Unleashing the Thrills: Exploring Scotland’s Landscapes on Two Wheels

Ullapool, the west coast of Scotland

If you want to do Scotland’s scenery justice, there are few better ways than exploring it on a motorbike.

Last weekend, Sandy and I joined my brother and sister-in-law for a trip through the Highlands’ stunning terrain, taking in Callandar, Killin, Fort William, the Bealach na Bà pass, Applecross, parts of the North Coast 500, Ullapool, Glencoe and Tyndrum.

There were large stretches of the road where we were the only vehicles and while the weather wasn’t kind on the Saturday, by the time Sunday evening came around, the winds had chased off all the dark clouds and the sun made an appearance as we sat outside the FBI (Ferry Boat Inn, geddit?) in Ullapool drinking beers and wine.

Sandy next to the Caledonian Canal

I set my Highland books in a fictional village, but it is part-based on Strathcarron, which is at the head of the sea loch Loch Carron in Wester Ross, describing my village as one long main street beside a loch, a hotel at either end, and I’m almost disappointed when I pass through these places and don’t see the fictional characters I created—Gaby pushing a pram, Mhari spying on her fellow villagers, Lachlan up to no good, and the red-headed Jack, attracting everyone’s wide-eyed attention.

Strathcarron is just before the Bealach na Bà pass (pass of the cattle in Gaelic). The latter is something of a mecca for motorcyclists. It winds its way through the mountains of the Applecross Peninsula, offering breath-taking vistas of rugged landscapes, towering peaks, and deep valleys.

The road ascends to a height of 626 meters, providing awe-inspiring panoramas of the surrounding countryside and the nearby Isle of Skye, although on the day we did it, there was a lot of over-hanging cloud.

I was glad of that sometimes. The steep gradients and hairpin bends make you gulp and in parts, you find your mind screaming, Don’t look down!

Dutch yachts negotiating Neptune’s Staircase

While staying in Banavie, we witnessed two yachts negotiating Neptune’s Staircase on the Caledonian Canal, a waterway that stretches from Inverness to Corpach, near Fort William, connecting Scotland’s east and west coasts, and designed by Thomas Telford.

The locks at Banavie are a prominent feature of the Caledonian Canal. They consist of eight interconnected locks that raise or lower vessels a total of 19 meters over a distance of 457 meters.

It is an impressive engineering feat and allows boats and vessels to navigate the height difference in the canal, making it possible for them to travel between Loch Lochy and Loch Linnhe (though it takes forever for them to get through it).

Returning home on the Monday, we drove through Glencoe. I’ve done it plenty of times, but the Monday was the first time it had ever stayed dry and while there were plenty of tourists—other bikes, coach parties and walkers/climbers—from my pillion position, I was able to stare at the towering mountains and the cascading waterfalls and imagine them in the millennia before the advent of people.

My favourite meals of the trip were what we ate in Ullapool. The coastal village is surrounded by rolling hills and mountains and the waters of Loch Broom. Wherever you stay, there are scenic views of the harbour and the nearby Summer Isles archipelago.

It is an active fishing port, and this is reflected in what the village’s pubs, restaurants and cafes offer. My travelling companions raved about the fish and chips on offer in the Seaforth Bar, while I tucked into the vegan fish fillets, mushy peas and chips.

(And paid the price later. As a type 1 diabetic, I follow a low-carb diet to help with blood sugar control, and the vegan fish fillets and chips is carb overload.)

On the Monday morning, we found a tiny café, The Bothy, doing a roaring trade in breakfasts, thanks to the caravan park nearby. Two scrambled egg rolls, one bacon roll and a full Scottish breakfast later, we were back off down south, replete, refreshed and determined to make the trip an annual event.

The photos above do not do the trip justice, mainly because I’m a terrible photographer but also because the experience and the scenery demanded full attention, and when I take photographs, the process removes me from the immediacy of the moment.

But I sincerely hope this has inspired you to visit these locations and experience the splendour of the Highlands for yourself if you’ve not already done so.

My cat-sitter took this rather splendid picture of the cat while we were away; the cat hates it when her door slave isn’t available 24 hours a day to let her in and out.

Bestsellers, experiments and print book satisfaction

There is something very satisfying about owning a physical copy of your own book—a LOOK WHAT I DID moment that never comes from staring at a thumbnail of the cover on a screen.

Draft2Digital recently launched a super-easy and free print service for indie authors, so I’ve created paperbacks for the remainder of the Highland Books series, which had previously only been available in e-book form, and two of them were delivered this week.

