Five Things You Learn from #NaNoWriMo

Emma Baird on NaNoWriMoWhat do you learn about yourself if you decide to embark on a fool-hardy challenge such as committing to writing 50,000 words in a month?

Yes, folks I’m the sort who over-promises and under-delivers to herself all the time. What does November lack, I pondered, what with the part-time job going through its busiest month of the year, my freelance clients all ramping up the work they need and TV not helping by adding distractions to my life such as the premiere of Outlaw King* on Netflix and The Little Drummer Girl on the BBC?

Obviously, I should add writing a rom-com novel to the month’s to-do list, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

But NaNoWriMo has surprised me. Forcing yourself in front of your laptop every day as a blank page blinks at you and your fingers hover above the keyboard refusing to do anything has proved enlightening.

Here’s what I’ve got from the experience so far:

  1. A sense of perspective. Forcing yourself to write 2,000 plus words every single day makes my day job, copy writing, seem a dawdle. What, you want 500 words for your blog? Is that all? Easy-peasy.
  2. You have to tell your inner editor to jog on. Nothing to see here, dear. Come back some other time and tweak that sentence, copy and paste or add in the correct punctuation but at this moment in time YOU ARE NOT WELCOME.
  3. The inner editor isn’t invited but the inner geek pushes her to one side. The dashboard on the official NaNoWriMo website throws up figures that change every day. How many words you’ve written, numbers needed to finish on time, average length of each writing session etc. And if there’s anything I love, it’s personal data. The NaNoWriMo dashboard has just joined the Fitbit one as things I spend too long swooning over.
  4. The value of plotting. As anyone who has read my previous books can attest, I prefer throwing things at a book and seeing if they stick to working out what MIGHT happen in advance. This time I’ve outlined every chapter and am now a convert. Plot outlines work! Who knew?
  5. Abandon all social life all ye who enter here. Yup, that kind of writing schedule takes over your life. From taking your laptop on trains as you commute, to knocking back invites, switching the TV off at night and turning down offers to test out the offerings at a gastro-pub in Glasgow, my life is deadly dull. Temporarily, I hope. Otherwise, I’m not going to make a convincing writer in the future if I have no interesting life experiences to draw on.

And the biggest revelation of all? I’ve fallen back in love with writing. I’m head over heels. Before this, I was plodding my way through re-writing a book I’ve never liked. Ye gods, it was tedious. I’ve been forced to abandon it, and now switching on the laptop every day to fire off 2,000 words or so never feels like a chore. I look forward to it and at the end of every session, I know I can keep going if I want. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s heady.

It’s still early days. By week three, I’ll probably reach the bit where I hate the book, think it’s the worst thing anyone has ever had the misfortune to write or read and wish my characters would just sort themselves out with no help from me.

In the meantime, chapter 10 beckons…

#amwriting #nanowrimo

*I was forced to commit Netflix infidelity for the first time to watch the film but blimey it’s immense, ladies and gentlemen. The scenery will blow your socks off. 

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Artists Town – pre-order now available

My life ticks off happiness boxes most of the time, but if you asked me to describe it to you, we’d manage three minutes of chit chat before you nodded off.

Yes, like most people my day-to-day existence is terribly ordinary. Don’t get me wrong, all over the world there are people who long for the privilege, safety and security of ordinariness, but all in all my life’s too dull to document.

Nevertheless, I let the odd bit of personal experience creep into what I write, though the joy of fiction is that you exaggerate, play fast and loose with timelines and recreate experiences. So, my new book Artists Town features a protagonist with type 1 diabetes. Here’s the bit where she’s diagnosed…*

 

Daisy’s life turned upside down. She had lost a stone in weeks, which was fantastic, but she’d felt tired and thirsty all the time. Not so fantastic.

Her mum attributed it to anorexia initially—rife among Daisy’s school friends, competitive under-eaters all—and began closely watching her daughter as she ate. Satisfied that Daisy was eating enough and not throwing it up or shitting it out afterwards, she took her to their GP.

He made her pee on a stick, announced she had type 1 diabetes and needed admittance to hospital as soon as possible.

Her mum started to cry. Daisy was none the wiser. “What is that?” she asked. Didn’t her nanna sometimes talk about her friend, Dot, who had diabetes and ate cakes even though her doctor told her not to?

“It’s a chronic health condition,” the doctor replied. “Your pancreas has stopped working. It’s not producing insulin. You need insulin to break down carbohydrates in food.”

Daisy still didn’t feel enlightened. “What’s the cure for it?”

