Crete, Cats and #NaNoWriMo

This week I’m…

Drinking olive oil

olive oil picture taken by Emma Baird author of the diabetes dietWe’re back from a week in Crete, where it’s obligatory for any tour to talk about extra virgin olive oil and its many health benefits. The Cretans splish-splosh it on everything, so it’s not surprising they are the world’s biggest consumers of the stuff getting through an average 36 litres a year.

Because we’d opted for the hand-luggage only flight, we could only bring back a measly 100ml of the stuff but I promise my meals from now on will contain liberal amounts. As gastronomic destinations go in general, Crete is tremendous. I ate one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever had—lamb kleftiko, a paper packet of tender meat oozing luscious thick gravy, and juices-soaked carrots and potatoes added in.

Recovering from mozzie bites

Seriously, did those little gits love me because I’ve got sweeter than usual blood? By the end of the week I’d counted 26 bites and my husband kept wrestling me, strait-jacket style, to stop me scratching them. If you ever want to experience the perfect definition of instant gratification—and why it isn’t worth it—get yourself a dozen or so mosquito bites and claw at them with long nails as soon as they begin to itch.

Result? Two seconds of relief and then bites that get infected.

A resident told us this year the island has suffered more than usual. The Cretans themselves were experiencing problems too. Chania’s newspaper says the problem has been caused by cutbacks in Government spraying programmes and in the past few years, the population has gone wild.

Contemplating cats

Emma Baird with catEvery bar and restaurant we went to had its own resident cat, who could spot a sucker miles away. Here is the picture for proof. Up they came, positioning themselves beside your chair and yowling furiously until you gave them a bit of whatever you were eating.

My theory is that Cretan cats and cats in hotter countries are further along the evolutionary chain than those in the UK. They’ve lived alongside humans for far longer, and most of the ones we came across aren’t at all skittish around people. They are very noisy too. The cat’s miaow was developed to communicate with humans, but you don’t meet that many ‘talkative’ cats over here.

Unfortunately, part of the greater progress along the evolutionary chain is because they breed in vast quantities. We saw lots of kittens and young cats, and all kinds of amazing, unusual patterns. Again, in hot counties this is harder to control. Greece has suffered financially in recent years. There won’t be much money around for trap, neuter, release programmes.

Doing NaNoWriMo

For those of you outside the writing world, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual initiative encouraging writers to write the first draft of a novel or 50,000 words in one month. It sounds like a tall order, but if you break it down into 2,000 words a day every day, you’re in ‘eat that elephant one bite at a time’ territory.

My incentive is partly financial. I’m about to ditch Microsoft Word as I’m fed up of spending so much money on it every year when there are just as good freebies out there. Libre Office for example. And Scrivener is software specially created for writers, which you pay a one-off fee for. I’ve resisted it until now because I’m not keen on something that comes with a 45-minute tutorial. Manana never comes soon enough for me, so listening to that tutorial is a tall order. But Word isn’t great for working with long documents such as novels and I fancy Scrivener’s corkboard feature to help me plot.

How does this fit with NaNoWriMo? The folks that make Scrivener offer it at half-price if you complete NaNoWriMo. While on holiday, I outlined a plot using a one-page template I found online so in theory writing 2,000 words every day will be easier because I have an idea of what happens in each chapter instead of pantsing it.

Highland Fling book cover by Emma BairdI’m going to try my hand at a sweet romance, which will be a challenge for me. I’m filthy-mouthed (blame working in journalism and PR for that) so my novels tend to contain plenty of couthy language, the odd bit of sex and other adult themes. Sweet romance ‘rules’ mean no swearing, definitely no sex and the ‘climax’ is the kiss. Once that’s done, it’s game over. Sweet romance is HUGE in the indie publishing world and its top writers earn hundreds of thousands. As one writer put it, fans of ‘spicy’ romance, i.e. the sex stuff, will read sweet romance, whereas the opposite doesn’t usually apply.

Here are the first few paras:

“I didn’t mean to smash his heart into smithereens—and they were his words not mine—but if you want to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs, don’t you?”

“Stop right there!” My best friend excels at bossiness. She gets up from the sofa and holds a hand out, traffic cop style.

“Do NOT mix up metaphors like that,” she begs. “Please. You’re hurting my ears.”

She’s a copywriter and very fussy about what people say in front of her. If you ever dare utter, do you know what I mean? at the end of a sentence, she jumps down your throat. No, I don’t know. That’s why you’re telling me. I cut that habit out after about the hundredth time she said it.

“Kelly!” I too am on the sofa in my about to be vacated home. I love this sofa too. It took me five visits to the SofasRUs (and all on the days when there were sofa sales so I wasted a lot of bank holidays) to find my perfect one. This is it. Dark red velvet, super squishy and big enough to fit four people, five if you know each other really well.

