The Top Ten Facebook Crimes – Chapter Five

facebook userBook Number Three, Chapter Five

Chapter One – An Unexpected Start to a Sunday Morning

Chapter Two – Sleeping on Your Front

Chapter Three – Destination Obal B

Chapter Four – Half a Hot Dog in a Handbag

 

Sunday morning into the afternoon, somewhere in the city.

I appear to have turned into a Facebook bore.

I know, Facebook. Like, who would bother when you’ve got Twitter, and Instagram? I just used to go on it for the occasional nose, and maybe once or twice I posted a pic of me and various other people getting drunk, or one of Corky the cat doing his cute-sy stuff. I maybe posted something once or twice a month.

I never posted up inspirational quotes about love, friendship and/or fitness, or a bet that 97 percent of my friends would never share this earnest quote about cancer, or reply to a post with one word, and preferably a word that was flattering, that described me.

But now? Now I seem to do all the above. And yet at the same time, I have ten times the number of friends on Facebook I used to have and people keep sharing my shite. Those inspirational quotes seem to be very popular indeed, and my Facebook friends appear to love all those sickly pictures and videos of cute kids I keep posting.

And not one person has made a sarcastic comment about this: Celebrating our 20th year of marriage. Can’t believe we’ve been together and so happy for so long. Love you so much baby. You’re the best which was posted a week ago.

20th year? Well, that ties in with the dodgy wedding pic on the landing I guess. Continue reading

Kelly’s 40th

sweet wrappersI seem to have hit my stride – discovered what I really like writing about, and that makes writing really easy.

It turns out I like writing about the emotional ups and downs of Scottish women in their 40s. As I’m a Scottish woman in my 40s, then maybe that’s not surprising. Write about what you know, right?

Anyway, here is chapter one of what I’m writing now. It does contain some adult content and bad language, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, please don’t read any further.

 

 

January

Hey @Kelly1976! Just to let you know we can’t make ur 40th on Sat. Bit of an epic Christmas & New Year. Sorry! Sure it’ll be fab #Kelly40!

Wow. An “I’m not-coming” RSVP via Twitter. That had to be a first, setting a new lower-than-ever standard for etiquette. It was the day before her party, and the unwritten rules of politeness according to Kelly Thompson was that if you had to cancel at short notice you did it by phone.

A text or email was bad enough – but Twitter was public. Said friend had just revealed how (not) special she thought Kelly was and told millions of people at the same time.

Having a birthday on the 3rd of January had always put her at a disadvantage. As a child, most people had chosen to give her joint birthday and Christmas presents, and Kelly always suspected that the combined value did not add up to the same amount as two separate gifts. The same rule applied to birthday parties. Her younger and older sisters both had birthdays in the summer. Their celebrations felt quite distinct from Christmas.

Children and teenagers were quite happy to party any time – it didn’t matter to them that Christmas and New Year had only just taken place – though her mother often tried to move the party closer to New Year so she could see her friends at the same time. But at least in her youth, those Kelly invited always came to her parties.

Unlike now. She ought to be used to it. For the last 12 years or so, there had been a marked reluctance from friends and even family to throw themselves enthusiastically into any birthday celebrations precisely because of the proximity to the festive season. It hurt then, it still did.

It rankled all the more because she was single. If she had a partner, perhaps he would have booked her into a top hotel – the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire perhaps – for a weekend, spa appointment, taster menu and the finest selection of wines all included. Then, she supposed she wouldn’t give a flying fuck about organising a party or some kind of special celebration with friends to mark the passing years. Nope, she’d be too busy listening to the sommelier as he explained precisely why this particular white went so well with the amuse bouche she was about to eat, as her imaginary husband/partner toasted her, embarrassing her by telling the waiters they had to treat her very well, as the love of his life was 40 today.

Of course, in this little daydream, the waiters all protested vehemently. “Forty? No, no. That’s can’t be possible. Surely madam is celebrating her 30th birthday today?”

Sighing, Kelly stood up and stretched raising her arms high above her head. As a freelancer, she mostly worked from home and that meant spending long hours in front of her PC. Some years ago, she’d invested in one of those Swiss ball chairs which was meant to help with posture – forcing you to sit up straight instead of slouching forward. It was effective, but it didn’t make up for the hours she put in for her various clients. You just weren’t meant to sit for long periods of time.

Outside, it was your typical early January early evening in Glasgow. The rain had been falling steadily all day, and the skies hadn’t brightened from gun-metal grey. At this time of year, the days were short, but this one had felt particularly short because it had been so overcast. She’d had to switch on the lights in her Merchant City flat at three o’clock. The blinds were all firmly pulled down now, and the place felt cosy.

