boy is happy, and that is all that matters.”

Ranald dipped his head, dark hair streaked with white which might be the grey might be the flour, and handed Jack the rolling pin. He dusted the counter with yet more flour.

“Roll it out one way only, Jack,” he said, “not back and forth or it the texture won’t be right.”

He stood next to Caroline, taking her hand in his. Fingers squeezed little messages. Ranald’s baking expertise was well known. Now he resisted stepping in. Jack pulled the lumps of sugar, flour and butter in the bowl into a clumsy ball and dumped it on the counter. He began to flatten it, the push of the rolling pin laborious. He moved it upwards, removing the pin from the dough carefully before applying it to the bottom of the rough circle once more.

Once he’d got it thin enough—and for ages he hovered at the edge of the dough before rolling it out in front of him—Jack took the round cutter from Ranald and started to push out circles of dough. Caroline found a baking sheet and greased it. They worked in a factory line. Jack punched out the circles, Ranald lifted them up, Caroline placed them on the sheet.

“In the fridge,” Ranald said, “that’s another secret. It stops the biscuits shrinking too much when you cook them. What shall we do while we wait?”

He winked at Caroline. After the soppy biscuits, they’d had an early night. As it was three o’clock in the afternoon and Jack was wide awake, that option wasn’t available today. Ranald rummaged in another drawers pulling out scraps of paper and a packet of crayons.

“Why don’t you do some drawings, Jack? I’d like to have pictures of the cows and sheep.”

Jack nodded. Drawings were everywhere in the kitchen, stuck to the fridge and pinned to the cork boards next to reminders about bills and business cards for NFU services. Her son drew a lot of pictures of the three of them and this was what he did now, adding a fluffy ball sheep and a Highland cow, rust-red and long horned.

Ranald took the baking sheet from the fridge and set the timer for twenty minutes. He didn’t need the reminder but Jack loved the excitement of the shrill bell. She sat opposite her son at the table and drank tea. Outside the skies had darkened, winter dragging on and on this year. For the first few years of Jack’s life they’d lived in a town. Farm houses could be lonely, isolated places. Or they could be somewhere you shut the door, shored the home fires and snuggled in with the ones you loved.

The kitchen filled with the scent of flour, sugar and butter coming together. Baking had a mysterious alchemy to it, transforming ingredients in a magical way.

Jack took a pen and wrote ‘Mum’ next to the figure he’d drawn of her, then ‘Jack’ under the boy. The pen hovered. He looked at them both, eyes darting between her and Ranald.

“Can I…?” He bit his bottom lip. “I want to write something.”

“What is it?” Caroline asked. Next to her, Ranald shifted in his seat, the habitual back pain giving him grief. He’d been lifting bales of straw the other week, exacerbating the problem, and the only thing that seemed to ease it was hanging from the door frames.

Jack pointed to the space under the Ranald figure. “Dad,” he said. Ranald’s shifting halted. About to jump in and say something, Caroline paused. The question wasn’t for her. The timer bell rang and Ranald got up, pausing to drop a light kiss on the top of Jack’s head.

“Of course you can,” he said. “Now, who wants a bit of shortbread made by the best baker in the world—my son?”

“Me!” “Me!”

©Emma Baird 2019

If you enjoyed that little encounter with Jack McAllan and his mum, Caroline McLatchie, you can read more about them in Highland Fling, available here—https://books2read.com/Highland-Fling

Writing #romcoms and in series

End of September, Emma B, I said to myself. Book one in the Highland Books series, Highland Fling was released in June. I plucked a date out of the air and promised that was when I’d release book two to keep the momentum going.

The best laid plans of mice and men… However, I have put the cover, description and other meta date on Amazon and specified a release date on 10th October. It’s now available for pre-order here. Do you thrive under pressure? I’m about to find out just how much I do. Or don’t.

Highland Heart – the blurb

Anyway, here’s the blurb…

Highland Heart by Emma BairdAn absent boyfriend and a charmer close by—who would you choose?

We booked every room in this hotel,” he said, and the anticipation-already at fever pitch-heightened. If she held a hand out now, her fingers would shake.

He took her hand, his own warm, solid and enveloping. “We’ll sneak up there. Before anyone notices. I’ll order room service.

The follow-up to Highland Fling, Highland Heart follows the story of Katya and Dexter—lovers who met at a magical village in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, but who begin to drift apart.

She wants him; he wants her but there are thousands of miles between them.

Meanwhile, there’s a new dude in town. Zac is fun, flirtatious and determined to seduce Katya. The trouble is, can she resist? Especially as Dexter seems to be throwing himself into his work as marketing manager for a big reality TV star and her brand-new make-up company on a mission to take over the world.

