A Return to Sea and Sun

(I have books for you to read!)

In the last ten days, I have been joined by old friends: the salt-tang of the ocean carried on powerful, iodine-strong winds, the sun a force, capable of burning quickly, the roar of waves an ancient lullaby. The nights are cool, the days warm, the land surprisingly green and already covered in flowers; flashes and banks of yellow, pebble-dash of pinks and reds. Here, farmers are already harvesting and baling grass, there a shepherd tends sheep or goats.

Citrus splashes cover verdant small trees, oranges and clementines dotted everywhere, often fallen and rolled, ditches and dips full of gathered sweet balls, unclaimed, rotting. Lemons are equally common, sometimes almost too large to be believed, their yellow so obvious it is a colour of its very own.

Bamboo tracks the waterways, here and there giant stacks have been collected, bundles of canes to be used later in Spring. The cork oak trunks are a spectrum, darkest where they have most recently been peeled, lighter where time has passed and a new cover awaits silently, to seal the wine or port of many miles of vineyards.

I am learning this language, the language of a landscape that feels ancient and lived-in — how fields are maintained, how there is space for nature above the terraces, in between settlements, or on the long coastal edge. Portugal feels full of stories; old stories and new, whispers of tales to come. It is into this land that we venture, seeking a home, filling in the gaps in our knowledge. The land whispers back, tells us what we need to hear, and we listen.

Hi.

I have always covered distance, at least since I was eight and our first long drive up to Orkney from the flatlands of Lincolnshire I had known. Covering distance is not simply a matter of miles or kilometres, it is also time. Time and space combine in a journey, weave through one another until a whole is achieved, wrapped in an ongoing, continuous spiral of things seen. First this side, then the other, then above, below, in front, behind. The faster the speed, the more complex this weave becomes, the more gaps appear.

On that first journey north, back in the mists of time, when the world was still young and I was too, I caught my first glimpse of an oystercatcher. It was dead, on a road in the far north close to where the MV St. Ola would take us across the Pentland Firth, white and black feathers a monochrome backing for the blaze of sudden orange on its beak and legs. Since then, I have seen several other firsts in an equally macabre fashion. My first badger. Dead. My first polecat, dead.

These thrills of recognition are always tempered by the simple fact of the death itself. I remember reading once that seeing dead badgers on a road is a good sign (or, at least, as good as any roadkill can be), as it suggests a healthy population with wide-ranging youngsters who do not yet know the dangers of a road. Personally, I’d prefer it without any cars or fast roads, a view which often raises eyebrows and incites laughter. Yet, look back just one hundred years, and our roads were still mostly unready and unpaved for the automobile. There will come a time when this is once more the case.

Many of the roads I have seen in the last few weeks seem to still be in a permanent state of unreadiness. Strips of land clinging to the side of a precipitous hill, or following a seemingly tortuous route through valley bottoms, mirroring the watercourse beside. These roads, here in Portugal, were not made for cars, as they were not in many places across Europe. These roads are old. They remember the cart, the horse, the donkey, the tread of the sheep and their attendants, the vagabond, the roamer, the man-of-the-road.

This week I saw another first, a common genet (Genetta genetta). Crushed into a small rug, markings clear, tail obvious. It was thrill and sadness combined. My chances of seeing one alive in the wild are slim, they are nocturnal and very secretive, but I not only place myself in locations and positions where I increase those chances, I am also lucky. Badgers, polecats, pine martens, Scottish wildcat, the howls and tracks of European wolves — I’ve been lucky with them all. Luck is something strangely important — it does not really exist, but I am sure you know others with either an excess or a dearth?

Roll dice and I will consistently score higher than average. Turn cards and it is the same. I cannot control this, but I can listen to it, learn when I am nudged into something, when a turn of a road takes us into a village or town which feels right.

On this journey, I am listening to luck, or the universe, or nature, or whatever you call it. Feelings, gut feelings — in our world today we too often fail to listen to these, at our peril.

I am listening.

This newsletter comes to you from Vila Nova de Milfontes, which feels remarkably like a potential home. Today we head south even further, before being forced to make a sharp left-turn or fall into the Atlantic.

We have a shortlist of places which felt right. Milfontes is a definite option, but where we rent a house, at the time of writing, remains unknown. With careful planning and, yes, a little dash of luck, the next newsletter should spring from a more permanent base.

Des nouvelles en français!

J’ai maintenant un compte Twitter en français:

J’ai également une newsletter en français, à laquelle vous pouvez vous inscrire ici. Beaucoup moins fréquente que celle en anglais, vous recevrez un email lorsque de nouvelles parutions en français seront disponibles.

