We’re 11 days into March and so far, there have been at least six dry days. In the UK, we slogged our way through the wettest February since records began—and that’s quite something when you live on this little island.
It’s a strange time too… the weirdness of living in a world where we’re terrified of a virus and how that translates. Cancellation of events. People changing their holiday plans. Signs everywhere telling you to wash your hands. The threats to the economy as the stock market quakes in its boots…
Wherever you are in the world, I hope you and your loved ones are okay. Stay safe.
Mussels for lunch
After my father died, my mum established a tradition where she, my sisters and I (without our families) meet up, which is always something I look forward to. The heady responsibility to book somewhere for lunch fell to me. Three hours (felt like) of TripAdvisor paralysis later, I decided on the Mussel Inn, somewhere I’ve always meant to visit and not got round to.
And very nice it was too…
Otherwise, I’m busy writing the fourth in my Highland Books series. I’ve finished it but it needs major tidying up. Think of it as a big house where a group of students decided to party hard all weekend. There’s spilt alcohol all over the floors, a mass of dirty glasses and plates everywhere and as for what those dodgy stains are upstairs, I dread to think…
Anyway, here is a short, spoiler-free extract. Enjoy!
Ashley’s appearance took me aback. He seemed to have shrunk drastically, the head and shoulders sticking out the top of the blanket and sheets much smaller than I remembered. At the bottom of the bed, a frame held the blanket above a heavily bandaged foot, the skin there an inflamed, mottled purple colour.
“Have you bought food,” he whispered, one eye on the nurses pulling the curtains around the bed opposite. “They gave me porridge this morning that could hae doubled up as wallpaper paste. Nae sugar because of the diabetes, nae salt because of the stroke risk and nae cream as my cholesterol levels are sky-high. Made with water. Water! I’ve never tasted anything so flavourless in ma whole life!”
“Er… we’ve got tangerines?” I said, holding up the bag. Caroline had warned us beforehand that Ashley would beg for food. “And he’s got tae change his diet,” she warned. “Otherwise, the diabetes will kill him in five years!”
He let out a huge sigh, holding out a hand to take them. “Better than nothing, I s’pose. Have a seat.”
Jack pulled me up a chair and got himself one so we could sit either side of Ashley.
“How are you feeling?” I asked. “Must be a relief to have a diagnosis.”
Ashley sighed. “Aye, I guess so. But Caroline’s already read me the riot act—nae sugar, nae salt, low-carb this and that, lots o’ exercise and sleep and she wants me to start meditating. Meditating! I’m no’ sitting on the floor cross-legged saying ‘um’ all day.”
Quite. I’d been given the meditating line too. I made Jack try it with me, the two of us sitting opposite each other on the floor cross-legged and concentrating on our breath. We lasted 30 seconds before I flicked my eyes open only to discover him doing his best not to snort with laughter. When I read that mindlessness was the new mindfulness, I cheered. See? Justification for watching too much of The Real Housewives of New York and/or Love Island.
“And as for that yin,” Ashley gestured towards a harassed-looking doctor walking past us in the corridor outside trailed by two students. “He came in this morning, took one look at my right foot and started muttering things about maggots. Maggots! This hospital is trying out a new treatment where they put wee beasties on ulcers to eat away aw’ the dead tissue. Have ye ever heard the like? Wee white things wrigglin’ all ower ye, and—”
The details were far too graphic for me. I heaved myself up and bolted for the bathroom, a shout of “Hey, that’s patients only!” ringing out after me. Up came that morning’s breakfast and last night’s supper.
“Are you okay?” Jack tapped lightly on the door. “The nurse has gone to fetch you some water.”
I unpeeled myself and attempted standing. Oh, this was ridiculous. Surely, I should be able to pick myself up? A further minute of undignified lurching and unbalancing convinced me I couldn’t.
“Er—can you give me a hand?” Thankfully, in my haste to escape Ashley and his far-too-graphic maggots description, I hadn’t locked the door. Jack tried and failed to hide a grin as he took in the sight of me sprawled on the floor.
