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.
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.
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.
<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.
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.
Chips eaten outside, dodging the jellyfish on the beach and long queues for ice-creams—welcome to the new look of holidays in the UK.
Our first Covid-19-tinged holiday took place this week when we went to St Andrews for a couple of nights. When I say, ‘new look’, our trip harked back to the 1950s and the days before mass market excursions abroad—the kind of holiday you see in black and white photos. Men in slacks, women in dresses, small children holding buckets and fishing nets.
Here in Scotland, the lockdown has eased more gradually than in England, but overnight trips were allowed on 15 July and we pre-empted it by booking two nights at the Premier Inn some weeks before.
The joy of difference
Just as well. Bookings shot up that week as people anticipated the joy of leaving your house and hometown. My sister tried numerous campsites in the south west of Scotland before managing to find a holiday home in Gatehouse for her family’s annual summer holiday. Their destination of choice is usually France.
Thanks to lockdown, collective expectations are much lower these days. I found myself genuinely thrilled to walk the streets of somewhere that was not Dumbarton. As for eating food I hadn’t made myself… my cup it runneth over.
Having travelled on the motorbike, we arrived in St Andrews on Thursday afternoon. The atmosphere in the town was 100 percent giddy ‘first day after the end of the school year’. I hadn’t seen so many people in the flesh in one place since March. It felt odd, liberating and foolish all at once.
We’d arranged to meet my mum and her partner, and my sisters and their families outside the Tail End chippie—its queue snaking down the street. My oldest nephew elbow bumped us seeing as hugs are still suspect.
Fish and chips bought and the weather obliging (never a guarantee in Scotland), we found a spot to sit in the grounds of Madras College all of us revelling in the novelty of in-person rather than Zoom chats.
If there is a finer meal than fish and chips when super-fresh fish has been cooked with skill, I’ve yet to find it. If there’s a better way to enjoy a meal than with those you love when you haven’t seen them for months, I’m not sure what that is either.
Later, my mum, sisters and their kids joined the queue for the ice-cream shop. Half of them gave up ten minutes later. My youngest sister and her son persisted, returning 45 minutes later ice-cream dripping down hands.
Later that day, Sandy and I ventured out for dinner. Not everywhere was open. Were some of the shuttered businesses casualties of Covid-19 themselves, unable to survive without the customers denied to them by lockdown? Those that had opened put arrangements in place—operating at a smaller capacity, hand sanitisers prominent, cutlery wrapped in plastic and no condiments on the tables. Staff all masked. Signs on the walls with QR codes you scanned in, so that you can be traced should the horrid virus resurface.
Sandy lifted his beer glass to clink against my wine. Throughout the day, I’d saved up snippets of conversation I thought might interest him, worried that we might have lost the art of talking to each other. When you’re stuck in the house for meal after meal, who bothers with conversation when you can switch on the TV instead?
The thrill of being out
An indifferent meal—I opted for the trendy vegan option of deep-fried cauliflower with vegan mayonnaise, the batter and sauce on it far too salty and chilli-hot—but the thrill of being out! Asking other people to bring you things! Dirty plates that you don’t need to wash whisked away!
We managed the chat.
On the Friday, we bought food for a picnic and decamped to the beach. Around us, groups set themselves up. Kites decorated the skies. Small children dashed into the waves, their parents calling out warnings about jellyfish. I fell asleep, cocooned in super-soft sand. We walked along the shoreline, water deliciously warm at foot paddling level, and eyes glued to where our feet landed to dodge the blue-y blobs.
Another pub—this one lined with photos of the owner with famous golfers. Even on the ceiling she smiled down on us. They’d erected Perspex screens around all the booths. Your eyes adjusted quickly, and the screens sort of disappeared. Next to us, a couple (regulars I gathered from the conversation they had with one of the members of the staff) tucked into a huge burger and chips, and nachos while we looked on tongues hanging out.
Restaurant food once more
In the evening, I requested an Indian. Takeaways are all well and good, but it’s the kind of food that tastes best straight from the kitchen. This one, the blackboard said outside, was run by a graduate of St Andrews. All well and good, but could whoever produce sublime food..?