Although the proof copies I ordered are not as pretty as the custom-made ones I have for Highland Fling and Highland Heart, the interior I formatted using Atticus software is just as good, if not better.

Because we don’t have the purchasing power of big publishers or the economies of scale, indie authors like me can’t sell paperbacks cheaply, so our print novels must be priced in the region of £12-£15, if not more, which is why most of our sales are e-books (95 per cent for me in April so far, which is about standard).

But when one kindly soul emailed me the other week asking whether there were print versions of the other Highland Books because she had enjoyed the first three so much, that spurred me on.

I live for those comments…

I still need to create and order copies of two of my other Highland Books, so that I can add them to my vanity book shelf, which is pictured below.

What I’ve read recently

As I raced through two books that I took out of the library this week, I’ll plug them here: Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, and Rose Tremain’s Lily.

The first book’s premise was intriguing—a historical fantasy about a man who has been alive for centuries—and I borrowed the second because I remembered how much I enjoyed Restoration by the same author.

Reading is a personal and subjective experience, but both books have sold plenty of copies, so what makes them so popular?

I’m about to embark on rewriting one of my books with the lofty goal of trying to create a best-seller (more on that later), so I’m analysing everything I read right now, trying to figure out what makes it resonate with so many people.

(This, incidentally, doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of reading.)

Here are my thoughts on How to Stop Time and Lily:

  • They are page-turners (both professional and Amazon reviewers agree on this). Short chapters, with a hook at the end of each and plenty of tension (i.e. a sense of something bad about to happen).
  • They are immersive—on the pages, the worlds of Elizabethan London (How to Stop Time) and Victorian London (Lily) come to life.
  • Because the main characters evoke our sympathies, we’re rooting* for them to find happiness/succeed.
  • The character’s actions make us wonder what we would do in similar situations.

*For my Australian readers, I know this word has a different meaning in your country… 😉

What I’ve watched (spoilers ahead!)

We came to The Last of Us a bit later than the rest of Western Civilisation, but once there, it took us less than a week to binge through the nine episodes, me occasionally with my fingers in ears, a habit that dates back to when I was a child and the Daleks appeared on Doctor Who.

Again, I’ve been attempting to analyse what made the series so popular:

  • Pedro Pascale. (I’ll leave that there… feel free to disagree and I’ll fight you in the comments).
  • The character arcs, particularly Joel’s, who goes from hardened, cynical mercenary to someone who will fight tooth and nail for Ellie, and Bill’s, who moves from survivalist loner to compassionate carer in episode three.
  • Ellie’s kick-assed-ness.
  • An ensemble cast—it keeps things interesting by flitting between a variety of characters and their backstories.
  • The tension is there in bucketloads because you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time waiting for something horrible to happen.
  • The focus on humanity and their adaptability to the reality in which they find themselves, rather than the infected, prompts the viewer to ask themselves, “What would I do under those circumstances?”
  • Re the above bullet—the ending. Was Joel right to save Ellie at the expense of humanity? And would Ellie have been able to provide the cure anyway…?
  • And finally, the giraffes. Just because.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The How to Write a Bestseller Experiment

Where to go from here… I’m in the middle of an existential writing crisis.

I muddle along, writing fiction that doesn’t sell enough to recoup the money I spend on covers, critiques, proofreading, etcetera.

There has been a lot of talk about Substack and its benefits for writers, with famous names (Salman Rushdie) publishing novels on there, not as famous names serialising their books and becoming success stories (Elle Griffin) while others treat audiences to their amazing insights and wisdom (Dominic Cummings*).

[*That was sarcasm, by the way.]

I’ve been blogging on and off for 12 years now and have never really got the hang of what to write about/how to position this blog. If I was starting now, I would do things very differently.

Substack is supposed to make it easier for you to monetise your content, providing you can persuade enough people that is worth paying for. That’s a big ‘if’, though.

As a writer of only middling success, I don’t want to publish a novel on there but I came up with the idea of a regular newsletter—the How to Write a Bestseller Experiment, where I embark on a mission to produce one and document what I do.

It would focus on craft—turning the first draft of a book I’ve already written in a popular genre (crime/thriller) into something that is page-turning, gripping and enjoyable—and building a ‘platform’.

I know, horrible, horrible word but it does seem as if you make life easier for yourself if you build anticipation and then launch your book, rather than the other way around, as every celebrity who gets a book deal can tell you.