Like what you’ve read? The Highland Books—Highland Fling, Highland Heart, Highland Wedding and the box set of the three books—are available on Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, etc. Click on the links above, which will take you to the store front of your choice.
©Emma Baird 2020
You can read my lockdown love story A Leap of Faith for free here.
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
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…
Oh readers, where art thou? I finally got to experience a bit of the ol’ algorithm magic (does anyone else always get that word wrong when they attempt to spell it?) on Wattpad. I’ve been on the story-telling and reading platform for four years, drifting along mainly unnoticed.
This week, reads of my book Highland Fling leapt from 3.5k to 11k* in six days and every time I open the app, I have 50-90 notifications awaiting me and my phone beeps all the time. (This is why, I guess, many people who experience online popularity burn out. It’s overwhelming. Either that or they hire a virtual assistant…)
The success is bitter-sweet. If only I was getting that many reads on Amazon, I would be raking money in! But it is gratifying to the ego.
As I’m British, I’m now duty bound to tell you about my many writing failures to make up for the above boastfulness. Social media often creates an unrealistic portrait of people’s lives—their successes and triumphs held up there; failings hidden from sight.
Here are mine:
A) My first book sold less than 70 copies, with about half of them coming from sales to my mum. Boxes of that ruddy book still sit clutter up my house. Always, always opt for print on demand as a self-publisher and concentrate on the e-book.
B) I have spent so much on advertising Highland Fling, my profits on the book are titchy. It feels like running to stand still. (Unfortunately, it is now almost impossible to sell on Amazon unless you advertise.)
C) The stand-alone books I wrote get very few sales. Mainly, this is due to a lack of advertising but stand-alone books are notoriously hard for unknown authors to sell.
D) I keep trying to carry out all the steps ‘proper’ self-publishers do—setting up a mailing list (mine, 11 subscribers, killing it), being active on social media, hashtagging left, right and centre, having a professional-looking website, etc., and am useless at them all.
E) I have been rejected by numerous agents.
F) I have entered a good few writing competitions and got nowhere.
G) Whenever one of my manuscripts comes back from an editor/proofreader, I am horrified by how often I repeat myself and my ignorance of correct comma use.
Why it’s worth it
So why continue? I love writing and have harboured the desire to be one ever since I won a national poetry** competition when I was seven years old. As I got older, writing books seemed like an impossible dream. I chose jobs I thought would be about writing—journalism, contract publishing and press and PR management, the latter absolutely not, and bumbled along. My 40th birthday came and went and I took stock. Emma, you can work in unsatisfying jobs for the rest of your life or you can take a chance…
I quit and started writing on a freelance copywriting basis, scribbling my first novel in between times.
Full disclosure. I’m married and I have a husband who is happy to shoulder the bulk of the bills. And I inherited money when my beloved dad died, so the path I’ve chosen isn’t available to everyone. I recognise that privilege and I am thankful every day.
I do not make a lot of money and it is supplemented these days by a part-time job at a university. The odds of writing success are stacked against me as it’s such a competitive industry. Finding your readers is difficult and exhausting. I’ve netted myself a fan club on Wattpad, who send me lovely messages. Will that translate to sales? Most likely, it won’t.
On the other hand, I grew up with optimists. My parents were/are sunny-natured folks who tended/tend to look on the bright side. A lot of that happiness rubbed off. And realising a childhood dream is… amazing, fulfilling, exciting, glorious… I plan to write for the rest of my life successful or not.
Thank you for reading.
*In Wattpad terms, 11k is nothing. The popular books on there have hundreds of thousands even millions of reads. I’ve a long way to go before I reach Wattpad star status.
**I went through a period of writing turgid poetry in my early 20s. Luckily for the world, the internet was in its infancy then so they can’t be found anywhere online.
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.
Anyway, 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:
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.
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.
