This week in creativity

Quote of the week:

Just in case things get boring, I'm bringing a book

In 2018, I set myself the goal of becoming a full-time writer by the time 2022 rolled around (and out). Ach, it happened and didn’t happen… the money-side never materialised. I suck at selling books.

Is the universe trying to telling me something? Tempting to say, yes. The world has spoken:

Emma, thou should put down thy pen and never pick it up again…

Look, the late Hilary Mantel, Maggie O’Farrell and anyone else who appears on Booker Prize/Orange Prize etc or lists has nothing to fear, but I’ve had enough praise from strangers—via reviews/emails/comments on Wattpad—to believe I’m not dreadful and I’ve won the odd prize here and there that spurs me on.

I write all the time. Busy day ahead? I get up early to cram words in. On holiday? I bring my laptop (or even my cheap, crappy Kindle along with a £10 keyboard) and tap the stuff out in hotel rooms. Christmas, New Year, birthdays and holidays? Pah! The words are squeezed in.

So yes. Goal accomplished, though perhaps not in the way I envisaged. Turns out crafting stories that no-one pays you for isn’t all that bad*.

Recently, I dug out a book I drafted way, way back in 2016. It was easy to write at the time, but when I was done, I shoved it in the metaphorical drawer with a sigh of, Well, that needs a TON of fixing.

And there it sat, accumulating dust over the years. When I re-read it at the end of last year, the errors, and more importantly, the solutions to them, popped up straightaway. Normally, I loathe revising a book but this one has been a pleasure. I scrapped most of what I’d written, and instead used the novel’s skeleton, fleshing it out much more satisfactorily with fresh words, scenes, dialogue and everything else that brings it to life.

An extract from my forthcoming novel, Forever, maybe

It’s so fulfilling.

Otherwise, I’ve spent the week grappling with book formatting for print, much of which has involved swearing at Word.

FFS, don’t start the numbers there. Don’t put them on blank pages! Keep this header, not that one! Look, I want each chapter to begin on the right-hand side. Just do it okay!

Weirdest Google search of the week

The writer’s search engine history is a weird and wonderful list that would raise the eyebrows of many a psychologist.

‘Names for parts’ is something I frequently Google. Settle down there at the back—I’m not alluding to anything filthy, just wondering what this bit of a vending machine/car/key/Calor Gas heater is called.

But recently, I was curious about how to get out of ankle tag. My main character had been tagged and needed to flee. Is such a thing possible?

Reddit (where else?) had the answers, and my favourite was—do your time and then it magically falls off. But, for dramatic purposes, I settled on the poster who suggested slipping a plastic bag over your foot, slathering it with lube, and wriggling out that way**.

Is it possible? Doubtful, but including it in the story allowed me to add an awkward conversation with the neighbours in which my main character knocked on the door and asked if they had any KY Jelly to spare instead of coffee…

What I’m eating/cooking

A selection of tapas dishes

We booked a late lunch at La Barca, a tapas restaurant in Helensburgh for Hogmanay. Tapas is food for gluttons—why try one dish when you can have three or four? The place was also buzzing, which I hope indicates that it is recession-proof in these high cost-of-living times.

At home, I’ve eaten a lot of this Rainbow Plant Life’s mushroom soup. If you love mushrooms, this is most mushroomy experience you will ever have…

Returning to the quote of the week… My first date with my husband took place in a pub. He recalls nipping to the loos and returning to find me engrossed in a book. (Manners prevailed; I put it away again.)

The world is divided into those who always carry a book with them—which is easier these days because those books can be on tablets or phones—and those who don’t.

But seriously, opportunities to read books while out and about arise on a regular basis. On a train, on a bus, in a GP’s waiting room, at the hairdresser’s, in a long queue, lunchtime at the office, coffee shops… why risk not being able to take advantage of them?

Which brings me neatly to…

What I’m reading

The Ministry for the Future

Re-reading this mahoosive whooper of a book for our book group. (I chose it—592 pages, small print. How to win friends and influence people…)

If you spend a lot of time fretting about the environment, this book might be for you because of the optimistic solutions it offers.

A Place of Greater Safety

In honour of the late, great Ms Mantel, I decided to re-read A Place of Greater Safety after watching Marie Antoinette on the Beeb this January (watch it, I beg you—the costumes, the sets, the acting).

