Apparently, it is 2020

In which there is snow

The silence of snow is thick and cushioned, the light diffused, reflected, refracted, contradictory. Twigs, branches and trunks are blanketed on one side only, crystal-white creating contrast, highlighting their twisting shapes, calling out their identity to those who know their coded winter pattern.

The sky is gunmetal and thick, brown at the edges, rusting clouds silently slipping lower throughout the day, with occasional tickles of flakes tessellating where they fall.

Here and there are the traces of those who have already passed, footsteps telling tales we trackers delight in — this the nursery of tracking, as with wet sand, the details are beautiful, each trail a story clearly written. We can take these and learn, understand where to look in spring or summer, how the animal moves to avoid a fallen tree, or to step over — or on — a branch. Whispers of a past, with another living thing at their end.

The mountains are a place I adore. Here, in the Alps, the seasons are constantly changing, each major quarter of the year broken down into smaller bites. Winter woodland snows are a delight, something magical, always carrying a hint of Narnia.

If a lamppost had appeared along the trail I followed, I would not have been surprised.

Hi.

And ha, ha and thrice ha.

As you may remember, I told you my novellas would be out before this newsletter and how I would be mailing you further details as they happened. Clearly, they did not.

The reasons for this are (mostly) two-fold.

Firstly, this is all new to me, the process of preparing a series of novellas for publication is something for which I have no frame of reference. True, there are many guides out there on the internet, checklists, examples, how-tos. But I am too much of a perfectionist to allow half-finished items out into the world. I have to be happy with the outcome — or how can I expect you, my reader, to be happy? There have been setbacks and hold-ups, research to be done, problems to be overcome, but I am getting there, just more slowly than anticipated.

Secondly, you may remember me mentioning how I had succumbed to flight-germs? Well, over Christmas this steadily got worse, with increasing fever, coughing, difficulty breathing and a constant feeling of icy-cold inside. There were a few other symptoms, but it was the fever, tearing-cough and weakness that hit me hardest. By Hogmanay, I was bedridden, unable to go out — barely able to make it less than a hundred metres to the hotel lounge. As it was, I certainly made the most of the Christmas present hotel. Sigh. (Looking back, the person I sat next to on the flight from Bangkok was definitely coughing.)

I am still not entirely 100% now. There is a tightness in my chest, as though something has been torn and is still repairing. If I push my muscles, lift and carry heavy things, I can do it, just not as easily as I would like. I’m mending though.

What this illness meant was that I could not work on other work — could not make my hours up and, therefore, fell behind. January has been a month of catching up, the time I had expected to be using to upload the novellas instead divided between these two things.

I’m getting there. And all good things come to those who wait.

A map of the northern portion of The Isthmus, showing the location of the cities of Eastsea and Gateway, as well as the locations of the tent trade city of Market, the ruins of Westsea, and the location of The Amethyst Mountains.
You’re probably sick of maps by now, but here’s a more up-to-date version of the one I shared a couple of months ago.

Reading

For the above-mentioned reasons, this has been another month of fewer books read than I would like. At my worst, I simply could not read. Which was not pleasant. Especially when I was laid there, thinking of all the time slipping away, which could have been filled with stories.

I finished Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik; I found it slower to start than her excellent Uprooted, but I did enjoy it.

I then moved on to Rosewater, by Tade Thompson, a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. It did not disappoint. The setting, 2066 Nigeria (not “Africa”, as I keep reading; it’s firmly Nigeria), was masterfully crafted, the characters deep and believable and the story itself strong. I enjoyed it immensely and I am looking forward to reading the other two in the trilogy.

At present, I am currently reading Trail of Lightning, also set in the near future, this time Dinétah, home of the Navajo. Rebecca Roanhorse does an incredible job of combining the elements of this tale: climate apocalypse, monsters, Gods, legends, and magic of a sort. As with Rosewater, the depth of knowledge behind the people and place gives the story a surety and freshness many others lack. Nearly finished this, and I am also looking forward to the others in the series.

To finally have these books (and others), after years and years of white Euro/American-centric fantasy and science fiction, is wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, I love those fantasies set in Lord of the Rings-esque medieval fiefdoms, for example — but variety should be easier to come by, and I think that, finally, this is slowly becoming the case. There is still a long, long way to go, but there is hope.

