New Beginnings

This took a lot longer than normal, for some reason…

Overnight, something huge has taken a sieveful of icing sugar and dusted the high places. Each crevice, each crag, every tree, cliff and corrie now shining with that oh-so-special light which is reflected from the first major snow of the season. It is clean and clear, speaks of promise and things chilled, waiting for spring and the flowering once more. The following day, the icing sugar dusting is replaced with thick slabs of frosting. The mountain gateaux have received their winter toppings.

Snow is something I have always loved — and still do. Perhaps it is because I do not drive (initially due to having an ex-MOD Landrover as the family car, in which it would have been illegal to practice, then I lived in cities and well-served by public transport); perhaps that sense of having to head to work for a commute, negotiating ice and snow, is something which causes the dislike in adults? I have never met a child who detests snow.

For most of October, however, the sun shone and the mosquitoes still menaced. I received my last (I hope) bite of the year on the first of November which, for the French Alpes, seems quite late to me. Down in the valley, the autumnal light fractured through the golden leaves, landing on the dancing motes of gnats as they dropped and rose into an illuminated shaft, creating a flashing beacon of eternity, in but a blink of an eye.

All these insects have been good for certain birds. And all the birds good for other birds. Circles and spirals, all connected. This season is when the summer plumage is lost, replaced by new winter feathers and the trees and bird feeder have been alive with small birds: the tits sharp shards and splinters of glorious Technicolor, each appearing as though I have put my glasses on, after a time without.

The trees have rioted, their flames their leaves, thrown down in sudden gusts and dropped into rustling knee-high barricades. High up, all appears brown once more, the greening and the golding over for another year, lower down, the slopes are splendid, rich in colour and astonishing in variety — a good time of the year to locate individual species, sweet chestnut here, oak and maple there.

November has brought colder air, and with it that held breath of approaching winter. It is always a point in the year I love, especially here in this corner of France, where the rain we get in the valley is sure to fall as snow up high, the bleached line dropping lower as the sun also dips through the season, in advance of the solstice. In Scotland, this is a time of rain and storm and wind. Some years it can be drier, others — especially on the west coast — the rain can be ceaseless for days and even weeks. The Atlantic pounds into the cliffs and beaches, rearranging and depositing, stripping and strewing as it goes. To walk along a beach at this time of the year is to expect treasure.

Sprinkled treasure and magic can be found everywhere in nature. No matter where you are on the planet, there is wonder. I’ve yet to find a spot where there was nothing to see, nothing to study. Sometimes the wonder can be tiny, a small carpet of moss, or crust of lichen, perhaps, and at others it can suggest a majesty hidden, waiting — a tiny seedling reaching from a pavement, biding its time to grow into a tree, pulling the surrounding area into something more natural, paving buckling, rearranging our enforced straightness into something more curved, more gentle and natural.

Winter, to me, is a time of angles and lines, the curves of the leaves gone, the softness of the edges of petals long-faded, replaced by the geometry of stark branches, the crystalline individuality of snow, and the Morse code of tracks and trails. It is the quiet time, the long silence before the sigh of an approaching spring and the rapid inhalation it entails. Snow is a medium I am very much looking forward to exploring more of, learning its ways beyond the skills and knowledge I already possess. Snow is a new beginning, the blank page, awaiting scribbles and thoughts and tracks, and new beginnings are always special.

Hello (Baby)

The sparrow I mentioned in my last note was not alone in needing love and care. A few days later, I spotted something in one of the planters hanging from the rails outside the veranda. I checked, expecting a bird dead from colliding with the window or, as I’ve witnessed elsewhere, being chased into it by a hawk. There were tiny fluffs of down dotted around the planter, not a good sign. But she moved, only slightly, but movement nevertheless.

A song thrush (Turdus philomelos), clearly either badly stunned or completely exhausted. I suspect perhaps the latter. Time for another box, more cheese, some water, and a warm dark place. Again, there was scratching, again she did not initially wish to go when I checked. But, after some hours, she decided to leave her safe dark space, and flew down to the neighbour’s garage roof, both wings working, before scuttling off on two legs which also worked, to find a new spot to rest. She had certainly eaten some cheese and sipped some water, and eyes which were glassy, unfocussed and barely able to open were once more dark hollows of life, sharp and clear and knowing. Like the sparrow, I have hope for her.