I’m very much a LOOK, THE SHINY NEW! type of person, forever jumping on bandwagons, convinced the next big thing will work for me. Only for it not to.

But to use the old cliché, it is better to try and fail than not to try at all.

Wish me luck! And if anyone reading this is on Substack, let me know in the comments and tell me about your experiences there. Thank you!

Location, location, location

Some years back, I went the book launch of Stonemouth, written by the late (and extremely great) Iain Banks, where he admitted he made up the town where the novel is situated because he despised doing research.

That little titbit lodged in my subconscious, as I did the same a few years later when I wrote Artists Town and the Highland Books.

If you create a fictional town or village, there’s no need to worry about confusing the site of the town hall with the derelict church or placing two streets close together for narrative purposes (and risking a chorus of criticism in the reviews from the town/village’s real inhabitants).

Nor need you fret about people from those places presuming you’ve used them somewhere in the novel and portrayed them in an unfavourable light. The author Brooke Magnanti at another book event I attended stated that she made up the setting for her crime thriller, The Turning Tide, so as not to offend her Lochaber neighbours.

Artists Town, a coming-of-age tale set in a small Scottish town, was inspired by Kirkcudbright, the small Scottish town where I spent my formative years.

Picture of Emma Baird sitting next to a street sign for Baird Way in Kirkcudbright
Once upon a time, Kirkcudbright had a creamery. When it was demolished, the council built social housing in its place, and named one of the streets, Baird Street, in honour of one of the creamery’s founders, my grandfather.

Let me let you into the secret of Kirkcudbright’s pronunciation. Those of us born in this tiny town nestled far from the madding crowds in the south-west of Scotland grew up chortling whenever the rare occasion of it meriting a mention on the national news arose and presenters mispronounced it Cur-cud-bright, when it’s—clearly—Cur-coo-bree.

Other Scottish place name minefields include Milngavie, pronounced Mull-guy, Strathaven, pronounced Stray-ven and Bearsden, pronounced Brendan.

(Kidding, Bearsden is pronounced exactly as it is written.)

Like Brooke Magnanti, I didn’t want to offend the locals, so I changed the name Kirkcudbright in the book to Kirkinwall. But because Kirkcudbright is one of the few places in the UK with a castle in the midst of it, any locals reading it will recognise the location straight away.

 © Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Mackies Fish and Chips plays a key role in Artists Town, and I based the establishment loosely on a sadly no-longer there chippie, Polar Bites, which had an excellent (and well deserved) reputation for its take on the UK’s favourite dish.

Since I couldn’t find a picture of the now defunct Polar Bites, I’ve treated you instead to a drool-worthy pic…

The Highland books, a series of romantic comedies/feel-good escapist novels, are set in the imaginary village of Lochalshie, which is a loose mix of Arrochar in Argyll and Bute, and Lochcarron in Wester Ross.

Lochcarron © Copyright Toby Speight and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Lochside Welcome, the local pub/hotel, is an important setting in the books and it resembles the Village Inn in Arrochar, appearance-wise, anyway. As far as I’m aware, it’s never played hosted the wedding of a reality TV star—also made-up—but given that she’s a member of a family who’ve been on MTV for many years and a ‘self-made’ billionaire whose fortune comes from a make-up and skincare company, there is no prize for guessing who she’s modelled on.

© Copyright Jim Barton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Book cover for Highland Wedding by Emma Baird
What the Village Inn looks like in my books.

When you set your novels in bigger towns and cities, it´s okay to go with the real version, and I´ve used Glasgow, London, Norwich and even Great Yarmouth in my books, but small town settings will always be my preferred choice because it´s much easier to create a sense of community, which is why books and TV series set in smaller places appeal to so many people.

You can buy Artists Town and the Highland Books directly from the Pink Glitter Publishing store here.

Food in books

The Bakewell tart was made by my own fair hand for a party. Retro dishes can be very popular…

My latest novel, Baked with Love, is now available for pre-order. The book features a fictionalised version of a well-known and loved baking show, so there are a lot of descriptions of cakes in it.

In general, there are a lot of descriptions of all kinds of foods in all my books, reflecting my other passions in life, cooking and eating. If I were any good at food styling and photography and filming, I’d run a food blog for sure. I toyed with the idea at one point and came up with the snappy (not) title, Emma Cooks the Books! along with fancy-schmancy graphics too, see above.

