Emma Baird

Shoes and women’s fiction #amwriting

Mary Janes with cat detail on front

My lucky shoes – sort of

Ever noticed how often shoes turn up in women’s fiction—and specifically on the front cover? I’ve treated you to a picture of my favourite pair of shoes (to look at, not to wear as they are murderously uncomfortable) that incorporate one of my other great loves.

So what is it with shoes and women’s fiction? Let’s start by blaming Cinderella, the only woman in the kingdom whose feet fit the delicate glass slipper and endear her to the prince. (And thus cementing femininity to the owners of small, slender feet.)

It isn’t women’s fiction, but the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy clicking together the heels of her shiny red shoes is another enduring image. Did you ever covet those red shoes if only for the promise they might magically transport you from one place to another. And that must be a metaphor shoe manufacturers all over the world seek to exploit. Wear our shoes and you too will be lifted instantly from your dull world and your mundane existence.

Carrie Bradshaw must take a bit of the blame too. Sex and the City famously featured an episode where the fictional heroine was robbed of her Manolo Blahniks* at gun point. And it is that theft, rather than the bag or the money that bothers her the most.

Chick lit tends to run with the assumption we are all shoe mad. It’s not a huge leap. I called this blog High Heels and Pink Glitter when I started it and I even mocked up a chick lit book cover using that too-common image of bare legs and sandals. I have plenty of acquaintances who love shoes, even just to look at if not to wear. In my many years of wearing high heels, the decorative value is hugely disproportionate to any wearability. The only heels you can walk in are block ones of not more than three inches and wedges. Even then, I don’t advise you to travel far by foot.

But yes, the assumption is often there that a heroine’s adoration of pretty, delicate, impractical foot wear is shared by us all. Here are two:

“Paris is a heaven for all woman’s obsessions: hot men, great chocolates, scrumptious pastries, sexy lingerie, cool clothes but, as any shoe-o-phile knows, this city is a hotbed of fabulous shoes.”

Kirsten Lobe, Paris Hangover

“Besides, I’d seen a really nice pair of shoes yesterday in the mall and I wanted them for my own. I can’t describe the feeling of immediate familiarity that rushed between us. The moment I clapped eyes on them I felt like I already owned them. I could only suppose that we were together in a former life. That they were my shoes when I was a serving maid in medieval Britain or when I was a princess in ancient Egypt. Or perhaps they were the princess and I was the shoes. Who’s to know? Either way I knew that we were meant to be together.”

Marian Keyes, Watermelon

It isn’t a trope that is going to vanish soon, but women’s fiction that veers toward the comedic or romcom often turns it on its head by featuring heroines who prefer sneakers, Birkenstocks or trainers—the comfy stuff most of us wear 99 percent of the time.

Here’s my own take on it from Highland Fling:

“I made a token protest and gave in. It was always better not to argue with my friend, who is the oldest of four sisters and well-versed in giving orders. Besides, the dress was fabulous—a mustard floral frill skater dress she’d matched with a deep purple and silver crochet cardigan. The belt was silver too, so as predicted it matched perfectly. I argued in favour of my Converse trainers to give my outfit a fierce edge and lost. No, she said. For such an occasion, high-heeled cork wedges were the only options.”

 

*By the way, two years ago Marks and Spencer’s created a lookie-likey version for a mere £35… You’re welcome. 

Food in fiction #amwriting

When you love food as much as I do, it’s not surprising it turns up a lot in my writing. As a freelance copywriter, I pounce on jobs that have a food element to them—I’m currently writing a lot of copy about mushrooms for one client, and I’ve written and edited a few books about diet and lifestyle.

In my other blogging life (I’m sorry to say I two-time you, dear reader, with another blog), I create a lot of low-carb recipes for those who want to follow that way of eating. But where I get the most pleasure writing about food is in my fiction. There, I create the best versions of chocolate cake, cheese-topped pizzas, crisp, triple-friend chips, risottos and more. Call it food porn if you will, especially as I often write about the dishes I don’t eat that often what with the type 1 diabetes getting in the way.

Anyway, here are a few examples of the dishes I have featured. If I’ve done this properly, once you’ve finished reading, you’ll find yourself desperate for cake/pizza/risotto or whatever. Two of my favourite food writers are Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater, whose descriptions of often very simple dishes are mouth-watering. If I can write about food half as well as they do, I’ll be delighted.

