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.

#smallpleasures in lockdown

Greetings from lockdown Scotland where we are still officially staying at home while our English chums have been encouraged to return to work if they can’t work from home.

But not if they use public transport and only if they stay alert. Or something.

File:M&S Food to Go, SUTTON, Surrey, Greater London.jpg ...This week’s treat on the #smallpleasuresmatter front was going to be a trip to Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food in Dumbarton. Boy, was I salivating at the thought… ooh, I’ll stare at the deli stuff and toss a dozen or so of those dinky little tubs in my basket! Perhaps they’ll have their marvellous dine in offer on, where I get a main course, two sides, pudding and a bottle of wine for a mere £12!

Hummus! Smoked Salmon! Cornish Cruncher Cheddar! The world’s best looking fruit!

Then, a news item popped up about how many diabetics were among the frighteningly high numbers of COVID-19 dead in this country. I reassessed the wisdom of coming into contact with that many people.

Oh well. Trump’s promising us a vaccine by the end of the year so maybe I’ll get to Marks & Spencer’s in time to stock up for Christmas*.

#smallpleasures2

In other news, Sandy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary earlier this week. Not with a meal out, obviously, but by walking around his golf course on a beautiful sunny day, sitting outside in the garden and drinking champagne, and rounding it all off with a nice meal.

And a short story I wrote earlier this year has been picked for a paid anthology that will be available on Wattpad later this summer. For the first time in my life, I signed a publishing contract. I even read it before e-scrawling my name on the dotted line.

Finally, after a lot of helpful feedback I have rewritten chunks of Highland Chances and hope to publish it in mid-June. Ebook sales have grown considerably, as you might expect seeing as many bookshops are shut worldwide and people aren’t ordering as many paperback deliveries from Amazon et al. I’ve noticed my own sales have increased, though I’m far off any time where I chuck the day job.

Here’s a picture of the lovely cover Enni Tuomisalo of yummybookcovers designed and the blurb.

3D book cover for Highland Chances by Emma Baird feel good fiction stories

“But, but, but what will you do with Highland Tours! No, not Highland Tours. Highland Handsome Tours, remember? Best Outlander experience in Scotland. You, number three on ‘the man my partner would give me a free pass to sleep with’ list and I don’t even mind!”

The Lochside Welcome is at the heart of Lochalshie—where the villagers gather to meet, gossip and eat Scotland’s finest pizzas.

Now, it’s under threat. The landlord’s ill, business has dropped away frighteningly quickly and the hotel at the end of the village keeps muscling in, scooping up tourists, weddings and even locals…

Can Gaby and Jack save the day? What with the ever-increasing work demands, rival hotel owners not above dirty tactics and the small matter of a life-changing event our couple are woefully ill-prepared for, it’s all hands on deck to try to ensure the Lochside Welcome survives another day…

If you love heart-warming, frothy fiction which comes with a side order of laughs, you’re in the right place.

Highland Chances is available for pre-order here.

 

*Like most sensible folks, I believe nothing that comes out of that buffoon’s mouth.

Writing in lockdown

What day is it—March the 97th as someone asked recently? One set of 24 hours segues into the next with little to differentiate them.

COVID-19—you’ve well outstayed your welcome on planet Earth. Not that we wanted you in the first place.

But boredom and confining ourselves to our homes is a tiny price to pay when the alternative is mass infection and deaths. So far, I know five people who have had the virus and recovered. No-one close to me has died. Fingers crossed tightly that continues.

Small pleasures…

The powers that be have now deemed it okay to get in your car and drive a short distance to a local beauty spot to go for a walk. My husband has promised me a trip to his golf course and a meander over it.

One of the regulars at my online Pilates class is now a grandma. We clapped. She has seen the baby from a distance.

Any meal I make that involves a creative reimagining of ingredients retrieved from the freezer or the back of cupboards (one year old? More?).

3D book cover for Highland Chances by Emma Baird feel good fiction storiesThis new and beautiful cover for the latest novel in my Highland Books series, Highland Chances… the graphic designer who made it for me is herself finishing off her latest book—a chick lit novel that features people travelling to New Zealand and working in cafes and bars, etc.