The doctor sat back in his seat. “There’s no cure, I’m afraid.”

She spent a week in the hospital. Doctors, nurses and dieticians bombarded her with information. These are carbohydrates; this is an exchange. One exchange is an apple, one slice of bread or one scoop of mashed potatoes. NO SUGAR, okay? These are syringes. This is insulin. You need to give yourself injections in the morning and at night.

One very scary doctor told her in detail what would happen if she didn’t take care of herself.

“You will lose your eyesight. Your kidneys will pack up, and you will need dialysis. You will get liver disease. Your nerves will stop working properly, and you will live with pain. Your blood pressure will increase too much, and you will be at risk of a stroke or a heart attack.”

Eventually, Debbie told him to stop. Daisy was white-faced, recovering from the shock of yet another blood sample taken from her arm.

Life became a constant round of injections, measuring out food and always carrying glucose tablets with her. Anything that involved being away from the house was now fraught with danger, as far as her mum was concerned. In Debbie’s ideal world, Daisy reckoned she’d make sure her daughter never left the house, schooling and Vitamin D exposure be damned.

Artists Town is available for pre-order – on Amazon.co.uk and the American version.

 

*I was diagnosed at age nine, not 14, and I knew there wasn’t a cure because a boy in our town had been diagnosed with it some months before. And my mum didn’t confine me to the house.

 

The Girl Who Swapped summer sale

The Girl Who Swapped – 99p or 99c

 

The Girl Who Swapped Kindle cover

Bespoke book cover art example from coverness.com

For one week only, you can buy The Girl Who Swapped for a mere 99p on Amazon.co.uk or 99 cents* on Amazon.com

Do you love chick lit or humorous fiction that makes you chuckle? The Girl Who Swapped introduces you to Lottie and Charlotte who’ve woken up in the wrong bodies and miles away from home.

How do they get back to their ‘real’ lives, and where those real lives so fantastic in the first place?

The Girl Who Swapped – Sale

Via champagne-soaked parties, tempting tall, dark and handsome strangers and an ego-maniac Hollywood star, join the rollercoaster ride as our heroines hurtle through their new lives as they try to find their ways home.

If you like your reading light, frothy and fun, The Girl Who Swapped is a great summer read** and the Kindle version won’t take up precious room in your suitcase.

A fabulous read. Couldn’t put it down
Great story, well written with engaging characters
A real page turner

feebee on Amazon

Buy the book on Amazon.com here, or Amazon.co.uk here. It’s on sale at the discounted price from 8-15th August. 

*Seven or eight years ago, 99 cents would have been a bargain compared to the 99p price, but the pound’s so weak these days, there’s not much in it.

**Bleurgh. Blowing my own trumpet makes me feel like I need to take hot shower and scrub everything HARD.

copies of the Diabetes Diet books in a pile

A Little Bit of Success

copies of the Diabetes Diet books in a pileBlimey… I’m comfortable enough with failure. It’s not the opposite of success after all. But something happened this week that astonished me.

It was a teeny-tiny hint of something that might be working. I went online to check book sales. I have three, two fictional ones* and The Diabetes Diet, which I co-wrote with Dr Katharine Morrison. The total sales took me by surprise as The Diabetes Diet had made more than £160 in royalties in less than two weeks.

Successful authors won’t view this as a big deal, but the book’s royalties hover on the £10 a month mark most of the time. The book has always sold (put the word diet on a book and sales are guaranteed), but never at these levels.

Type the diabetes diet into Amazon’s UK site and ours is the first book to come up—at least on Monday (18 June). It’s in the top ten disorders and diseases category, the top 50 diets and weight loss, and number 1283 in non-fiction.

Traffic to both my blogs (this one and the one I write to complement The Diabetes Diet) has spiked in recent weeks, which might have contributed to the rise in sales. Or perhaps Dr Morrison’s attendance at the Public Health Collaboration conference last month helped. Maybe it’s both.

I did do some jiggery-pokery at the beginning. I made sure I used a lot of keywords in the description and I thought carefully about my tags. When we gave the book a paperback offering, we paid someone to redesign the cover, making the book look more professional.

I publicise the blog on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, but do little else to promote the book. I’ve never run marketing campaigns on it, and I’ve never put it in for a Kindle count-down deal. Even the blog doesn’t do that much to implicitly promote the book. I don’t have a plug-in, for example, that tells people where they can buy it every time a visitor lands on our site.