Pizza and chips

From Highland Fling: When the pizza arrives, I’m not sure what to do. Should I eat it with my fingers or a knife and fork, or do we just dig in and rip it apart with our fingers? Ryan was funny about sharing food. He hated me taking chips from his plate and if I ever asked for a taste of anything he was eating, he would sigh, spear up a tiny bit of it with his fork and dump it on my plate. The pizza comes with chips wrapped in fake newspaper and a garlic dip.

You go first, Gaby,” Jack says, and I pretend lady-likeness. My mum once told me that when she was a teenager, girls weren’t meant to eat very much and especially not in front of men. Jack watches me spear a chip with my fork. He shakes his head and tips half of them onto my plate, dolloping spoonfuls of garlic dip on top and handing me the slice of pizza that is most generously covered in melted cheese. Oh heck. This is doing nothing for the campaign I wage where I persuade him Kirsty’s his one true love. I count up the chips he tipped on my plate and realise it’s not half the portion, more like two thirds.

He gave me two thirds of his chips, Katya. My best friend gets it straight away. Jeez, Gaby. He’s a keeper.

From Highland Fling: I grin at Ryan. Chips are our nemesis. He ordered them. I didn’t, therefore the chips are solely, exclusively Ryan’s. Last time I nicked chips off a man, he gave in with good grace. I move the bowl towards me and he yanks it back before remembering himself. It is pushed, begrudgingly, back. I adopt the same beaming smile and dig in, ignoring the tic in his jaw as I bite into and swallow chips number four, five, eight, ten, the last used as a stick to swirl through garlic mayonnaise, scoop up the biggest blob of it and plank it in my mouth.

Cake and chicken wings

From Highland Fling: Pink icing, the exact colour of the Blissful Beauty branding, holds together five layers of dark sponge, the lot covered in a ganache that sparkles with edible silver glitter. The chef has studded the top of the cake with stars made from white chocolate and piped a perfect BB in whipped cream on the top. We pick up the cake forks in unison, waiting for someone to fire the starter pistol.

Katya breaks the cake stand-off, using her tiny fork to scrape off a ginormous helping of cream and chocolate ganache. Mhari and I follow her example, and the three of us are silenced as smooth, rich cocoa flavoured with hazelnut, vanilla and what might be brandy hits the backs of our throats.

From High Heels and Pink Glitter:

Still sniggering to himself, Ryan headed back to the kitchen. There was a packet of coated chicken wings in the fridge that only needed heating up in the oven. He tipped the lot out onto a roasting tin and then decided one was not enough. He added the second packet to the tin and shoved them in the oven. He’d once been at the flat when Matt and Jamie embarked on a drunken discussion about the amazingness of chicken wings, and whether the ones you got from the supermarket could ever match those from KFC or Wetherspoon’s. Conclusion? No. The discussion had lasted roughly 15 minutes.

Seafood and fish

From Artists Town: I’m gonnae try out a new dish of the day today,” Mick said. “Would you two taste it for me?”

The dish he presented to them looked beautiful, reminding Daisy of the food you got in French restaurants. When she told him this, the grin he gave her split his face in two. The dish was seafood crepes, thin pancakes folded over a creamy sauce with prawns and scallops and garnished with watercress in a balsamic dressing.

Daisy took a generous forkful. It was as delicious as it looked, and she didn’t need any encouragement to take another mouthful.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Daniel blushed faintly and then shrugged. He grabbed two thick slices of the bread that had been made in the shop that very afternoon and buttered them thickly. He added in the cheese savoury filling (a blend of grated cheese and home-made coleslaw with chopped onion) and added in an extra spoonful of mayonnaise and some sliced tomatoes. The poor girl |looked so thin after all.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Years ago, when Cate lived in London fish and chips had been a weekly treat on a Friday night. Her cabbie father would pick them up for the family at the end of his shift, if he wasn’t working too late.

She recalled those happy Fridays. “Catey gal I got fish and chips!” he would chirp as he came in. By that time, the minutes they had sat in a cab added up to ten or 15, and they were soggy. Cate never minded. She and her mother received those newspaper bags of sodden fish and chips gratefully. As an only child, Cate had been a daddy’s girl and that smell – fried fish and potatoes – reminded her strongly of her father and Friday nights.

She remembered vinegar-saturated batter and chips. Warm and steaming in the newspaper, she loved the starchiness of the batter and the taste of potatoes off set with tongue-tingling acidity. Even the mushy peas were a welcome addition to post-war rations lack of variety. With a liberal helping of salt and malt vinegar they made the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips.