Did it now count, she asked, as historical romance?

Highland Chances, coincidentally, touches a lot on working from home. But similar to my designer friend, the book also has that feel of a time that will not return for months if not years. People in pubs. Large gatherings. Big parties in offices. Shaking hands with strangers*.

Some weeks ago, the radio station I listen to (BBC Radio 1—I’m way, way out of their target demographic) featured a couple of stories of people who’d only been dating for a few weeks when the lockdown kicked in.

As a writer, I found that impossible to resist, even though it feels crass and exploitative… But hey, writing is truly narcissistic. That urge to put it down on paper (well, the screen) overrides everything.

Anyway, here’s the intro:

The Leap of Faith

Things I don’t know about Tom:

  • What he takes in his coffee. If he likes coffee.
  • Who he voted for in the last election. Though I think I can guess.
  • When he came to Scotland.
  • His romantic history. A childhood sweetheart? A steady girlfriend up until now? Serial monogamy? Sexual encounters too numerous to list?
  • If he has siblings. His position in the family. (As the youngest child in a family of high achievers, I place a lot of stock in older/younger sibling dynamics and how that shapes you.)
  • His second name.

And yet tomorrow we are moving in together. More specifically, Tom will pack his bags into an old Ford Focus, drive the 35 minutes it takes to cross the city (less now we are in lockdown?) where I will welcome him with open arms. And try not to bleat, “Wipe your feet!” if he doesn’t do it automatically the second he enters my home.

Modern life, hmm? That old Abba classic keeps playing in my head, Take a Chance on Me. My family and friends queue up behind me, their expressions astonished. “Sophs! You’re, like, the least impulsive person ever! Why are you doing this?”

My brother nods his head fervently. My sister threatens a visitation. One where we conduct a two metres apart conversation. It takes place. I stand in the doorway and she yells at me from the garden gate, teenage daughter in tow, her phone in hand. She glances up briefly. “Yo, Aunt!” I sketch her a wave and hope it counts as cool in her world.

“Sophie!” my sister shrieks. “What do you know about this guy? He’ll have Googled you, you idiot! I bet he’s rubbing his hands together in glee.”

Her words are nothing I haven’t already said to myself. My mum’s face shimmers in front of me. Dark hair streaked with grey and wide-tipped glasses she pushes up her nose all the time. Her mouth twitches. “Well,” she says, “this is a turn up for the books! Devil may care. I love it!” In my head, she blows me a kiss. My eyes prickle.

I close my door, thanking Josie for her concern. Darla winks at me. Fifteen-year-old approval. I wait till her mother has turned to point her key at the car and wink back. Darla lifts her phone and mouths something at me. ‘Tell me what happens, yeah?’ my best guess.

The timing couldn’t be better though. As Josie’s ginormous pristine Land Rover pulls away, a dusty black Ford Focus slowly edges its way along the street, its driver alternately peering down and up—the universal look of someone using his phone to find an address.

I wave. He stops.

“Tom!” My enthusiasm is double, treble, quadruple what it might have been. Blame it on Josie. “Welcome to my humble abode.”

He gets out of his car and swears—the f-word too loud in our now traffic-subdued streets. “Jesus!” he says, the Irish accent turning it into Jayzus. “I’d no idea you were that grand.”

Things Tom doesn’t know about me.

Everything.

Thanks for reading! Highland Chances is now available for pre-order at Amazon here, and if you want to find out if Sophie and Tom’s fledgling relationship makes it, you can read the story for free on Wattpad.

© Emma Baird 2020

*Someone suggested that we employ the late 18th/early 19th century methods of greeting people a la Jane Austen from now on—a courtly bow or a small curtsey. An excellent idea, hmm?

Lockdown laughs

How is everyone finding the almost worldwide lockdown? I hope you and the ones you love are safe and well and finding ways to make this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in bearable.

