Back to School
I considered Bak 2 Skool. But decided, no.
One morning, a crow calls, staccato and sudden, seemingly breaking their silence since early summer all in a flurry of outcry and warning. Summer is ending!
Another morning and there is a surprising dew, every blade of grass is bejewelled, reflecting light and image, a tiny fisheye vignette of the world evaporating with the sun.
Chill wind flows down the narrow valley of the mountain stream, pushing beneath the overhanging branches, weaving through rock, bouncing from cooling water. It is the season of storms, the clouds build and tower, pushing up and up and up, before they crash into one another and hit the ground, growling. Night brings impossibly bright flash, lighting all for but a brief moment.
The crow is right. Summer is ending, autumn firmly announcing her presence at the door. That lazy, sleepy feeling of August is giving way to an urgency in nature — time to collect food, put on fat, build dens and prepare for the coming freeze.
This is the time for new activity, perhaps not the beginning of the natural year, but certainly one of them.
Leaves began to change and fall in late July, so intense the heat. Lower in the valleys is worse, less water and more trapped air. Oranges, yellows, browns and reds have been patchworking the forest for well over a month now.
Head uphill and the seasons return to a semblance of normality. Yet, even here, there are changes; the myrtille — the blueberries — were harvested much higher than normal, all those on the usual slopes were tiny, wizened and dry; the raspberries were not harvested at all, beyond a few to eat immediately, too hot, too dry; there are warnings of fire, bans on wild camping. One day, perhaps all too soon, there will be nowhere higher for those particular blueberries to spread — it is already the case with the raspberries, the framboise, my favourite. They have nowhere higher on their hill to climb.
There will be no raspberry jam this year.
I am back at my desk. Although, technically, this is incorrect, as I’ve never before sat at this particular desk, nor stood at the standing desk behind it. Nor, indeed, have I ever typed, worked, or scribbled a word or sentence in this room, until today.
It is a start, a point of new beginnings on a journey full of them.
It also feels good to be back to the written word. I have looked forward to this point over the last few months, getting increasingly excited about a return to word-work and good habits, old and new.
The neighbour’s ginger tom has just tried to come in through my study window (study, I think I will call it my study, rather than office. Seems better. Lair, wordshop, book-lab [laboratoire des livres?], and novel niche, are also-rans.), a fledgling black redstart is searching for insects, and I can also see the fledgling magpie amongst the graves and tombs of my other neighbours, getting closer (the magpie is getting closer, not the dead people!). It is far too friendly these days, rushing and pecking at Aurélie’s toes to be fed. Lizards are curiously loud as they run up and along walls, or use a gutter as a halfpipe, skating and scurrying.
It is good to be back — back for a first time.
For this Back to School month of September, I am taking part in the group promotion, Fantasy Frenzy, at Bookcave. All the books and authors who are a part of this are giving away their work for free, in exchange for an email address and sign up to their newsletter. To sweeten this already rich deal further, there is the chance to win a $25 gift card to the ebook retailer of their choice. Pretty good deal, if you ask me. There are over 30 books to choose from, many of which I’ve not seen before, just follow the link!
A Rigged Game?
Often, it can be argued that the game is stacked against the Indie Authorpreneur; especially those without the funds for big lawyers. Here’s a brief tale of a recent event to demonstrate why I think this.
I have email alerts set up for a few combinations of words in order to help track reviews, or where others have mentioned my work or my website, for example. Usually this is a good thing but, a couple of weeks ago, an alert sent me to a tweet over on twitter.
I found that (not for the first time) one of my books, in this case the anthology edition of the first four Tales of The Lesser Evil, was being offered as a PDF file via a Twitter account. It was not alone — there were hundreds of other books, nearly all seemed to be Indie authors.
Of course, I took a few moments to report the tweet, explaining in the box provided why the account and tweet did not really seem fair and why I felt it exposed private information. Then I left it and got on with my day.
Imagine my frustration when Twitter messages a while later to say the tweet was not breaking their rules and would remain on the platform, as would all the other tweets I had also highlighted in my report.
They did, however, send me a link to where I could provide considerably more details if I thought I could prove my intellectual property and copyright were being exploited. At each step of the way, they kept pointing out that false or unproven allegations would be taken seriously, and I could be prosecuted. Good start, that.
