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

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

The One That Got Away on #Wattpad

My writing journey took on a new direction this week—a short story of mine is included in one of Wattpad’s paid story anthologies. Theme; The One That Got Away.

(The British Englisher in me yearns to change ‘that’ to ‘who’. But I’m prepared for grammar gurus who are more educated than I am to correct me.)

Trivial worries aside, I’m delighted to have been included in the anthology, which features 29 others too who all pondered on what scenarios ‘the one that (who) got away’ might conjure up.

I took one of my existing characters, a guy exploring his sexuality post ‘coming out’ in the early 90s and gave him a poignant encounter. It led nowhere; it was still important.

Most of my books are available to read for free on Wattpad, which puts me in the same place as the writer, Paul Coehlo, a believer in finding readers before customers. (Though with his millions of sales, he can afford the freebies.)

But I’m grateful for the exposure of Wattpad and the hundreds of nice comments I’ve had there about my books. I’ve got a few ones on the platform I’ve never published but one of them started getting lots of love recently, which encourages me to get down to its long over-due revision so that I can finally publish it.

Here’s the story hook for my contribution to the book…

advert for the one that got away

You can read the book (it’s a paid story) on Wattpad here: https://my.w.tt/starsaligned and if you would like to read one of my complete novels on the platform, I’ve just finished A Leap of Faith, a COVID-19 lockdown love story. Find it here:

https://www.wattpad.com/story/221184355-a-leap-of-faith-a-covid-19-love-story-15%2B-complete

More #smallpleasures in lockdown

Greetings from the north, where the summer weather has returned to normal (cold and wet) and lockdown continues. Unlike our compatriots in England, we won’t be flocking to the pubs this weekend as licensed establishments in Scotland are not yet allowed to open.

(And I’m perfectly okay with that. Heck, what’s a Sunday Times wine club subscription for if not to power us through?!)

Anyway, I continue to get my kicks from the small things… Last Sunday, for instance, I visited Marks and Spencer’s food hall for the first time since March. Reader, I went DAFT. Marinated anchovies! Port Salud cheese! Artichokes in dressing! The best burgers ever. (It’s a bold claim but Marks and Spencer’s often justify their adverts for amazing food).

Marks and Spencer has always been a food shop you linger in, jumping from aisle to aisle and back again as you work out what to spend those precious pennies on. The pandemic has robbed us of that joy… but maybe it’s a good thing. I emerged with one paltry bag of shopping and £59 down. What might have happened if I’d spent longer in there?!

There is always the joy of cats too… We started this ‘thing’ where we feed them a chewy stick as a late night snack. I don’t know who enjoys it the more—me or the cats. As you can see from the picture, the treat isn’t doing little Lucy’s tummy any favours. And I’m rocking the granny slippers, right? Ahem.

Book sale royalties for my books on Amazon hit an all-time high in April. There’s a two-month delay getting the royalties, so the money went into my account at the end of June. Pleasing. I say that; there’s a caveat. A friend and I (Caron Allan) had a conversation recently where we discussed what number of book sales might send our hearts soaring. And agreed that we are impossible to please.

Is it that the curse of the writer? One day, you hit your personal best—and yet, the inner critic starts up straight away. Very good, Emma, but why isn’t it XX-amount? And what happens tomorrow when it drops back to the dismal normal? The mass buying of e-books does seem to have slowed, however, as countries begin the gradual (or rushed in places… England and the US, I’m looking at you) process of emerging from lockdown, and I noted fewer sales in May and June.

As summer as at its peak, my thoughts have turned to Christmas. I’ve embarked on the fifth and final (for now—who know how I might feel a year from now) Highland Book—Highland Christmas. I know, ten out of ten for originality. But it seems lot of people out there love Christmas-themed books.