I’m extremely fortunate. I don’t live in a city, and I have access to a garden and the internet. Interestingly enough, I’ve never spoken to so many people in such a short space of time. From phone chats where I catch up with people I never usually call, to the Zoom meetings that are now a regular part of many people’s lives, I’m grateful for the technology I have at my fingertips. I’m doing online Pilates, yoga and Spanish classes, and every day my family and I catch-up to exchange news

(Much of which is taken up by discussion of what we will be having for dinner—food and the state of our supermarkets the now national obsession. That and what everyone is binge-watching on iPlayer or Netflix.)

And of course there is the new neighbourliness where we chat over fences and wave at each other every Thursday night when we stand outside and clap for the carers.

Anyway, if you are seeking a bit of distraction, I’ve rounded up a few light-hearted spoiler-free extracts from my next book, Highland Chances due out 1 June.

Stay safe everyone.

The perils of online planning

“Same. Can we skip the pub quiz and…?” He paused, finger and thumb gripping the tiny brush and glanced up to catch my eye, dirty grin in place. His other hand slid up my bare leg, fingers sure and warm.

When we got married, I wondered if that would kill lust stone dead. Didn’t couples moan all the time that the wedding ring acted like a chastity belt? In a previous job, my colleagues and I once stumbled on our boss’s online calendar, the one she’d not made as private as she should. Sunday mornings 8-8.30am were highlighted—SEX WITH GREG. She’d added a 15-minute-in-advance text alert too. Josh, the guy I worked with, changed the day to Tuesdays and shortened the time slot to ten minutes. Not sure how that worked out for them.

A hazy grasp of geography

Canada,flag,map,country,nationality - free image from needpix.com

“Oh shut up! He still should hae asked, shouldn’t he? I want a proper boyfriend!”

News to me. Katya, who’d also lived with Mhari once upon a time, reckoned Mhari preferred other people’s love lives to her own. All that opportunity to ask personal questions and not bother with the complicated bits yourself.

“What about Xavier? He’s nice, isn’t he?”

A big sniff. “Dinnae be daft. He’s no’ gonnae stay here. When we leave the EU, he’ll need tae go back tae Canada.”

“Canada isn’t in Europe, Mhari.”

“Is it no’? Anyway, he’s loads younger than me.”

Four years. The same age gap as her and Hyun-Ki. I referred to this. A drunken explanation that this was exactly why she wasnae going to waste her time on younger men. Shallow. Totes immature. She ended the last statement with a loud fart, which made the two of us giggle for ages.

The scramble for freebies

Rubber Stamps Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures

Carnage. A mad scramble started up straight away as hands darted everywhere, trying to snaffle the freebies. Angus ended up with his back to everyone, body hunched over the table to protect the bags. Several of the women tried illegal Rugby scrum moves on him that would have got them blacklisted from the game. He put up with it for a few minutes before straightening up and bellowing, “Oi! Stop that!”

Angus was six foot five and twice the width of me. The yell worked, the crowd of women retreating expressions cowed.

He folded his arms. “Now, everyone of ye is gonnae queue nicely, show us your ticket tae the games and say ‘thank ye very much’ when Gaby and Jamal here hand ower the bags. Agreed?”

Fervent nods from the crowd.

“Anyone who doesnae,” he growled, “will be thrown in the loch.”

Two women looked far too delighted at the prospect of a dookin’. “Does that mean you would put us over your shoulder?” one asked, her smile gleeful.

“And,” her friend threw in, “spank our bottoms?”

“No!”

If you would like a reminder of when my next book is out, please feel free to sign up for my newsletter via pinkglitterpubs@gmail.com and I’ll give you a free short story in return. All my ebooks are available for free from your local library. Most libraries are closed at present, but you should still be able to borrow ebooks.

Chester, Covid-19 and keeping your distance

Are you all safe and well? Fingers crossed that is the case if you are reading this. I hope you and the ones you love are okay.

