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!

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.

A Farewell to All That…

Well, 2021 didn’t quite work out as planned—did anyone’s 2021?—but when you’re an optimist as I am, you seek out the good things when you look back on a year.

First and foremost, no-one I know and love died of Covid (or anything else). Last year, we joked about 2021 returning to the time when Corona was merely a beer, bubbles only belonged in champagne and self-isolation was not something so many people had to do.

Hey ho.

But I am in the extremely fortunate position of living in a country where the vaccination was made available to the masses quickly and I’m starting 2022 having had both doses and the booster.

Let’s raise a glass to science.

Talking of glasses, I plan to do Veganuary AND Dry January, but in the meantime, let’s go out with a bang…

Secondly, I didn’t lose my job. The pandemic has wrecked many sectors and businesses (compounded by the mess that is Brexit in the UK). My husband and I have been able to work throughout.

Thirdly, the dreaded writer burn-out didn’t hit. Many writers have talked about this—the inability to find enough concentration to put pen to paper and spin out stories while the hideousness of the pandemic plays out in the background.

(Ooh! Bonus points for three uses of alliteration in that sentence, right?)

I published two books, finished one and wrote another two this year. My book sales are slow but steady, rather like the running style I employed in the days when I jogged. I will never win awards, but I plod on, determined to get to the finishing line.

You can buy the book here.

In the summer, I signed a contract with Wattpad in May for the audio-visual rights to one of my stories. In all likelihood, it won’t come to anything, but I enjoyed a few weeks of casting various actors as my characters, which is more challenging to do than you might expect.

On the minus side. I continue to find reading books a challenge. Ever since I can remember, I’ve read books, often getting through two or three a week. That stopped last year when I started reading newspapers and periodicals instead. Books feel like too much of an intensive work out for my dwindling attention span.

(Though if I can recommend one, I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and raced through it when we holidayed in Dundee in May this year.)

Here in Scotland, we are effectively back in lockdown with large indoor and outdoor gatherings banned, and people encouraged not to mix with more than three households/go out. It’s all a bit same old/same old, but the current situation will end at some point, and I force myself to make the most of it as I’m now at the age where time flies by frighteningly fast and it is wrong to wish it away.

Anyway, thanks for reading. May 2022 bring you health and happiness.

Best wishes, Emma XXX

Walking in Ireland (sort of) and romance giveaway

Image by Jonas Fehre from Pixabay

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

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

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

Sweet romance Valentine’s giveaway…

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

They include:

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

And Songbird Beginnings by Sylvia Price

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

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

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

#NaNoWriMo 2020

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

Beautiful Biters, the first in the series

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

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

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

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

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

Any of this sounding familiar…?

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

Here’s a short extract:

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

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

Justin gripped my hand, grimace turning to grin.

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

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

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

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

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

The inspiration behind a story…

Featured

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

The month in pictures

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

The One That Got Away on #Wattpad

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

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

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

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

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

But I’m grateful for the exposure of Wattpad and the hundreds of nice comments I’ve had there about my books. I’ve got a few ones on the platform I’ve never published but one of them started getting lots of love recently, which encourages me to get down to its long over-due revision so that I can finally publish it.

Here’s the story hook for my contribution to the book…

advert for the one that got away

You can read the book (it’s a paid story) on Wattpad here: https://my.w.tt/starsaligned and if you would like to read one of my complete novels on the platform, I’ve just finished A Leap of Faith, a COVID-19 lockdown love story. Find it here:

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

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

St Andrews Scotland Golf - Free photo on PixabayChips eaten outside, dodging the jellyfish on the beach and long queues for ice-creams—welcome to the new look of holidays in the UK.

Our first Covid-19-tinged holiday took place this week when we went to St Andrews for a couple of nights. When I say, ‘new look’, our trip harked back to the 1950s and the days before mass market excursions abroad—the kind of holiday you see in black and white photos. Men in slacks, women in dresses, small children holding buckets and fishing nets.

Here in Scotland, the lockdown has eased more gradually than in England, but overnight trips were allowed on 15 July and we pre-empted it by booking two nights at the Premier Inn some weeks before.

The joy of difference

Just as well. Bookings shot up that week as people anticipated the joy of leaving your house and hometown. My sister tried numerous campsites in the south west of Scotland before managing to find a holiday home in Gatehouse for her family’s annual summer holiday. Their destination of choice is usually France.

Thanks to lockdown, collective expectations are much lower these days. I found myself genuinely thrilled to walk the streets of somewhere that was not Dumbarton. As for eating food I hadn’t made myself… my cup it runneth over.