Writing.

I tweeted this thread recently.

It contains a lot of information, most of which is also relayed below. The fact is, I have yet to really start my marketing for the first two novellas (and their bonus tales) — it is difficult to fit everything in on the road. I am not one of those people who can work in a car (or campervan) which is moving — a train, yes, a car, no. I can, however, take notes, which I do on my phone (really, reading my handwriting can be tricky at the best of times, let alone when scribbled whilst bouncing over the uneven roads we encounter).

In short, I have three books available. Four stories, one of which is translated into French. Each of the two English tales, Only One Death, and Death & Taxes, contains a link to an extra bonus novella, Dust & Death, and A Clean Death respectively. As yet, the French translation is bonus-less, but that shall all change in time.

Only One Death is available here. It is entirely free.

Its translation, Une Seule Mort, can be found here.

Death & Taxes can be found here.

If you know anyone who enjoys fantasy literature, with a diverse range of characters, then do please pass on this email. If you yourself enjoy such, then have a read and, if you enjoyed the tales, leave a rating, or even a review. All these will win my eternal gratitude (although, since you are already reading this, you already have this). More gratitude then, beyond eternal gratitude?

I will be marketing these “properly” — what does that even mean? I quite like the idea of improper marketing, don’t you? — in the coming weeks and months. Then there shall be two others, along with their bonuses and translations. I shall follow these by finishing the editing of The Care Industry, which is a novel and shall be sent to agents, rather than being self-published.

Reading.

As far as books-read goes, I have been stuck reading just the one novel I started after finishing Trail of Lightning. I am not going to name this one — I have read it before and remembered there were some really excellent bits. And some not-so-excellent.

This reread was difficult: it was tortuous to get going, full of things that seemed out-of-place (ironically, I am guessing these were put in to make the reader believe in the setting) and, in parts, just not that well-written.

The main character was also irritating in a way I did not remember, or had masked — constantly thinking of women and sexual encounters in a way which I found jarring and invasive.

It was, however, superbly researched (and, as a double-edged sword, there were several parts where this research showed a little too clearly). And the excellent parts, namely the final third of the book, were still truly excellent.

This was from an author who has many novels to their name. I think this is a good thing — reading as a writer can be difficult, I can find myself pulled out of the story too quickly if something is poorly (or even not perfectly) crafted. In some ways this is a good thing, I learn from the mistakes of others. In others, it means the pool of books I can read without overthinking the nuts and bolts behind the tale is small. When I find a book which flows, where I am IN the story, it is only after the act of reading that I try and work out why and how.

I finished this un-named book yesterday. I am, as yet, undecided what to read next, although I am potentially considering The Priory of the Orange Tree (fitting, seeing as there are so many oranges here), Kings of the Wyld, or Empire of Sand. All are fantasy tales (the last one was not). We shall see what occurs.

Watching. (I really need to think up more interesting titles for these sections, don’t you think?)

After finishing The Witcher (which I loved more with each episode and fully intend to wax lyrical about in a full blog piece, explaining why), we watched the third season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. This started less-strongly than I would have liked (similarly to the second season, now I think about it), but I found that by episode three it was reaching a good rhythm in the writing, which only got better. It can be truly hilarious at times, but it can also be painful to watch (deliberately so) at others. Recommended, if Language does not offend.

Currently, we are finishing season three of The Durrells, which is simply wonderful. Again, the writing is top-notch, but the setting, the acting, and the whole pace also make it pretty close to perfect TV. Next up is a rewatch of Altered Carbon before the second season arrives.

Nature.

The wildlife in Portugal is beguiling. There are friends of old, the birds I know from the UK, from France, but they are joined by others — the hoopoe, many musterings of storks, shearwaters, small feathered friends and birds of prey I did not recognise and have yet to identify. There are many miles of woodland, here regimented rows of unclothed cork oak, there mixed wild pine and holm oak. The north and central region seemed to be full of eucalyptus.

And, of course, the squashed genet. There was also something else furry, small and dead I did not recognise, along with a young wild boar, high in the passes between Spain and Portugal, a very sandy pair of foxes, and an equally pale badger. Old friends, wearing new clothing.

Ending of Sorts.

I have a lot more to say, but I am aware this newsletter is already approaching two thousand words. I shall leave this here and queue for sending.

I hope you are all well and the winter is not being cruel? Be kind to yourselves as well as others — no point in wearing yourself down, only to find you no longer possess the strength to be strong for your friends or family when they need you. Winter can do that, I know all too well. I am sending sunshine and thoughts of green.