All Things Linked
Of all the magics I have witnessed, the time of the mountain greening is perhaps that which quickens my heart the most.
The bursting of spring is deliciously fresh, the bee drone of the long hot summer days sensuality itself, the roaring of the stags as the woodlands turn red and gold and yellow and russet thrills without exception, and the deep quiet of the snow-thick winter places the perfect hideaway for serious meditation.
Yet, for each of the four readily-acknowledged seasons, there are many others shoehorned within their boundaries — and, increasingly, those boundaries and dates are themselves stretched and altered.
Winter is not just deep winter, it is first-frost and first-snow, it is the shortest day, and the coldest time, it is when the wolves howl and the skies dance with the magic of the aurora, the sparkle of the stars and galaxies stretching out and out and out, far beyond our time and space. It is full of many things, each a season unto itself, each a moment which is reached, a step on a path winding through our lives.
The mountain greening is a small portion of spring. I have been fortunate to be near mountains in spring on several occasions. Perhaps not as much as I would like, but there are other springs in other places, and I do not have that many years to experience every shift of the earth. Other springs, whether by the coast of Scotland and the changing of the birds and budding of the clifftop and dune flowers, or whether the end of the dry season and the coming of the rains in the tropics, the relief of clear air palpable — they are all wonders of their own.
Watching that creeping line of fresh, bright green moving up a wooded mountainside, however, is something ancient, something primeval — buried within me so very deeply I cannot help but pause and stare, no matter how many times I look. There are days where the sun coaxes the trees to leaf almost before my eyes, another strata unfurling, pushing higher and higher, only to pause with the night, or a colder or overcast day, resting on this plateau, catching a breath in that corrie or below that ridge, before pushing over and beyond and ever up.
Here, in Isère, the mountain greening is well underway, but not yet over. Every morning, as I look out the window at the view of the Vercors Massif to the west, I try and gauge whether the line of trees in leaf is higher than yesterday, whether the yellow tree flowers and catkins on the lower slopes have conquered another elevation, or have decided to have camp and recover for a spell. As in Scotland, there are days in which the unfurling is almost visible to the naked eye, and others where nothing moves at all.
For me, this is true magic. It is not straightforward, it is not a yes/no response, does not follow a strict timetable or plan. Instead, it is chaos, diverse factors acting upon each tree, each branch and each leaf bud. The whole is a metaphor for the year, for life itself — we cannot fit everything into neat bundles of pre-ordained time: life and death happen, whether we want them to or not.
The mountain greening also reminds me of something I studied back in the mists of time — the concept of refugia, of places in mountain valleys where life continues, no matter how strong the wind, how high the ice beyond. This is where certain tree species hid and waited, biding their time and outlasting the ice age, spreading forth once more across continents, a slow, inexorable march.
Refugia are hope encapsulated. Each refuge an ark of genetic material, each carrying promise of life anew. As I look at the world we live in, how we are failing — or have failed? — to contain great change ahead, I remember these places, every spring a flush of green joy, every leaf a reminder that we have been mislabelling climate change for too long. The idea of global systems failing, of huge swathes of the earth becoming uninhabitable or too dangerous to live in is, of course, too esoteric, too obtuse — it does not engage the individual, or the tribe at large.
Every civilisation before ours has been sure they would continue on and on. Every civilisation has looked at those before their own and deemed them lesser developed, less hardy, surmising their own had fewer chances of failing. Every civilisation has been wrong. Ours is no different.
The real peril of climate change is not to the earth itself — the planet operates at different timescales remember, vast, vast timescales very difficult for the untrained to comprehend — no, the real peril is to humankind.
If we relabel the battle to save the planet as the battle to save our species I suspect more might be done but, honestly, throughout all this, I simply prefer to remember the mountain greening, the refugia — those species which will survive beyond ours. It is a curious sense of hope, one entangled in a web of death and extinction and violent change — but it is hope nevertheless, and that is something joyful.
Well, that turned out a little longer than intended. I had planned on merely sharing the joy of watching the mountain turn green, but my brain decided you should instead hear my wider thought-process. Oops. Sometimes this is the way, similarly with my fiction — what I think will be a quick scene turns into something more, something more dense, more chewy…
It is May, my favourite month of the year, not because it contains my birthday, but because it is the month where new growth and new green consistently gathers pace and pushes the year forward into a burst of life. At least here in the northern hemisphere, of course — I do not forget there are many millions of people for whom May means something different.