Answer—yes. The aubergine and saag paneer I ate was fresh, expertly spiced and served in elegant sufficiency portions.
A change is as good as a rest, so the saying goes. I can vouch for it—two days of difference in weeks where Monday looks like Tuesday, which is the same as Wednesday and so on. The news yesterday that Scotland has seen the biggest daily rise in new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in almost a month—21 cases in the last 24 hours, the biggest daily increase since 21 June. What can you do though? Stay confined to your home and its immediate surroundings (and there are plenty of people who will choose to and who should do that) or muddle your way through in what you hope is as risk-free a way as possible?
Now I’ve tasted freedom, I want more… another two nights somewhere sleeping on an unfamiliar bed, trying out unknown restaurants (the good and the bad), walks on the beach, a view that isn’t the Crags and the Kilpatrick hills, magnificent as they are.
Here’s to more of them.
Quick writing update…
I’m working on what I hope is the fifth and final of my Highland Books. Highland Fling was going to be a one-off that changed to a trilogy. Then book four wriggled its way to the top of my conscious, so that demanded a fifth… In the meantime, I wrote a lot of short stories featuring the minor characters that I plan to incorporate into a companion book for the series.
You can buy and read the Highland Books via these links:
Anyway, Highland Christmas is about… well, no prizes for working that one out, Sherlock. Here’s a tiny extract (with apologies to Jane Austen for pinching part of one of her best-known lines):
“Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you!”
Evie, my daughter, was used to attention. As Lochalshie’s youngest villager, she spent most of her time being passed from person to person all of them cooing at her and exclaiming at her likeness to Jack. Whenever she found herself back in his arms, the cooing intensified.
It’s a truth universally known to mothers. All a dad needs to do is hold his baby, jiggle her up and down a bit and he qualifies as the father of the year. Meanwhile, we women stir ourselves from sleep three hours earlier than we would have liked, spend our days running around after our tiny tyrants juggling a job at the same time and dealing with our extended family before finally flopping into bed at 10pm, exhausted.
Only to shudder into consciousness an hour later when Baba decides she is bored of sleeping. She scrambles out of my arms, delighted at the escape from the cot. Planted on the floor, she makes a beeline for Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends, yanks them from the railway and smashes them together—one cheeky glimpse upward at me. I try bargaining. Evie, beautiful girl! Your cot is so cosy! And warm! Why don’t I pick you up, put you back in there and…
Cue wailing. That’ll be a ‘no’ then. We’re back to Smashing Thomas into the fat controller (who came up with these names?) and me bargaining with various deities, the universe, the moon and the stars that the first one of them who persuades Evie to sleep wins my undying loyalty.
But I digress. Today was Evie’s first birthday and we were celebrating it in where else but the Lochside Welcome. Parenting gurus look away now. Yes, it is the public bar of a hotel. But Jack and I are part of the consortium that owns it. Our daughter belongs here. When almost the entire village thought they’d received an invite to her birthday and told me how much they were looking forward to it, we decided it would be far easier to host her party there anyway. Our home was nowhere near big enough.
The party attendees were gathered here now. Jack had strewn the bar with the pink, silver and white bunting I had designed and helium balloons. You’d think he’d never had a kid before. He hadn’t.
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.
Probably not–the bulk of my blog readers are not authors so this annual event means not a jot to them. Unless they are reading the products… (And here is the one I wrote last year, Highland Fling.)
NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month (international, more accurately) where would-be and already published authors attempt to write a novel in 30 days.
When I say novel, again the more accurate description is 50,000 words (novel length ish). But International 50,000 Word Writing Month does not scan as well so NaNoWriMo it is!
To finish 50,000 words in 30 days, your daily word count is 1,667 words a day. I LOVED the exercise last year. It made me fall in love with writing again. The book I wrote has since grown arms and legs in the form of a follow-up, Highland Heart and another book in development, Highland Wedding. Maybe in due time I will end up with Highland Divorce, swiftly followed by Highland Funeral.
