#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?

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…

 

Highland Wedding cover reveal…

Can you believe it’s December already? Me either. I’ve drawn up an ambitious to-do list, determined I will buy all my cards and pressies next week. And also book a haircut which is long overdue. Hopefully with a hairdresser who knows how to handle curly (frizzy) hair.

Highland Wedding by Emma Baird book coverAnyway, I thought I’d share the cover to Highland Wedding—the next book in the Highland Books series. Enni Tuomisalo created it for me. I always develop a weird crush on the male characters she draws and Jack in a kilt is no exception. Isn’t he gorgeous?! That’s a McAllan tartan he’s wearing, by the way.

I’ve written a short blurb:

Highland Wedding

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 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?

Book number 4

Next up… I’m toying with a few more ideas in the Highland Books series. I use a website called yasiv.com to see what other books people who buy mine purchase. Judging by their tastes, the next book should be called Highland Cornish Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe.

I could juggle locations by making Jack and Gaby go on holiday to Cornwall, say, visit a cupcake cafe there and decide to open one in Lochalshie. Or another story could star the Lochside Welcome—the hotel everyone in the village loves. I’ve got a feeling Jack and Gaby could be part of a plan to save the place from ruin if Ashley has a non-fatal heart attack…

Finally, Highland Heart is currently on a Kindle countdown deal and will be until Thursday, so it’s 1.99 instead of 3.99. You buy the ebook on Amazon.

#NaNoWriMo

Image result for nanowrimoAre you revving up for #NaNoWriMo?

Probably not–the bulk of my blog readers are not authors so this annual event means not a jot to them. Unless they are reading the products… (And here is the one I wrote last year, Highland Fling.)

HFAdvertHiNaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month (international, more accurately) where would-be and already published authors attempt to write a novel in 30 days.

When I say novel, again the more accurate description is 50,000 words (novel length ish). But International 50,000 Word Writing Month does not scan as well so NaNoWriMo it is!

To finish 50,000 words in 30 days, your daily word count is 1,667 words a day. I LOVED the exercise last year. It made me fall in love with writing again. The book I wrote has since grown arms and legs in the form of a follow-up, Highland Heart and another book in development, Highland Wedding. Maybe in due time I will end up with Highland Divorce, swiftly followed by Highland Funeral.

Stats and targets

If you sign up to NaNoWriMo officially, i.e. by creating an account on the website, you get to add in your daily writing word count and the system presents you with stats—time to target and that kind of thing. Personal stats make me drool as yes, I am that OCD-person, clicking refresh and sync all the time and deriving intense satisfaction from every update.

Thirty days is often cited as a ‘magical’ tool. From exercise (100 squats a day for a month) to abstention (Dry January and Sober October*), four weeks of doing something consistently is reckoned to lead to better habits.

I concur. I was already writing extensively prior to NaNoWriMo, but the exercise turned me into a writing MACHINE. Since then, I can count the creative writing days off on one hand.

Write, write, write

A year of writing Monday to Sundays, taking my laptop on trains and planes, getting up early to write before work, writing in the evenings in front of the television (appalling habit, I know), and telling myself constantly writer’s block does not exist. Push on through and the words come.

Having said all that, I am not doing NaNoWriMo this year. A sad sentence to type, but I am in the middle of revising two books. I love the lure of the shiny new, and would much rather start a brand new book than rework an already created manuscript. Discipline, the better Emma Baird growls at me, nothing new until you finish what you have already started. 

However, the beauty of NaNoWriMo is… YOU CAN DO IT ANYTIME. Dry January and NaNoWriMo in one fell swoop to begin 2020? 

Why not? 

 

*All the better for leading up to Bender December, right?

Highland Heart – out October 10

Ah, the modern world! Fabulous in so many ways… where once upon a time if you wanted ad images for anything you needed a ginormous budget, nowadays cheap tech solutions will rustle you up something in no time at all…

These images for Highland Heart are via BookBrush.com – you upload your cover and voila! Seconds later, there’s the image. My favourite one is the picture above left because I love the hardback version. But the featured image also appeals because who doesn’t love the idea of a cosy autumn night in, slippers on, hot drink nearby and book in hand?

Highland Heart is the second romcom book in my series set in the highlands of Scotland (as the title suggests), and it explores what happens when the honeymoon stage of a relationship wears off… It’s out October 10.

Wishing you all a great week!

The digital nomad life!