Despite its city centre location, Kelly’s flat was quiet. It was located at the back of the block in Wilson Street and thus not near to the main road. Her windows were triple glazed and the old building featured thick walls. The worst noise was often seagulls – who could start up early in the mornings, but not at this time of the year. She wasn’t on the side nearest to the area’s pubs either. The flat’s relative peace and quiet was an advantage she hadn’t fully appreciated until a few months into her move there. She’d befriended one of her neighbours – a gay guy, who lived on the same floor but whose flat faced the opposite direction. The noise difference was considerable. He had often knocked on the door at night, begging her to let him in so he could sleep in her spare room in the days before she’d turned it into her office, the noise at his side of the building too much for him. Kelly had agreed, secretly thrilled as it felt a bit like having a boyfriend or partner. She always hoped that other people coming down the stairs noticed them leaving her flat together in the morning and thought of them as a couple.

It helped that Josh was incredibly good looking. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he was at least taller than her and he had inherited some impeccable genes from his French mother – olive-skin that always tanned at the merest hint of sun, thick, dark hair, huge Bambi eyes and cheek bones to die for. He was a rower too, and it showed – his shoulders and arms muscular and his torso patterned with lines that defined the much sought after six-pack. He’d let Kelly touch it the first time she’d seen it, her jaw dropped in awe.

“Is that real?” she’d stuttered, and he’d smirked. “Too right. That’s what marks a gay man from a straight one – the care he takes of his body. Darling, I’m a slave to the gym.”

Naturally, his chest was hairless too. And yes, he also favoured the back, sack and crack wax. She hadn’t seen the evidence of that at the time, but some months later after a riotous night out, he’d happily showed her and her best friend Nell what a hairless backside and balls looked like.

“Weirdly naked,” Nell said, and then asked if she could touch them. Kelly protested, but Josh let her, saying it was the closest he’d been to a woman since the age of 14. The three of them watched in interest to see what his cock would do. It slowly stiffened, Josh shrugging apologetically and then glancing at the two of them speculatively.

“I don’t suppose…?”

Nell had looked on the verge of agreeing to whatever, but Kelly stepped in. “Absolutely not! One, you’re gay Josh, and two, Nell’s married.” She held her hand up as Nell murmured that giving a gay man a hand job wasn’t technically infidelity, surely.

“Yes, it is! What do you think Daniel would say if you explained to him that you’d just jerked off another man? Want me to throw a bucket of ice water over that Josh?”

Both of them looked suitably chastened, the change in mood backed up by Josh’s rapidly deflating erection.

Kelly supposed it was his fault she was so fussy these days. He’d set the standard for how a man should look if she were to fancy him, and his image often popped up in her mind when a man stripped off in front of her for the first time. Much as she tried not to, Josh’s torso would float enticingly in front of her, obscuring the view of saggy man boobs, and a stomach that rounded outwards.

At least she could count on him to be there tomorrow night. Josh had moved out a few years ago – his BBC Scotland job allowing him to upgrade and buy a house in the west end of Glasgow. He’d also met someone, marrying the guy last year when the laws had changed to allow marriage and not just civil partnership.

Moving into the kitchen, Kelly opened the door of the cupboard – the high-up one where she deliberately kept her stash of chocolate in order that it was out of reach. The little psychological trick – out of sight, out of mind – had its limits, and inside that cupboard was several blocks of Dairy Milk, truffles and boxes of wraps that clients had given her at the start of the holidays.

There was another disadvantage of the January birthday thing, especially when you were approaching the big 4-0. Didn’t most women embark on a fevered diet before their fortieth – vowing that the old saying, fair, fat and 40 would not apply?

If your birthday was in early January, though, you had weeks of festive feasting just behind you snapping at your heels. All those Christmas parties and huge meals that marked out December – rich, luxurious foods people didn’t usually eat. Mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing, cakes and puddings galore. This year, Kelly’s mother Rose had gone completely over the top. Her oldest daughter Louisa had come to hers for Christmas, having spent all of the Christmases since she’d been married with her in-laws. Louise had decided early on that her in-laws were far worthier of attention and attendance than her own family.

Conscious of the honour, Rose went all out, anxious to create a feast so magnificent her fussy oldest daughter would never go anywhere else again. Once the attendance had been confirmed, she had rushed off to the shops and bought every food magazine she could get her hands on, flicking through them feverishly in the search for the best menu she could find. The resultant Christmas meal had included canapes, a first course, a fish course, the main course, pudding and cheese and biscuits. Kelly had thought she might pop afterwards. Josh would have told her, “Well, you can always say no, can’t you?”. As if it was that simple. Rose was a feeder. She took refusals to eat her food personally. A person had to say “no” at least three or four times before she stopped offering you second helpings. Most of the time, it was easier to wearily accept.

