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

 

 

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.

Kelly’s 40th

sweet wrappersI seem to have hit my stride – discovered what I really like writing about, and that makes writing really easy.

It turns out I like writing about the emotional ups and downs of Scottish women in their 40s. As I’m a Scottish woman in my 40s, then maybe that’s not surprising. Write about what you know, right?

Anyway, here is chapter one of what I’m writing now. It does contain some adult content and bad language, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, please don’t read any further.

 

 

January

Hey @Kelly1976! Just to let you know we can’t make ur 40th on Sat. Bit of an epic Christmas & New Year. Sorry! Sure it’ll be fab #Kelly40!

Wow. An “I’m not-coming” RSVP via Twitter. That had to be a first, setting a new lower-than-ever standard for etiquette. It was the day before her party, and the unwritten rules of politeness according to Kelly Thompson was that if you had to cancel at short notice you did it by phone.

A text or email was bad enough – but Twitter was public. Said friend had just revealed how (not) special she thought Kelly was and told millions of people at the same time.

Having a birthday on the 3rd of January had always put her at a disadvantage. As a child, most people had chosen to give her joint birthday and Christmas presents, and Kelly always suspected that the combined value did not add up to the same amount as two separate gifts. The same rule applied to birthday parties. Her younger and older sisters both had birthdays in the summer. Their celebrations felt quite distinct from Christmas.

Children and teenagers were quite happy to party any time – it didn’t matter to them that Christmas and New Year had only just taken place – though her mother often tried to move the party closer to New Year so she could see her friends at the same time. But at least in her youth, those Kelly invited always came to her parties.

Unlike now. She ought to be used to it. For the last 12 years or so, there had been a marked reluctance from friends and even family to throw themselves enthusiastically into any birthday celebrations precisely because of the proximity to the festive season. It hurt then, it still did.

It rankled all the more because she was single. If she had a partner, perhaps he would have booked her into a top hotel – the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire perhaps – for a weekend, spa appointment, taster menu and the finest selection of wines all included. Then, she supposed she wouldn’t give a flying fuck about organising a party or some kind of special celebration with friends to mark the passing years. Nope, she’d be too busy listening to the sommelier as he explained precisely why this particular white went so well with the amuse bouche she was about to eat, as her imaginary husband/partner toasted her, embarrassing her by telling the waiters they had to treat her very well, as the love of his life was 40 today.

Of course, in this little daydream, the waiters all protested vehemently. “Forty? No, no. That’s can’t be possible. Surely madam is celebrating her 30th birthday today?”

Sighing, Kelly stood up and stretched raising her arms high above her head. As a freelancer, she mostly worked from home and that meant spending long hours in front of her PC. Some years ago, she’d invested in one of those Swiss ball chairs which was meant to help with posture – forcing you to sit up straight instead of slouching forward. It was effective, but it didn’t make up for the hours she put in for her various clients. You just weren’t meant to sit for long periods of time.

Outside, it was your typical early January early evening in Glasgow. The rain had been falling steadily all day, and the skies hadn’t brightened from gun-metal grey. At this time of year, the days were short, but this one had felt particularly short because it had been so overcast. She’d had to switch on the lights in her Merchant City flat at three o’clock. The blinds were all firmly pulled down now, and the place felt cosy.

Despite its city centre location, Kelly’s flat was quiet. It was located at the back of the block in Wilson Street and thus not near to the main road. Her windows were triple glazed and the old building featured thick walls. The worst noise was often seagulls – who could start up early in the mornings, but not at this time of the year. She wasn’t on the side nearest to the area’s pubs either. The flat’s relative peace and quiet was an advantage she hadn’t fully appreciated until a few months into her move there. She’d befriended one of her neighbours – a gay guy, who lived on the same floor but whose flat faced the opposite direction. The noise difference was considerable. He had often knocked on the door at night, begging her to let him in so he could sleep in her spare room in the days before she’d turned it into her office, the noise at his side of the building too much for him. Kelly had agreed, secretly thrilled as it felt a bit like having a boyfriend or partner. She always hoped that other people coming down the stairs noticed them leaving her flat together in the morning and thought of them as a couple.