And tomorrow I say goodbye to this sofa. Just like I wave farewell to the coffee table I rescued from a junk yard, sanded down and varnished myself, the book shelves I built from flat packs accompanied by a lot of cursing, the laminated floorboards I laid one hot and sweaty weekend, the curtains…

Charlotte Amelia Richardson! My mother’s voice. This moping will not do. Kelly backs her up. Not in real life, but in my head; the two of them competing to see who can order me around the most.

Kelly rummages through her handbag and emerges with a large bar of chocolate that she waves triumphantly in front of me.

“Okay,” she says, “if you promise not to mix up any more metaphors and refrain from terrible clichés, I will break this bar in two and give you half.” She inspects the bar, checking the label. It’s the Oreo cookie one, tiny bits of biscuit crumb encased in thick slabs of chocolate.

“The much smaller half.”

I am not having that. I lurch forward and grab the bar from her hands, dancing away from her as she shrieks and tries to get it back. My fingers move fast, ripping through purple foil while Kelly howls, “No, no, no!” I jam it into my mouth, bite off a quarter and hand it back to her, tooth marks and all.

All’s fair in love and war, or love and chocolate, right?

You can read the rest of this chapter on Wattpad here. https://embed.wattpad.com/story/164480382

Wish me luck…

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Ten Little Stars and Half-Marathon Recovery

This week, I’m…

Recovering from the Glasgow half-marathon

Ladies and gents, I did it. It wasn’t fast, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but yours truly stumbled across the finishing line two hours and fourteen minutes after setting off.

Glasgow’s half-marathon is popular as the course is flat (ish, not quite as my rose-tinted ten years ago experience recalled) and many people achieve personal bests. I was thankful for its flatness, but speed wasn’t coming into it. Glasgow joggers run the gamut of weather types in late September, and the day was no exception – overcast and cloudy at first, then bright sunshine, heavy rain half-way through and repeat.

The crowds turned out to cheer us on. Little kids high-fived as many runners as were willing (me, every time), witty signs read Good Luck Random Stranger! This is great practice for the zombie apocalypse, and someone who’d drawn the poo emoji and asked if anyone needed one yet…

Grateful thanks to my support crew—my husband, my mum and her partner Neil, who cheered me on at the start and the end.

Eating pasta

A race always means a reward meal—I opted for a protein, carb and fat overload in the form of Beef and Mac ‘n’ Cheese. You can buy this, but have you ever eaten a shop-bought mac ‘n’ cheese that made you sigh in contentment? No, I thought not. Most manufactured versions stint on the best bit, when the dish should be more a case of, would you like some pasta with your cheese?

To continue the celebration theme, I washed the lot down with a decent helping of pink Cava.

Writing short stories

Ten Little Stars by Emma BairdIn an attempt to the ‘game’ the Amazon system, I’m putting out a book of short stories a mere thirty days after publishing the last book…

I’m not sure what this achieves, except that I’ve seen it written about in ‘places’. My search history* is too vast to revisit anything unless I remember to do so an hour later, so heaven alone knows where I read that or if it’s even viable. But I have read it a few times so here goes!

Book marketing experts also bang on about the importance of the mailing list—*sighs*—and this book might end up being my freebie incentive. Sign up to my mailing list** and you too could be the proud owner of this free book, kind of thing.

I’ve served up a mix of vampire tales, modern love dilemmas and a bit of historical fiction. The book is available for pre-order here and here.

Making spicy stuff

This year’s chili crop will outlast us. Good people, we grew a lot of chilies this year as you can see. And I’ve already made the rookie mistake—gosh, aren’t they small, better put a few of them in YEOWCH—so it’s one or two per recipe max. Thankfully, they freeze. Our house is about to become Curry Central.

Dieting the cat

Cat emotional manipulation expertise 1. Emma determined to hold out on number of feeding intervals 0.

Freddie’s vet visit and vaccination beckons, and I’d like to escape the annual lecture on the size of him. He’s bordering on moggie obese. So, a few weeks of strict portion control, no treats and definitely no sly helpings of ham.

Yeah, good luck with that one.

 

*And VERY confusing for Google.

**Which will of course be 100 percent GDPR compliant.

Celebrations and Literary Endeavours

This Week I’m…

Enjoying the sunshine. For one day only, the Celsius hit more than 18 degrees. It was glorious. More of this, please.

Supporting independent publishers, a la Comely Bank Publishing. Lucy’s Lloyd’s Russian Doll is out now, as is The Blogger Who Came in From The Cold. Available direct from the publishers here.

Peeing to help medical research. I spotted a poster recently, recruiting volunteers for research into the effects of the low-carb diet. I like to feel I can be useful so I stuck my hand up and said ‘yes please’, secretly hoping they might do tests and say, ‘Well, you ARE a special snowflake aren’t you? Never seen anyone with so much this, that or the other.’

