Pining for pubs…

Highland Chances, the fourth in my Highland Books series, is due out next week—Thursday 18 June 2020.

I started writing the book on 1 January, a time that now feels as if it was in the dim and distant past. Who knew how much our lives would change? I write this from a privileged position. No-one I know contracted the virus and died, and so far—though that is likely to change—neither has anyone lost their job.

Still, 1 January 2020… a very different time. My books are all set in the present day, and yet that version of the ‘present’ day’ has now changed for so many people all over the world. I write about pubs, public gatherings, people hugging left, right and centre. If someone had told me on New Year’s Day, “Hey, you do know you’re chronicling a world that is about to disappear with some aspects of it never to return?”, I might have tipped my head to the side in disbelief.

Motorbike tours

Highland Chances centres around a village pub/hotel in the north-west of Scotland. Most summers, I clamber on the back of my husband’s motorbike and we roar off in search of scenery, castles to visit, pubs where we’ll eat booze-soaked lunches (well, I do; as the driver he refrains), B&Bs with lochside views and indie hotels.

Not a trip to the Highlands, but Kirkcudbright where I grew up … the street created when the creamery was demolished is named after one of its original founders, my great-grandfather.

[In one Nairn establishment years ago, I shared its small gym with Tilda Swinton, no less. She asked me if I’d finished with the Swiss ball at one point.

Will many of these small places survive? April is/was the start of the tourism season in the UK. The road outside my house, the A82, should have been packed with cars heading north—especially because the weather throughout April and most of May was so warm and dry.

Social distancing in pubs

Now it’s mid-June. Pubs, restaurants and most hotels remain closed, while their owners grapple with how they can implement safety through social distancing in spaces where people are meant to squeeze together, all of us enjoying humanity at close quarters.

The best holidays I’ve taken with my husbands were those motorbike trips around Scotland. I can close my eyes and summon up a jumble of heavy velvet curtains, twin beds pushed together, the smell of chips that lingers everywhere, crisp white linen tablecloths, bacon for breakfast and wooden tables you need to shove beermats under the legs to stop them wobbling.

Not all the food is good. Some places charged a fortune for a glass of red wine. Depending on the time of year, there’s often a layer of boredom that hangs in the air—a place too quiet; its staff simply going through the motions.

Now, that was good grub…

And yet, so many of those pubs and hotels may well vanish. Will we speed through small towns and villages with too many buildings boarded up or marked with tatty for sale signs? The thought of it makes me want to cry.

On the upside, a surge in domestic tourism might be on the cards. Most people may feel like me—reluctant to fly anywhere for a while. Particularly if you need to quarantine upon return. Will they surge to pubs and hotels in their own country when they reopen, having been starved of such entertainment for months?

Time will tell. I hope so.

Highland Chances is available for pre-order here.

#amwriting Don’t Drink and Drive

Tackling the challenges of a thriller-stroke-crime story. Part one is here. It contains swear words, so stop reading now if you don’t like that kind of writing.

Danni shouldn’t have got in the car. That glass of fizz…oh, be honest with yourself! She’d had more than one.

But Ruby wanted to go home. They’d been ‘celebrating’ her divorce and Ruby insisted they drink something with bubbles so they could clink together flutes and say good riddance to that git.

Wasn’t it gin that made you sad? Ruby horsed her half of the bottle, then ordered another one. Belligerence became depression awfy quickly. She started to cry so hard she was practically howling. People around them started to move back. Maybe they thought it catching. It wasn’t your usual cheery Saturday night stuff.

“I want my bed!” Ruby cried. Her nose had started to run, snot sitting on her top lip. Danni decided not to point it out.

A taxi would have been the sensible idea, but neither of them had enough cash on them. And Ruby refused to walk the length of the street to go to the cashline. She wanted to go home NOW.

Danni had stopped drinking a few hours ago. She joogled the keys in her pocket and said the fateful words, “I’ll drive.”

Her wee red Renault had been a birthday present six years ago, a very generous one as her dad never failed to remind her. “Aye, well,” she thought but didn’t say. “Doesn’t make up for your years of never bothering with me.”

The night was coal black and the road quiet. They both lived in the next town. Balloch was their night out choice. In their home town, too many locals, and Ruby’s ex, drank. In Balloch, endless exciting possibilities presented themselves – tourists and Glasgow guys, hanging around the pubs that dotted the loch side and smirking at you.

As the car took the first left out of the town, Ruby pulled herself together. She’d whacked up the radio volume, choosing a local station that played dance stuff on a Saturday night. She couldn’t sing, but she chanted along anyway. Danni joined in, hoping it would keep her from crying.

You helped your friends, yes. But they were much easier when they were happy.

They were busy belting out the words to Timber when the view changed.

“Danni!” Ruby shrieked, clutching her arm so hard she almost yanked the steering wheel toward her. “There’s a fucking lorry there.”

So there was, a lorry straddling the two carriageways and another car next to it. Danni felt adrenaline and fear flood her body, the contents of her stomach rising up alarmingly. She slammed her right foot to the floor and heard the car screech its protests. The hand she held out to pull on the handbrake shook.

Time had stopped. There was only her and Ruby, a still shrieking, crying mess, and a small car hurtling along, enveloped in the blackness of the night and heading for the lorry blockade that loomed before them.

Then, the brakes kicked in and the car began to slow well before the lorry and the other car. Danni felt the breath she’d been holding for the last minute or so puff out of her, deflating her lungs, stomach and head.

There was a bump, the Renault catching something with its left wheel and its impact reverberating through the car. Not your wee bump that signified cars going over potholes or verges. Something else, something…

Danni felt the contents of her stomach rise once more.

“Was that…?” Ruby wasn’t shrieking now, but the whisper made it worse.

The car had stopped, the two of them sat there staring at their hands. “Sorry, Dad, sorry.” Why did that pop into her brain? But all kinds of thoughts were whirling through there, frighteningly fast.

Drink driving.

Convictions.

Losing her job.

Hitting a person with your car.

©Emma Baird 2018