It helped that Josh was incredibly good looking. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he was at least taller than her and he had inherited some impeccable genes from his French mother – olive-skin that always tanned at the merest hint of sun, thick, dark hair, huge Bambi eyes and cheek bones to die for. He was a rower too, and it showed – his shoulders and arms muscular and his torso patterned with lines that defined the much sought after six-pack. He’d let Kelly touch it the first time she’d seen it, her jaw dropped in awe.

“Is that real?” she’d stuttered, and he’d smirked. “Too right. That’s what marks a gay man from a straight one – the care he takes of his body. Darling, I’m a slave to the gym.”

Naturally, his chest was hairless too. And yes, he also favoured the back, sack and crack wax. She hadn’t seen the evidence of that at the time, but some months later after a riotous night out, he’d happily showed her and her best friend Nell what a hairless backside and balls looked like.

“Weirdly naked,” Nell said, and then asked if she could touch them. Kelly protested, but Josh let her, saying it was the closest he’d been to a woman since the age of 14. The three of them watched in interest to see what his cock would do. It slowly stiffened, Josh shrugging apologetically and then glancing at the two of them speculatively.

“I don’t suppose…?”

Nell had looked on the verge of agreeing to whatever, but Kelly stepped in. “Absolutely not! One, you’re gay Josh, and two, Nell’s married.” She held her hand up as Nell murmured that giving a gay man a hand job wasn’t technically infidelity, surely.

“Yes, it is! What do you think Daniel would say if you explained to him that you’d just jerked off another man? Want me to throw a bucket of ice water over that Josh?”

Both of them looked suitably chastened, the change in mood backed up by Josh’s rapidly deflating erection.

Kelly supposed it was his fault she was so fussy these days. He’d set the standard for how a man should look if she were to fancy him, and his image often popped up in her mind when a man stripped off in front of her for the first time. Much as she tried not to, Josh’s torso would float enticingly in front of her, obscuring the view of saggy man boobs, and a stomach that rounded outwards.

At least she could count on him to be there tomorrow night. Josh had moved out a few years ago – his BBC Scotland job allowing him to upgrade and buy a house in the west end of Glasgow. He’d also met someone, marrying the guy last year when the laws had changed to allow marriage and not just civil partnership.

Moving into the kitchen, Kelly opened the door of the cupboard – the high-up one where she deliberately kept her stash of chocolate in order that it was out of reach. The little psychological trick – out of sight, out of mind – had its limits, and inside that cupboard was several blocks of Dairy Milk, truffles and boxes of wraps that clients had given her at the start of the holidays.

There was another disadvantage of the January birthday thing, especially when you were approaching the big 4-0. Didn’t most women embark on a fevered diet before their fortieth – vowing that the old saying, fair, fat and 40 would not apply?

If your birthday was in early January, though, you had weeks of festive feasting just behind you snapping at your heels. All those Christmas parties and huge meals that marked out December – rich, luxurious foods people didn’t usually eat. Mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing, cakes and puddings galore. This year, Kelly’s mother Rose had gone completely over the top. Her oldest daughter Louisa had come to hers for Christmas, having spent all of the Christmases since she’d been married with her in-laws. Louise had decided early on that her in-laws were far worthier of attention and attendance than her own family.

Conscious of the honour, Rose went all out, anxious to create a feast so magnificent her fussy oldest daughter would never go anywhere else again. Once the attendance had been confirmed, she had rushed off to the shops and bought every food magazine she could get her hands on, flicking through them feverishly in the search for the best menu she could find. The resultant Christmas meal had included canapes, a first course, a fish course, the main course, pudding and cheese and biscuits. Kelly had thought she might pop afterwards. Josh would have told her, “Well, you can always say no, can’t you?”. As if it was that simple. Rose was a feeder. She took refusals to eat her food personally. A person had to say “no” at least three or four times before she stopped offering you second helpings. Most of the time, it was easier to wearily accept.

There had been lots of leftovers and everyone had been sent away with foil-wrapped packages. As Kelly was the family’s only vegetarian, the goat’s cheese and mushroom pie hadn’t been touched by anyone else, so off she went with enough food to feed eight people. Her mother had perfect hands for pastry and what she’d made for this pie was flaky and light. Kelly had also ended up the recipient of 12 mince pies, lots of cheese straws and a white chocolate cheesecake that only had a quarter missing from it.

She had left the food in her fridge from a few days, in which time she had made some serious dents in the cheesecake, but eventually she threw it all out, covering the lot with washing-up liquid to deter any bin raids late at night.

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