Anyway, as that did not happen (food blogs and vlogs look like a tonne of work – and many of them take place in immaculate kitchens, using state-of-the-art equipment that seems as if it’s being used for the first time), I’ve rounded up a collection of foodie pics and quotes from my books…

Highland Fling by Emma Baird book cover
Highland Fling – a romcom set in the Scottish Highlands.
High Heels and Pink Glitter cover by Emma Baird
High Heels and Pink Glitter – a chick lit novel available to read for free on Wattpad. I would love to claim credit for this beautiful chocolate cake, but my sister made it…
Highland Wedding by Emma Baird book cover
Highland Wedding – a romcom set in the Scottish Highlands.
A Leap of Faith by Emma Baird book cover
A Leap of Faith – a Covid-19 lockdown love story.
Beautiful Fighters by Emma Baird book cover
Beautiful Fighters – a NA vampire novel.
Beautiful Biters by Emma Baird book cover
Beautiful Biters – a NA vampire story. I made the carrot cake and decorated it, using my mum’s tried and tested fork method (lines across and then down).
Highland Chances – a light-hearted, feel-good book set in the Scottish Highlands.

American versus British accents

This week in creativity

Picture (or rather, hear) the following scene. You choose an audio book, press play, and an American voice narrates the story.

No harm in that—there are plenty of American accents that send the heart a flutter (Stephen J Dubner could talk about the science of watching paint dry and I’d listen, transfixed) but what if you’ve specifically purchased a book set in the UK, featuring UK born-and-bred characters, and the story is read with a voice from across the Atlantic, rather than a home-grown accent?

I’m asking because I received an email from Draft2Digital this week. The company acts as an aggregator, distributing e-books to all the e-retailers, including Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and library services.

Highland Books by Emma Baird book cover

Draft2Digital has been collaborating with Apple Books on their digital narration technology, in which the programme generates audio books from e-books already published on the platform, which is currently free.

That’s a biggie. If I wanted to create my own audio book, it would cost at least £1,500. And audio books are the fastest growing book market. But here’s the catch. Apple currently only offers English with an American accent.

I’ve listened to it; it’s not bad, and it lacks that robotic quality of Word dictation, for example. And you could argue that in the western world, we’re all used to hearing American accents, so it wouldn’t be so strange.

However, the characters in my books frequently speak in dialect. Is digital narration up to the task? Ideally, I’d like the late Victoria Wood to narrate my stories because she would throw herself into the story with gusto and use different voices for the various characters but that’s not going to happen…

Anyway, I’ll give it some thought.

Quote of the week

As it was Burns Night on Wednesday, the quote of the week is by Robert Burns. While I didn’t attend a specific event, I did host Book Group friends for an afternoon of eating, drinking wine (the non-driving, non-Dry January some of us…) and discussing books and the environment, which seemed like a fitting tribute.

What I’m eating

Saturday Kitchen on the BBC is regular viewing in the Baird-Birnie household. When a celebrity appears on the show, usually to promote something, they are also asked what their food heaven and food hell are. Viewers of the live show vote on what the show’s professional chefs prepare for them at the end.

Whenever I watch this, I wonder why no-one says macaroni cheese for their food heaven. Isn’t that what everyone would want for their last meal on earth…?

For the Book Group, I made a big batch of it, and unleashed the secret ingredient. Was it a fancy cheese, you ask? Did you make the sauce with cream? No, I picked up this tip from Nadiya Hussain. Crumbled up cheesy wotsits. (In the US, these are known as cheese puffs).

cheesy wotsits

Game-changer. I promise…

What I’m watching

Tonight’s the night—Happy Valley series 3. There are only two episodes left, and according to the press, the producers filmed five different endings in an attempt to keep the ending secret, and even the cast is unsure which ending will be used.

Waiting a week for episodes feels peculiar in this day and age, and last Sunday, Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: Moves a bill in parliament that a week is too long to wait for Happy Valley, and it received over 6,000 likes.

What would be your food heaven if you appeared on Saturday Kitchen, and what would you hope voters didn’t choose for you? And how would you feel if a book set in the UK with British characters was narrated in an American accent?

Writing book descriptions and paying more tax than Bezos (sort of)

Quote of the week:

Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's - Stephen King

You might think for someone who has managed to write a first draft of at least twenty novels, writing the blurb (otherwise known as the book description) would be a piece of cake…

Not so. This week, I’ve been struggling with the blurb for a chick lit book that will be coming out in the spring. For inspiration, I copied and pasted book descriptions from three of Amazon’s best-selling chick lit books into a word cloud generator, which resulted in this image…

Word cloud using words commonly found in descriptions of chick lit novels

Right then, EB, I told myself, try to incorporate some of the words mentioned here into your book description.