I’ve also finished my urban fantasy/paranormal romance book (for any of you unfamiliar with the genre, its basic meaning is vampire romance) and if you are so inclined, you can read it on Wattpad for free: https://www.wattpad.com/story/207891524-beautiful-biters-an-urban-fantasy-paranormal

#smallpleasures in lockdown

Greetings from lockdown Scotland where we are still officially staying at home while our English chums have been encouraged to return to work if they can’t work from home.

But not if they use public transport and only if they stay alert. Or something.

File:M&S Food to Go, SUTTON, Surrey, Greater London.jpg ...This week’s treat on the #smallpleasuresmatter front was going to be a trip to Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food in Dumbarton. Boy, was I salivating at the thought… ooh, I’ll stare at the deli stuff and toss a dozen or so of those dinky little tubs in my basket! Perhaps they’ll have their marvellous dine in offer on, where I get a main course, two sides, pudding and a bottle of wine for a mere £12!

Hummus! Smoked Salmon! Cornish Cruncher Cheddar! The world’s best looking fruit!

Then, a news item popped up about how many diabetics were among the frighteningly high numbers of COVID-19 dead in this country. I reassessed the wisdom of coming into contact with that many people.

Oh well. Trump’s promising us a vaccine by the end of the year so maybe I’ll get to Marks & Spencer’s in time to stock up for Christmas*.

#smallpleasures2

In other news, Sandy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary earlier this week. Not with a meal out, obviously, but by walking around his golf course on a beautiful sunny day, sitting outside in the garden and drinking champagne, and rounding it all off with a nice meal.

And a short story I wrote earlier this year has been picked for a paid anthology that will be available on Wattpad later this summer. For the first time in my life, I signed a publishing contract. I even read it before e-scrawling my name on the dotted line.

Finally, after a lot of helpful feedback I have rewritten chunks of Highland Chances and hope to publish it in mid-June. Ebook sales have grown considerably, as you might expect seeing as many bookshops are shut worldwide and people aren’t ordering as many paperback deliveries from Amazon et al. I’ve noticed my own sales have increased, though I’m far off any time where I chuck the day job.

Here’s a picture of the lovely cover Enni Tuomisalo of yummybookcovers designed and the blurb.

3D book cover for Highland Chances by Emma Baird feel good fiction stories

“But, but, but what will you do with Highland Tours! No, not Highland Tours. Highland Handsome Tours, remember? Best Outlander experience in Scotland. You, number three on ‘the man my partner would give me a free pass to sleep with’ list and I don’t even mind!”

The Lochside Welcome is at the heart of Lochalshie—where the villagers gather to meet, gossip and eat Scotland’s finest pizzas.

Now, it’s under threat. The landlord’s ill, business has dropped away frighteningly quickly and the hotel at the end of the village keeps muscling in, scooping up tourists, weddings and even locals…

Can Gaby and Jack save the day? What with the ever-increasing work demands, rival hotel owners not above dirty tactics and the small matter of a life-changing event our couple are woefully ill-prepared for, it’s all hands on deck to try to ensure the Lochside Welcome survives another day…

If you love heart-warming, frothy fiction which comes with a side order of laughs, you’re in the right place.

Highland Chances is available for pre-order here.

 

*Like most sensible folks, I believe nothing that comes out of that buffoon’s mouth.

Writing in lockdown

What day is it—March the 97th as someone asked recently? One set of 24 hours segues into the next with little to differentiate them.

COVID-19—you’ve well outstayed your welcome on planet Earth. Not that we wanted you in the first place.

But boredom and confining ourselves to our homes is a tiny price to pay when the alternative is mass infection and deaths. So far, I know five people who have had the virus and recovered. No-one close to me has died. Fingers crossed tightly that continues.

Small pleasures…

The powers that be have now deemed it okay to get in your car and drive a short distance to a local beauty spot to go for a walk. My husband has promised me a trip to his golf course and a meander over it.

One of the regulars at my online Pilates class is now a grandma. We clapped. She has seen the baby from a distance.

Any meal I make that involves a creative reimagining of ingredients retrieved from the freezer or the back of cupboards (one year old? More?).

