Category Archives: Emma’s thoughts

Men in Kilts (and the women who love them…)

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.56.47One of the advantages of a Kindle is that the moment you’ve finished a good book, you can download the sequel, or more by the same author, right away. E-books can also be dirt-cheap, or even free, which gives me the impetus to explore genres and authors I wouldn’t previously have tried.

One of the downsides of the Kindle is the amount of (often self-published) weirdness out there…

I’ve been addicted to Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous ‘Outlander’ series since a friend recommended them last year. They hit every button for me – amazing settings, suspenseful plots, masses of fascinating historical detail, a strong-minded heroine and a frankly swoonworthy hero. The first book has just been made into a TV series (available on Amazon Prime) and though at first I had doubts about the casting of the book’s iconic Jamie Fraser, I’ve loved every minute. I’ve been saving the last (8th) book in the series to read later, because I’m pretty sure that either Jamie or the heroine Claire is going to die, and I’m not ready to lose them just yet… so I recently decided to browse on my Kindle for something similar.

The eternal fascination with what lies beneath...

The eternal fascination with what lies beneath…

Well, I have to say, I didn’t realise ‘Men in Kilts’ were such a big thing, if you’ll excuse the innuendo… I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for a man in plaid, ever since the Highlander film in the 1980s (my husband does a pretty good Christopher Lambert impersonation), but I had no idea that Gabaldon’s books had sparked such a surge of hormone-fuelled fantasy.Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 16.57.23

There are novels in every genre – from ‘Outlander’ time-travel copycats (though I haven’t found any as good as the original) to bodice-ripping drama and contemporary romance. As you’d expect, the quality varies hugely – I soon abandoned the ‘historical’ romances, which were often unreadably awful, with hideous ‘Forsooth, ma brae lassie’ dialogue and paper-thin characters. Authors, please note: a hero with a kilt, an accent and an improbably large sword does not make up for lousy writing.

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Who designs these book covers? His boobs are bigger than mine.

Speaking of large swords, there is a frankly incredible amount of ‘Scottish erotica’ out there (don’t tell the Scottish National Party about this – they’ll only get ideas).  It seems the Highlands are positively awash with passionate Celts who will tear off their tartan at the sight of a heaving bosom.

Really? No self-respecting gay man would wear THAT striped shirt with THAT tartan...

Really? Surely no self-respecting gay man would wear THAT striped shirt with THAT tartan…


It’s not just ladies who like the idea of a laird – kilted gay erotica is  particularly popular, though queerly enough, much of it is still written by women – for women?


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Eeuuwww. Wrong on so many levels.


There’s even a sub-genre of ‘Scottish Historical BDSM Fertile Erotica’, which is a very niche interest. Dearie me.



Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 17.04.09The contemporary women’s fiction scene is generally more wholesome (and rather better-written). Lizzie Lamb’s “Tall, Dark and Kilted” is a good, fun read with likeable characters, making great use of the romantic Scottish setting. I’ve also read a couple of entertaining supernatural stories where the kilted Highlander appears in ghostly form, to break a curse or charm the repressed English heroine.

If you’re more interested in the ‘real’ history of Scotland, you’ll find literary fiction re-imagining every era from the Picts to the 1960s, or you could venture into the murky realms of crime with Scottish Noir (though, to be fair, there’s not a lot of hot kilt-action in those).

Ouch. That's what chaps were invented for, Chaps.

Ouch. That’s what chaps were invented for, Chaps.

There’s so much kilted-ness to explore – I’m quite intrigued by the sound of the ‘Kilts and Quilts’ cosy mystery series, and more so by the probably dreadfully-chafed Cowboys in Kilts (c’mon guys – even Jamie Fraser wears trousers on horseback).

I’ve found Vampire Scots (do they bleed Irn-Bru?), Scottish Fairies (harking back to the magic of the standing stones in Outlander), Scottish Dragon-Shifters (Oi! Bob! Help me shift this bloody great dragon!) and even Footballers in Kilts (now that would REALLY liven up Match of the Day).

A kilt too far...

A kilt too far…

Still, I think the prize for ‘freakiest kilt-related fantasy’ and possibly the oddest book title ever, must go to “Men in Kilts with Tentacles – and the women who love them”.

I am NOT going to download that one, BTW –  some things are definitely best left unexplored…

It’s Cherry-Blossom Time…

Cherry blossom - with the fragrance of white marzipan.

Cherry blossom – with the fragrance of white marzipan.

“I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry blossoms.”

Pablo Neruda

I’m not *quite* sure what Neruda had in mind, but it sounds like fun… Coming home the other day, I was greeted by the heady, sweet-almond scent of cherry blossom, which had burst into full bloom after hours of warm sunshine. I remember being faintly disappointed when I was given that tree, an ornamental variety which doesn’t bear fruit, though the fragrant spring blossoms and scarlet Autumn leaves soon made up for the lack of cherries.

The Japanese 'Hanami' or flower-viewing Festival.

The Japanese ‘Hanami’ or flower-viewing Festival.


For over a thousand years, the Japanese have celebrated the beauty of blossom, with ‘Hanami’ festivals dedicated to picnic-ing under the Sakura (cherry) or Ume (plum) trees as they flower.  From late February to early May, they wait for the petals to unfurl, from the cloud-like fluffy white flowers of Somei-Yoshino, to more modern cultivars in bright pink and even red.