Of course, successful authors do their best to discover where the sales are coming from so they can do more of the same. Another idea would be for me to investigate the costs of an audio book, so that The Diabetes Diet is available in three forms, or even a large print paperback. Given that diabetes often affects people’s eyesight, an audio or large print version makes sense.

I recognise that rankings and sales fall as swiftly as they rise on Amazon. To quote Rudyard Kipling, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same”. In other words, don’t get too wound up by either of them.

Anyway, it is nice to have a little success. I’ll revel in it for the short time it lasts.

*The success won’t go to my head. Sales of the fictional books still elude me…

Origins of the Artist

Origins of the Artist, a book by Emma BairdSometimes you just can’t let go of a character. Two years ago, I created a young man, aged 18 and in denial. I made him go through a horrible ordeal when his best friend died, then I charted his coming out. I added him to the background of a story about another of his friends, then decided I wasn’t quite finished with him yet…

Now’s he’s in his late 40s and yes, yet again I’m making him suffer. 

Even when John turned up in Kippy’s dreams alive and very much well, he always knew it wasn’t right. As the sequence played out, the dream Kippy would eventually say, “No, you’re not really here. You’re dead,” or some such.

He wasn’t conscious of John suddenly disappearing, a ghost who said, “It’s a fair cop, guv,” and vanished now he’d been fingered, so to speak. But the John of his dreams was there one minute, gone the next. Kippy didn’t wake up and relive his partner’s death over and over again.

It didn’t stop him from crying most mornings. He was forty-seven years old, far too young for widower status. Granted, John had been fifteen years older than him, but even so. A man dying at sixty-one was rotten, rotten luck. Especially when that man was so fit and healthy your average insurer would be hard-pressed to quote over-the-top premiums for life insurance.

Take his lifestyle. Some years ago, John announced he was giving up the sauce as a fiftieth birthday present to himself. He’d never been a big drinker, anyway. Brought up in a small town and having spent many years hiding his sexuality, Kippy was the one who put away the pints and downed the whiskies.

John, though, decided he didn’t like the after-effects anymore. He’d been a nice, non-nagging teetotaller too, never minding Kippy having a pint too many and becoming maudlin and soppy, in your typical West Coast of Scotland man’s way.

John exercised regularly, and his diet had been exemplary post a high-cholesterol scare. It was he who’d introduced Kippy to the joy of salads and vegetables, foods that Kippy always regarded suspiciously. Rabbit food, right? John’s Italian momma and her Scottish husband were exceptionally good cooks, and their talent rubbed off on their son. He believed in home-cooked food made with passion and garnished with love.

And yet bowel cancer struck anyway, its diagnosis so late John was beyond saving. At the hospital, they made him as comfortable as they could, agreeing reluctantly in the end that he could go home to die.

Kippy found the world’s kindest and most compassionate palliative cancer care nurse who split her support equally between the two of them, helping prepare Kippy for those last few moments when your partner finally leaves you.

The peace of it was what he remembered. Pain takes everything from you, even a kind and wonderful man like John ends up with little reserves of love and patience left. Kippy needed something from him—a dramatic statement or gesture that raised them from the everyday mundanity of death.

“Bereavement is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time,” the nurse told him. “We all go through it, but we experience it quite differently, which is why it’s so hard to explain to anyone else.”

He’d willed John to use his gift with words. His partner was the man who’d spent years using his rapier wit to persuade judges and juries that the wee nef stood in front of them deserved a second chance. He’d torn apart police statements, making juries laugh at the same time as everyone loved the public putting down of authority figures.

A man of such talent should be able to summon forth words that Kippy could store in his mind’s vault, taking them out from time to time to polish and cherish their beauty. But there was nothing left in John. He muttered that he loved Kippy and those dark eyes welled up. And then one morning, Kippy woke and took in the deafening silence that told him his life partner was dead. He walked into the room and felt the stillness of it. There were no ragged breaths, no creaks from the bed of a man shuffling in a vain attempt to get comfortable.

Oh, the relief.

They’d celebrated their 25th anniversary six months before John died, an occasion that later became known as one of the BC events. Before cancer, everything seemed careless and overly optimistic. An anniversary almost always prompts the words, and here’s to the next ten, fifteen and even twenty-five years.

The date marked their 25th year together, rather than a formal wedding or civil partnership anniversary, though that took place too. What a day it had been. Neither of them fancied flamboyance or even more than one or two guests, but the celebration was taken out of their hands.

“You must make it a big event!” Lillian declared, her excitement far more visible than theirs. “It’s symbolic. Please let me help organise it!”