What are you reading at the moment? Let me know in the comments… and if you’ve got a weird Google search, post that too!

*I say this from a position of extreme privilege. I have a part-time job, a partner with a full-time job and no kids.

**Please note. I am NOT condoning criminal behaviour.

WOMAN READING PIC: Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/nenadstojkovic/49982362222, reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence 2.0

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The Booker Prize 2022 Book Group challenge

The world would be a better place if more people joined book groups… I have had the immense privilege of being part of one for 20 years now—the Weegie BeeGees* (no-one calls it anything but the Book Group; the moniker was picked for identification purposes) founded by Maryanne McIntyre.

In that time, we’ve had at least 18 members, read at least 167 books and eaten at least 110 cakes. Lucy makes a cake themed around each book, which, given the general love for baking in the UK, most people find intriguing.

Mostly, we have read general fiction (40.7 per cent) and historical fiction (21 per cent). (For more information on our stats, including which genres different members tend to choose, our authors’ geographical spread and when the books we have been reading were published, see Lucy Jane’s 20 years of books and cakes: a book group’s data story.)

This year, the organisers of the Booker Prize along with the Reading Agency decided to invite book groups to apply to be part of the experience. They invited book groups to apply to read the short-listed books and review them—a well-meaning attempt to make literary prizes more inclusive through inviting in we amateurs.

The Booker Prize 2022 shortlist includes the shortest book and oldest author ever to be nominated, three second novels, authors from five countries and four continents, three independent publishers and several titles inspired by real events.

The shortlist consists of

  • Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
  • Treacle Walker by Alan Garner
  • The Trees by Percival Everett
  • The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

The winner will be announced on 17 October.

My friends Lucy and Morag Pavich put in the hard work of applying, and we were chosen. The six books shortlisted were allocated to each of the book groups (so unlike a real book group situation, none of our members chose the book we read) and off we went to read, digest and discuss Glory…

Two members of our Book Group, if we win the reading challenge with our fascinating insights (!) will be invited to attend the 2022 Booker Prize ceremony and dinner at the Roundhouse in London on 17 October.

Lucy and I were interviewed by Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsyth talking about the Booker Prize book we read and our book group in general. It was a nerve racking experience not least because it was live. I coped by pointing at Lucy every time Janice asked one of the more difficult questions (sorry, Lucy!) and waffling on a bit about if everyone joined a book group, the world would be a better place.

You can listen to the audio here: https://lucyjanes.blog/2022/10/06/the-booker-prize-book-club-challenge/

To cut to the chase though, what did we actually think of Glory?

Over the years, very few books have met universal approval or dislike, and so was the case with Glory. Here’s my review of it…

The joy of belonging to a book group is that you read outside your comfort zone, which can turn up gems. The reverse is true as well of course. Personally, I found Glory a struggle to read. I’m not keen on allegory, and sometimes the satire seemed rather laboured.
Having stared off disliking the repetitive nature of some of the book, after a while it became more ‘rhythmic’ to my ear—tuning into the author’s voice, I suppose—and the writing and descriptions were beautiful in parts. You can’t help but admire the author’s ambition in attempting to tell such a ‘big’ story about a nation and I came away from the book determined to read up more on a history and culture I have so little knowledge of.
I enjoyed Destiny’s story (particularly when she returned and had to ‘tune’ back into the place where she came from) and the social media stuff felt very relevant—not just in relation to the fictional country, but as related to all kinds of events these days. And of course it raised a smile when some thinly disguised bigwigs turned up.
This is the first time I have seen George Floyd turn up in fiction, and I found that part of the book incredibly moving. The multiple points of view added to the novel too. Most novels published in this century concentrate on only a few, whereas this technique felt as if it was the only way you could tell a story like Glory.

Wish us luck in the competition!

My own writing

Reading prize-nominated and prize-winning books is inspiring, though sometimes you end up thinking, “I might as well give up now! I’ll never manage to write as beautifully as that.” But I persevere.

My vampire novel, Beautiful Biters, is now in the Paid Stories programme on Wattpad, which is nice from a validation point of view. Somebody somewhere recognised it as ‘worthy’ of publishing.