This week, we went to Chester for a minibreak, a holiday booked months ago. By the time Sunday arrived, the doubts had set in—was it safe? Did it make us irresponsible to go ahead with it? As this was pre the isolation advice, we decided to go ahead…

Sunday through till the Monday afternoon was okay—the trains, restaurants, hotel and bars quieter than normal, though it was hard to judge as I’d never been to Chester before. Nothing to compare. Then the announcement went out that people should stay at home as much as possible, and avoid ‘unnecessary’ contact.

Chester Zoo

The following day dawned… my birthday. What to do? Chester is famous for its zoo, which features regularly on Channel 4’s The Secret Life of the Zoo. Was it still open? Yes. To do our bit for social distancing, we walked the three and a half miles there instead of taking the bus figuring we might as well add in immunity-boosting exercise.

The lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) regarded we gawping humans through half-closed eyes—their fears and worries only immediate. Where’s my food and is anyone stealing it/trying to hunt or fight me?

Enough to make you jealous of such simplistic thought processes, hmm?

Up close to the jaguars

Chester does a fair bit for conservation, reflected in the animals it keeps. Sumatran tigers (magnificent), painted dogs (fabulous looking), African elephants, orangutans and more. On the day, I got the closest to a big cat I suspect I will ever get. The jaguar enclosure had a large simulated-jungle bit undercover and one of them wandered right next to me as I stood next to the glass panel.

A privilege indeed.

Later, we stopped off at one of the Wetherspoons in Chester where people drank defiantly. Eat, drink and be merry… for tomorrow we die, right?! The manager told us later they were asking customers to sit at alternate tables and buy drinks by card payment only.

Quieter than normal, he said, but what to do but stay open when Wetherspoons employs some 43,000 people in the UK?

They’ve no choice now anyway, as pubs, cafes and restaurants were ordered to close on Friday—the government promising employees will get paid.

The joy of birdsong

One thing that struck me while we were in Chester… Sandy and I took ourselves out for a few walks. The city walls, down by the river and along the canal, and everywhere I heard plenty of birdsong and saw lots of birds. Isn’t it likely so much staying at home will benefit the wildlife in this country as it puts a temporary stop to human encroachment?

Come Tuesday evening, the visitor attractions in Chester began to close. Restaurants and cafes stayed open but were empty. Service was attentive and quick in all the places we went into as staff pounced, glad of something to do.

We cut our holiday short.

The lucky ones

Back home—one eerily quiet train journey later stations overrun by staff with little to do—I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Type 1 diabetes aside, I’m healthy. I don’t work in the hospitality or retail industries. I’m not trying to find work and my part-time job is easily do-able from home. Ditto the copy writing I do on behalf of clients.

At some point, people will need entertainment, which might lead to a surge in e-book sales. Perhaps people will crave the escapism of romcoms with happily ever after endings such as the ones I write.

One cheery story here—Man proposes in Iceland.

Finally, I have an amazing partner and family—all of whom will make the next few frightening months easier to bear. How will people on their own cope? Or those in unhappy/abusive relationships? People who need care, rely on visitors if they are housebound or who are homeless? I know this sounds trite, but I hope I can find some small way to help those who aren’t as fortunate as me…

Stay safe, sanitise and don’t panic buy, folks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March, maggots, mussels and miles of walking…

We’re 11 days into March and so far, there have been at least six dry days. In the UK, we slogged our way through the wettest February since records began—and that’s quite something when you live on this little island.

It’s a strange time too… the weirdness of living in a world where we’re terrified of a virus and how that translates. Cancellation of events. People changing their holiday plans. Signs everywhere telling you to wash your hands. The threats to the economy as the stock market quakes in its boots…

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you and your loved ones are okay. Stay safe.

Mussels for lunch

After my father died, my mum established a tradition where she, my sisters and I (without our families) meet up, which is always something I look forward to. The heady responsibility to book somewhere for lunch fell to me. Three hours (felt like) of TripAdvisor paralysis later, I decided on the Mussel Inn, somewhere I’ve always meant to visit and not got round to.

And very nice it was too…

Otherwise, I’m busy writing the fourth in my Highland Books series. I’ve finished it but it needs major tidying up. Think of it as a big house where a group of students decided to party hard all weekend. There’s spilt alcohol all over the floors, a mass of dirty glasses and plates everywhere and as for what those dodgy stains are upstairs, I dread to think…

Anyway, here is a short, spoiler-free extract. Enjoy!

