Sparrows, Hope, and Rules

Potentially the last newsletter before the baby arrives…

This is a season of storm. The birds know it, they are frantic, feeding as quickly as they can before vanishing from sight as the sky drops into the valley and all is obscured by torrent. To all sides the mountains echo with static boom and crunch and light punches from above, sudden winds ripping leaves from the grape vine, tearing them from the wisteria and cherry. Throughout it all, the tall bamboo screen which sits between us and the neighbour is alive with sparrows, clinging to each stem as they thrash and wave.

At dusk, the sky remains low, the light eerie and wonder-filled. I swear I can see the charged air, witness elemental forces mixed in with ghosts carried by cloud and wind.

Today, we rescued a sparrow. She was young, and had perhaps been stunned in a collision with a window, or perhaps succumbed to the swift appearance of the cold during the storm. She was sitting by the door, fluffed and quaking. After an initial assessment I got her into a shoe box, added a few holes for air, a pinch of grated gruyere for sustenance, and then took her upstairs where it was warm and quiet and dark.

After a time, I heard scratching and scrabbling, which is always a good sign. I checked on her (outside once more, in case she flew), but she wished to stay in the box. I added more cheese. At the second check, she still did not want to go, so I went to collect some water to give her. As I was upstairs, she flew out and sat on a wall. When I returned, she was drinking from the droplets on the plants, before moving to a nearby puddle. I have hope for her, hope she makes it overnight, makes it overwinter, but life is what it is, and a big part of that is death, a cycle which turns wheel after wheel, all intertwined and interwoven. One death is another’s life and nothing really leaves us. We are all recycled in one way or another.

In the early evening there was a break in the rain and the skies filled with swallows. Hundreds upon hundreds, followed by many martins a short time later. They swirled and fed, a reminder of similar in Portugal, when the winds would bring in flight after flight of fleeing migrants, abandoning the north for the winter. On Saturday, I saw many vultures, following the line of the Vercors southward. Winter whispers and the storm, which has now rained itself out, has left the tops of the higher peaks dusted with fresh snow. 

These patterns, whether in the weather or the birds or the seasons, are all a part of a whole, each connected to the other by lines we cannot see, by ghosts of habit and spectre of change. Our world is changing, fast, however, and patterns are being woven anew, new ghosts pulling in one direction, whilst others tear in another. The pattern ripples but, as I have said before — remember, despite what you may hear, it is extremely unlikely to unravel completely. Nature is a force unto herself, and as much as we try and kill her, she has ways and weapons of her own. We may go, but she will find a way.


That first section is supposed to be hopeful. I hope you get that. Sometimes, it can prove tricky to balance hope and fact or, more correctly, share the possibility of hope with a constant barrage of uncomfortable and often horrifying fact. I’ll keep trying, however. And don’t confuse hope with optimism, they are two different beasts, as Cory Doctorow recently shared:

Hope is a method: if I do something about this situation, I might change it enough so that I can do something else about this situation.

An optimist decides not to equip the Titanic with lifeboats because it is unsinkable. A pessimist doesn’t bother to swim when the ship sinks and is lost at sea.

Hope is the necessary, but insufficient, precondition for survival.

No baby yet. The UK (and, I think, US) system suggests the due date is in five days… The French due date is October the 19th, and I have chosen the 13th as the arrival point on our chalkboard of bets. I secretly also have the 11th, being a good date and all (my birthday is on an 11th). I suspect she will arrive like a wizard, precisely when she intends to and not a moment before.

I am far behind on emails, so if you sent me something and I have yet to respond — I will, but somehow my time is vanishing into an oubliette or vortex of trying-to-do-all-the-things-before-the-baby-arrives. I fear there may be a corresponding vortex in the weeks to come, after she arrives.

(If you enjoy my ramblings, don’t forget you can forward this email to anyone who might also enjoy it!)

Kindle Unlimited! Free Books!

On this day — the 5th of October — I have books in four different group promotions. I think this is the most I have been a part of at one time, although one ends in a few days, and there are two giveaway groups and two Kindle Unlimited groups.

If you have a kindle, and are a part of Kindle Unlimited, do have a look at the offerings available here, as part of a promotion entitled Dark Flights of Fantasy. My latest novel, Death In Harmony, is in there, along with many others (including several box sets, so LOTS to read). As the name of this group should hint, these are tales on the darker side of things. Don’t expect happy elves singing in the woods. Or, if you do expect that, expect them to then be brutally murdered moments later. Or something? This offer runs until the end of the month.

You also still have time to check out Magical Journeys Into A Book. This KU promo runs until the 20th of this month, and also features many (not-quite-as-dark) books to choose from. Do check it out.