Perhaps these things are unconnected with what came next, perhaps not. Being kind, being good (which, as I’ve said before, is not the same as being weak — no matter what some misguided individuals think), is a big part of who I am — it makes sense to me, to spread happiness and joy wherever possible, to help wherever needed, whether that be another human or a bird.

The last newsletter was indeed the final one before the baby was born.

Before the birth, I found I did not cope as well with the stress as I would have liked — if stress is to do with me alone, I find it easier to deal with, makes plans, reconcile with it, but add in someone I love and a situation where there is little I could do but support, and I struggle.

Nothing went according to plan — there was extra monitoring needed before the birth, as her little heart was not producing the peaks it was meant to, instead having a relatively flat line of beats. On the 14th, Aurélie went for more monitoring and was told she would have to stay in the clinic, in order to continue being monitored and for inducement. I arrived a short time later with the bags, and we waited, a tiny heartbeat the soundtrack.

The staff at the clinic were outstanding, and even with my language difficulties (my French is getting better, and technical medical terminology is surprisingly easy, compared to some other things!), I could follow most of what was happening.

There was little sleep that night, with more monitoring, a bath, and then morphine. The following morning, the baby’s heartrate had not altered, the contractions had slowed, and she remained high in the womb. Not a good combination, and the gynaecologist did not hesitate to recommend an emergency caesarean.

Aurélie was instructed to shower, and I barely had time to change out of my scrubs into my normal clothes, before she was being whisked to the operating theatre, and I was becoming be-scrubbed once more. I was left in a room whilst the surgery was performed, not for very long really, but enough time to think, deeply, over all that might go wrong, and all that might go right.

Then our daughter was brought to me. I heard her before I saw her and, I know it sounds weird, but I knew that cry before I set eyes on her. She was washed and weighed and measured and I was asked to write the tiny bracelet which was affixed to her wrist, my hand slightly shaking, but the words thankfully as legible as my handwriting ever is. 3240 grams and 50.5 centimetres long.

I was left with her next to my skin for a considerable time, as Aurélie was sewn up and repaired, and being able to see her eyes open and look at me, mouth searching, tiny fingers grasping, was a powerful thing. I shall, no doubt, write more about this at some point, but needless to say, I am very, very grateful for modern medicine and a staff who were second-to-none.

The amniotic fluid was tainted, she was blue, and I sadly have no doubts that, were this France a hundred years ago, or certain parts of the world today, I would have lost either my partner or the baby or, quite possibly, both. That’s a strange thought. We stayed in the clinic for six days in total and, again, I am very grateful we could, in our own room, even with bed and breakfast for me.

Now, approaching four weeks later, both mother and baby are doing very well indeed. As am I, full of happiness and tired relief. We are both full of love and joy and I’m sure there’ll be more about the peedie (Orcadian for small) thing in coming months.

In slightly more prosaic news, I also broke a toe last month. Not in any exciting, cool or adventurous way, not by dropping a kettlebell on it, or slipping off my gymnastic rings, no — I broke it carrying a glass of wine during apéro, stubbing it hard on a footstool. It hurt and meant I could not train as I would have liked. Still, as far as broken bones stories go, apéro-injury is an amusing one.

This week is the first time I’ve tried to do any real work, and it’s a very slow process. I am grateful to past-Alex, however, for writing several lists and schedules when his brain was operating at a less sleep-deprived level. Now, I just need to keep moving forward, ticking things off slowly. (I also keep noticing idiotic spelling mistakes and missed words, as though my brain is full of holes. Can’t imagine why.)

Next up, a huge rewrite of the final novel in the Tales of The Lesser Evil, and its attendant bonus story. This is already mostly crafted — but there’s a lot to do before final edits, with in-depth reworking ahead; the story has altered considerably since I first drafted it, to build and set the scene for the longer works ahead. Hopefully I’ll be able to save good portions of the text but, once it’s finished, I doubt I’ll remember what is brand new and what is old. That’s how writing goes — it weaves a strange path.