My Cover story #amwriting #writersworld

D’nah! The big reveal—may I present the cover to my next book, Highland Fling, coming soon to an online book store near you…

cover picture of Highland FlingAnd behind every cover, there’s a story. Literally, of course, given that this is a book, but I’d like to share with you the story of Enni, Eric and me, a weird and wonderful coincidence the universe in her wisdom gave me. Blessing be upon you, mamma.

Firstly, Enni. So, there I am on Wattpad, bumbling along posting up stories, attracting a few followers and reads (though nothing like the numbers the popular guys and gals get), doing the odd thing that gets attention (hello Wattys2018) and creating my own niche genres such as plus-size vampire erotica*. All in all, Wattpad isn’t all it promised from the outset. I think about leaving and concentrating my efforts elsewhere.

Graphic design

And then I find myself a new follower who starts adding a lot of comments to my stuff. Highland Fling’s protagonist is a graphic designer—so is my new follower. Highland Fling includes a character from New Zealand—my new follower is also a Kiwi, albeit an adopted one. She fills me in on the practicalities of graphic design. My Kiwi slang is right in parts, wrong in others. She tells me outside of Auckland, the nickname for Aucklanders is Jafas. I leave it to your superior imagination to guess what the acronym stands for. You can leave your answers in the comments if you like, though please use stars for the F-bit.

Fast forward a bit, and the Wattpad commenter and I take our conversations off Wattpad and onto email. Reader, I have done this a lot over the last six or seven years and I heartily recommend it. I’ve done this with folks I’ve met through LinkedIn (hello Eric, Gordon, Russell and Ann-Louise!), Upwork (hello Caron, Sharon and Jenni!), and now Wattpad. My new NZ friend is thinking about setting up a side hustle as a book cover designer and she volunteers to use my book as her guinea pig. She’s read it too, so unlike most book cover designers, she knows the story inside out. She sends me the cover and I’m overwhelmed. What a stroke of luck.

You can find her website at yummybookcovers.com

Beta readers

My other stroke of luck is Eric, of LinkedIn fame. He volunteered to beta read my story; and he’s a retired editor with many years’ experience. I told him not to get too bogged down in correcting my dodgy grasp of the English language because I didn’t want the task to take up too much of his time, but he did so anyway. A professional editor read over my book and offered tonnes of useful suggestions**. Eric tells me he’s thinking of a side hustle too offering beta reader services, and if you are in the market for such critiques why not give him a shout? Eric’s beta reading service will:

  • offer feedback on your plot and characters, and opinions on clarity
  • make suggestions for plot developments you might want to consider
  • tell you the words and phrases you overuse, and pull you up on cliché use
  • point out which physical actions your characters take are impossible.

Blessing be upon you, mamma universe again.

*My most popular book on Wattpad to date. Who knew? It’s here, if you’re interested…

**Writing this with him in mind, and worrying about my terrible sentence construction habits.

Book + Main and plans, plans, plans

Books + Main on Emma Baird's blogPlans for this year included smarter social media use—y’know, instead of that jumping from platform to platform, creating accounts left, right and centre, updating all of them in fits of enthusiasm and then tumble-weed for weeks at a time.

Reader, that was me. Not any more; I now have a spreadsheet. Yes, yours truly has come up with the super-sad spreadsheet which outlines what platforms she will use and when. Lord, it’s a thing of joy. I’m tempted to upload it here so you too can marvel at it. It’s the Marie Kondo approach to organising my butterfly brain and getting rid of the clutter.

Honestly, I keep opening this spreadsheet and gazing at it, awe-struck. A double bonus is that I recently found out how to do strike-through font in Excel, so not only do I have my list but I CAN CROSS THINGS OUT WHEN I’VE DONE THEM.

So, bye-bye Pinterest and Google+, cheerio to random log-ins to accounts* and hello Book+Main and scheduled postings and checks. Book + Main, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a new platform specifically designed to connect writers of women’s fiction and romance in particular, with writers. It seems the ideal place to be. It’s predictably pink and hearts-like in design, but there we go. For the moment author accounts are free and you can showcase your work there.