Only One Death is a part of the group promotion October 2021 Fantasy / Sci-Fi Giveaway. As the name should tell you, these books are all free. This runs throughout October, ending on the 1st of November. Have a look!

And, if you are quick, the promo Fantasy & Sci-Fi Worlds To Explore still has a couple of days to run, ending on October the 8th.

Each month, when I share these promotion details, I never know how many of you will click on the links. Each month, as the subscriber count of this newsletter grows, more and more people do so. I suspect there are few of you with access to Kindle Unlimited, as there were far fewer clicks on that than for the giveaways but, over time, I suspect this might change. All this data is not only fascinating, but very useful too. StoryOrigin certainly makes it easier to keep a track of these things.

Alex’s Rules For Writing

This is a piece I am working on for my website, but I thought you might be interested to see the draft I have thus far. It is not ENTIRELY serious (as if I could tell YOU how to write!) but, at the same time, many of these points have a decent measure of validity…

  1. Write (pretty obvious, really).
  2. Read (also, pretty obvious, really).
  3. Observe.
  4. Note down everything.
  5. Listen to others, how they talk.
  6. Watch others, how they react.
  7. Immerse yourself in the world, turn on all your senses and examine the results. Spread your boundaries, travel and see (even in a small, local area, there are things you will have missed. Try not to miss anything.).
  8. Note them down.
  9. Occasionally, very, very rarely, read your notes. Usually, there is little need; once a thing is noted, it is seeded, and grows into another Thing, this time with a capital T, initially unnoticed, unobserved, meeting other things in the dregs of your brain, mutating and twisting, then bursting forth in the misnomer of inspiration.
  10. Accept you will never feel you are good enough. 
  11. Take the previous rule as a challenge, push yourself, constantly question everything — whether a semi-colon, a paragraph, or the current state of the world. Keep growing.
  12. Accept there will always be writers who you feel are better than you.
  13. Do not compare yourself to them.
  14. As with training/exercise, only compare yourself to yourself. That is the best metric for measuring growth.
  15. Look behind the curtain, find the puppeteers, let them work and watch how they do it, silently.
  16. Then seek to disrupt the puppeteers who work against your beliefs. Do it carefully, attaching strings of your own and pulling oh-so-gently in another direction. 
  17. Move the conversation to something you feel better reflects what is right and good and true and just. 
  18. Do not hate.
  19. Learn to question why others may follow a view you dislike, or a view which hurts you or, especially, others. Consider how to change that view, through kindness and creativity.
  20. There are no rules, anyone who tells you there are is selling something. Conversely, always, always, learn the rules. And then break them as you see fit. 

And, so far, that’s it. It is still a draft, and will probably alter before it hits Not A Travel Writer, but I thought it fits here rather neatly.

The Rare Strath Haggis…


Last week I shared a post to Facebook, my first in a very long time, and one designed to point people I know IRL (does anyone still use IRL?) toward this newsletter. I’ve copied this and placed it at the foot, in case you are interested.

I also used it to sneakily sneak in the baby and wedding news. It is lovely that my friends, many of whom I’ve not seen in years, read it and left some beautiful comments. Several of my friends also signed up for NATW, and I’m very glad they did so.

The process of posting and reading the replies also made me miss what social media COULD be, before advertising, algorithms, and unfettered sharing of ideas which are dangerous, hurtful, or just plain misleading took things in the wrong direction.

Again, I have hope that things will change, but I do not trust to optimism. We need to work at this, and talk about it more.

It is possible there will be another newsletter here before the baby arrives, but it is also possible there will not be.

Today, after the storm we had yesterday, the sun was out at lunch time and we ate outdoors (tee shirt and shorts weather). There was snow on the mountain and warmth in the air. As I write these closing words, a few hours later, the rain has returned and the temperature dropped again. How many more outdoor meals will we get this year?

Until next time, take care of each other and yourselves.

Photos, as usual, are all mine, continuing the fall/autumn theme, in this case in Scotland and France. I’ve probably shared some of these before, but then I think they’re still pretty, despite that.

(If you want to read about the rare Strath Haggis, head here to my site. It was imported from an old website, so hasn’t yet been tidied up, but it still amuses me.)

As posted to Facebook, I think this is important to share, demonstrating something about how I view friendship:


You are my friend. I have been sharing a newsletter for nearly two years now, in case you missed it. It is free and contains news (and other things). No obligation to sign up, but I want to pin this so you — YES, YOU — know. (And no worries if you don’t want to sign up — I do blether a bit.)

Longer Version, With Secret Snippets of News

This is a different version of my not-that-regular post, explaining how I don’t really use Facebook. Or, more pertinently, I don’t use the Facebook feed.