I have self-published a lot of books, which gives you control over everything—from the blurb to the uploading and the commissioning of covers. When my story entered the Paid Stories programme, Wattpad changed the cover of Beautiful Biters to the one on the left:

I much prefer the cover I commissioned (on the right), which was created by the talented Jennifer Mijatovic (@wee_mij on Instagram). The Wattpad cover is very ‘American’ and with traditional publishing, you often see two different covers for the UK versus the US market, which is an interesting fact in and of itself.

To me, covers with photographs of people often look cheap, and are cheap because it takes less time and effort to create them than to come up with an original image, such as the one Jennifer did for me, which also does a better job of conveying the adventure element of the story.

I’d love to know what you think, and which cover you prefer…

*We live in and around Glasgow and the slang name for people from Glasgow is Weegies (from the word Glaswegian, pronounced glas-wee-gin for those outside of the UK) and BeeGees from the initials, geddit?

Reasons to celebrate

I dunno… there aren’t many reasons to celebrate at present, what with the ongoing war in Europe, what’s happening to women in the US, the climate emergency and record inflation levels.

This week, a news presenter on the radio announced that we’d probably noticed how much more expensive our dinners were now than… and I honestly expected him to say, ‘last week’ there, rather than ‘last year’.

Still, I have my own small triumphs. First off, was undergoing tests in hospital that proved I do not have bowel cancer. A great result, eh? A routine bowel screening had shown blood in my sample, necessitating a colonoscopy.

As the literature said, less than 5 percent of those tested actually have cancer and I did not think there was anything wrong with that ‘bit’ of me. However, thanks to the dreaded C-word (the other one), there was a considerable wait for the colonoscopy.

But it went ahead the other week and there was nothing there. NOTHING. Which makes me fortunate indeed, not least because I live somewhere that offers such an efficient screening programme even though our National Health Service is creaking under the weight of backlogs and years of underfunding.

To prepare for a colonoscopy, you eat a low-fibre diet for three days. As a recently converted vegan that posed a real challenge (so challenging, in fact, that I abandoned the veganism for the three days, sorry oh much more principled people than I am). My celebratory post-colonoscopy meal was therefore this:

Tofu, brown rice, lots of veggies, a spicy peanut sauce and picked red onions—every single ingredient the instructions from the Endoscopy Clinic banned on the low-fibre diet.

(Thanks to yummylummy, who let me know about the role sugar-free jelly plays in prep for a colonoscopy… 😉)

Second, I have signed another contract with Wattpad, which will see my vampire book, Beautiful Biters (read the first chapter here) placed in its paid stories programme. While I am under no illusions about what this will do for my income, external validation for the stories I write is more than welcome.

In addition, this week I made my romcom Highland Fling free on Amazon, so that it could be part of a Hello Books promotion and when I checked my sales dashboard this morning, the book had been downloaded a grand total of 2,123 times, the bulk of which were in the US.

(I’m not sure my sense of humour translates. We’ll see!)

The most downloads I’ve ever managed in a week before has been in the 50-odd range, so the figures were a proper, proper ego boost. Let’s hope the good folks who download the book are spurred on to download the other five in the series, i.e. the ones they pay for. If it helps boost my Amazon rankings, it might keep the book more visible for some time, which again should help with sales long term.

If you would like to take part in the Hello Books promotion, which also includes other free romance titles, including this one by Enni Amanda, who created the cover for Highland Fling (and the other five books in the series), you can download the titles for free here: https://hellobooks.com/romance

Third, another small thing, but it feels like a biggie. I’m back into reading again. During the pandemic, I stopped. Not completely, but instead of powering through three or four books a week, it was more like one every few months as I was too busy doom-scrolling through the news and on blasted Twitter (I have a serious love-hate relationship with the platform).

Some gems I’ve read recently include:

Hungry, photo courtesy of my book group chum, Lucy, who also made this delicious tray bake to accompany Grace Dent’s food-related memoir, which came across as very relatable because I grew up in the same era/same sort of world and got invited to a Cosmopolitan lunch too. (A story for another day.)

Small Eden by Jane Davis, which I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy for and read in two days.

The Cut by Christopher Brookmyre, whose writing and thoroughly Scottish sense of humour I’ve always loved.

My writing chum, Caron Allan, is busy putting together the final touches for her book, A Meeting with Murder, which I am very much looking forward to reading.

And finally, the two by-elections in the UK won’t mean much, if anything, to anyone outside the UK but I did a little dance of joy on Friday morning when the newsreader announced that the constituencies of Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton had voted out the Conservative Party.