I filled in the form, taking time out of my day and sharing as much detail as possible, only to get to the very end and learn that the personal details I had to provide — my name, phone number, email, and physical address — would all be sent to the individual, along with my complaint. I did not hit send. I don’t want someone having my personal information who, it must be said, might actually have set up this account to phish and steal details in the first place.
So I hit a dead end.
A week or so later, I was surprised to receive a further communique from Twitter, explaining that the account I had reported had been found in violation of their user agreement. They thanked me for reporting it and how important it was to have done so (a report which did not demonstrate any breaking of the rules at the time, remember). Another email followed, explaining how important it is to report accounts. I suspect someone else had filled in the form I abandoned and sent it. I hope they provided a PO box, and a safe email and phone number.
It seems to me that the burden of proof — and potential attached dangers — is firmly placed on those whose work has been pirated. Doesn’t really seem fair. A simple and quick check would prove that the works available did not belong to that account holder, and the account should have been terminated, surely?
And here’s the thing — I understand people pirating books in certain circumstances. Maybe they cannot afford them, and there’s no library close by, for example. But, for that particular anthology, three of the four tales can be had for free already. It’s not like I don’t give things away to read. Download Only One Death and follow the link within for Dust and Death. Buy Death & Taxes and then follow the link for A Clean Death. Or pay for all four together.
I do not set high price points on the work for sale, either.
I like Twitter, even if I don’t go there as much as I used to (apparently that particular account, not my first, is nearly 10 years old. How did that happen?). However, it is not the place it used to be — too many of the authors and artists who made it so special are now gone, hounded out, or quietly slipping away. Things like this don’t really help sell the platform and are more than a little irritating.
As I mentioned earlier, the excitement of returning to work which I feel needs to be done, crafted and released into the world, is very real and present.
By the next newsletter (which should be October, unless I feel I have more to say beforehand — and October will mark a year since Ailsa was born, which seems both sudden and long at the same time), I will have more to say on the progress of these projects.
With our wedding in April, the move to our new home, all the renovation and decoration and repair and, of course, looking after, raising and nurturing Ailsa, I have arrived at this point with a focus and will which was perhaps lacking in previous years.
I do not have time to waste — there is a newfound urgency to my actions which, thanks to that time spent doing other tasks, has also arrived at a point when I have a renewed sense of clarity. It is a good feeling.
There are still many tasks and jobs to do around the house, but I am keeping notes and lists of what needs to be done, and when, which is helping. The priority is winter-proofing.
I am aware that these newsletters often come with discussion of our changing world, of how we have caused — and continue to cause — potentially the biggest change in our climate and environment in our species’ existence. I cut the following paragraph from the introduction, but could not bring myself to simply leave it unsaid:
People are the same. A failed harvest here, a dried up well there, and it does not take them long to move — if you and your family faced starvation or death through lack of water and food, do you honestly think you’d stay put? The movement of millions of climate refugees has already begun and it is only going to continue.
We need to keep talking — shouting — about this, and, for me, the challenge is to do so here in a balanced fashion, including the joys of nature which still exist in abundance, if only we look for and tend to them. Our planet may be at the point where it exhibits what the media report as ‘life-changing injuries’, but that does not mean we cannot help heal her and — at the same time, and crucially — ourselves. It is possible, but it requires considerable effort and change.
Much, if not all, of my fiction is a response to issues we see in our present, ‘real’ world, even if it reads as pure fantasy. The Care Industry, my long-shelved novel beginning the series The Greater Good, is soon going to be pulled down from that (metaphorical) shelf, dusted off, and given a serious prune and polish. I think I will track all the changes, so as to see how many words make it through this round of edits and rewrites, then share them with you.
The irony of this particular novel — which I began almost a decade ago, then left to oneside, knowing I needed to be a much better writer to finish it as it deserves — is that much of what I crafted has actually come to pass. Set in our world, in our time, more or less, The Care Industry features the beginnings of an end of a world, whispers of coming vast change, some of which were actually listed as part of the text. Some of which have already happened.
This is a power of fiction; we, as writers, can look into our present and consider a future, we can pursue threads and paths not yet taken and bring them to you to read, to think about yourself and, hopefully, help stave off the worst of them. This is both a blessing and curse for authors. Some, such as William Gibson, for example, are destined to have every interview or paragraph mentioning him and his work as prophetic, as predicting our present, or even the future (I do think his vision of our species’ future in his latest series is potentially the most accurate, however. The idea of a series of issues, a series of minor apocalypses, if you will, slowly chipping away at our humanity’s viability is the closest to what may well come to pass. It does not have to, though.).