A common mistake when writing a book description, especially your own, is to reveal what happens, so my first attempt was to try to focus on what people might feel when reading the book, or what they might be looking for when seeking out books (escapism, romance, etc).

"I really loved the story... As ever, your descriptive narrative is a delight, as is the humour and the pathos in the story."
Whisk together a high-stakes TV baking competition, an ex-boyfriend and the ghost of a grandmother whose death haunts the main character Lissie and what do you have…?
A recipe for a warm-hearted, poignant and spellbinding story with unforgettable characters who will capture your heart.
When Lissie, a lifelong baker, receives a last-minute invitation to appear on the popular TV show Best Baker UK, she is both thrilled and terrified. There’s a lot at stake, not the least of which is Lissie's chance to win the competition in the memory of her beloved grandmother. 
Baked with Love, the perfect read for romance and Great British Bake Off fans, is about second chances, forgiveness, family and the search for true love. Come along and join Lissie, Rob, Kieran and Jo on this feel-good journey!

The second approach is more traditional. Which one do you think would would make you want to read the book more?

Can lifelong baker Lissie turn down a last-minute invitation to appear on the popular TV show Best Baker UK, even though her ex-boyfriend is one of the contestants? 
Not a chance…
Her current boyfriend isn't thrilled, and Lissie's decision to put herself under the intense pressure of a reality TV show while spending so much time with the man who broke her heart six years ago appears to be a recipe for disaster...
But could Lissie uncover the truth about what happened all those years ago, prove herself to her grandmother, keep her boyfriend happy, and win Best Baker UK, forever changing her life?
The perfect read for romance and Great British Bake Off fans, Baked with Love is all about second chances, forgiveness, and the search for true love.

This week in creativity part 2

As someone who scraped a ‘C’ in o’grade art many moons ago, I’ve never been particularly good at artsy stuff, but this week I also added A+ content to all of my Highland books’ product pages.

A+ content is the information under the book that says ‘from the publisher’ and Amazon allowed indie publishers to use this facility in the same way traditional publishers have always used it two years ago.

Here’s what I created for mine…

Highland Chances product page on Amazon

This week in creativity part 3

This week, I have also been doing some creative accounting, ensuring that I cling on to all my hard-earned dosh as tightly as I can…


Note saying Do Tax Return

For the tax year 2021-2022, I will pay a much higher percentage of my income in tax than Jeff Bezos did in 2021. Well done me, eh?

Quote of the week

The Stephen King quote above shows how books differ from films and the intimacy of reading. When you read, your imagination that fleshes out the world and the characters in your head, which is why no two people will read the same book in the same way.

What I’m reading this week

Still ploughing my way through A Place of Greater Safety and have now reached the part where journalist and politician Camille Desmoulins delivers his impassioned call to arms, which inspires the Storming of the Bastille a few days later.

French revolutionary figure Camille Desmoulins

What I’m watching

Happy Valley, which as discussed with one of my fellow bloggers last week, is SO GOOD.

Thanks for reading and let me know in the comments which of the book descriptions you think sounds the most enticing.

Spring, fake restaurant reviews and a flash sale

Hello! Spring is in the air here in Scotland, though the temperature is still to get the memos and we had overnight frost two nights last week.

Growbags ready to deliver lots of lovely home-grown veg (hopefully) if we can persuade our cats and those of our neighbours that this is not a giant litter tray.

For various reasons, I’ve not stuck to my newsletter send-out schedule since the start of the year—not least because the world and the ongoing awfulness have made it feel pointless.

If you’re feeling powerless yourself, there are a few little things you can do… If you go onto Google maps, and type in Moscow (for instance) and then restaurants, you can leave reviews there along the lines of ‘Fabulous restaurant, but my appetite’s ruined because Putin has invaded Ukraine and is bombing hospitals and shelling civilians’.

I varied the wording for different restaurants because I assumed that copying and pasting the same thing would trigger some bot somewhere.

Channel 4 in the UK recently bought the rights to an old comedy show, Servant of the People, created by and starring one Volodymyr Zelenskiy. (As the joke goes in the UK, Ukraine elected a comedian, we elected a clown.)