There had been lots of leftovers and everyone had been sent away with foil-wrapped packages. As Kelly was the family’s only vegetarian, the goat’s cheese and mushroom pie hadn’t been touched by anyone else, so off she went with enough food to feed eight people. Her mother had perfect hands for pastry and what she’d made for this pie was flaky and light. Kelly had also ended up the recipient of 12 mince pies, lots of cheese straws and a white chocolate cheesecake that only had a quarter missing from it.

She had left the food in her fridge from a few days, in which time she had made some serious dents in the cheesecake, but eventually she threw it all out, covering the lot with washing-up liquid to deter any bin raids late at night.

Continue reading

The Joys of Internet Research

nailsHow did writers manage years ago – research-wise?

I’m a big believer in the powers of the search engine. Ask a question – any question – and someone’s asked it before you. Here’s a case in point. Yesterday, I wanted to describe someone going into a beauty salon. Those of you who do make use of salon services, particularly nail bars, will know there’s a certain very strong, chemical smell associated with them. What is it?

I began to type the words, “what does a nail salon” in. By the time I’d typed “sm”, auto fill had kicked in, and the suggestion “What does a nail salon smell like” appeared.

Dead Cats

The first site I found was on answers yahoo – and funnily enough, was from someone writing about nail salons and wanting to know what that smell is. The answers weren’t terribly helpful. Someone had suggested dead cats, but one or two sites later and I had my answer.

Ethyl acetate.

That’s just one example. For the book I’ve just finished (first draft only), I needed to know if exploding cars happen often, what takes place at a memory clinic, how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, what happens during a medical termination, when Glasgow Caledonian became a university, if Botox is a brand name or a generic name for face-freezing injections, and the lyrics to a number of songs,* all of which was revelaed with some judicious searching.

Alternative Words

Then there’s the joy of the online thesaurus. You discover you’ve just used the same word three times in the last two paragraph and off you head to the thesaurus to find an alternative.

I have no idea how writers managed before the internet. Did they save up all their queries and then go to the library? Did they have to phone people up? Would the novelist writing about a nail salon 25 years ago have phoned up a salon and asked the question? As a result of the difficulties of research, did writers just write about things they knew a lot about?

Thanks heavens for the internet, hmm?

 

*Those lyrics might need to come out. I’m trying to work out if I would need to pay a fee for them, if I misquote them slightly, or have characters speak the lyrics to each other. There’s more information about using lyrics in your writing here.

Preposterous Endings and Implausible Plots

The burnt-out car - it doesn't happen half as much as Hollywood would have you believe.

The burnt-out car – it doesn’t happen half as much as Hollywood would have you believe.**

Last week, I watched a film I thought preposterous and a book that featured an implausible plot.

It made me think because when you’re a writer you imagine various scenarios in your head, trying them out to see if they work or not, and rejecting plenty of ideas because they seem unbelievable.

It’s the biggest contradiction about fiction – good films and books need to be believable. Even if you’re writing about teenage boy wizards and their adventures saving the world from a malevolent man everyone fears to name. (Except for the said teenage boy wizard.)

By the time I’d got to the end of Jason Bourne, I had switched off. The last car chase (and there had been a few beforehand) seemed ludicrous, as did the final fight which was long, drawn out and physically impossible. Films like to throw together the main good guy and the main bad guy for a final fight, the main bad guy always managing to miraculously escape everyone else’s efforts to bring him down.

The book I read* featured three women who managed to set up a business together which was of course an immediate success. They all managed to find the loves of their lives at the same time so that the book had a happy – and very neat – ending.

It did make me think though. Should writers spend too much time worrying about the plausibility of their plots? Does it make something less enjoyable if the ending is predictable and unrealistic?

Plenty of us go to the cinema or read books for escapism. When life’s pretty uncertain, why not watch something or curl up with a book where you know the goodies will win, the baddies will get their just desserts and the heroine will find love?

I’m currently fretting over several elements of my own book, wondering if they are realistic enough. I’m worried about a car crash, where a car conveniently explodes (forums online suggest car explosions are nowhere near as common as Hollywood makes out), the progress of an old woman’s Alzheimer’s (I suspect I’ve made it too quick for plot reasons) and the timings of some revelations that I fear have come too thick and fast.

Making something interesting and making it believable don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but I’d rather write a book that people read and don’t feel forced to mutter, “Oh, for God’s sake! Seriously?” or “What a load of rubbish!”