These days, regular weather forecasts track the progress of the opening blossoms across Japan, so that people can go to parks, shrines and temples for flower-viewing parties. This trend has spread as far as the cherry trees themselves, with similar festivals held in the USA, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. In the UK, you can visit Batsford Arboretum or Keele University to see spectacular collections of cherries blooming en masse.



There is a darker side to these fragrant flowers; in Japanese mythology, Konohanasakuya-hime was the blossom-princess and symbol of delicate earthly life. She became the wife of the god Ninigi – but because Ninigi had refused to marry her older sister, the rock-princess, human lives were destined to be short and fleeting, like the sakura blossoms, instead of long lasting, like stones.

Samurai warriors were often compared to sakura blossoms – born to live brilliantly and die young – and cherry blossom was also used to promote Japanese patriotism during World War II, with flowers painted onto bomber planes to symbolise the intensity and ephemerality of life. Kamikaze pilots became heavily identified with falling blossoms, and people were encouraged to believe that the souls of doomed fighters would be reincarnated in the trees each spring.

Pink cherry blossom - ornamental and delightful.

Pink cherry blossom – ornamental and delightful.


Garden purists tend to find the flamboyant, candy-coloured varieties unspeakably vulgar, but a walk down a street planted with these most effervescent of blossom trees is almost guaranteed to lift your spirits. For me, they bring back a wonderful memory of childhood; the drive in front of my school was lined with ornamental cherries, which for a few weeks each year were smothered in ballerina-pink blossoms, frilly and flouncy as old-fashioned lace knickers; and a welcome sign that spring was finally here to stay.



For more info about cherry blossom season in Japan, click here. 

If you are interested in planting your own cherry tree, then Thornhayes Nursery in Cullompton, Devon has a great selection.


Dartmoor Killing


Despite the beauty of the landscape, you don’t often see Dartmoor on film – possibly as a passing backdrop to an Agatha Christie mystery, or fog-shrouded in an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles – apart from the childhood section of War Horse, it’s hard to think of a recent movie that has taken Dartmoor as a central setting.

So I was delighted to receive an invitation recently to the ‘Cast and Crew’ preview of a new film – Dartmoor Killing, set entirely on the moor. As the name suggests, it’s a thriller, starting innocently enough with two young women undertaking a weekend walk across Dartmoor. Their relationship is not all it seems, and after meeting an enigmatic man who seems to need their help, their journey takes a much darker turn, with secrets and lies brought to violent light.

The Bafta-winning Director, Peter Nicholson, grew up in Devon and obviously retains a deep affection for Dartmoor – he has worked here with a cinematographer (Nick Dance) who is able to capture the dramatic countryside in breath-taking style. The landscape looks amazing – with fast rippling streams, fluttering leaves of an almost eerily vivid green, and the curving hills bathed in a soft lambent glow (many scenes seem to have been shot in the Golden Hour). Dartmoor has never looked more beautiful.

It’s interesting that although the film is a psychological drama, Nicholson has resisted the temptation to go down the well-trodden fictional route of the moor being a wilderness of howling winds and encroaching mists… the tragedy plays out against a backdrop of peachy sunsets and star-spattered midnight skies, with slanting light cutting dark shadows under the sharp tors. Somehow, this lends the human drama more pathos – the land remains entirely untouched by the tragedy taking place at its heart.

The film is essentially a four-hander, well-played, with suspicion and blame shifting between the main characters as tightly-wrapped layers of personal history unravel. Callum Blue alternates charm and chills as brooding farmer Chris (although to Devon ears, his accent occasionally sounds as though he’d be more at home in the Bluewater Shopping Mall) and Rebecca Night is delightfully slippery as sexy, selfish, duplicitous Susan. Veteran actor David Hayman (a dead-ringer for Michael Buerk) is convincingly befuddled as the father who may hold the key to the mystery and Gemma-Leah Devereaux is superb as the heroine, Becky; her expressive face reveals confusion, vulnerability and ultimately a core of granite which proves vital to the story.

I did have a few quibbles, but they were mainly to do with the narrative, rather than the execution of the film. I’ve never had much truck with selective amnesia as a major plot driver; it’s a condition that happens much more conveniently in fiction than in reality – a million therapy sessions testify to the fact that the memory tends to endlessly replay dark thoughts, rather than burying them. And the willingness of the recently-engaged heroine to hang out with a total stranger (even if he is a bit of a fox) seems unlikely, to say the least. But the biggest omission is… well, rain. A serious Dartmoor downpour would have made an excellent excuse to keep the girls in the comfort of Chris’s farmhouse, rather than continuing their journey, and besides, we all know that it’s those soft and drenching clouds that make Devon’s hills so temptingly, gloriously green…

Verdict?  Well worth watching – Dartmoor looks like heaven (though the people are less than angelic…)

You can keep up to date with news of the film and when it will be released at:

Cooking up some good news

Have you seen the new BAY POST?

It was launched by Devon-based entrepreneur John Renton with the aim of being a completely different kind of local paper – with the emphasis on good news, interesting articles and high design values.

In just a few months, it has gone from strength to strength and is now available in all the major supermarkets as well as local shops, cafes, libraries and offices.

John has kindly asked me to write the cookery column for the paper, in association with – and I’m loving the challenge of creating recipes each month that are tasty, healthy, and easy for anyone to make! So if you’ve got a favourite recipe that you’d like me to give a healthy makeover, drop me an email and I’ll see what I can do…

Pick up your FREE copy in outlets across South Devon – or click on to read features from the November issue.