Here you see me (just) pretending to be a chic, hipster digital nomad*… sitting on a balcony in Crete tapping away on my keyboard as I put together the finishing touches to Highland Heart.

It is a treat to be able to sit in the sunshine and type. Even if cheapskate me didn’t bother splashing out the extra twenty quid on a glare-proof screen for my laptop when I bought it six years ago. *Sighs.*

And in Crete, factor in slathering yourself in insect repellent as well as sun cream. Those beasties are vicious. And they hone in on wherever you are unprotected. *Squirms from a bite in a delicate place.*

It is fitting to be a writer in Crete, seeing as the early Minoan populations that lived there were among the first in Europe to read and write—writing systems referred to as Linear A and B, mainly developed to help them document the sheer amount of olive oil, wine, honey and crops those civilisations had.

The writing system is thought to date back to the second millennium BCE.

But yes, dear chums. Highland Heart is now on pre-order on Amazon and is out October 10th, when I hope it will spring to the top of the charts and make me a goodly sum of money. Sprint? I’d settle for a gentle stroll so long as those sales figures always head in the upward direction. It’s the follow-up to Highland Fling and the third book, Highland Wedding, will be published in time for Christmas.

 

*Two weeks away from home a year do not make me a digital nomad.

Clothes in women’s fiction

Black trackie bottoms (elasticated waistband a must) scuffed trainers and a hoodie that has seen much, much better days… My writer/home worker’s uniform is far from glamorous.

But one of the joyous bits of being a writer—and particularly if you write women’s fiction/chick lit—is living vicariously through your characters. Mine get to wear all kinds of beautiful outfits and shoes. I find myself on fashion websites seeking out the dresses, shoes, skirts and tops they might don. It’s even more fascinating when coming up with men’s clothing. Traditionally, their outfits veer towards boring but I love to make my men hyper stylish. I reward then with loud check print skinny-fit suits, silk bomber jackets and brogues polished to within an inch of their lives.

I wrote this scene some time ago, having Googled male fashion and found the outfit on Top Man…

Kelly twisted awkwardly in her seat to see who had attracted their attention. Oh, God. Nate Walker. She turned away quickly before he could catch sight of her.

Leon, his eyes still glued to Nate who had managed to pull off skinny chino shorts and a sleeveless pink hoodie over a white long-sleeved tee shirt, noticed the sudden move. “Do you know him?” he asked, awed.

Yes, he’s a rude arsehole,” she muttered. “And he’s straight.”

In that outfit? Kelly, are you sure? Ooh, he’s coming over…”

To her chagrin, Kelly realised she had been spotted. Nate had made his way over to their booth. “Hi Kelly. How are you?”

At least he looked faintly uncomfortable and the exaggerated politeness of the other day had gone.

Fine.” She bared her teeth in bad imitation of a smile.

Er… listen, sorry I was a bit rude the other day. Family problems. I wasnae in the best of fettle.”

As Leon and Martin were practically panting beside her, Kelly nodded quickly. “Apology accepted.”

Anyway, having made my last heroine, Gaby of Highland Fling, as scruffy as I am, I wanted to make Katya, who stars in Highland Heart, the stylish, well-dressed woman I’m sure lurks deep within me. So, here’s an insight into her wardrobe and what she would wear…

The Vampire’s Wife

Vampire's Wife dressI’m OBSESSED with this brand. Their dresses are out of this world beautiful, all styled along the same lines—slender bodices, a defined waist, high necklines and those voluminous sleeves. One day, one day I will own one and I will wear it do the housework in.

AUBERGINE_FIG_VELVET_7673_1024x1024As a fan of the big bag—all the better to carry around all your medical equipment, reading material, make-up and a couple of bottles of diet coke, I love the idea of matching your bag so precisely to your dress. This silk velvet version is a beauty, isn’t it?

Victoria Beckham

paw19_jk_ovr_51005a_black_2_3bcbb597-b9c6-4bdd-80e0-e148be2272e0_750xI’ve also a sneaky fondness for Victoria Beckham’s clothing line because of its simplicity and the exquisite tailoring. I’d give Katya this contrast sleeve biker jacket, and probably the trousers and polo-neck too. A word of caution though… VB’s clothes only go up to a size 16, which pisses me off. Honestly, any eejit can design for tall, skinny models. A few less small sizes, the 6s and 8s, and a few more bigger ones, the 18s and 20s would vastly improve the range.