As it’s now autumn and the Great British Bake Off is back on the TV, I wrote this short story to celebrate. Enjoy…
“Caroline, what’s your favourite memory of Ranald?”
She did this sometimes. Pretended she was being interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland. Who took her seriously and sought her opinion on everything and anything. In this instance, material they could use to help listeners understand Ranald McLatchie better.
“Och, easy!” she said. Kay Adams interviewed her. Kay didn’t stand for any nonsense. Caroline liked her. If the two of them got together afterwards for a wee chat, she knew Kay would warm to warnings about the perils of the menopause. Kay wasn’t afraid to discuss dry vaginas, inconvenient weepiness or that wretched extra flesh that welded itself round your belly.
When Caroline said, “Coconut oil—the cure for everything!”, Kay nodded sagely. Even if she had trouble figuring out how oil might stop you greeting every time you saw an ad for a cancer charity on the telly.
“Here it is, my memory,” Caroline told Kay. “I have tae set the scene. We’re in a farmhouse kitchen. Have ye been in one, Kay? They’re awfy big. Draughty too. A table in the centre, a dresser to the left filled wi’ blue and white Adams cattle scenery plates and silver cutlery. To the side, a Raeburn stove, the wire shelf above it topped wi’ tea-towels and a chancer cat sleepin’ there to catch the warmth…”
“A lovely scene, Caroline,” Kay butted in, “tell me what happened.”
No nonsense, remember? Caroline had vanished into la-la-land memories, the look and the smell of the place whisking her back twenty years. She’d stumbled on it too, returning from a day at the university doing her medical studies course and there they were. Ranald and her son in that kitchen.
“No, no, don’t mix it too much!”
They hadn’t heard her come in. She’d lifted the latch on the kitchen door quietly, an old habit left over from Jack’s father’s days. If he got a fright when she came in, he lashed out first and asked questions later.
Ranald had pulled out the old milking stool. It gave her eight-year-old son the height he needed to stand at the kitchen counter. They both wore pinnies, aprons over their clothes meant to protect them from the splatter of flour. Whiteness dotted their cheeks and dusted their sleeves. She saw patches of it on the floor, the counters. Even in their hair.
“Can I try it?”
Jack’s question made Caroline smile. She was broad Scots. Ranald wasn’t. His own father had beaten elocution into him and his sister. And yet her own son picked up on Ranald’s proper speech and copied it. He said the odd ‘aye’ and ‘mebbe’ just like his mother did, but Ranald was the man he wanted to be. So now he emphasised the ‘I’, differing it from his mother’s ‘Ah’.
“Might give you a sore tummy,” Ranald said, spoiling the warning when he stuck a finger in, scooped up a bit blob of sugary dough and stuck it in his mouth. Jack copied him, his face lighting up.
“The rice flour makes it special, doesn’t it?”
Ranald took another bit of dough, worked it in his mouth thoughtfully and smiled. “Aye, I think so, Jack.”
The ‘aye’ was the sign he’d seen her. Speaking properly all the time made him self-conscious. “I don’t sound like anyone else around here, Caroline,” he told her. “And I dinnae care,” she said, and laughed. They exchanged their usual eyeball greeting over Jack’s head. If questioned about it, Caroline would say the eyes asked, are you okay? Yes? Good.
“Makin’ shortbread boys?” she asked, Jack twisting from his stool to look at her. His eyes shone.
“Yes, Mum! Ranald’s teaching me. The rice flour is the secret ingredient.”
She opened one of the drawers on the ancient dresser. Like everything in this old house, it was crammed with random stuff. Old pens, notepads, diaries, mouse pads and… here it was, the heart-shaped biscuit cutter she’d bought a year ago.
She gave it to her son.
“Mum!” he said, holding the thing at arm’s length. “We’re not making soppy biscuits!”