Stats and targets
If you sign up to NaNoWriMo officially, i.e. by creating an account on the website, you get to add in your daily writing word count and the system presents you with stats—time to target and that kind of thing. Personal stats make me drool as yes, I am that OCD-person, clicking refresh and sync all the time and deriving intense satisfaction from every update.
Thirty days is often cited as a ‘magical’ tool. From exercise (100 squats a day for a month) to abstention (Dry January and Sober October*), four weeks of doing something consistently is reckoned to lead to better habits.
I concur. I was already writing extensively prior to NaNoWriMo, but the exercise turned me into a writing MACHINE. Since then, I can count the creative writing days off on one hand.
Write, write, write
A year of writing Monday to Sundays, taking my laptop on trains and planes, getting up early to write before work, writing in the evenings in front of the television (appalling habit, I know), and telling myself constantly writer’s block does not exist. Push on through and the words come.
Having said all that, I am not doing NaNoWriMo this year. A sad sentence to type, but I am in the middle of revising two books. I love the lure of the shiny new, and would much rather start a brand new book than rework an already created manuscript. Discipline, the better Emma Baird growls at me, nothing new until you finish what you have already started.
However, the beauty of NaNoWriMo is… YOU CAN DO IT ANYTIME. Dry January and NaNoWriMo in one fell swoop to begin 2020?
*All the better for leading up to Bender December, right?
Ah, the modern world! Fabulous in so many ways… where once upon a time if you wanted ad images for anything you needed a ginormous budget, nowadays cheap tech solutions will rustle you up something in no time at all…
These images for Highland Heart are via BookBrush.com – you upload your cover and voila! Seconds later, there’s the image. My favourite one is the picture above left because I love the hardback version. But the featured image also appeals because who doesn’t love the idea of a cosy autumn night in, slippers on, hot drink nearby and book in hand?
Highland Heart is the second romcom book in my series set in the highlands of Scotland (as the title suggests), and it explores what happens when the honeymoon stage of a relationship wears off… It’s out October 10.
Here you see me (just) pretending to be a chic, hipster digital nomad*… sitting on a balcony in Crete tapping away on my keyboard as I put together the finishing touches to Highland Heart.
It is a treat to be able to sit in the sunshine and type. Even if cheapskate me didn’t bother splashing out the extra twenty quid on a glare-proof screen for my laptop when I bought it six years ago. *Sighs.*
And in Crete, factor in slathering yourself in insect repellent as well as sun cream. Those beasties are vicious. And they hone in on wherever you are unprotected. *Squirms from a bite in a delicate place.*
It is fitting to be a writer in Crete, seeing as the early Minoan populations that lived there were among the first in Europe to read and write—writing systems referred to as Linear A and B, mainly developed to help them document the sheer amount of olive oil, wine, honey and crops those civilisations had.
The writing system is thought to date back to the second millennium BCE.
But yes, dear chums. Highland Heart is now on pre-order on Amazon and is out October 10th, when I hope it will spring to the top of the charts and make me a goodly sum of money. Sprint? I’d settle for a gentle stroll so long as those sales figures always head in the upward direction. It’s the follow-up to Highland Fling and the third book, Highland Wedding, will be published in time for Christmas.
*Two weeks away from home a year do not make me a digital nomad.
Beautiful wedding dresses, hunky Korean male models and delicious rice dishes… I’m writing a new book and I’ve put together a board on Pinterest with pictures to inspire me.
I don’t consider myself all that visual, but this time Googling what things look like has been terrifically helpful. First off, I wanted an attractive man to serve as a secondary love interest so I typed in Korean male models. (Research—so hard!) I picked these two delightful gents and now I picture them when I’m writing the scenes my character appears in. I’ve called him Hyun-Ki in my book—partly because it sounds so close to ‘hunky’.
Next, I needed a wedding dress—the kind of thing you might find in a designer shop where the dresses on the mannequins never have a price label on them. I found this Antonio Berardi version. Isn’t it absolutely beautiful? I particularly like the high neckline and the asymmetric hem. And as for the train—a thing of beauty, no?