We’ve watched the first two episodes and it’s incredibly funny (and I recommend it), but watching the programme feels surreal when you counter it with the images of the city that have been on the news of bombed bridges, mass piles of rubble and citizens wrapped up in hats and scarves as they try to flee.

My writing schedule has fallen behind too, though I hope to publish Baked With Love, a chick lit novel based on a fictional version of the Great British Bake Off in late spring.

After much umm-ing and ah-ing, I have decided to return to the Highland books and I’m going to give Mhari her own story. You can read the start of it here.

I’m also running a month-long sale of Highland Wedding, the third in the series of the Highland Books, on PayHip and you can buy it for the bargain basement price of 0.99p.

Finally, it’s St Patrick’s Day on Thursday and my birthday. I have always wanted to spend my birthday in Ireland because of how seriously the Irish take their national saint’s day, so this year we are travelling to Belfast to do so…

Can’t wait.

A Farewell to All That…

Well, 2021 didn’t quite work out as planned—did anyone’s 2021?—but when you’re an optimist as I am, you seek out the good things when you look back on a year.

First and foremost, no-one I know and love died of Covid (or anything else). Last year, we joked about 2021 returning to the time when Corona was merely a beer, bubbles only belonged in champagne and self-isolation was not something so many people had to do.

Hey ho.

But I am in the extremely fortunate position of living in a country where the vaccination was made available to the masses quickly and I’m starting 2022 having had both doses and the booster.

Let’s raise a glass to science.

Talking of glasses, I plan to do Veganuary AND Dry January, but in the meantime, let’s go out with a bang…

Secondly, I didn’t lose my job. The pandemic has wrecked many sectors and businesses (compounded by the mess that is Brexit in the UK). My husband and I have been able to work throughout.

Thirdly, the dreaded writer burn-out didn’t hit. Many writers have talked about this—the inability to find enough concentration to put pen to paper and spin out stories while the hideousness of the pandemic plays out in the background.

(Ooh! Bonus points for three uses of alliteration in that sentence, right?)

I published two books, finished one and wrote another two this year. My book sales are slow but steady, rather like the running style I employed in the days when I jogged. I will never win awards, but I plod on, determined to get to the finishing line.

You can buy the book here.

In the summer, I signed a contract with Wattpad in May for the audio-visual rights to one of my stories. In all likelihood, it won’t come to anything, but I enjoyed a few weeks of casting various actors as my characters, which is more challenging to do than you might expect.

On the minus side. I continue to find reading books a challenge. Ever since I can remember, I’ve read books, often getting through two or three a week. That stopped last year when I started reading newspapers and periodicals instead. Books feel like too much of an intensive work out for my dwindling attention span.

(Though if I can recommend one, I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and raced through it when we holidayed in Dundee in May this year.)

Here in Scotland, we are effectively back in lockdown with large indoor and outdoor gatherings banned, and people encouraged not to mix with more than three households/go out. It’s all a bit same old/same old, but the current situation will end at some point, and I force myself to make the most of it as I’m now at the age where time flies by frighteningly fast and it is wrong to wish it away.

Anyway, thanks for reading. May 2022 bring you health and happiness.

Best wishes, Emma XXX

The month in pictures

Enni Tuomisalo at yummybookcovers designed the beautiful cover for my fifth in series book, Highland Christmas. Isn’t it gorgeous…? The book is due out in December, so I’d better get on with finishing it…
This year, we managed to grow beef tomatoes for the first time. They may not be pretty, but they’re tasty as were the peas also harvested this month.
We ventured out to eat a few times—once for the eat out to help out initiative. This was the offering at the Riverside Courtyard in Helensburgh. Deep-fried calamari with a soy dipping sauce and tres yummy too.
This August, my dad would have been 80. My mum, sisters and I gathered together to mark the occasion with sausages (Dad’s favourite food). This is an old pic of him and my mum at a wedding, now given pride of place next to my computer upstairs. It never ceases to make me smile.
Graphic illustrator Jennifer Mijatovic created beautiful pictures for me to advertise my vampire book, Beautiful Biters. It never ceases to astonish me how designers manage to get into your head and pull out the characters in there. Jen’s Instagram account is @wee_mij, where she showcases incredible line drawn pictures of her daughter..
It wouldn’t be a picture round-up without the cats. William often keeps me company when I’m writing.
I’m running a wee sale on Highland Fling – 99p until 5 September. Available in all e-retailers, including Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

March, maggots, mussels and miles of walking…

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!

Highland Chances

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