Ranald’s eyes met hers once more and then flashed away before Jack saw them. ‘Soppy biscuits’ referred to the chocolate ones she’d made a few months ago on Valentine’s day, the first one she’d spent with Ranald. Caroline didn’t believe in Hallmark rubbish but the joy of being with a soul as gentle and kind as Ranald sparked joy. She wanted to celebrate. Jack helped her, folding chocolate chips into dough and rolling it out. She wasn’t a cook. The biscuits were far too sweet. Ranald ate them anyway, toasting her in whisky and crushing her hand in his.
She scrambled in the drawer. “What about this one?” A circle cutter.
Ranald took it from her. “Oh yes. Jack, we could dip the shortbread in melted chocolate if you like?”
Her red-headed son did that thing—he clapped his hands, he turned his face, and he bestowed beatific smiles on both of them. He didn’t do ‘that thing’ often, but when he did Caroline experienced the closest she ever got to religious ecstasy. How to describe it? (Kay might probe.) “It’s like the truest, purest form o’ joy, and I believe in anythin’ and everythin’. Ma wee boy is happy, and that is all that matters.”
Ranald dipped his head, dark hair streaked with white which might be the grey might be the flour, and handed Jack the rolling pin. He dusted the counter with yet more flour.
“Roll it out one way only, Jack,” he said, “not back and forth or it the texture won’t be right.”
He stood next to Caroline, taking her hand in his. Fingers squeezed little messages. Ranald’s baking expertise was well known. Now he resisted stepping in. Jack pulled the lumps of sugar, flour and butter in the bowl into a clumsy ball and dumped it on the counter. He began to flatten it, the push of the rolling pin laborious. He moved it upwards, removing the pin from the dough carefully before applying it to the bottom of the rough circle once more.
Once he’d got it thin enough—and for ages he hovered at the edge of the dough before rolling it out in front of him—Jack took the round cutter from Ranald and started to push out circles of dough. Caroline found a baking sheet and greased it. They worked in a factory line. Jack punched out the circles, Ranald lifted them up, Caroline placed them on the sheet.
“In the fridge,” Ranald said, “that’s another secret. It stops the biscuits shrinking too much when you cook them. What shall we do while we wait?”
He winked at Caroline. After the soppy biscuits, they’d had an early night. As it was three o’clock in the afternoon and Jack was wide awake, that option wasn’t available today. Ranald rummaged in another drawers pulling out scraps of paper and a packet of crayons.
“Why don’t you do some drawings, Jack? I’d like to have pictures of the cows and sheep.”
Jack nodded. Drawings were everywhere in the kitchen, stuck to the fridge and pinned to the cork boards next to reminders about bills and business cards for NFU services. Her son drew a lot of pictures of the three of them and this was what he did now, adding a fluffy ball sheep and a Highland cow, rust-red and long horned.
Ranald took the baking sheet from the fridge and set the timer for twenty minutes. He didn’t need the reminder but Jack loved the excitement of the shrill bell. She sat opposite her son at the table and drank tea. Outside the skies had darkened, winter dragging on and on this year. For the first few years of Jack’s life they’d lived in a town. Farm houses could be lonely, isolated places. Or they could be somewhere you shut the door, shored the home fires and snuggled in with the ones you loved.
The kitchen filled with the scent of flour, sugar and butter coming together. Baking had a mysterious alchemy to it, transforming ingredients in a magical way.
Jack took a pen and wrote ‘Mum’ next to the figure he’d drawn of her, then ‘Jack’ under the boy. The pen hovered. He looked at them both, eyes darting between her and Ranald.
“Can I…?” He bit his bottom lip. “I want to write something.”
“What is it?” Caroline asked. Next to her, Ranald shifted in his seat, the habitual back pain giving him grief. He’d been lifting bales of straw the other week, exacerbating the problem, and the only thing that seemed to ease it was hanging from the door frames.
Jack pointed to the space under the Ranald figure. “Dad,” he said. Ranald’s shifting halted. About to jump in and say something, Caroline paused. The question wasn’t for her. The timer bell rang and Ranald got up, pausing to drop a light kiss on the top of Jack’s head.