My characters go to a Korean restaurant so in the interests of research I looked up recipes, stumbling on the gorgeously-titled bibimbap—Korea’s national dish. It’s a mix of rice and veggies, topped with strips of beef, a fried egg and spicy sauce. You use chopsticks to break the yolk and mix it in to the dish along with the sauce.
If you’d like the recipe, it is here. And I’ve included the picture of the dish I made, which was the not-as-pretty as the BBC food version one. Gochugang sauce isn’t widely available so I used sriracha instead, which is super spicy so you don’t need as much.
As my heroine’s intended looks like Jamie Fraser of Outlander fame (or Sam Heughan the actor who plays him), I needed pictures of Jamie/Sam for my board too, and found plenty of lovely ones.
Finally, I looked up wedding cakes. You can find amazing cakes online, but I decided my home-made one topped the lot.
Click bait title, hmm? I’m running an ad campaign for Highland Fling, attempting to educate myself in the mysterious world of keywords.
I plugged my romcom book’s details in the Google Adwords keyword planner and one of the suggestions it threw back was ‘I need a new bum’. Low competition for that one apparently, but between 1k to 10k searches a month and a bid range of between 14-17 pence.
I get it—sort of. The Algorithm Gods who now rule our lives have waded their way through the tonnes of data we willingly hand over and decided a fair proportion of people who buy romantic comedies also worry about the gluteus maximus bit of themselves. Therefore, as they type the words (or ask Alexa) ‘I need a new bum’, a link to a romantic comedy book appears and they decide to buy that instead.
Tempting as it is to snigger at those stories, it is part of an overall trend towards body dissatisfaction fuelled by social media. As a teenager I only had magazines, TV and film to worry about and that was bad enough. Imagine living with a constant stream of too perfect images you hold in your hand…
Talking of which… Instagram announced this week that it might phase out visible ‘likes’ for posts on the platform—i.e. the likes for posts will be private so there is less competition between people to get reactions. This doesn’t bother me. As someone who has a following of less than 80 people, I never get that many likes anyway. So if only one or two people like my self-congratulatory posts about my books and there is no display of it, who cares?
Instagram, like other social media platforms before it, gave rise to influencers—i.e. people with huge followings who were then courted by companies to promote their products. The most famous example are the Kardashians whose social media accounts are reckoned to bring them in millions of dollars.
Kylie Jenner’s make-up company leveraged that popularity, helping to turn her into a ‘self-made’ billionaire by the age of 21. (Like many other people, I dispute the Forbes’ classification of Kylie Jenner as ‘self-made’.)
If the likes for a picture of a fashion influencer wearing a pair of trainers or new duds courtesy of Top Shop or the likes do not show up, how do those influencers ‘prove’ their worth? Will they still get the freebies and the bungs if others cannot see how popular a post was?
Anyway, back to keywords. Will ‘I need a new bum’ get me sales and am I cynical enough to try it? Here’s hoping and yes.
Checking my viewing figures for my stories on Wattpad. See number two for other examples of pathetic cravings for external validation.
Wandering the house looking for the cat so I can interrupt his busy sleeping schedule and tell him he is the loveliest diddly-dumpkins in the whole wide world.
For the love of all things holy let me SLEEP
Doing housework. No, really. If you are under the illusion that I’m a clean freak (see the reference to cleaning blogs above), I’m not but if housework delays that moment of putting pen to paper, I embrace it.
Updating my writer chums with long, detailed emails about my progress on the Work In Progress and exchanging moans about book sales.
Researching stuff. Does anyone else get this—where a random question strikes you and you think to yourself, ‘Aha! That’s the first thing I’ll do when I go online. Find out the history of the Medicis.’* And then you vanish down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia, emerging hours later with more knowledge than you’ll ever need about Renaissance Florence.
Checking your social media accounts. “I need to do this,” you tell yourself, “for professional reasons and not because I’ll get sucked into whatever is trending on Twitter and get caught up in conversation threads for hours on end.”
Pacing the floor because steps. If I stay in front of my laptop for too long, my entire body will seize up and I’ll be rushed to A&E where the doctors will need to perform emergency surgery to unbend my limbs. Better walk about a LOT then.