 

 

 

*I don’t like giving mean book reviews, so I’ll keep the book’s identity a secret. And actually, I did quite enjoy it.

**Picture thanks to Jeff Buck.

Y’know? No – That’s Why You’re Telling Me

microphoneYears ago, people who weren’t used to public speaking or presentations would pepper their speeches with ums, ahs and ers.

The good old days, hmm? The modern equivalent is “you know”. If you’re a regular listener to podcasts as I am you will hear this phrase repeatedly. Americans are particular offenders, but the practice is spreading.

I find it grating. The odd use here and there is okay – although I’d prefer an er or an um – but I listen to podcasts where people use it every few words.

If you listen to broadcasting professionals, such as those who present BBC radio shows for example, you probably won’t hear the phrase. “You know” separates the professionals from the amateurs. To stop using it, or at least to stop over-using it, a presenter needs to slow speech down.

There’s a tendency these days for people to talk too fast. Modernity encourages short attention spans so we all speak quickly, desperate to get our multiple points across. If you listen to old broadcasts or speeches from politicians, you will notice how slowly they speak. Slower speech sounds more authoritative and measured.

Sometimes I find myself using it in speech. It slips in if you haven’t given enough thought to what you are saying. If you’re an offender, keep this in mind:

“You know?” I don’t know. That’s why you’re telling me.

 

Deep-Fried Marshmallows

If you’ve ever worked with clients, you’ll probably know what I mean by this short story.

Fish_n_chips“The thing is with clients… they know for sure what they don’t want, but seldom know what they do want.”

“Too right! You’re expected to be part magician/part mind reader.”

“My mind reading skills have failed me of late.”

“Well, the usual trick is to give them the opposite of what they asked for.”

“Mmm, might work. When I gave them what they requested, they hated it.”

“Oh – they really didn’t like the battered, deep-fried marshmallows with ketchup?”

“Not one bit of it.”

“You could try fish, and maybe serve it with some fried potatoes?”

“I’ll give it a shot.”

 

©Emma Baird 2016

Cat in a Box!

cats in boxesLike many cats, mine loves a new box. I open it up, empty out the contents and in he jumps. There’s usually a bit of proprietorial scratching too as he marks it out as his new toy.

At least it distracts him from wanting to sit beside my laptop. It’s always the left side and it usually involves disabling the caps lock key. On a few occasions, he’s managed to turn the laptop off – two times, I was in the middle of composing complicated emails. The emails vanished. Once, I was updating a book, changing a few words here and there. That wasn’t saved either and I had to rely on my becoming-increasingly creaky memory.

Cat experts suggest you install a supervisory shelf in your home office – some kind of high-up structure that allows your cat to survey everything and sleep if he wants. I’ve tried putting a box with a blanket on my desk, just the blanket and a pile of paper. But nothing is quite as nice as the naked left-hand side of my laptop.

The non-cat lovers among you might be thinking the obvious: can’t you just shut him out of the room? For years, we’ve operated an open door policy. If there’s nothing a cat likes more than a new box, there’s nothing he hates more than a closed door. Besides, being head-butted by an attention-seeking cat is kind of cute, hmm?

The joys of working from home include spending more time with your loved ones, pets included.

The Woman Who Died a Lot – a Review

The Woman Who Died a Lot (Thursday Next, #7)The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s a while since I’ve read a Jasper Fforde book – and this one did not disappoint. Here’s advice to anyone new to JF. When you start reading, it will seem like absolute nonsense, but persist. Ride the nonsense roller coaster and you’ll be rewarded.

Like all previous Thursday Next novels, the gags and puns come thick and fast. Explanations for common-place things – such as why Aldi never has any brands you recognise – are witty. The mocking of local government and large corporations is cleverly done.

There’s a lot in this book that will make you smile. I loved the idea of hard-core librarians, feared more than the SAS.

Another added bonus are the illustrations and the postcards at the back. Pictures used to be commonplace in books – up until the First World War when they disappeared because of paper shortage. It’s nice to see them.

I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who is new to Jasper Fforde because it helps to know a bit of background about Thursday, the main character. Start at the beginning with The Eyre Affair and work your way onwards.

View all my reviews

100 Not Out – A Review

100 Not Out100 Not Out by Gordon Lawrie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Searching for something to read for your commute – whether that’s for work or for a flight out on summer holidays? Try 100 Not Out. The author has collected together examples of his flash fiction, i.e. very short stories, grouping them in categories such as love, crime, politics and more. Many of the stories will make you laugh out loud – they will certainly make you think.

A light, but satisfying read. I’d thoroughly recommend it.

View all my reviews