And what about his relationship with Caitlin, the reality TV star he works for? Is it one hundred percent professional or are those photos that keep popping up in her Instagram feed as innocent as he professes?

Village shenanigans, an eccentric cast of lovable characters and a catch up with Gaby and Jack of Highland Fling fame, Highland Heart explores what happens once the initial spark wears off.

Reviews

Reviews of Highland Fling from Amazon.co.uk

It’s a great mix of funny moments and that ‘does he like me’ awkwardness. This book is full of witty dialogue, quirky characters you just know you’d recognise if you met them, and scenery that comes to life, making you want to hop in your car and go there.”

Took only 4 nights to devour this book, and I loved every page. The story and characters were very credible, in that the lead man is somebody I wouldn’t mind the “love guru” setting me up with. A great funny romantic read, ideal for holidays or a rainy day in.”

Reviews of Highland Fling from goodreads.com

A hilarious book full of quirky characters and deliciously super awkward moments. Gaby was easy to relate to and her love interest definitely swoon-worthy 🙂 Made me want to visit Scotland.”

The ‘deep’ series

I’ve finished Highland Wedding, the third book in the series. From everything I’ve read about successful indie publishing (and it works well if you’re traditionally published too), a ‘deep’ series is the way to go—i.e. five plus books.

My own reading preferences back this up. I’m happy to keep reading in a series even if I didn’t particularly enjoy the latest book in that series because the characters and settings are familiar. It’s not as much effort as emerging yourself in a brand new world.

I feel this with the author Lindsey Davis who writes crime fiction set in Ancient Rome. Most of the time I can’t work out the crime and I lose track of characters but I keep reading the books because the main characters appeal to me.

Crime is the easiest to write in a series because you can use a ‘fresh’ crime for each book and put the development of the main character (the detective or whatever) on a slow burn. I wish I could write crime. That and thrillers are my favourite ‘relaxing’ genre to read—nothing like escapism through psychopaths and the people chasing them, hmm?

What do I do for my Highland romcom books though? Highland Baby? Highland Divorce? Highland Tinder (or Gindr for that matter) and concluding with Highland Funeral? (The latter might not be a barrel of laughs.)

Anyway, a bit of thinking to do.

Location, location, location…

A rare sunny Sunday in Scotland—extra bonus points as it’s a bank holiday weekend too. We took ourselves to the Drovers Inn in Inverarnan for a late lunch, which got me thinking about the locations I used for Highland Fling set in Scotland as the title alludes.

20190825_152843185946377.jpgI made up the village Lochalshie, but it is loosely based on Arrochar which is located at the head of Loch Long and surrounded by hills. Please visit if you ever get the chance as the views will take your breath away.

Every good village has a pub and I romanticised mine, turning it into a community hub and making it the best place to get a wood-fired pizza in Scotland. Sadly, pubs are dying out at the same time as the UK’s drinking problem continues apace. A weird contradiction, hmm? But the decline is for a number of reasons but people staying in their own homes drinking supermarket booze and watching Netflix instead of going out is one theory. And the younger generations aren’t drinking as much as the baby boomers and the Gen X-ers.

rose wine and a pint

We Gen X-ers. Making up for the Y and Z lot…

Still, again I modelled my pub (the Lochside Welcome) on the ones that still exist in some of Scotland’s more touristy places such as The Village Inn in Arrochar, the Winnock in Drymen, and the Falls of Dochart Inn (below).

FallsDochart

The Falls of Dochart Inn, Killin.

And finally… behind the happy pictures can lie a very different story. We’d just finished our late lunch at the Drovers, and I’d sent Sandy off to snap some pics of the front of the hotel when a loud crash and the squeal of brakes sounded nearby. Close to, traffic accidents are visceral, shocking things. Your heart sinks and your hand goes to your mouth as you bargain with the deities, luck or fate. Please, please, please let whoever be okay…

A car had pulled out of the Drovers too quickly, another coming the other way hit it and a biker travelling along the road had no way of avoiding the cars. Cue—bike on the road, man down.

Luckily, he wasn’t injured badly and no-one in the two cars got hurt. Communities come in all shapes and sizes. Motor-bikers are one such and watching them rally round warmed my heart.

They pulled over, they got his bike up off the road and took pictures of it. They stopped and waited to see if he was okay. They shook their heads at the car driver who’d pulled out without due care and attention. And they said to themselves, there but for the grace of the universe and all that…

We took the motorbike up to the Drovers because it was such a beautiful day. As it was roasting hot, I elected not to wear the heavy leather trousers. It could have been me on that bike with only a thin non-protective layer between my skin and hard tarmac. Lesson learned? You betcha.

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.