Watching

Remember the fever I mentioned (several times now)? Well, the morning of the very day I ended up confined to bed we went to see Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. This meant, in my slightly-delirious mindstate, that I feel like I dreamt it. I shall have to rewatch at some point, as it feels fluffy and woolly around the edges, something whispered whilst I slept. Maybe that’s the dark side?

Other than this, I finished His Dark Materials and have started The Witcher. I loved HDM, thought it was a great production with fantastic performances and I cannot wait until the next season. I think The Witcher is better than some of the people I’ve spoken to have said. I think the problem here is that too many go into it expecting a new Game of Thrones — which it is not. I have Things To Say about this, but now, here, I neither have the time, nor space. Instead, have a look at the always-engaging Kameron Hurley and her twitter feed — my thoughts (so far, still to finish the season) align quite neatly with hers. Also, it amazes me how many had no idea it was a series of books, long before it was a game. I suppose it explains some of their confusion.

Nature

I have been enjoying the little winter birds here in France, seeing old friends and new, such as the mésange huppée — or crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus), which I have only ever seen in the Highlands in Scotland — they are not common across the UK.

As with the introductory paragraphs, one of the highlights of the last month was heading up into the Alps for the day. The snow meant there were fresh tracks to be followed, picking my way over the chaos of branches and trees downed in a storm late last year. (I was also pleased to see the wall and terrace that was constructed in the warmer months of 2019 is still standing and, indeed, looking like it has always been there.)

I saw tracks of fox, of feral cat, of two species of deer, and of badger, as well as watching a golden eagle glide over the ridge above, considerably lower than in summer to make up for the poor visibility. It was a good day.

What animal tracks can you see?

Ending of Sorts

At the time of writing, I am in France, where I will be until some point in the next two weeks, when we cross over into Spain, heading west and south. This route is via Valence, Toulouse and Bilbao but, other than this, the precise details have yet to be finalised.

Since the last newsletter, I have shared time with family and friends, in Scotland, England and France. Although my Christmas and New Year were not exactly perfect, it was lovely to be with people I love, to share joy and happiness. Especially with my niece, little Auri, who, at eleven months, was experiencing Baby’s First Christmas. With two dogs, a baby, and nine adults, it was rather fun, chaotic-at-times, but fun!

Sunset on the EU, taken just after leaving Edinburgh. When next I return to the UK, it shall be Brexitland.

I hope you too have had a good festive season and are avoiding winter illness better than I did. I am very much looking forward to being in one place for a time, to get into a routine and put together some consistency — indeed, this is the word I have chosen to represent 2020 — consistency. (I want to write more about this ritual, choosing a word for the year, and perhaps shall do soon.)

This does not mean I shall not be travelling. I shall. There are trips and adventures already planned (beyond the fact I shall be living in Portugal, itself an adventure, especially with the terminal idiocy of Brexit), including a couple in France, one in Scotland, and the potential for one in Morroco towards the end of the year. Watch this space.

Inside a snow-wave, breaking against the stone. Love this pic.

Consistency, for me, means getting into a rhythm I can keep ticking along — a rhythm that encompasses my writing life, my work-life balance, my fitness and health and all those little things that go into this. I am excited about the food in Portugal, about the culture, about cooking more, finding fresh ingredients and perhaps growing some herbs and vegetables too.

I have a long list of blog posts I want to write too, and I am looking forward to crafting these and, speaking of craft, I am also planning to use some more of my time to work on various hands-on projects, involving making things, repairing things, altering things. Mostly bushcraft-related and, no doubt, you’ll see photos. Consistency and experimentation in time-management, routine, and habit should propel this year forward.

I expect it to be a rather interesting year indeed: with the four novellas of The Lesser Evil and their bonus stories/novellas/practically-a-novel-in-two-cases all coming out on wide-release, across several self-publishing marketplaces, with the first novel in my related series The Greater Good being finalised, edited and trimmed and altered, with several ideas for other income-streams to be put into place, and with a new home to be sought and lived in. Busy, but full of joy — that’s how I envisage this year.

Finally, I shall leave this here and return to trying to finish the novellas (they are edited, formatted and virtually ready for upload — all I need to do is polish a couple of pages of the front and back matter and keep testing and sharpening the .epub and .mobi files, before uploading and marketing). I would say they will be out before you get the next newsletter, but I’ve said that before, haven’t I? Instead, let’s see what the universe throws at me, shall we?