I’ve posted up what they refer to as ‘bites’. Book + Main’s creator reasons book blurbs rarely give you a feel for the writing, whereas an extract will. Unlike Amazon, the writer gets to choose the extract so it doesn’t have to be the first few pages. I’ll report back—hopefully with news that my account has taken off, I’ve been bitten thousands of times and my book sales have soared.

I love the new and shiny, and every time I embark on something new, I tell myself this is going to work—hooray! As Winston Churchill once put it, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

I embrace that saying fully.

*time wasting, social media’s main role in my life so far.

Cornwall, coke in jars and controversial queens

This week, I…

Spent time in Cornwall

Mum and I had family business down south. Britain may be a small island, but travelling there from our part of the world isn’t easy. For me, it involved a half-hour walk, one hour and twenty minutes on the train, 15 minutes on a tram, one and a half hours on a plane and another two hours in a car until we arrived at the marvellously named London Apprentice village. The best bit of the journey? The car part from Exeter, driving on the road that passes alongside Dartmoor. Wild country and fabulous skies—folks, that bit of sky they use in the BBC Poldark production is representative. We drove into the sunset and talked about anything and everything.

Emma Baird mega breakfastOn the way back, my mum and I stopped off at a truckers caff for lunch, Tanya’s. We opted for the mega breakfast, pictured here. And this is the receptacle (below) they used for my diet coke. I want one. Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’s pictures cover the place, and the tables are littered with pretty tea-sets. Not your typical truckers’ caff—though I’d hate to stereotype a trucker. Perhaps he or she raises a dainty wee finger as they sip their tea. And tucks into a mega breakfast of bacon, sausages and a couple of fried eggs whilst reading the meaningful quotes on the walls.

Made pickled eggs

I adore eggs. Poached, fried, scrambled, omelette-d or, my favourite, hard-boiled and mashed with mayonnaise, they are brilliant in any form. So far, I’ve given the pickled egg a wide body swerve. Then, I ate one in a gastro pub that had been pickled with beetroot. And I cursed my younger self. This form of the egg could have been part of my life eons ago. What a waste.

Reflected on the force for the good that is the worldwide web

Yeah, yeah—social media pressures, Twitter trolls and fake news aside, when you add up the pros and cons the scales tip in the balance of favour for the internet. I’ve met so many wonderful people online—and later in person too. Lately, I’ve benefited hugely from two online connections. I wrote a book, Highland Fling, and one of those connections—an editor with many years’ experience—volunteered to be a beta reader. He devoted far more time to my project than he should have done, exfoliating his way through my book so the rough scrubbing reveals a far more polished piece.

I posted the book on Wattpad and a reader stumbled across it. She made suggestions for improvement. My book featured a graphic designer and my reader was—a graphic designer. My book included a New Zealand character and my reader was—from New Zealand. Bear in mind that my following on Wattpad is pitifully small. The odds I attract someone who a) comments and makes useful comments, b) has experiences that relate to what I’m writing about are stacked against me. Oh universe, thank you for your kindness.

Watched a critically acclaimed film

Not. The reviews of Mary Queen of Scots have been… mixed, to put it kindly. I saw it and read the user reviews on IMDB afterwards. An awful lot of people didn’t like the colour-blind casting. The predictability of the ‘PC gone mad’ type statements depressed me. Professional critics didn’t touch on this, thank goodness—slagging off the pace and disjointed story instead. Me? Bits of it appealed (and Saoirse* Ronan steals every scene), but as a whole—ho hum. If you love scenery, cinematography and costume, though, you will be in heaven. I thought of Dartmoor and the journey I’d made with Mum and the tumultuous times our wee island has experienced in the last two thousand years.

And yet despite the doom and gloom we have now—Brexit, climate change, the rise of the far right that threatens the freedom of us all and the weird isolationism promoted as the answer to all our woes—I love my life. I’m thankful for aspects of it every day. I do my best to limit the damage I do to our beautiful planet** so I can pass on what I can in good conscience to whoever comes after me, and the little things bring me joy:

  • Pickled eggs
  • A lovely review
  • A sunset that holds your gaze too long
  • An actress who invokes a massive girl crush
  • The kindness of strangers I’ve never met.

Blessed.

*for the love of God, can anyone tell me how you pronounce the name?

**apart from the diet coke consumption, Millennials and Gen Z, I am SORRY about that.

And a Happy New Year to Y’all…

Way, way back at the start of the year, I wrote my resolutions as folks tend to do in January, many of them appealing because there was no immediate need to do them. As the year hurtled on, I tried to cram them in so I could tick them off and my successes were 50/50.