So, this weekend I will crack open that bottle of Moet my sister bought me for my birthday and hope that soon, very soon, we will all come together and rid ourselves of nasty, populist governments, minority imposed judgements that condemn half the population and the terrible, terrible people who have ended up in power.

Cheers, everyone!

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

Goodbye 2020 – and what a year it was…

As many other bloggers do at this time of year, I thought I’d end with pictures… Notably, there will be few of travel or meals out, social gatherings and/or attendance at big events.

This year like no other has been frightening, tedious, frustrating, anger-inducing and plain weird. But, and it’s a big but, I am fortunate not to have lost anyone to Covid, nor fallen ill myself and my work, both the part-time job and the freelance gigs I do, continues. The economic fall-out hasn’t hit me yet, though I will not emerge unaffected when the recession kicks in.

If we’re counting silver linings, the A82 outside our house was blissfully quiet for weeks. I appreciated the novelty value of being in the same boat as so many other human beings world-wide, all of us united against this common enemy. And not spending nearly as much money as I would in a normal year proved a useful lesson on how little I really need.

Anyway, in the long-ago innocent days of January, Sandy and I were still adjusting to life with two cats, Lucy and William. Adopted from the SSPCA Milton Animal Home at the end of December, the cats got to spend a lot of time with us in 2020, what with the lack of holidays, days out, nights out and me working from home. As is always the case with cats, it’s hard to tell if they appreciated all that attention or not.

In February, as the news of the pandemic’s arrival in Europe came in, everything still felt okay-ish in the UK. My Catalan friend reminds me they were warning then that the exact scenario was coming for us while we all blithely assumed it wasn’t. With any luck, next year will see the well overdue death of British exceptionalism.

In March, we went to Chester for my birthday. There was a lot of umm-ing and ah-ing. Should we go? Organisers were cancelling the big events—Six Nations rugby matches, Glasgow’s Aye Write festival—but the Government wasn’t giving direct orders. We packed face masks, home-made hand sanitiser (by this time sold out in shops) and jumped on the train.

The highlights were an informative walking tour of Chester and some memorable meals. But the biggest thrill was a trip to Chester Zoo. The painted dogs, the lions, the tiger and the black jaguar (where I got as close as I’m ever likely to a big cat) all of them blissfully unaware of human troubles.

At the end of March and into April, full lockdown set in. Luckily, the weather that month was outstanding. Yes, even in Scotland. Walking took the place of almost every other leisure activity. That, and Zoom meet-ups which were an exciting novelty at that point. (I can’t be alone in wishing that I never have to use Zoom ever again once this is all over.)

We all did the quizzes and the words, “We can’t hear you—you’re on mute”, the defining phrase of 2020, along with the words furlough, lockdown and coronavirus itself. That and waving at people on-screen. Name me the in-person meeting you’ve ever attended where people wave at each other. You can’t? Thought not.

My mum’s was the first family birthday we held via Zoom—everyone putting on their make-up and fancy earrings in lieu of dressing up.

Outdoor drinking – also a hobby we cultivated par excellence in 2020…

May’s weather remained equally cheering. My husband’s hobbies, established just before this year, saw him in good stead. Home brewing, outdoor cooking and gardening are perfect for lockdown times. Everyone else thought so too. Homebrew kits ran out, as did all gardening and outdoor cooking equipment. Hot tubs and gazebos sold out.

By the time July arrived, there was a giddy feeling of ‘first day of the holidays’ when we travelled to St Andrew for a couple of nights as soon as the restrictions were lifted in Scotland. After months of not seeing them, I met with my mum and partner, and my sisters and their families, for fish and chips bought from a place doing a roaring trade. We ate them in the gardens of Madras College while the sun shone.

Most of the tourist attractions in St Andrews were still closed—the golf museum, the castle and the gardens—but we spent a nice afternoon on the beach watching other freedom seekers sending kites up into the skies and dodging the hundreds of jellyfish marooned on the shores.

Be careful what you order…

For Sandy’s birthday in August, we booked a meal at a small, local Indian restaurant attached to a takeaway. Thanks to Covid restrictions, we were the only people in it, the take-away owner darting back and forth between the takeaway business and us. He put music on, left us with ice buckets for the booze we’d brought with us and the evening took on a sparkly magical quality.