By ‘help’ she meant, take over completely. They’d both given in to her, partly because she’d been moping her way through a bad break-up at the time. On 31 December 2006 just over a year after the law came into effect, Kippy and John registered their civil partnership, both wearing Lillian-designed suits. She insisted on lots of photographs and posted them all over her website and Facebook. She intended to position her business as the go-to for civil partnerships, she announced. Kippy raised his eyebrows at that. Wasn’t high-end fashion inherently gay? She didn’t need their help to make it more so.

The guest list, one that needed cutting many times, numbered almost 150 in the end. Kippy muttered about the expense repeatedly. John tended towards sensibleness far more than he did, but the wedding-like whirlwind seemed to deafen him, and he waved away Kippy’s concerns about the bills. Covers on chairs? Why not? Kitsch, handmade favours? Of course. A reception in Glasgow’s most expensive hotel. Nothing else would do.

He remembered the cheers when the registrar said that in the presence of their friends, family and witnesses, it gave him great pleasure to declare they were now both civil partners to each other.

John’s momma managed to source a gay priest to confer blessings on the couple that day. As an elderly Italian, she’d only recognise a partnership that had some stamp of authority from the Catholic church, no matter that her son and his partner had lived together for more than ten years by that time.

The priest was known as a firebrand in religious circles and he had to dodge the odd death threat online, but he charmed Francesca assuring her that God smiled kindly on her son and he delighted in the union.

“Love is all,” he told the gathering, “and that is it.”

The post-ceremony celebration had gone on for hours. John stumbled off to bed at 1am, and Kippy partied with their extended family and friends, knocking back enough whisky for him to end up dancing, something he never bothered with unless he was paralytic.

He’d later woken up John to tell him all about it, seeing as that was how they’d first met. Kippy, a young and just-out art school student, had been at a party and drank too much of the punch. He asked John to dance with him to an Erasure Abba cover and John had taken him home afterwards. That hadn’t been their beginning though. As someone who’d been ‘out’ for far longer, John thought Kippy wasn’t right for him.

“I thought you would break my heart,” he told him when they’d finally got together. “Young, gorgeous… One of those gays who needed to sow his wild oats.”

It had been sort of true. Kippy grew up in a small fishing village in the 1980s. He’d kept his gayness a secret, even dating girls to appear normal to the outside world. When he’d won an art prize, he’d been able to leave Kirkinwall behind and his first year at art school had been heavenly, all the wall-to-wall cock and no-one to horrify with your lusting after it…

He’d done the classic thing, shagged everything that moved for months but the memory of John’s eyes and how his gaze felt on him was always present. Every encounter Kippy experienced was tinged by the warmth of that stare. It took a life-threatening beating to bring the two of them together, finally.

Finally, and forever—or at least until death do us part.

The funeral was to take place tomorrow, and Kippy found himself trying on different suits to find one that fitted properly. He’d lost so much weight over the last couple of months, they hung off him. Clinging to your stylishness was his survival mode of choice. His long-ago civil partnership suit still fitted, but was it fitting to wear an outfit of celebration to an occasion of mourning?

Lillian would say ‘yes’, but then she would. He’d be promoting her clothing and he wouldn’t put it past her to photograph him surreptitiously in it and then post it online. He longed to ask for her opinion. “Do I wear the suit, or buy another one?”

He hadn’t told her in person about John’s death, unable to face that complication, but someone would have passed the news on. John had been an old family friend, and he was…something Kippy tried not to think about too often. Lillian would come to the funeral if he wanted her to or not.

And he found he did. She could even bring her too if she wanted.

Still stuck on the question of appropriate funeral gear, he went out. Fraser’s had come to the tail end of the January sales and the gentlemen in Menswear pounced on him, razor-sharp radars detecting gayness and a liking for decent clothing at first glance.

When the guy asked what the suit was for, Kippy avoided the truth. Sympathy from someone who hadn’t known John would have been too hard to handle. He couldn’t bear to hear condolences trotted out in fake sincerity. He’d lost weight, he said, and nothing in his wardrobe fitted.

Dan, the salesman, eyed him enviously. He was what John would have called deliciously plump, and Kippy described as fat.

“How did you manage that over Christmas and New Year?” Dan’s voice had slipped, resentment replacing the usual customer cultivation tones. “I ate my bodyweight in chocolate.”

Kippy said he’d been ill, smiling to himself when Dan slipped back into obsequious mode.