Look for work elsewhere

MASSIVE TICK. I’ve been freelancing for more than five years now and while my job satisfaction  and happiness levels have soared in that time, copy-writing doesn’t pay well. This year, I took on a part-time job at the University of Glasgow. It turns out that academia is the nicest environment to work in. Steady money, incredibly nice people and I still have my freedom. Win-win.

Author services

At the start of the year, I planned to offer more author services, but ended up not doing as much of this work as I did in 2017. Ah well. It was a busy year.

Publish four books

Half tick – I published two, Artists Town and Ten Little Stars. And wrote three, which all need tonnes of tidying up. Writing successes this year included having one of my books on Wattpad long-listed for the Wattys2018, a competition that had more than 150,000 entries. When you’re an indie publisher, it’s nice to have that external validation of your writing. I also did #NaNoWriMo, writing 50,000 words in 30 days, which was hugely enjoyable and fulfilling.

Sell directly

I did do it this year, via an event at the local library where I sold books, but I haven’t done enough to push that part of my author business – partly because it feels a little pointless. Selling directly doesn’t count towards book rankings, and they are so important for overall sales. Still, it’s back on the list for next year.

Ongoing development

TICK. This year, I did an author event with the amazing Caron Allan, which was far more fun than we expected. That, I decided, counted as my ‘run a workshop’ plan set out at the beginning of the year. I continue to listen to podcasts, read blogs and work at developing my writing skills. Next year, I’ll concentrate on the further development of the marketing ones.

Happy New Year to you all – and thanks for reading.

 

90s Fiction and Sweeties Worth Stealing

pick and mix sweeties

Gimme, gimme, gimme

Ah, Woolworth’s – cheap make-up, vinyl singles and the mighty pick ‘n’ mix. I mourn your passing… In the ’80s and early ’90s any teenager worth their salt knew the layout of their local Woolworth’s like the back of their hand, if only to have an idea of the less risky places in store to shoplift. Or maybe that was just the folks I hung about with.

I’m on the Woolworth’s nostalgia trip because Artists Town, my coming of age tale featuring a type 1 diabetic heroine (so only a teensy bit autobiographical, right?) is now available on Kobo, Apple Books, Scribd et al. To give you a flavour of what’s the book’s like, here is an extract. It’s the early 1990s—so no mobile phones!—and teenage Daisy and her new best friend have just cycled ten miles to a nearby town which holds the promise of the afore-mentioned store… 

Artists Town

Daisy’s legs weren’t co-operating with her brain. They didn’t seem to want to obey the ‘stand up’ command, trying to fold under her instead. She grasped the shelf, the movement causing Katrina to look up.

What’s wi’ you?”

When Daisy didn’t respond at once, Katrina stopped what she was doing and grabbed her arm. “Oh! This is what your mum told me about!”

She sounded excited, but also far away. Daisy felt sweat gathering on her top lip and trickling down her back and the sides of her torso. Gross.

Kat—Kit-Kat! Kitty…” What was her bloody name, what was the name she said Daisy should call her? She tried to remember. The name began with a ‘K’, she was sure, but the rest of it flickered out of reach.

Katrina took hold of Daisy’s arm and pushed her gently down to the floor. “Dextrosol, Daisy?”

Daisy shook her head. “Not, not…no hypo,” she said, her chin slumping onto her chest. Katrina crouched beside her and began to rifle through her jeans pockets and the backpack.

Finding nothing, she stood up. “Stay here. I’ll be right back!”

Their actions had attracted the attention of two older ladies nearby. “Do you think she’s drunk?” one asked the other, pointing at Daisy.

Not…no…” Daisy muttered. It must have come out louder and angrier than she thought, as woman number one took her friend’s arm, and they both hurried away, shooting Daisy a dirty look over their shoulders.

Katrina was back, holding handfuls of pick and mix. “I didn’t know what to get to you, so I just went for the ones covered in sugar,” she said, kneeling next to Daisy. She’d picked cola bottles, jelly babies, shoestrings, bonbons and fizzy chips.

Not…no…”

Shut up!” Katrina said, pushing a cola bottle into Daisy’s mouth. “You’re hypo. Eat. Your mum said sometimes you don’t know when you’re low.”

By the time she’d forced the third cola bottle into Daisy, the shop’s manager had appeared. He’d brought a security guard with him too. Continue reading