Having travelled on the motorbike, we arrived in St Andrews on Thursday afternoon. The atmosphere in the town was 100 percent giddy ‘first day after the end of the school year’. I hadn’t seen so many people in the flesh in one place since March. It felt odd, liberating and foolish all at once.

Elbow bumping

We’d arranged to meet my mum and her partner, and my sisters and their families outside the Tail End chippie—its queue snaking down the street. My oldest nephew elbow bumped us seeing as hugs are still suspect.

Fish and chips bought and the weather obliging (never a guarantee in Scotland), we found a spot to sit in the grounds of Madras College all of us revelling in the novelty of in-person rather than Zoom chats.

If there is a finer meal than fish and chips when super-fresh fish has been cooked with skill, I’ve yet to find it. If there’s a better way to enjoy a meal than with those you love when you haven’t seen them for months, I’m not sure what that is either.

Ice-cream queues

Later, my mum, sisters and their kids joined the queue for the ice-cream shop. Half of them gave up ten minutes later. My youngest sister and her son persisted, returning 45 minutes later ice-cream dripping down hands.

Later that day, Sandy and I ventured out for dinner. Not everywhere was open. Were some of the shuttered businesses casualties of Covid-19 themselves, unable to survive without the customers denied to them by lockdown? Those that had opened put arrangements in place—operating at a smaller capacity, hand sanitisers prominent, cutlery wrapped in plastic and no condiments on the tables. Staff all masked. Signs on the walls with QR codes you scanned in, so that you can be traced should the horrid virus resurface.

Sandy lifted his beer glass to clink against my wine. Throughout the day, I’d saved up snippets of conversation I thought might interest him, worried that we might have lost the art of talking to each other. When you’re stuck in the house for meal after meal, who bothers with conversation when you can switch on the TV instead?

The thrill of being out

An indifferent meal—I opted for the trendy vegan option of deep-fried cauliflower with vegan mayonnaise, the batter and sauce on it far too salty and chilli-hot—but the thrill of being out! Asking other people to bring you things! Dirty plates that you don’t need to wash whisked away!

We managed the chat.

On the Friday, we bought food for a picnic and decamped to the beach. Around us, groups set themselves up. Kites decorated the skies. Small children dashed into the waves, their parents calling out warnings about jellyfish. I fell asleep, cocooned in super-soft sand. We walked along the shoreline, water deliciously warm at foot paddling level, and eyes glued to where our feet landed to dodge the blue-y blobs.

Another pub—this one lined with photos of the owner with famous golfers. Even on the ceiling she smiled down on us. They’d erected Perspex screens around all the booths. Your eyes adjusted quickly, and the screens sort of disappeared. Next to us, a couple (regulars I gathered from the conversation they had with one of the members of the staff) tucked into a huge burger and chips, and nachos while we looked on tongues hanging out.

Restaurant food once more

In the evening, I requested an Indian. Takeaways are all well and good, but it’s the kind of food that tastes best straight from the kitchen. This one, the blackboard said outside, was run by a graduate of St Andrews. All well and good, but could whoever produce sublime food..?

Answer—yes. The aubergine and saag paneer I ate was fresh, expertly spiced and served in elegant sufficiency portions.

A change is as good as a rest, so the saying goes. I can vouch for it—two days of difference in weeks where Monday looks like Tuesday, which is the same as Wednesday and so on. The news yesterday that Scotland has seen the biggest daily rise in new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in almost a month—21 cases in the last 24 hours, the biggest daily increase since 21 June. What can you do though? Stay confined to your home and its immediate surroundings (and there are plenty of people who will choose to and who should do that) or muddle your way through in what you hope is as risk-free a way as possible?

Now I’ve tasted freedom, I want more… another two nights somewhere sleeping on an unfamiliar bed, trying out unknown restaurants (the good and the bad), walks on the beach, a view that isn’t the Crags and the Kilpatrick hills, magnificent as they are.

Here’s to more of them.

Quick writing update…

I’m working on what I hope is the fifth and final of my Highland Books. Highland Fling was going to be a one-off that changed to a trilogy. Then book four wriggled its way to the top of my conscious, so that demanded a fifth… In the meantime, I wrote a lot of short stories featuring the minor characters that I plan to incorporate into a companion book for the series.

You can buy and read the Highland Books via these links:

Highland Fling

Highland Heart

Highland Wedding

Highland Chances

Highland Books the Boxset

Anyway, Highland Christmas is about… well, no prizes for working that one out, Sherlock. Here’s a tiny extract (with apologies to Jane Austen for pinching part of one of her best-known lines):

Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you!”