He managed to find Kippy a gorgeous suit. It was more flamboyant than anything he’d usually wear (and ludicrously expensive), but it fitted beautifully. Kippy had been a skinny young man who’d turned into a slim older bloke. The weight loss had turned him skinny again and the new burgundy suit looked as if it had been sewn on. The sheen of it would have been tacky on anything less expensive. He handed his card over and tried not to wince.

At least he’d been able to resist Dan when he’d tried to steer him to new shoes as well.

Now, all he had to do was get through the next day.

You can follow the story’s progress on Wattpad. 

©Emma Baird 2018

High Heels and Pink Glitter – the Books

This week I’m…trying out other people’s blog ideas (thank you Sandra). She posted a piece at A Corner of Cornwall where she took the title of her blog and looked at books that started with the same word.

Emma Baird doesn’t easily lend itself to the idea, apart from the famous Jane Austen book I want to read again in a few years’ time but my old blog name, High Heels and Pink Glitter, throws up possibilities.

I read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity years ago, but there’s also J G Ballard’s High Rise. I saw the film starring Tom Hiddleston when it came out, and it would be interesting to explore how the story plays out in the book.

High heels features in a lot of book titles, according to Goodreads.com. Gemma Halliday has a whole series of books using ‘high heels’, Undercover in High Heels, etc. There are lots of variations on the theme of head over heels too.

In my twenties, I read a book called Running in Heels by Anna Maxted, which I loved. It featured a protagonist who was the same age as me and working in the same industry, and it felt very current at the time.

Reading the reviews of the book on Goodreads reminded me once again what an individual experience reading is for everyone. The range of adjectives and descriptions used is huge, enough to make you wonder if everyone read the same book. But no, that’s reading for you! One (wo)man’s meat is another one’s poison, etc.

For pink, I found this title – Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies): Amazing women on what the F word means to them, a collection of writing from Hollywood actresses to teenage activists including Helen Fielding, Saoirse Ronan and Karen Gillan. Apart from anything else, I do have substantial amounts of pink in my wardrobe…

Glitter is used in a lot of chick lit too, but I homed in on this example—Glitter by Kate Maryon, a book written for the tween audience. I’d like to read this because the reviews are so good and I want to see how an author writes for that age group. You don’t have to like a genre or be the target audience to appreciate an author’s abilities after all.

Do any of my choices appeal to you?

 

Auld Claes and Parritch

Ah, January! Once you crawl out from under the pile of wrapping paper, empty bottles and chocolate wrappers, the Bacchanalian joy vanishes, and it’s back to auld claes and parritch*, right?

No wonder folks hate January. It’s cold, dark and no-one is going out (in the UK at least). Whisper it, I quite like January so far. There are a lot of small (and the odd big) things that are making me happy.

Scheduling. Nothing says January like plotting out your activities on an online calendar, eh? I’m THE saddo who spent a satisfying two hours adding everything to Outlook. Basically, there’s no room for anything spontaneous until the end of February.

Emma BairdFeeding the Birds. If I’d known how much joy this would give me, I’d have done it years ago! I put out a handful of nuts every day, and they’re gone an hour later. We’ve got three or four blue tits that visit the garden regularly, and this morning I managed to spot one of them and a robin swoop in for a feed.

“Birdie, are you sure you can eat that?” I wondered aloud. Half a peanut looks like the equivalent of a human trying to chow down on a double cheeseburger.

I’ve also got a jar of Flutter Butter, peanut butter, especially for small, fluttering birds. Next job is to find the cat-safe place to install it seeing as our garden is also a haven for the neighbourhood cats. As my friend said, “Wow, it’s like you’ve just put a takeaway menu for them up on the wall.”

Using Draft2Digital. The Girl Who Swapped is now out of Kindle Select so I can go wide. I used Draft2Digital, as I’ve heard and read good things about this platform for uploading e-books onto multiple places. The book is now on Kobo, iTunes, Playster and a good few I’ve never heard of, as well as Amazon.

Here’s the Universal Book Link – books2read.com/tgsw

 

 

Walking along beaches. Thursday was a dull, gloomy day in my neck of the woods. I took myself off to Prestwick to visit a friend. Down there, the sun shone brightly, so we took her dog Ruaridh out for a long walk along the beach front. I probably met and spoke to half of Prestwick at the same time. Dog walking is unbelievably sociable.

Emma BairdAcquiring jewellery. My mum LOVES giving gifts and this year she decided to pass on her ring collection, giving my sisters and I one each. This is mine. Isn’t it gorgeous?

How’s your January going?

*A Scottish saying meaning the humdrum, workaday world.