Shorter days mean I am watching for any malignant tendrils of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), something I have been aware of since I was a teenager. Going to school in Orkney in winter meant barely seeing any sun for months, and this was not a good thing for my brain. However, the snow and clear blue, cold skies are a huge aid to avoiding SAD, as are checking in with myself constantly, and keeping notes of mood etc. 

Floating Houses

Free Books!

This month I almost forgot to sign up for group promotions — which is not really surprising. My head is more than a little fluffy at times, for some reason.

Only One Death, the first of the Tales of The Lesser Evil, is available as part of Epic and Dark Fantasy Giveaway, as it fits into both of these categories rather neatly. There are lots of superb free books available here, over at StoryOrigin, so do please have a look!

Death In Harmony, the latest of the Tales, is a part of Kindle Dreams and Nightmares, a Kindle Unlimited group, showcasing many other excellent books, all available on that platform.

Because markets are wonderful places.

I have not had chance to study and research any advertising methods, as I had intended. I’m not too worried about this, as these novels and novellas were always going to have a bigger pay-off later in my Cunning Plan. However, it’s a bit irritating that no one on Kindle Unlimited is actually reading Death In Harmony — the idea had been to advertise it and promote it in the right places, to drum up some page reads. Still, with a tiny life to care for, I’m having a useful refresher course in the meaning of patience…

Mentioned this is conversation recently – a rare blonde sparrow.

Music

I recently spotted this blog page, and a playlist by Alix E. Harrow, to go along with her latest work, A Spindle Splintered. This idea, of a playlist of music to go with a story, is one I’ve thought about for a long time. However, the actual realisation of this is always fraught, as creating the perfect playlist is still tricky for me, despite now being a venerable ancient.

As such, I am going to seriously consider playlists for each of the Tales, and share them with you here in the future. (The artist I have most listened to whilst writing over the years is Fever Ray, so I will avoid the temptation to simply list all her songs.) Watch this space.

As are umbrellas and shades. These were in Vientiane, Laos, I think.

Brave/Cryptocurrency Brief Update

Not as exciting as a baby, of course, but remember when I mentioned this, back in June, last year? About how I use the Brave browser and then trade the tokens I get from clicking on the adverts, using the Uphold wallet? Since then, I’ve used the Brave Basic Attention Tokens to buy Bitcoin and Ethereum, as well as experimenting with Balancer and ADA; I’ve not added any extra funds, despite the temptation.

Back then, my balance was less than €2. Today it is €57.59. Not a huge amount, of course not — but that’s all free money, just for a moment’s click on an advert and a small time spent trading. Cryptocurrency is still in its infancy and there are admittedly some issues to solve, more for some coins than others — but, equally, I’d still rather get those cents for clicks, rather than seeing a constant bombardment of adverts, for which I receive nothing but irritation. It has reached the point that, when I’m on the internet, I barely even notice these adverts, nor clicking on them. Each month I earn only a little, but the little adds up and, when traded for the right coins, it grows quickly (and can, of course, drop just as fast!).

If you were walking through Paris, Barcelona, Lisboa, or Berlin, and saw a €50 note fluttering along the pavement, you’d pick it up, right?* Essentially, that’s the way I view this — and if I lose this money, it doesn’t really matter, as I’ve never really had it.

However, I will have to select a point when I withdraw some of it, and perhaps spend it on something special which will last, something which is useful and will always remind me of all those clicks and trades. I did the same with the very first money I earned through writing — buying a titanium cooking pot and mug, something which will, with care, very likely outlast me — and both have already accompanied me on countless adventures, a little spark of remembrance rekindled each time I use them. (My original plan had been to find a website with Brave payments enabled and send the money to them, but I have yet to find anything I think deserves it: few non-corporation sites seem to accept BAT at this point, at least not the ones I frequent.)