Evie, my daughter, was used to attention. As Lochalshie’s youngest villager, she spent most of her time being passed from person to person all of them cooing at her and exclaiming at her likeness to Jack. Whenever she found herself back in his arms, the cooing intensified.

It’s a truth universally known to mothers. All a dad needs to do is hold his baby, jiggle her up and down a bit and he qualifies as the father of the year. Meanwhile, we women stir ourselves from sleep three hours earlier than we would have liked, spend our days running around after our tiny tyrants juggling a job at the same time and dealing with our extended family before finally flopping into bed at 10pm, exhausted.

Only to shudder into consciousness an hour later when Baba decides she is bored of sleeping. She scrambles out of my arms, delighted at the escape from the cot. Planted on the floor, she makes a beeline for Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends, yanks them from the railway and smashes them together—one cheeky glimpse upward at me. I try bargaining. Evie, beautiful girl! Your cot is so cosy! And warm! Why don’t I pick you up, put you back in there and…

Cue wailing. That’ll be a ‘no’ then. We’re back to Smashing Thomas into the fat controller (who came up with these names?) and me bargaining with various deities, the universe, the moon and the stars that the first one of them who persuades Evie to sleep wins my undying loyalty.

But I digress. Today was Evie’s first birthday and we were celebrating it in where else but the Lochside Welcome. Parenting gurus look away now. Yes, it is the public bar of a hotel. But Jack and I are part of the consortium that owns it. Our daughter belongs here. When almost the entire village thought they’d received an invite to her birthday and told me how much they were looking forward to it, we decided it would be far easier to host her party there anyway. Our home was nowhere near big enough.

The party attendees were gathered here now. Jack had strewn the bar with the pink, silver and white bunting I had designed and helium balloons. You’d think he’d never had a kid before. He hadn’t.

Or none we knew of anyway…

Highland Christmas will be out mid November 2020.

©Emma Baird 2020

Pining for pubs…

Highland Chances, the fourth in my Highland Books series, is due out next week—Thursday 18 June 2020.

I started writing the book on 1 January, a time that now feels as if it was in the dim and distant past. Who knew how much our lives would change? I write this from a privileged position. No-one I know contracted the virus and died, and so far—though that is likely to change—neither has anyone lost their job.

Still, 1 January 2020… a very different time. My books are all set in the present day, and yet that version of the ‘present’ day’ has now changed for so many people all over the world. I write about pubs, public gatherings, people hugging left, right and centre. If someone had told me on New Year’s Day, “Hey, you do know you’re chronicling a world that is about to disappear with some aspects of it never to return?”, I might have tipped my head to the side in disbelief.

Motorbike tours

Highland Chances centres around a village pub/hotel in the north-west of Scotland. Most summers, I clamber on the back of my husband’s motorbike and we roar off in search of scenery, castles to visit, pubs where we’ll eat booze-soaked lunches (well, I do; as the driver he refrains), B&Bs with lochside views and indie hotels.

Not a trip to the Highlands, but Kirkcudbright where I grew up … the street created when the creamery was demolished is named after one of its original founders, my great-grandfather.

[In one Nairn establishment years ago, I shared its small gym with Tilda Swinton, no less. She asked me if I’d finished with the Swiss ball at one point.

Will many of these small places survive? April is/was the start of the tourism season in the UK. The road outside my house, the A82, should have been packed with cars heading north—especially because the weather throughout April and most of May was so warm and dry.

Social distancing in pubs

Now it’s mid-June. Pubs, restaurants and most hotels remain closed, while their owners grapple with how they can implement safety through social distancing in spaces where people are meant to squeeze together, all of us enjoying humanity at close quarters.

The best holidays I’ve taken with my husbands were those motorbike trips around Scotland. I can close my eyes and summon up a jumble of heavy velvet curtains, twin beds pushed together, the smell of chips that lingers everywhere, crisp white linen tablecloths, bacon for breakfast and wooden tables you need to shove beermats under the legs to stop them wobbling.

Not all the food is good. Some places charged a fortune for a glass of red wine. Depending on the time of year, there’s often a layer of boredom that hangs in the air—a place too quiet; its staff simply going through the motions.

Now, that was good grub…

And yet, so many of those pubs and hotels may well vanish. Will we speed through small towns and villages with too many buildings boarded up or marked with tatty for sale signs? The thought of it makes me want to cry.

On the upside, a surge in domestic tourism might be on the cards. Most people may feel like me—reluctant to fly anywhere for a while. Particularly if you need to quarantine upon return. Will they surge to pubs and hotels in their own country when they reopen, having been starved of such entertainment for months?

Time will tell. I hope so.

Highland Chances is available for pre-order here.