Levi’s demi-curve jeans

Jeans aren’t a favourite of mine—it’s the non-elasticated waist thing—but I do own a pair of Levi’s demi curve straight leg jeans and they fit brilliantly. So Katya gets to wear them far often than I wear mine, dressing them up with heels or cork wedges, dressing them down with a pair of Converse boots.

Jimmy Choo’s

AW19_CROWNJEWELSAh, the shoes! It’s a women’s fiction cliché that shoes at the end of skinny, long bare legs often turn up on the cover of chick lit books. As someone who spends 90 percent of her life in flats, I do own some fabulous heels. But as Katya is fictional and doesn’t need to worry about walking too far in anything or how much that strap is going to rub the front of her foot, she’s like those women in Suits marching about the smart NY Pearson Spencer Litt office in their male fantasy cliché pencil skirts and sky-high heels. And we might as well go all out femme with this pair of Jimmy Choo heels that look wearable for precisely five seconds.

 

 

Highland Fling – out now #amwriting romcoms

cake and coffee

You get a cup of tea with your cake too!

If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake…

Hello and welcome to the launch party—yes, Highland Fling is out there in the Amazon world. I had put it on Kobo, Apple Books etc., way back in April/May and much as I’d love to make the bulk of my sales off the Amazon platform, only an idiot author doesn’t use mighty book behemoth. .

You can find the book at: https://books2read.com/Highland-Fling

Here’s the short ad I ran for the book:

Love Jill Mansell & Katie Fforde? Gaby flees to Scotland to escape a failed relationship. When fate puts the red-headed Jack in her way, sparks fly…

I had to make the book sound exciting in 150 characters (including spaces) which is not a lot at all. And hence the ampersand above. I’d also originally put Jill Mansell and Sophie Kinsella, but Katie Fforde’s name was shorter. As she has also written a book called Highland Fling, maybe she’s the better choice.

Anyway, here’s the cake I baked to launch the book. Sorry you can’t eat it in person. Perhaps that’s okay with you if you’re avoiding sugary stuff as this cake is loaded with it. I decorated it with fudge icing made from 500g icing sugar. Dental decay in one mouthful.

versions of Highland FlingWhy a chocolate cake? In Highland Fling, I featured a chocolate cake—one created for a special occasion. Mine is nowhere near as fancy as the one I’d described. The people in my books are much better cooks than I am. They also have the patience for sugar work so can create cakes that not only taste nice but look fabulous too. As you can see from picture two, I am a hopeless food stylist.

The Highland Fling cake had pink frosting and silver stars, and more tiers. Four women shared a slice of it and the taste silenced them—quite an achievement as one of the characters is the world’s nosiest woman who doesn’t usually let a full mouth stop her questions. Here’s what I wrote:

Ashley places two plates of the Chocolate Decadence dessert in front of us, cutting Mhari off. 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.

And that leads me to a question for you:

If you would like to make the cake (and I am sure your efforts will be prettier than mine), it’s a Mary Berry recipe and you can find it here.

And finally, I’ve posted rather more blogs than I like to do this last week or so (three in one week; an all-time record) so I’m sorry if I have tried your patience. I’m going to take a blog break for two weeks. See you later this month and thanks for sticking around.

No-one has ever punched anyone for me before…

Artists Town – book one of the Artist Books series – is out now. Set in the early 1990s, the story explores friendship, first love and the secrets we keep. Here’s a small extract…

a powder compact and make-up brushOutside the front of the shop, Daisy burst into laughter, the effort of it causing her to double up, hands on thighs.

“I can’t believe you punched that security guy! You nutter,” she stuttered, the words coming out in fits and bursts. Then, “No-one’s ever hit anyone for me before.”

Katrina smiled at that.

“Shall I give my cousin a call?” She pointed at their bikes. “Mebbe you shouldn’t cycle back. He can bring the work van. We can put the bikes in there.”

Daisy agreed, relieved at the prospect of not having to cycle back but dismayed at the thought of Katrina’s gorgeous cousin seeing her. She could feel sweat drying on her body, and she knew her face was scarlet.

Katrina must have seen something in her face. She held out a powder compact and a lip gloss. “Here you go. Put a bit of this on.”

“Where did you get that?” Daisy asked. The makeup looked suspiciously new, packaging still in place.

Taking her bike from where it lay against the wall, Katrina looked back at her and grinned.

“I nicked them when I took the sweets.”

Artists Town is available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com