Highland Chances

Ashley’s appearance took me aback. He seemed to have shrunk drastically, the head and shoulders sticking out the top of the blanket and sheets much smaller than I remembered. At the bottom of the bed, a frame held the blanket above a heavily bandaged foot, the skin there an inflamed, mottled purple colour.

“Have you bought food,” he whispered, one eye on the nurses pulling the curtains around the bed opposite. “They gave me porridge this morning that could hae doubled up as wallpaper paste. Nae sugar because of the diabetes, nae salt because of the stroke risk and nae cream as my cholesterol levels are sky-high. Made with water. Water! I’ve never tasted anything so flavourless in ma whole life!”

“Er… we’ve got tangerines?” I said, holding up the bag. Caroline had warned us beforehand that Ashley would beg for food. “And he’s got tae change his diet,” she warned. “Otherwise, the diabetes will kill him in five years!”

He let out a huge sigh, holding out a hand to take them. “Better than nothing, I s’pose. Have a seat.”

Jack pulled me up a chair and got himself one so we could sit either side of Ashley.

“How are you feeling?” I asked. “Must be a relief to have a diagnosis.”

Ashley sighed. “Aye, I guess so. But Caroline’s already read me the riot act—nae sugar, nae salt, low-carb this and that, lots o’ exercise and sleep and she wants me to start meditating. Meditating! I’m no’ sitting on the floor cross-legged saying ‘um’ all day.”

Quite. I’d been given the meditating line too. I made Jack try it with me, the two of us sitting opposite each other on the floor cross-legged and concentrating on our breath. We lasted 30 seconds before I flicked my eyes open only to discover him doing his best not to snort with laughter. When I read that mindlessness was the new mindfulness, I cheered. See? Justification for watching too much of The Real Housewives of New York and/or Love Island.

“And as for that yin,” Ashley gestured towards a harassed-looking doctor walking past us in the corridor outside trailed by two students. “He came in this morning, took one look at my right foot and started muttering things about maggots. Maggots! This hospital is trying out a new treatment where they put wee beasties on ulcers to eat away aw’ the dead tissue. Have ye ever heard the like? Wee white things wrigglin’ all ower ye, and—”

The details were far too graphic for me. I heaved myself up and bolted for the bathroom, a shout of “Hey, that’s patients only!” ringing out after me. Up came that morning’s breakfast and last night’s supper.

“Are you okay?” Jack tapped lightly on the door. “The nurse has gone to fetch you some water.”

I unpeeled myself and attempted standing. Oh, this was ridiculous. Surely, I should be able to pick myself up? A further minute of undignified lurching and unbalancing convinced me I couldn’t.

“Er—can you give me a hand?” Thankfully, in my haste to escape Ashley and his far-too-graphic maggots description, I hadn’t locked the door. Jack tried and failed to hide a grin as he took in the sight of me sprawled on the floor.

Like what you’ve read? The Highland Books—Highland Fling, Highland Heart, Highland Wedding and the box set of the three books—are available on Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, etc. Click on the links above, which will take you to the store front of your choice.

©Emma Baird 2020

 

 

Unexpected bonuses and Wattpad Star status

Valentine’s Day on Friday began well for me… I Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs, ‘love’ and a tax-collecting body not usually words that belong together in the same sentence, hmm?

As I’ve already received a refund for overpaying tax, this must be a mistake. Better stop those fantasies where I imagine what £641 could go towards… As an example, the laptop I’m using to ‘talk’ to you today will celebrate its seventh birthday this April.

Experts shake their heads at its age and tell me I’ve done well, your average laptop lasting five years before it explodes (or something). My HMRC cheque won’t stretch to an iMac but it would run to gear that doesn’t weigh a tonne and has a battery life of more than an hour.

Millions and millions of words

Freddie was awfully fond of the laptop as a place to sleep…

The sentimental attachment though… I bought this laptop (an Acer) when I gave up work to embark on a freelance writing career.

