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.

Pic of home-made millionaire's shortbread

The Magic of Baking—a short story

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.

a plate of shortbread biscuits“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?”

“Me!” “Me!”

©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

Writing #romcoms and in series

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…

Highland Heart by Emma BairdAn 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

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.

Location, location, location…

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.

20190825_152843185946377.jpgI 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.

rose wine and a pint

We Gen X-ers. Making up for the Y and Z lot…

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).

FallsDochart

The Falls of Dochart Inn, Killin.

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.

Highland Wedding #romcom

couple in wedding outfitsAh, 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…

Summer sale – Highland Fling

advert for Highland FlingNeed some light-hearted, fun reading for your holidays? Highland Fling is now on offer at £1.99/$1.99 in a e-book shop near you… Or it will be once they put my price changes in place. I’ll be running the price promotion until the end of July.

Here’s a little excerpt:

That’s Christina the Dating Guru. Haven’t you heard of her?” Katya says.

Well, no. But then I haven’t needed dating advice for a long time. Ryan and I got together while we were still at school and we were together ten years so I’m bound not to be familiar with a dating guru. And what does that even mean?

Have you used her advice, then?” I ask, “and if so, does it work?”

Nope. I’ve just heard of her. An influencer and all that, and you’re not going to believe the weird co-inci… Oh, never mind. Her website address is datemate dot com. Look it up.”

And with that she hangs up. I tap out the name on my keyboard. Wow. This woman is all over the internet. She’s got a blog, podcasts, YouTube tutorials and everything. Curiosity piqued, I read through some of them. They include guides to using dating apps, what to do the first time you go out with someone so that they ring you back (guaranteed), the best profile pics to use and what make-up you should wear for a first date.

I’m half-way through an article about what will make you a sparkling conversationalist capable of capturing his attention and keeping it when someone clears their throat behind me.

Ahem. Not interrupting anything am I?”

I whirl around on my chair so quickly, I fall off and land in an undignified heap at his feet. I had no time to minimise the screen either, and the site’s header—a riot of hearts and stars complete with the tag line, How to Go from Dating Loser to Loved Up, flashes there. I’m about to get up when another thought strikes me—he’s got the Dating Guru’s portrait upstairs, and he’s caught me looking at her website! I’ve just signalled loud and clear that I sneaked upstairs and had a good nosey. I might stay here, face down on the floor and praying the ground will swallow me until he goes away.

Do you want a hand up?”

No, no!” I straighten up slowly, keeping my eyes on that calming moss-green carpet until the last minute. Heavens, I’d forgotten just how… divine Jack is. Last week, his hair was army buzz cut, and now it’s grown in a little. Still short enough to show off those eyes and cheekbones but the extra millimetre of length emphasises its bright copper colour. The eyes regard me with amusement. Or perhaps it’s irritation. I’d better check with him that it’s okay for me to use his office.

Er… I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow. Doctor McLatchie said I could use your house as the broadband connection is much better here,” I say, dismayed when he rolls his eyes and says, “She would”. Oh heck, didn’t the blasted woman warn him? And what right does she have to offer strangers the use of someone else’s home? I should have asked her to find me somewhere else to work.

He heads for the kitchen, asking me if I want another coffee.

Yes please,” I follow him through. “Though I can make them, least I can do…” I trail off. He hasn’t actually confirmed I can use his house as my office.

In the kitchen, sunlight makes a brave attempt at cutting through the grey clouds to bounce off the redness of his hair. He leans against the kitchen counter, one foot up and his arms folded—one of those guys whose face gives nothing away. Does he ever crack a smile? I remember that photo Katya and I saw of him online when he’d worn this wide grin, the upturned mouth creating a dimple on one cheek, and how lush the smile made him seem.

Now though, those dark eyes remind me of the stand-offs I have with Little Ms Mena when she and I argue over how much smoked salmon she’s going to eat. Who will blink first? My wretched imagination peels clothes off him. He lifts his arms above his head and the tee shirt disappears. Before I know it he’s in front of me wearing only that white towel, neatly knotted over a perfect six-pack torso. I blink twice to dislodge the image.

The face in front of me cracks, a tiny upturn to the corners of the mouth signalling amusement. The change in expression is welcome but (ye gods) did he just read my mind?

Flippin’ heck, I hope not…

You buy Highland Fling on Amazon here.

I need a new bum and other mysteries

Click bait title, hmm? I’m running an ad campaign for Highland Fling, attempting to educate myself in the mysterious world of keywords.

I plugged my romcom book’s details in the Google Adwords keyword planner and one of the suggestions it threw back was ‘I need a new bum’. Low competition for that one apparently, but between 1k to 10k searches a month and a bid range of between 14-17 pence.

I get it—sort of. The Algorithm Gods who now rule our lives have waded their way through the tonnes of data we willingly hand over and decided a fair proportion of people who buy romantic comedies also worry about the gluteus maximus bit of themselves. Therefore, as they type the words (or ask Alexa) ‘I need a new bum’, a link to a romantic comedy book appears and they decide to buy that instead.

At least I hope they do. I’d much rather the women of the world were distracted from their gluteal quest and decided to buy a book instead* of chasing snake oil or dangerous surgery. Last year, an article in a newspaper highlighted one woman’s horrific experiences when she underwent a filler operation designed to give her a curvier backside. And another story told of a doctor who went on the run after one of his patients died following filler injections.

Body dissatisfaction

Tempting as it is to snigger at those stories, it is part of an overall trend towards body dissatisfaction fuelled by social media. As a teenager I only had magazines, TV and film to worry about and that was bad enough. Imagine living with a constant stream of too perfect images you hold in your hand…

Talking of which… Instagram announced this week that it might phase out visible ‘likes’ for posts on the platform—i.e. the likes for posts will be private so there is less competition between people to get reactions. This doesn’t bother me. As someone who has a following of less than 80 people, I never get that many likes anyway. So if only one or two people like my self-congratulatory posts about my books and there is no display of it, who cares?

Instagram, like other social media platforms before it, gave rise to influencers—i.e. people with huge followings who were then courted by companies to promote their products. The most famous example are the Kardashians whose social media accounts are reckoned to bring them in millions of dollars.

Kylie Jenner

Kylie Jenner’s make-up company leveraged that popularity, helping to turn her into a ‘self-made’ billionaire by the age of 21. (Like many other people, I dispute the Forbes’ classification of Kylie Jenner as ‘self-made’.)

If the likes for a picture of a fashion influencer wearing a pair of trainers or new duds courtesy of Top Shop or the likes do not show up, how do those influencers ‘prove’ their worth? Will they still get the freebies and the bungs if others cannot see how popular a post was?

Anyway, back to keywords. Will ‘I need a new bum’ get me sales and am I cynical enough to try it? Here’s hoping and yes.

*Not least because it puts money in my pocket…