Part of the initial sign-up involves 24 hours of pee collection. Oof, really? I said to myself. Not sure those flasks will hold everything…

Attending literary events, a la Booked 2018, West Dunbartonshire’s annual festival in celebration of books and writing. The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell is described as ‘a wry and hilarious account of life in Scotland’s biggest second-hand bookshop and the band of eccentrics and book-obsessives who work there’.

Celebrating my wedding anniversary—five years ago and the original raison d’être for this blog. (Flaw in the plan was that a run-up-to-the-wedding blog has a shelf life.) Flowers, chocolates and maybe a wee trip out this weekend beckons…

Life on Pluto

I wrote some more flash fiction this week, but, wait for it, not on a Friday…

A fellow writer, Russell Conover, updates a dedicated Friday Flash Fiction blog and my story was in response to one he wrote. Both of us share a love of cats, and over the years we have created lots of stories about a fictional feline known as Alice’s cat.

Life on Pluto

If they send a cat to Pluto, its life expectancy increases by 20 years.

So, your average cat should live about 12 years. A Pluto-tripped cat has the potential to miaow for three times as long.

Unfortunately, the same doesn’t apply to humans. Their life expectancy decreases by 10 years.

Alice was yet to travel to Pluto. Though if she did, she could time her demise to fit in with that of her cat. A world without her precious pet didn’t bear thinking about.

She checked Rocket Flights 2Go. March’s special offers included half-price interplanetary travel.

She signed up.

 

You can also read more flash fiction on the flash fiction website here.

Cat in a Box!

cats in boxesLike many cats, mine loves a new box. I open it up, empty out the contents and in he jumps. There’s usually a bit of proprietorial scratching too as he marks it out as his new toy.

At least it distracts him from wanting to sit beside my laptop. It’s always the left side and it usually involves disabling the caps lock key. On a few occasions, he’s managed to turn the laptop off – two times, I was in the middle of composing complicated emails. The emails vanished. Once, I was updating a book, changing a few words here and there. That wasn’t saved either and I had to rely on my becoming-increasingly creaky memory.

Cat experts suggest you install a supervisory shelf in your home office – some kind of high-up structure that allows your cat to survey everything and sleep if he wants. I’ve tried putting a box with a blanket on my desk, just the blanket and a pile of paper. But nothing is quite as nice as the naked left-hand side of my laptop.

The non-cat lovers among you might be thinking the obvious: can’t you just shut him out of the room? For years, we’ve operated an open door policy. If there’s nothing a cat likes more than a new box, there’s nothing he hates more than a closed door. Besides, being head-butted by an attention-seeking cat is kind of cute, hmm?

The joys of working from home include spending more time with your loved ones, pets included.

Annoying Habits

RockyDear oh dear oh dear… recently, I thought it would be a good idea to add another cat to our household. Now, cats are notoriously territorial and my resident cat in particular is King Bee of the Area. He took to the new cat like a duck to… a shotgun? The Sahara Desert?

Cats that are confined indoors, rather like the new cat we adopted, find all kinds of ways to amuse themselves. One thing they like to do is knock stuff off shelves – and it was this particular habit that inspired some Friday Flash Fiction.

Annoying Habits

“My precious – where are you?”

Sod it. Lucia had lost her wedding ring. Some might argue that her fidelity had gone eons ago, but the ring bound her to a long-ago promise. The naked fourth finger of her left hand was too obvious for her liking.

The Cat sniffed. One of his little – some might say cute, some might say annoying – habits was knocking things off shelves. Spectacles, kirby grips, the occasional wedding ring* taken off for cleaning…

The Cat didn’t judge, but Lucia’s last affair had pushed certain boundaries. Tom’s youngest brother.

Who also happened to have a dog.

©Emma Baird 2016

 

*My wedding ring went missing for a week. It tuned up six days later, resting near the toilet. Hmm

 

One IS Fun

This week’s Friday flash fiction is a little wishful thinking on my part. I’ve just acquired another cat and I’ve spent the last few days stressing about it. Cats don’t need company – FACT. 

two cats“If one is fun, two must be amazing!” Alice trilled to The Cat.

The Cat regarded her balefully. Typical human. Imposing its wants on another species. Anthromo… Anthromorphos…

What was the darn word, anyway*?

The new companion arrived. Alice opened the carrier and he emerged, blinking.

The Cat sighed. Humans needed company. He didn’t. Who wanted more competition for food, water and places to sleep?

The little one sidled up. “Hey I know you are worried, but I promise it’s all going to be fine!”

Oh this was worse! If there was anything The Cat hated, it was a sook.

 

 

*Anthropomorphism – i.e. the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human species. It’s  considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.