It’s powered me through millions of words—blogs, articles, features and books. I’ve used it to speak with people all over the world, taken it with me to Australia, Crete, Tenerife and lots of the places in the UK and personalised it with photos of Freddie, my late cat.

 

Sure, most of that stuff isn’t fixed to the laptop itself but if it ain’t broke… maybe I’ll wait for it to explode after all.

On the writing progress front, I’m three-quarters of the way through Highland Chances, the fourth in my Highland Books series. Confession. I’m at the mucky middle bit. The plot’s gone AWOL, I hate every character and just wish they would all get on with the story with no further help from me…

As a writer friend once said, “If you don’t hate a book by the time you’ve finished it, you’re doing something wrong.”

Milestones on the writer journey

There are many milestones on the author journey—some absolutely wonderful. When strangers write to you and tell you how much they enjoyed your books. The satisfaction you get from finally wrenching that mess of a first draft (see above) into something readable. All sales to people who aren’t your family or friends (though I’m awfully grateful for that too).

This year so far has brought me two further milestones—one nice, one nasty. The nasty milestone was the one-star review. It’s a rite of passage. Read the reviews of most books on Amazon and you’ll find them.

To put a positive spin on it, the one-star review is a sign you are finally selling a decent number of books. (As long as you assume your family and friends like you enough not to do so!) As I’ve been putting out books for a few years now, I’m lucky to have escaped the one-star review thus far,.

Humans tend to dwell on the negative, so I spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about that one-star review. “Wah! Everybody hates me! I’m rubbish! So embarrassing. It’s there for everyone to see! I need to stop writing now!” By day three (okay, seven) I was over it, and taking on board ages-old wisdom. Do not read your reviews… bad or good.

A (Wattpad) Star is born…

Milestone much nicer was the invitation I got last week to join the Wattpad Stars programme. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Wattpad is a story-telling/reading website. I’ve been on it for five years, my books mainly read by very few. However, Highland Fling took off on there at the end of December and now has more than 36k reads.

The Stars programme offers writers opportunities to pitch books to their paid stories, publishing and studio arms. A great quote I read recently said, “the brain often needs to be treated like a hostile witness”. Too true! See also the reaction to the one-star review above. When the invite to join the Stars landed in my inbox, my first thoughts were—Emma B, Netflix is coming for ya!. Pack your bags, Sandy and cats! We’re moving to a house miles from any busy roads!

I’ve calmed down considerably since…

 

January—cats, squirrels and libraries

Happy 2020—I’m far too late with my new year wishes, but the nice intent is still there. May the new decade bring you what you want (so long as that doesn’t harm others).

The bed is a bit crowded these days…

In Chez Baird-Birnie, we are adapting to life without Freddie and with two cats. One argument cat lovers always put forward for the adoption of new cats post the previous one’s departure is that cats all have their own unique personality. You don’t take on a new one, find yourself endlessly comparing its traits to its predecessor and finding the replacement wanting. Our new two stimulate endless debate, especially because we now have a boy and a girl.

I think Lucy is the smarter cat (feminist bias here, definitely), but William is far bolder and keen to venture outside whenever he can. He’s also much stronger, leaping higher, further and far more often. Ms Lucy, I sense, looks at him rather like modern-day baby boomers regard their grown-up children. “FFS, I thought I’d got rid of you ages ago, but you’re still at home/have returned here again?! Why, why, why…?”

The nippy sweetie

There is a Scottish description ‘nippy sweetie’, used to describe someone who is sharp-tongued or peevish. (And usually used in a faintly misogynist way just for women, but that’s a whole other conversation.) Lucy is a literal nippy sweetie in that she does bite. They are not painful or aggressive, but little nips to warn you to back off. William ‘proves’ my not particularly scientific theory that neutered males are more affectionate and softer than the ladies…

Feed me!

And she is the boss, except when it comes to food. With two cats, you usually need to supervise meal times to stop one stealing from the other. William gets super-excited at food times and once he’s wolfed his, his mother’s helping is fair game. She’s a much slower eater, a habit I find interesting as shouldn’t life with William have taught her to eat more quickly?!