In September, the universities returned though my immediate colleagues and I were still working from home. Cases and hospital admissions rose sharply once more, and we were more or less back in lockdown in our area… Sandy and I managed a trip to Perth, the weekend bright and sunny. Scone Palace was the highlight this time. Stately homes with their big rooms can manage Covid-style restrictions, everyone in the guided tour party spreading out as the guide does her best to explain the treasures of each room while masked.

October, November, December—more of the same. A few highlights. Saturday 7 November when the election was finally declared for Biden. An online cheese and wine tasting we did (Comte, Goat’s Cheese and Pecorino in case you’re interested in the cheeses sampled) and winning a writing award for my paranormal story, Beautiful Biters.

Christmas turned out surprisingly well. We visited my mum and her partner in the morning for a walk, then in the afternoon entertained Sandy’s mum and her partner—two doorstep visits by other family members interspersed in between.

Everyone knows the best bit of Christmas dinner is living off weird combinations of leftovers for the next week, and we had tonnes of food waiting in line for its turn to star thanks to a smaller than usual celebration. I’m still mainlining the herby sausage and apple stuffing, serving up creamy baked leeks with Yorkshire puddings and pairing turkey curry with roast potatoes.

The pigs in blankets, I’m sorry to say, didn’t make it beyond Christmas Day…

Back in March when lockdown started, naïve me assumed it would all be over by Christmas. Sometimes, I look around me—everyone masked in the supermarket, the social distancing signs dotted everywhere, the testing station that was positioned outside our council office for weeks, the limits on travel and the empty trains and busses that pass you—and try to guess what the 2019 Emma would have made of it all.

No, she wouldn’t have had the imagination to come up with this year. A year like no other, unprecedented, weird times, etc., I can throw in all those words… they still don’t seem adequate to describe it.

Anyway, here it is now almost at an end, although the pandemic in our country is far from over and likely to worsen. But I still want to raise a glass to you and yours, and hope that together we get through the next few months and emerge from this experience more thoughtful, kinder, determined to join together with our fellow citizens and hold to account governments where necessary and willing to push for green recovery deals that favour the masses and not the few…

Here’s to you! Happy New Year.

Celebrations all round

Merry (almost) Christmas! Here in the UK, our celebrations will be far more muted this year as most of us are living under tight restrictions. Most households around where we live put their Christmas lights up a few weeks ago, as did we, breaking the habit of a lifetime. All of us are in need of cheer, aren’t we?

Anyway, talking of Celebrations (ooh, seamless segue!) the featured image at the start of this blog is what I consider the correct order of preference for Celebrations chocolates. The number one choice on the left—the Bounty—is controversial. Three members of my family agree—two don’t, one vociferously.

It seems people in the UK aren’t too happy with the Bounty Celebration either. (Bounty for those of you who don’t know is a chocolate covered coconutty sweet.) This year’s Celebrations advent calendar contained Bounties for three days in a row on 1, 2 and 3 December.

Ruining Christmas

They complained on Twitter, with one person saying: “I’m on day 4 of my celebrations advent calendar and someone tell me why i’ve gotten 3 bounties in a row??????? is this a sick joke or something @UKCelebrations. [sic]”

Other Tweets talked of Celebrations, owned by the Mars company, ruining Christmas after an already awful year.

Yes, of course there are much worse things going on in the world but sometimes I love it when people get worked up about silliness. And if they collectively want to gather up all those unwanted Bounties and send them to me, I’ll be delighted.

Wattys

In another celebratory moment, one of my other books got picked as a Wattys2020 winner, which obviously I’m pleased about. The Wattys are Wattpad’s annual writing prize. Wattpad is the largest online storytelling platform in the world and this year’s competition had more than 40,000 entries from 177 countries.

The prize was awarded for my vampire story Beautiful Biters. Project Over-Optimism, a trait I’m too often guilty of, started whispering in my ear straight away… This is it, Emma B! Netflix is coming for ya! I’ve calmed down considerably since then.

Anyway, this is the cover for the story, along with that nice winner badge on it…

And here is the blurb…

The first vampire attack happened on the way back from the hospital. My sister Rosie was four at the time. Miraculous it had taken that long…

Nineteen-year-old Maya has too much on her plate. Trying to protect her younger sister. Struggling with crushes on unsuitable guys.