Although there are obviously other months with 31 days within them before May in the calendar, this is the first month I see as truly long. I suspect this is because the daylight continues to lengthen (again, up here in the north), and the sun works its magic upon me after the winter and early spring.
Other house viewings have come and gone, but we have yet to move. In part, this is frustrating, but we are happy and comfortable here. A part of the difficulty lies in bureaucracy — my income has not been declared in France, so rental agencies will not count it. We (and I say we, but in reality, it is mostly Aurélie) are filling in forms to ensure I am here legally (thanks, Brexit, for a lot of additional nonsense), but all these things take time. If I were in the UK I’d have already received my first dose of a Covid vaccine but, here, that is unlikely to happen for some months.
Still, May is the month when the year stretches and grows, and I feel no different — I always seem to come alive around this time, or perhaps wake from a doze I did not know I was slumbering within. Things are afoot, plans are being made, and words are being written…
Over Ninety Free Books!
For this newsletter, I have the pleasure of sharing two group promotions. There will also be another offer later this month.
If you follow this link, you will be taken to StoryOrigin, where you will find over fifty free books to choose from. I’m not always the biggest fan of some of the banner images for these giveaways, but I really do like this one.
And, over at Bookcave, you can select and download free books (from a selection of 40+) as a part of the Discover Free Science Fiction and Fantasy Ebooks promotion. This giveaway also gives you a chance of winning a $25 gift card to the ebook retailer of your choice, which is an excellent addition! Have a look and don’t forget to enter the competition.
Q. Why are pirates called pirates?
A. Because they arrrrrrrrrrgh!
Which is a terrible section title. But, for some reason, this poor attempt at humour made me smile.
This week I reached another, admittedly dubious, milestone in my authorial career — a review copy of Death & Taxes was uploaded to a pirate ebook site. I tweeted about this the morning I found out and, here, I’ve copied it into the body of this newsletter (and made a few minor corrections), so you don’t have to head off to twitter to read it. I think it’s worth sharing:
“Mixed feelings this morning — one of the people to whom I sent a review copy of Death & Taxes uploaded it to a pirate site. In part, this is sad — it costs less than a coffee, even less than a tea, after all. Not much to ask. However…
When I planned out my writing route ahead, a few years ago now, I factored this in to my cunning plan.
Each one of The Tales of the Lesser Evil contains a link to a further free tale, whether novelette or novella. Death & Taxes is no exception — you can download A Clean Death, for free, simply by subscribing to my newsletter. My theory was, and is, if someone downloads an illegal pirated copy of any of the Tales and likes it, then they will also download the bonus.
I may have lost a sale, but at least there’s a potential to reach a fan. It’s not ideal. In a perfect world, piracy would not exist. However, I chose to approach this issue deliberately and carefully. I knew that, eventually, it would happen, and it has. I knew that I wanted to potentially get SOMETHING from a pirated download. An email address is something. Not cash, but something.
Perhaps, in the future, that individual will be in a better place financially, and afford to buy my books.
Perhaps, in the future, that individual will feel they owe me a moment of their time to leave me a positive review?
All these things were factored in and, as mildly annoyed as I am, it is simply another step on the ladder. Means I am progressing. Not perfect. No. But it gives me a sense of minor control, which is better than feeling powerless, surely?
Please buy my books.
Or get one for free, legally. Here, for example, along with many other options, all with the blessing of their respective authors.
Or get one here, again legally, again free, again with authorial blessing AND the chance to win a $25 gift card.
But it would also be nice if you would buy Death & Taxes, too, available wherever you want, legally.”
A Brief Aside On Games
I have always loved games, well-thought-out and engaging games, at least. Some, however, irritate me and I simply can no longer play them (Monopoly, for example, it is really not my thing, at all).
We play a lot of games, sometimes five or six nights a week, sometimes fewer, and we usually vary between a small selection. Recently, we have played Catan (of course), Ticket to Ride (the Old West board), Takenoko (with the Chibis extension), Qwirkle, and Skyjo.