As per instructions for new cats, we kept them both inside for two-plus weeks so they got used to the house. Thought to themselves, “Well, this is a nice place. Hot and cold running humans happy to let us sleep on the beds and not too cross when we decide the wallpaper is much better than a scratching post.”

I’ve always put collars on cats and I suspect Lucy and William weren’t collar wearers previously.  They don’t like them very much but the collars operate the cat flap. If it is not magnetically controlled, two of our neighbour’s cats would come in.

Cat invaders

In the Freddie days, I didn’t mind Mr Biggles and Loki visiting us because he wasn’t bothered. My new pets, on the other hand, are not confident enough to deal with that kind of encroachment on their territory. As they bicker among themselves in the house anyway, it would be silly to add another cat to the mix.

Mind you, neither cat has worked out how to open the cat flap from the outside yet. Next week, I’m going to have to squat in front of it waving something super-tempting. A bit of raw steak, perhaps…

Aside from cat caring, I’m in the midst of typical start a new year activities—yoga and sauna sessions, culling spending on silly things, reducing my meat and fish consumption, and going for plenty of walks. This post’s  featured image is a squirrel I encountered in the Kelvingrove Park. They’re bold fellows who will come within a foot of you, especially if you rattle a bag of sunflower seeds at them.

I’m attempting to write another book in the Highland Books series, number four… At some point soon, I’m going to run out of ideas for what I can do with the characters but I’m good for another 160,000 words (roughly two novels).

I published a box set of books one to three this week and I’ve already sold a few of them. A bonus—if the box-set sells in decent quantities, I get 70 percent of £7.49, instead of £2.99 and £3.99 and the only money I spent on it was the cover because the editing/proofreading had already been done.

Another January resolution was to use my local library more. In the last couple of years, I’ve grown lazy ordering far too many books on my e-reader. Libraries struggle for funding these days, so it’s important for them to demonstrate use in communities. As a lifelong voracious reader, libraries have provided me with tonnes of free entertainment over the years. I’ve been to Dumbarton Library three times this month already and picked up The Testaments by Margaret Atwood via the order service. (It’s much better than the TV series, which is now beginning to feel far too dragged out.)

A cool fact for you… I publish my books wide, i.e. not just on Amazon but through Kobo, Apple, Google Play, Barnes & Noble and more. Because of this, my e-books are available on OverDrive, an online repository for digital content. If you ask for one of my books in your local library, I’ll get a bit of money and you’ll get my books for free. If you’re so inclined, I’d be grateful if you could ask!

Highland Weddings and ginger cats

Highland Wedding, the third in my Highland Books series, is out now…

When you write romcoms, the wedding industry is an easy target. People queue up to offer you unnecessary rubbish, lending themselves to wonderful satire. What I never understood was the whole chair cover thing. You book a hotel, buy their wedding package—food, drink, number of guests, etc.—and they expect you to cough up a fee for white covers neatly wrapped over the bleedin’ chairs with a bow on the back.

Hopefully, I’ve managed to make it as amusing as I can. Here’s the blurb:

Ask a man to marry you and the rest is a walk in the park, right?!
When Gaby springs a proposal on Jack, he is happy to say ‘yes’. As are the Lochalshie residents, delighted at the prospect of a wedding instead of the more usual  funeral. They have ideas for the nuptials coming out of their ears…
With the local landlord piling on the pressure, their friends demanding hen parties in Ibiza, a would-be wedding planner too ready to criticise and a new guy on the scene who is easy on the eye, will Gaby and Jack get their happy ever after?

Highland Books box set by Emma BairdYou can buy the book on Amazon (I’ll put it on Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, etc., in the new year). I’m also planning a box set of the three books and there’s the gorgeous cover for it, thanks to yummybookcovers.