“Of course you can,” he said. “Now, who wants a bit of shortbread made by the best baker in the world—my son?”
©Emma Baird 2019
If you enjoyed that little encounter with Jack McAllan and his mum, Caroline McLatchie, you can read more about them in Highland Fling, available here—https://books2read.com/Highland-Fling
End of September, Emma B, I said to myself. Book one in the Highland Books series, Highland Fling was released in June. I plucked a date out of the air and promised that was when I’d release book two to keep the momentum going.
The best laid plans of mice and men… However, I have put the cover, description and other meta date on Amazon and specified a release date on 10th October. It’s now available for pre-order here. Do you thrive under pressure? I’m about to find out just how much I do. Or don’t.
Highland Heart – the blurb
Anyway, here’s the blurb…
An absent boyfriend and a charmer close by—who would you choose?
“We booked every room in this hotel,” he said, and the anticipation-already at fever pitch-heightened. If she held a hand out now, her fingers would shake.
He took her hand, his own warm, solid and enveloping. “We’ll sneak up there. Before anyone notices. I’ll order room service.
The follow-up to Highland Fling, Highland Heart follows the story of Katya and Dexter—lovers who met at a magical village in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, but who begin to drift apart.
She wants him; he wants her but there are thousands of miles between them.
Meanwhile, there’s a new dude in town. Zac is fun, flirtatious and determined to seduce Katya. The trouble is, can she resist? Especially as Dexter seems to be throwing himself into his work as marketing manager for a big reality TV star and her brand-new make-up company on a mission to take over the world.
And what about his relationship with Caitlin, the reality TV star he works for? Is it one hundred percent professional or are those photos that keep popping up in her Instagram feed as innocent as he professes?
Village shenanigans, an eccentric cast of lovable characters and a catch up with Gaby and Jack of Highland Fling fame, Highland Heart explores what happens once the initial spark wears off.
Reviews of Highland Fling from Amazon.co.uk
“It’s a great mix of funny moments and that ‘does he like me’ awkwardness. This book is full of witty dialogue, quirky characters you just know you’d recognise if you met them, and scenery that comes to life, making you want to hop in your car and go there.”
“Took only 4 nights to devour this book, and I loved every page. The story and characters were very credible, in that the lead man is somebody I wouldn’t mind the “love guru” setting me up with. A great funny romantic read, ideal for holidays or a rainy day in.”
Reviews of Highland Fling from goodreads.com
“A hilarious book full of quirky characters and deliciously super awkward moments. Gaby was easy to relate to and her love interest definitely swoon-worthy 🙂 Made me want to visit Scotland.”
The ‘deep’ series
I’ve finished Highland Wedding, the third book in the series. From everything I’ve read about successful indie publishing (and it works well if you’re traditionally published too), a ‘deep’ series is the way to go—i.e. five plus books.
My own reading preferences back this up. I’m happy to keep reading in a series even if I didn’t particularly enjoy the latest book in that series because the characters and settings are familiar. It’s not as much effort as emerging yourself in a brand new world.
I feel this with the author Lindsey Davis who writes crime fiction set in Ancient Rome. Most of the time I can’t work out the crime and I lose track of characters but I keep reading the books because the main characters appeal to me.
Crime is the easiest to write in a series because you can use a ‘fresh’ crime for each book and put the development of the main character (the detective or whatever) on a slow burn. I wish I could write crime. That and thrillers are my favourite ‘relaxing’ genre to read—nothing like escapism through psychopaths and the people chasing them, hmm?
What do I do for my Highland romcom books though? Highland Baby? Highland Divorce? Highland Tinder (or Gindr for that matter) and concluding with Highland Funeral? (The latter might not be a barrel of laughs.)
Anyway, a bit of thinking to do.