Justin is a newly converted vampire, battling to resist the urge to kill and desperately worried about his brother, converted at the same time but AWOL ever since. If the authorities find him first, he’s toast.

When the two of them meet through the vampire Maya earmarks to help her with an exciting project aimed at making money, both are taken aback by the mutual attraction. First rule of vampire-human integration though…? You don’t go that far.

And while living in this bleak world poses its own hazards-not least because those in charge are too ready to ride rough shod over vampires and happy to accept backhanders, Maya and Justin still need to cope with the day to day stuff. Going to college, fighting with your mum, obsessing over the food you can’t eat, dealing with unpopularity and online trolls.

Champagne glasses picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Bubbles, books and #NaNoWriMo

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">This week, we’ve been thinking about bubbles…This week, we’ve been thinking about bubbles…

The fizzy ones you find in champagne came into use today* when I finished this year’s #NaNoWriMo. Cheers to me and all that, having completed the 50,000 words in one month challenge. But before I get too self-congratulatory, there is a lot of revising and editing to be done. As someone once said, the first draft of a book is a ‘word vomit’, a hot mess of ill-conceived ideas, open loops and plot holes a plenty.

If I toss them all up in the air, maybe they’ll fall onto the ground and make sense… Said no editor in the world ever. But hey ho, that’s next year’s job. The book is available to read on Wattpad.

The other bubbles involve family and friends. For those of you out with the UK, we are back in lockdown and have been for a while as wave two (or is it still one, seeing as the respite lasted about two weeks?) sweeps its way over our shores. But the UK government and the devolved administrations put their heads together and came up with… bubbles for Christmas.

You can travel. You can see people not in your household. In their or your house too. Only, don’t mix too many households. Three only, so bubble one, bubble two and bubble three can mix but not with anyone else. So if bubble three had a bubble one and two of their own (say, people unrelated to those in bubble one and two), then they are not supposed to mix them up.

Impossible to enforce and relying once again on common sense and decency. Some of us will be more cautious/law-abiding than others. No judgement, except on those who flagrantly break the rules. Anyway, we’re aiming for a mix of dinner with one household/outdoor walks with another one if the winter weather permits.

Finally, not bubble related unless you put it in a bubble called ‘complete escapism from what is happening all around us’, Highland Christmas is now available for pre-order! I have a small but devoted Highland Books fan club on Wattpad, and they made lots of lovely comments about this book, which was gratifying.

You can pre-order the book here (Amazon UK) and here (Amazon US)

This is the blurb:

Christmas—joy, happiness and family fun, right?

As new parents and the co-owners of a village hotel, Gaby and Jack are looking forward to some time out come the end of December… Sure, being in the hospitality industry means working when everyone else is off, but once they’ve waved goodbye to the hotel’s Christmas guests, it’s all hands on deck for family festivities.

But Gaby’s mum has other plans in mind—ones that set Gaby and brother Dylan on a collision course with her. Nanna Cooper’s not in the best of health and Katya is coping with heartbreak once more. Just who is her baby’s daddy? Dexter demands to know…

Meanwhile, Lachlan seems to be up to no good, meeting strangers late at night and handing over brown envelopes while Mhari, as ever, is poking her nose in everywhere. Caroline, the once super enthusiastic grandmother, seems to have lost her appetite for babysitting Evie.

Featuring misbehaving grandmothers, secretive brothers and a whole lot of laughs, Highland Christmas is a heart-warming tale of rural life in Scotland.

If money is tight, you can read the book for free on Wattpad, where you will find it under my user name @SavvyDunn.

*last night. I’m not a lush. Well, only half the time.

#NaNoWriMo 2020

ARGHHHHHH. I swore I wouldn’t do it, even tweeted saying ‘good luck, everyone but it’s not for me this year’… In the end, the lure of #NaNoWriMo proved too much to resist. Fifty thousand words here I come (hopefully).

Beautiful Biters, the first in the series

For those unfamiliar with the term, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The aim is to write 1,667 words a day every day in November, which gives you 50,000 words by the end, providing you stick to it.

I first took up the challenge in November 2018 and LOVED the whole process. There’s a website where you upload your progress and watching those words mount up provided extremely satisfying. I published that book in June 2019 and have since written and published three more in that series. Book five is due out this Christmas.