Writers, those who share truth through story (which is every writer in every genre, of course — truth is not restricted to literary fiction) and other artists, are arguably the shamans of our era, bringing a vision to others, to share a truth. And the best way to suppress change and truth is to silence writers and artists — as has happened time and time again throughout our history.
However, we now live in an era where being silenced is harder than ever, especially if the writer is determined to get their message across. This is a powerful ability, bringing hope.
Perhaps this does not read as a normal section on ‘Writing’, but I believe it is crucial to share with you what I am doing with my stories, which I hope are also entertaining, full of real characters, exciting plot, and fascinating settings. Work with a message does not have to be boring.
When the show Alone started on the History channel, back in 2015, I chose not to watch it. I have a problem with certain bushcraft shows, especially when they are promoted and rebranded as ‘survival’. The word ‘survivalist’ irritates me no end — we are, after all, all survivalists, or we’d be dead.
I thought Alone might well be like this but, as each year brought another season, the online word and whisper in the bushcraft community began to change. In the last few years the show has featured people I respect, who I know really do have the skills and mindset typical of the advanced bushcrafter (or woodcrafter/woodsperson etc).
I considered jumping in at a later season, when there were names I knew, but then decided to start at the beginning. I’m glad I did, as I learnt a lot, not necessarily bushcraft skills (although I was impressed with some of the shelters, a canoe, and a string instrument, for example), but about how the ideas and mental considerations about nature and being in nature, which I believe are essential to us all, were in fact reflected in the views of several of the contestants.
I also learnt something of other contestant’s attachment to firearms, and how not having such a weapon meant they spent their hours before quitting in utter terror of bears, or wolves, or cougar. I am guessing that these contestants are exactly the people whom find the ‘tactical’ outdoor gear appealing.
I’ve not yet spent time in woods with bears, or places where cougar are known to attack people, so I do not yet know for sure how I’d react to their presence, but I do know I wouldn’t have that artificial sense of safety provided by guns. Is it strange to want to see bears in the wild? Or find a cougar track?
One of the goals I have set myself whilst we live here is to find, track, and see the local wolves. Having heard them before, in the high Sistema Central in Spain, and seen signs of their passing, makes me itch for more.
I found it gratifying to see other contestants discussing how the whole ‘man versus nature’ thing is, frankly, ridiculous. It is something I have spent years trying to share — go against nature and you will be destroyed, not really by her, but by your own attitude and idiocy. Work with nature, move in harmony with her, and you will thrive. There was also talk of that sense of peace and spirituality you can achieve by being out in the woods, how you move at a different pace, and how what matters is pared down to what really matters.
Of course, the premise of Alone is always going to be difficult — by being limited to a certain area, by filming themselves, and by following (necessary) laws on hunting and gathering, contestants are not really capable of the sort of experience our ancestors would have had.
Overall, however, I enjoyed the first season far more than I thought I would — it helps that Vancouver Island, where the first and second (I think) seasons were set, is quite beautiful, a place of nature and weather, seas and forests.
I’ve been slowly building up images on my Hive account (@alexandermcrow), writing little snippets of story, idea, or thought, as I once did on Instagram and Tumblr. I hope Hive grows, but perhaps not too much — it’s good to have a space not dominated by the money-machine.
This season, late summer and early autumn, is when I most want to move to the woods (to collect food, put on fat, build dens and prepare for the coming freeze?) only, here where we live, we are already in the woods, surrounded on three sides, the fourth leading to the valley of the Romanche, and then the woods beyond. I love getting out to gather food and I’m looking forward to collecting hazelnuts, walnuts, sweet chestnut, fruit, and fungi.
I’ll leave this letter here. I hope you’ve enjoyed something within the words and something within the images. If you do, please forward and share with anyone you think might also like it, I really would appreciate it, especially if they also sign up. It’s always going to be free.
Take care, maybe dig out some old pencils and give them a sharpen in anticipation of this season? Or head out into the land around you and see what you can find to eat. There is beauty all around us.
All the photos are mine, all taken in the month since the last newsletter; the vast majority from two days this last weekend, during visits to the cave system of Choranche in the Vercors, and up the mountain behind the house, to Poursollet.