A rare sunny Sunday in Scotland—extra bonus points as it’s a bank holiday weekend too. We took ourselves to the Drovers Inn in Inverarnan for a late lunch, which got me thinking about the locations I used for Highland Fling set in Scotland as the title alludes.
I made up the village Lochalshie, but it is loosely based on Arrochar which is located at the head of Loch Long and surrounded by hills. Please visit if you ever get the chance as the views will take your breath away.
Every good village has a pub and I romanticised mine, turning it into a community hub and making it the best place to get a wood-fired pizza in Scotland. Sadly, pubs are dying out at the same time as the UK’s drinking problem continues apace. A weird contradiction, hmm? But the decline is for a number of reasons but people staying in their own homes drinking supermarket booze and watching Netflix instead of going out is one theory. And the younger generations aren’t drinking as much as the baby boomers and the Gen X-ers.
Still, again I modelled my pub (the Lochside Welcome) on the ones that still exist in some of Scotland’s more touristy places such as The Village Inn in Arrochar, the Winnock in Drymen, and the Falls of Dochart Inn (below).
And finally… behind the happy pictures can lie a very different story. We’d just finished our late lunch at the Drovers, and I’d sent Sandy off to snap some pics of the front of the hotel when a loud crash and the squeal of brakes sounded nearby. Close to, traffic accidents are visceral, shocking things. Your heart sinks and your hand goes to your mouth as you bargain with the deities, luck or fate. Please, please, please let whoever be okay…
A car had pulled out of the Drovers too quickly, another coming the other way hit it and a biker travelling along the road had no way of avoiding the cars. Cue—bike on the road, man down.
Luckily, he wasn’t injured badly and no-one in the two cars got hurt. Communities come in all shapes and sizes. Motor-bikers are one such and watching them rally round warmed my heart.
They pulled over, they got his bike up off the road and took pictures of it. They stopped and waited to see if he was okay. They shook their heads at the car driver who’d pulled out without due care and attention. And they said to themselves, there but for the grace of the universe and all that…
We took the motorbike up to the Drovers because it was such a beautiful day. As it was roasting hot, I elected not to wear the heavy leather trousers. It could have been me on that bike with only a thin non-protective layer between my skin and hard tarmac. Lesson learned? You betcha.
Ah, the writer’s life… I’ve started the final book in my trilogy, the Highland Books. Called Highland Wedding, it’s a fascinating insight into the funeral industry… I’m kidding.
Highland Wedding is a rom-com starring the two characters from book one, Highland Fling. Here’s a short excerpt:
“Jack, will you marry me?”
Plenty of people are traditionalists. They believe, even though we are well into the 21st century, that it is still the man’s job to propose marriage. When I said to Katya I was thinking of proposing to Jack, she told me to go for it. The modern woman blah blah… before shuddering.
My best friend has a dim view of marriage, given her mother’s track record. And she hates the idea of being the centre of attention. As do I. Just not as much.
Jack and I live together and we share a cat—an old, grumpy moggie called Mildred. Not my idea, the name but her previous owner was an old guy who needed to go into residential care. The home didn’t allow pets (backwards of them) so we inherited her. I love Mildred. She thinks I’m okay and Jack she tolerates—just. This is the norm with cats. If dogs think they are human, a cat thinks it is God.
My point is there’s no need for Jack and I to get married—I just think we should. And I know our friends and neighbours in the small village where we live would be delighted. It’s a long time since there’s been a wedding in Lochalshie. Funerals are standard, but nuptials are few and far between. The only other candidates are our friends Stewart and Jolene, and Jolene point blank refuses. Katya says she reckons Jolene doesn’t want to tie the knot just in case someone better comes along. And with Stewart that bar isn’t high.
Back to my proposal… I’ve discussed it with Katya, sworn her to secrecy and chosen a date. A year—give or take a day or two—to the day we first got together, although we’ve known each other much longer than that.
The venue for where I pop the question? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the annual Lochalshie Highland Games and a rare sunny day in a remote village in the north-west of Scotland…