I won’t go into the details (again) of why, for many years now, I have not used this platform as intended. This doesn’t really affect the message contained here. It has been a long time since I looked at my feed and the main reason I still have this account is because I find some of the Groups just too useful to leave.

In short, just because I don’t like your photos or status updates, just because I don’t send messages here, or share memes and news with my friends and family, does not mean I don’t think of you. I do, probably more than you imagine.

For a long time now, I’ve been intending to complete a partly-finished essay, entitled ‘On Friends and Friendship’. In it, I look at how the idea of a friend has altered over time and, especially, in recent years. Social media, for better or worse, changed everything — for everyone. One day, I shall finish this essay. Like another not-yet-complete essay, ‘On Home’, it has grown and morphed, starting with a wide view, then zooming in very close, to discuss personal thoughts on my own, perhaps weird, take on friends and friendship. Why am I like this? Does it matter?

To me, a friend from my past remains a friend, unless something beyond distance in time or space has happened to tear us asunder. And that is very rare. I really don’t enjoy drama, preferring to iron out conflict and sponge clean upheaval.

If I went to school with you, then the way my brain works (rightly, or wrongly) still has you classed as a friend, despite the fact it is highly likely we have not shared a space or conversation in, ahem, SOME years. You’ve lived your life, I’ve lived mine, we continue to do so — but you are still a friend. Likewise with university (both times), clubs, work, and general social interaction. You’re still my friend.

This also works with those who are no longer with us on this earthly plane, those whose time came too soon — they may be dead, but they are still friends. Death does not end a friendship, so why should distance or time?

For some years, my medium of choice to share thoughts and news was the email. (I even used to handwrite letters, once upon a time, remember them?) But the email and, specifically, the long, several-thousand-word email, became a big part of my life and days. However, the thing about sharing these missives is that they are potentially an even bigger time-suck than social media can be. A long letter is great to receive, true, and also interesting to write, yes, but my time could be better spent. Especially (crucially) since I make a living through words — and word-fatigue is a very real thing.

I remember reading an interview (maybe? or maybe a journal entry?) with Neil Gaiman, in which he said (and here I paraphrase, as I can no longer find the exact quote) that he remembered taking advice from someone to stop writing long emails. That, by doing so, he would find considerably more time in which to actually write other things. Seemed wise to me and it made a lot of sense. I stopped sending as many long emails (I still, sometimes, send some, it’s very hard to break a habit completely, after all.)

Around the same time, I realised the simple answer to this problem was to send a newsletter, sharing my news, personal and professional, illustrated with my photographs and peppered with references to things I found interesting or enjoyed. I joined Substack and sent out the first note, which was really just a test run cross-posting a blog entry, back in July 2019.

In November of that year, I began sharing a newsletter on a monthly basis, sometimes more, as I prepared to say farewell to Thailand and hello to Europe, and Portugal.

Every month since then, I have shared at least one newsletter, sometimes two or three, switching to Revue earlier this year. Sharing the newsletter is a habit I enjoy, whether it is the process of taking notes on what to share, choosing images, drafting, editing, or sending — each part is fulfilling, as is knowing it is read, receiving replies (you can hit reply to the email and I’ll get your message), and replying to those (relatively briefly, see above…).

Essentially, my newsletters are all those things I used to share on social media, distilled and curated into a message I send to friends, wrapped up in a longer format, like those emails I used to craft.

I make announcements professional (hey, buy my books!) and personal (hey, I’m getting married to Aurélie in April and, hey, we’re having a baby girl, due October 19th, [French system, which means in the UK system, err, any day now…). I often share the books I’m reading, or the movies I’ve watched. I send out news of book group promotions (whether giveaways, review copies, or Kindle Unlimited) and forthcoming releases I’m working on, sometimes talking about the process of writing, other times trying hard not to.

The newsletter contains multitudes, just like those emails, or the long and winding Facebook, Tumblr, Blogger, or LiveJournal pieces I once posted, anonymously, or not.

The crux of this piece is the simple fact I’d like you along, I’d like you to be able to follow my news and, if you choose, respond. I’d like to know that I’ve done my best to let YOU know what I’m up to, where in the world I’m up to it, and even how this makes me feel — whatever ‘it’ might be, to stretch this paragraph a touch further than perhaps it should be.

If you hate my writing, or me, I really advise against signing up.

And if you sign up and immediately regret it, just unsubscribe! It’s not for everyone.

I hope some of you who didn’t know about the newsletter do sign up. It’s all free and full of things I think you may find interesting.

Take care my friends, and remember, there’s much joy and wonder out here in the world, despite what you may read.

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