When I lived with my folks in Caithness, Scotland, we had a Tuesday night games session where we would take it in turns to choose a game, which was a lot of fun. Games are important, they do things to our minds, use parts that need using, make us think in different patterns. This has always been the way for our species, for many thousands of years. No matter where in the world humanity spread, they had games. I like this. I suspect I will talk more of games at some point.
Death in Harmony has now been read and edited by two real-life human beings. I have notes and a few ideas of things I want to tweak, then it will be ready for a final readthrough before release. As I mentioned last month, it is a wild, breathless ride, with fear as the principal theme. As such, an email I received with the edits was entitled ‘I hate you a tiny bit’, which I am going to take as a big win. It also mentioned the novel was very stressful throughout which, in my eyes, is another positive. That was the idea. I wanted the reader to feel the terror of the main character, to be with her as she tried her very hardest to stay alive. At two different periods of her life.
This Tale will be the first to be released both widely in digital media, and also as a print copy, and this print version will include the still-unnamed bonus story, rather than simply a link to it.
I shall also be anthologising the first two novellas: Only One Death, and Death & Taxes, along with their attendant bonus Tales, Dust & Death, and A Clean Death. This shall also be available in digital media and as print copies.
Both of these will be widely distributed, which is considerably more work for me, but I really do not want readers to be forced to the behemoth of Amazon (a company who, let’s not forget, sold $44 BILLION worth of goods last year in Europe alone and, let’s DEFINITELY not forget, paid absolutely no corporation tax on any of it. In fact, they were cunning enough to again receive several millions of dollars in tax offsets, seeing as they posted a loss where they are registered in Luxembourg. I say cunning, but there are other words I could use too.).
I have not forgotten the French translation of Dust & Death: Mort et Poussière. The issue of the French newsletter address is still holding this up, but I am hopeful it shall be out very soon. For free.
There will be another newsletter later this month, towards the end of May. With luck and a lot of hard work, there may well be news on release dates and/or Advance Retail Copies of the above-mentioned Tales. I am also working hard to ensure my website is up and running very soon too. A lot of things to do.
Today, the 6th of May, is national Scottish parliament election day. I cannot vote, which is frustrating, but I am hopeful that the result will be a good one for democracy and, indeed, Scottish independence. For those of you who do not take an interest in UK politics, essentially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is in the throes of breaking up into its national parts. It will not be an easy or swift process, but it is one which I would suggest cannot now be stopped, increasingly since the idiocy of the Brexit vote. History is turning, times are changing. Whenever you can vote, do so.
The world we live in is at a point of similar change. All too often, people assume things will continue along the same path they have in recent history, but recent history is just that, a snapshot in time. Move the scale a little and it is hard not to notice how we as a species are still relatively new. All of civilisation itself has occurred within a tiny timeframe, the portion since the industrial revolution even more microscopic. Yet, it is this portion which is altering our planet at a ridiculously fast rate.
It is easy to place our heads in the sand and ignore the damage, ignore the issues. It is easy to overlook the changes, to simply focus on the day-to-day, the simple acts of making a living, eating, sleeping, rinse and repeat. And this is how you can be controlled, how you can lose a sense of your own individual power.
Some people think about the changes in the world and then give in to despair, they do not see how they can make a difference. It is all too easy to lose hope.
However, remember the refugia? Those small mountain valleys where trees rested, biding their time, to once more spread out across a continent?
I would suggest we all take some time to acknowledge the good things in our lives: good food, the connection we feel to a powerful story, those lateral shifts our brains when we play a game and, above all, perhaps, that sense of belonging we can achieve through the study of the nature around us.
Take these things and consider yourself a mountain valley, a refuge of one — and reach out, spread your joy at a movie, your delight at identifying a species of fungi for the very first time, or the fact you can vote peacefully and safely in your country. Share it. Show others who may either have their heads buried in the proverbial sand, or may have given in to despair, to ‘I’m one person, what can I do?’; show them, and offer them something powerful.
We are all refugia, we all carry the potential of hope, the potential of joy and rebirth and love. Times are perilous, times are changing — but I wholeheartedly believe we can all make a positive difference, nevertheless.
Photos are all of this portion of spring, whether mountain greening in the French Alps and the Scottish Highlands, or the bird and wildlife of this period. The second of each set of twin mountain pics was snapped around a week after the first. All taken by me.