If nothing else, Coronavirus’s second wave here in the UK has awarded me time-a-plenty this month as we’re more or less back in strict lockdown. No visits to family or friends, no restaurants, pubs, cinemas, festivals, outings, fun whatsoever.

Anyway, for this year’s challenge, I intend to write the second in a planned three-parter about vampires. In the world I’ve created, humans and vampires live alongside each other because there’s a vaccine that makes human blood poisonous to vampires. Unfortunately, the right-wing government privatised healthcare some years ago, so not all humans have been immunised and the vaccination is now incredibly expensive.

A state licensing programme for vampires exists, one that oppresses them, and the government is far too fond of handing out the contracts for all vampire-related programmes to its incompetent mates.

Any of this sounding familiar…?

Anyway, my main characters are Maya (human) and Justin (vampire), both trying to work out how to flourish in this challenging world.

Here’s a short extract:

The vampire advancing on me, teeth bared and arms spread wide, stopped—his eyes rolling back, head tipping behind him as he tumbled to the ground.

“Are you okay?” I shrieked, darting over so I could thrust out a hand to help him up. We had been working on mind control techniques for an hour and this was the first time I’d disabled him. The kitchen floor was cheap laminate but solid underneath. The drop must have hurt.

Justin gripped my hand, grimace turning to grin.

Never date a vampire. They operate on crude levels. Sleep, blood lust and… plain ol’ lust. A sudden yank and I found myself on top of him.

“Now that you’re here,” he murmured in my ear, warm breath tickly. “Shall we forget this stupid lesson and do something else instead…?”

No mistaking the intent. That told me loud and clear. I hovered above him, propped up on my hands, hair falling forward. He blew out air, sending strands flying. I dipped my elbows to kiss him. Justin liked to work out. He approved of press-ups, particularly ones that brought two bodies closer together.

“Well, sir, if you insist,” I said, “though I should try it a few more times? Otherwise, how else am I going to fight off the baddies that want to suck the life out of my as yet unvaccinated sister?”

You can read the first book, Beautiful Biters, for free on Wattpad. The cover you can see above was created by the talented Jennifer Mijatovic (@wee_mij on Instagram check out the gorgeous sketches she does of her daughter). Isn’t it beautiful?

The inspiration behind a story…

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Write, Writer, Type, Machine, Creative, Idea, Novel

I write because I find bending words into shape hugely satisfying. The plot problem-solving element appeals too—so if a character does this, which results in that, how does the action move the plot on—kind of thing.

Inspiration comes from many things. During lockdown, I wrote a book based on a feature I heard on Radio 1*. When the UK’s shut-up-shop was announced at the end of March, Matt Hancock, the UK’s superb health secretary [inserts sarcasm font] was asked if people who had just started dating could still see each other.

Answer—no. But he did suggest if folks had recently hooked up, now was the ideal opportunity to find out if that relationship might work. The ultimate test. Locked up in one location 24/7, your only escape that one hour of allowed outdoor exercise every day.

Some days later, Radio 1 spoke to couples who’d done this. Met on Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, etc., and realised the new precautions against the spread of Covid-19 meant they wouldn’t see each other for weeks.

Right at the time when people had just hooked up for those heady first few dates. Hormones at the explosive stage, libidos fired up, every waking thought filled with the person they’d just met and what they wanted to do with them…

The people phoning into Radio 1 made that leap of faith and moved in with each other. My mind boggled. Fancy that! You’ve had three, four dates with someone and suddenly you’re in close proximity. Sharing a bed, bathroom, TV viewing habits, meals. Idiosyncrasies. Weirdness around food. Differing attitudes towards cleanliness in the home, etc. What an irresistible idea to explore.

And so A Leap of Faith was born—a couple who’ve only known each other three weeks and who make the decision to bunk up together. Even better, if the protagonist comes with too many pesky secrets and a long time aversion to talking about her past.

Last week, Radio 1 got in touch with one of the couples they’d spoken to at the start. Like a lot of people listening, I was on tenterhooks. In a world of relentless bad news—the Covid-19 cases are climbing steeply in the UK once more—please, please let Nigel and thingie (I can’t remember her name) still be together.

They were! They’d exchanged the l-word! They were dead happy! The nation, much in need to stories to cheer us up, rejoiced.

Anyway, if you’re at all curious about A Leap of Faith, you can read the story for free on Wattpad here…

*I’m way, way out of that station’s target demographic, by the way