In short, if you’ve not looked at the Brave browser, have a quick peek, and have a read of what I said last year, how my website IS BAT-enabled, as are my twitter and several other places — meaning you can always tip me, using the funds you can generate from adverts, if you like what you read here.

*This reminds me of a story from my past, when I was very poor, often very hungry, and working for an agency on a variety of terrible, insecure jobs. My friend Rob and I were walking along a street in Derby, where we lived at the time. I’m fairly confident that we had not eaten that day, surviving on air, caffeine, and nicotine, along with that curious sense of invincibility the young possess, playing constant games of chess, the loser making the next coffee, repeat and repeat. We spotted the £10 note in the gutter at the same time and marvelled at our fortune (this was 20+ years ago, and £10 went a lot further than it would now). A short distance later and we saw a second. Then a third, fourth and, I think, fifth. My memory of these riches is hazy and, writing this, I do not have my diaries or journals to hand to check. I just recall we were both elated and immediately went to our favourite all-day-breakfast location, with the promise that if you finished the plate you did not have to pay. The rest went on a handful of pints (remember, a pint was a LOT cheaper then), tobacco, more coffee, and basic supplies scavenged from the reduced section of the cheapest of all the supermarkets. Not exactly wise spending, but we were young. Whoever had lost that money kept us fed and happy for a week, or more. 

Finally

Coming back to my inbox, after the birth, I noticed I have 1024 unread messages. Instead of feeling instantly overwhelmed, as would usually be my way, I felt like this was a good number. It is, after all, roughly 1MB in bytes. Which seems a sensible amount of data, especially with the very early days of a new life growing merrily in the foreground, background, and middle ground. I am aiming to begin the process of excavating my inbox over this week. Wish me luck.

One thing I have noticed of late, in these days post-birth, is that I get short and sharp flashes of ideas with increasing regularity. Perhaps this is due to a rewiring of my brain, or due to lateral thought and rapid association being easier for me to process thanks to weariness but, whatever the cause, I’ve accrued a number of excellent snippets of fiction, non-fiction, ideas, musings, and notes. Some of these make their way into my newsletter, others are ideas for my stories, but all are very welcome. It feels good to be doing something creative, even if only in tiny intensive bursts.

In all my years of sporadically recording my dreams I can’t recall ever having such a sharp contrast — a monochrome dream in black and white. the images my brain selected were crisp and clear, lighter colours so light as to be the brightest, painful to see — a flow of molten rock, for example, and darker colours so full of inky shadows that anything could hide in them, waiting and lurking.

It can be a little sad and potentially demoralising, to see a free book sign-up heading to an email address along the lines of ‘[email protected]’. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again now — I don’t want this to seem like spam. I want it to feel like me, writing to you, telling you things I think you’d appreciate hearing. I know this works, because I get replies from people who have signed up, who do appreciate my newsletters — and I cannot tell you enough how happy that makes me feel. Normally, I’d reply to these pretty quickly but this month has been a bit, well, busy, to say the least. 

So, when I see a Bobsspammail appear in my subscriber list, or when someone who has downloaded a free book, in exchange for nothing more than an email address, then reports my newsletter as spam (which can, of course, have a wide-ranging impact, warning email providers that the address this letter comes from is sending spam, and then sending the letter to YOUR spam box) — then I reread those notes you send, telling me how you enjoy my words. This means a LOT to me, and the time you’ve spent to share that thought with me is time which directly helps me to continue writing, to continue sharing words and pictures and thoughts — thank you.

And, finally-finally, for now, here’s a random thought I had a few weeks ago: hugging a woman who has had a Caesarean is like hugging a well-worn teddy bear. Squeeze too hard and you worry they may come apart at the seams.

Take care of each other, and hug where needed and wanted, just be careful not to squeeze too hard. And look out for new beginnings, when the temptation at this time of the year (in the northern hemisphere, of course), is to look for endings of a sort.

If you like this newsletter, do please share with your friends and family.
Photos are all mine, as per usual, with the exception of the song thrush, which was beautifully captured by Aurélie’s maman, Pat. There is no real theme other than I thought they were quite good photos and some have umbrellas or misty weather..!