3D book cover for Highland Chances by Emma Baird feel good fiction storiesThis new and beautiful cover for the latest novel in my Highland Books series, Highland Chances… the graphic designer who made it for me is herself finishing off her latest book—a chick lit novel that features people travelling to New Zealand and working in cafes and bars, etc.

Did it now count, she asked, as historical romance?

Highland Chances, coincidentally, touches a lot on working from home. But similar to my designer friend, the book also has that feel of a time that will not return for months if not years. People in pubs. Large gatherings. Big parties in offices. Shaking hands with strangers*.

Some weeks ago, the radio station I listen to (BBC Radio 1—I’m way, way out of their target demographic) featured a couple of stories of people who’d only been dating for a few weeks when the lockdown kicked in.

As a writer, I found that impossible to resist, even though it feels crass and exploitative… But hey, writing is truly narcissistic. That urge to put it down on paper (well, the screen) overrides everything.

Anyway, here’s the intro:

The Leap of Faith

Things I don’t know about Tom:

  • What he takes in his coffee. If he likes coffee.
  • Who he voted for in the last election. Though I think I can guess.
  • When he came to Scotland.
  • His romantic history. A childhood sweetheart? A steady girlfriend up until now? Serial monogamy? Sexual encounters too numerous to list?
  • If he has siblings. His position in the family. (As the youngest child in a family of high achievers, I place a lot of stock in older/younger sibling dynamics and how that shapes you.)
  • His second name.

And yet tomorrow we are moving in together. More specifically, Tom will pack his bags into an old Ford Focus, drive the 35 minutes it takes to cross the city (less now we are in lockdown?) where I will welcome him with open arms. And try not to bleat, “Wipe your feet!” if he doesn’t do it automatically the second he enters my home.

Modern life, hmm? That old Abba classic keeps playing in my head, Take a Chance on Me. My family and friends queue up behind me, their expressions astonished. “Sophs! You’re, like, the least impulsive person ever! Why are you doing this?”

My brother nods his head fervently. My sister threatens a visitation. One where we conduct a two metres apart conversation. It takes place. I stand in the doorway and she yells at me from the garden gate, teenage daughter in tow, her phone in hand. She glances up briefly. “Yo, Aunt!” I sketch her a wave and hope it counts as cool in her world.

“Sophie!” my sister shrieks. “What do you know about this guy? He’ll have Googled you, you idiot! I bet he’s rubbing his hands together in glee.”

Her words are nothing I haven’t already said to myself. My mum’s face shimmers in front of me. Dark hair streaked with grey and wide-tipped glasses she pushes up her nose all the time. Her mouth twitches. “Well,” she says, “this is a turn up for the books! Devil may care. I love it!” In my head, she blows me a kiss. My eyes prickle.

I close my door, thanking Josie for her concern. Darla winks at me. Fifteen-year-old approval. I wait till her mother has turned to point her key at the car and wink back. Darla lifts her phone and mouths something at me. ‘Tell me what happens, yeah?’ my best guess.

The timing couldn’t be better though. As Josie’s ginormous pristine Land Rover pulls away, a dusty black Ford Focus slowly edges its way along the street, its driver alternately peering down and up—the universal look of someone using his phone to find an address.

I wave. He stops.

“Tom!” My enthusiasm is double, treble, quadruple what it might have been. Blame it on Josie. “Welcome to my humble abode.”

He gets out of his car and swears—the f-word too loud in our now traffic-subdued streets. “Jesus!” he says, the Irish accent turning it into Jayzus. “I’d no idea you were that grand.”

Things Tom doesn’t know about me.

Everything.

Thanks for reading! Highland Chances is now available for pre-order at Amazon here, and if you want to find out if Sophie and Tom’s fledgling relationship makes it, you can read the story for free on Wattpad.

© Emma Baird 2020

*Someone suggested that we employ the late 18th/early 19th century methods of greeting people a la Jane Austen from now on—a courtly bow or a small curtsey. An excellent idea, hmm?