The cat-shaped hole in our home

Finally, I wrote about the sudden loss of my cat earlier this month. Freddie was a special fella and he is in my thoughts a lot of the time. There are a lot of cats out there in shelters requiring a home and we had a cat-shaped hole in our house needing filled…

 

Meet Lucy and William, a mother and son ginger combo who are currently feeling their way around our house and into our lives. We got them from the local SSPCA shelter on Christmas Eve and whereas the charity’s policy is not to allow people to adopt animals as Christmas presents (rightly so), this was definitely the best gift I received.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting on my blog in 2019 and all the very best to you and yours in 2020.

Wattpad – the algorithm kicks in (and why I’m bitter-sweet about it)

Oh readers, where art thou? I finally got to experience a bit of the ol’ algorithm magic (does anyone else always get that word wrong when they attempt to spell it?) on Wattpad. I’ve been on the story-telling and reading platform for four years, drifting along mainly unnoticed.

This week, reads of my book Highland Fling leapt from 3.5k to 11k* in six days and every time I open the app, I have 50-90 notifications awaiting me and my phone beeps all the time. (This is why, I guess, many people who experience online popularity burn out. It’s overwhelming. Either that or they hire a virtual assistant…)

The success is bitter-sweet. If only I was getting that many reads on Amazon, I would be raking money in! But it is gratifying to the ego.

Writing failures

As I’m British, I’m now duty bound to tell you about my many writing failures to make up for the above boastfulness. Social media often creates an unrealistic portrait of people’s lives—their successes and triumphs held up there; failings hidden from sight.

Highland Fling by Emma Baird

Here are mine:

A) My first book sold less than 70 copies, with about half of them coming from sales to my mum. Boxes of that ruddy book still sit clutter up my house. Always, always opt for print on demand as a self-publisher and concentrate on the e-book.

B) I have spent so much on advertising Highland Fling, my profits on the book are titchy. It feels like running to stand still. (Unfortunately, it is now almost impossible to sell on Amazon unless you advertise.)

C) The stand-alone books I wrote get very few sales. Mainly, this is due to a lack of advertising but stand-alone books are notoriously hard for unknown authors to sell.

D) I keep trying to carry out all the steps ‘proper’ self-publishers do—setting up a mailing list (mine, 11 subscribers, killing it), being active on social media, hashtagging left, right and centre, having a professional-looking website, etc., and am useless at them all.

E) I have been rejected by numerous agents.

F) I have entered a good few writing competitions and got nowhere.

G) Whenever one of my manuscripts comes back from an editor/proofreader, I am horrified by how often I repeat myself and my ignorance of correct comma use.

Why it’s worth it

So why continue? I love writing and have harboured the desire to be one ever since I won a national poetry** competition when I was seven years old. As I got older, writing books seemed like an impossible dream. I chose jobs I thought would be about writing—journalism, contract publishing and press and PR management, the latter absolutely not, and bumbled along. My 40th birthday came and went and I took stock. Emma, you can work in unsatisfying jobs for the rest of your life or you can take a chance…

I quit and started writing on a freelance copywriting basis, scribbling my first novel in between times.

Full disclosure. I’m married and I have a husband who is happy to shoulder the bulk of the bills. And I inherited money when my beloved dad died, so the path I’ve chosen isn’t available to everyone. I recognise that privilege and I am thankful every day.

I do not make a lot of money and it is supplemented these days by a part-time job at a university. The odds of writing success are stacked against me as it’s such a competitive industry. Finding your readers is difficult and exhausting. I’ve netted myself a fan club on Wattpad, who send me lovely messages. Will that translate to sales? Most likely, it won’t.

On the other hand, I grew up with optimists. My parents were/are sunny-natured folks who tended/tend to look on the bright side. A lot of that happiness rubbed off. And realising a childhood dream is… amazing, fulfilling, exciting, glorious… I plan to write for the rest of my life successful or not.

Thank you for reading.

 

*In Wattpad terms, 11k is nothing. The popular books on there have hundreds of thousands even millions of reads. I’ve a long way to go before I reach Wattpad star status.

**I went through a period of writing turgid poetry in my early 20s. Luckily for the world, the internet was in its infancy then so they can’t be found anywhere online.