As the sun warms, the water flows. Everywhere on the mountainside, the sound of running streams, whether tumbling and brim-full of snowmelt, or thin rivulets, snaking to join their companions. Rhythm, rhyme, melody and music. Other than this, the sounds are mostly birdsong, each feathered bundle welcoming the spring with frantic activity. Nests are being built, relationships founded or reinforced, food collected and rivals discouraged. Birds and the water, wind in the trees, creaking of branches and the humming of bees.
Bright flashes of fungi litter the forest floor, the warming days and wet conditions welcoming weird and beautiful shapes and sizes. Many I do not yet know, others old friends. Tracks in the ground, traces of those who came before, dropped deposits handy markers for identification: ermine and weasel and mole. The ground has been turned over by the snouts of the wild boar, the sanglier, capable of lifting rocks weighing half their hefty bodyweight, or more. Their disturbance is excellent for the soil, aerating and dispersing, encouraging seeds to sprout. Natures heavyweight gardeners are often accompanied by the robin, who has now also transferred his attention to the allotments and gardens of mankind.
These woodlands are worked, tall giants felled individually, rather than the vast denudation of the clear-cut system. Piles of logs slumber by the road and trails, gently drying and beginning to season, often covered in bright flashes of identifying numbers, or scrambles of children, playing.
Much of this area has altered in the last few generations. As small scale sheep and cattle rearing became economically unviable, their pastures and slopes were left fallow and in moved the birch, followed by others: Norway maple, linden, beech, oak, chestnut, poplar, mountain ash, larch, Norway spruce, silver fir, and various pines. Today these woodlands look older than they are, perhaps because the land still retains a memory of their cover from long before, perhaps because it feels right.
As the woods returned, so did the animals, the deer, the boar, even the wolves. Higher, the remaining flocks of sheep and goats are sometimes interspersed with dogs, bred to look like the sheep they guard, but sheep with big teeth, loud barks and snarls. There are shepherds here, moving the animals from slope to slope, above the forests, in the places where the snow sits deepest in winter, the hillside ringing with the stone-crack of the raven call, the melancholy of the eagle, and the frantic shriek of the marmot.
And, throughout it all, the importance of the water, plummeting and splashing, pooling and crashing. It carries snowmelt, carries tiny, suspended cloudy particles, the crushed rock of the glaciers, worn by centuries and gravity. It also carries those unfortunate enough to be caught in it, or those whose time came, only for their bones to fall into the streams and themselves tumbled smooth, heading down down down. Rivers and watercourses and beaches are the perfect places to find natural resources. Things are moved, things exposed, a natural store for creation and need. Flint nodules can be found beside iron, pyrites sitting near cracked slate. It is little stretch of the imagination to see these places as the supermarket of times prehistorical, banks explored, detritus collected, driftwood stacked to be used later, clay pulled out by hand, or antler tools.
Water is life, and always has been, it is a channel to our own history, a lane leading to our ancestors. Wars have been fought over water, vast populations moved, sending ripples throughout history. It is all too easy to look upon a wave of refugees, the terminology liquid in itself, and not see what has created the disturbance in our ocean of humanity. Perhaps drought and failed harvests in Syria, or the Sahara pushing south, places where the flow and tinkle is no longer seen and heard, the birds themselves moved on. One can only guess how many other places will fall similarly silent in the coming decades.
As you may have noticed, I did indeed move my newsletter from Substack. Moving was not as straightforward as it might have been — I find it slightly amusing how companies are always keen to explain how your data can easily be moved from one platform to another but, when the push comes to the proverbial shove, they make it harder than necessary. Substack’s export files could certainly be a LOT better.
I do like how I could use Revue to set up a custom domain address too, I think newsletter.notatravelwriter.com is rather smart.
I am, however, guessing this message may well end up in a host of spam folders, but there is little I can do about that — I did mention it in the last newsletter I sent (which I cannot yet link to, seeing as I’m transferring my Substack posts to my own site, slowly), so I can only hope this made those of you who actually read my notes aware.
Which reminds me — a big hello to all the new readers! Only One Death was featured as a weekly deal in Bookcave’s email, which brought in quite a few new people. Hello all and welcome. Briefly, this space is essentially a writer’s notebook, full of different thoughts, notes, photos, ideas, musings, lists and, generally, all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on in the world of an author. I try to keep it interesting and I frequently fail to keep it short.
I’ve said it before and, no doubt, I’ll say it again — I am delighted when people open and read these notes, but I don’t want anyone to feel compelled to stay. If you don’t enjoy my words then, by all means, please do unsubscribe. I do not see the point in making it hard for people to leave. You’ll find an unsubscribe link at the foot of every message.
One other thing you’ll often find in these newsletters is notification of when I am taking part in giveaways, or review promotions. Which neatly leads into…
This month I am not taking part in any review promotions, but you can find my novella, Only One Death over at StoryOrigin, all for free and in the excellent company of many other similarly free tales. This promotion is called “Under the Surface – Stories Where Things Aren’t As They Seem” and Only One Death definitely fits the bill. This runs until the 1st of May, please have a look!
Hayfever and Househunting
It is April. I am locked down in France, where we have recently had some fantastic sunny, hot days and, as I write this, are expecting heavy snow on the mountains once more. The spring here is a proper spring, full of birds and song, blossom and unfurling leaves, and great wafts of pollen tickling the nose.
When I was much younger, I used to suffer with considerable hayfever. Every May in Orkney, there would come a few days where the fever in hayfever would strike, and I’d often be rather ill. Then it would pass and I’d be outside again, still with running, irritated eyes, scratchy throat, and sneezing nose, but at least no longer bedridden. For many many years, I took Triludan (which was a brand name for terfenadine), right up until it was removed from sale due to the cardiac risks associated with it. It was definitely the best hayfever medicine I have taken but I’m quite glad my heart survived. These days my hayfever is, in comparison, negligible. I keep a supply of non-Triludan tablets, just in case, but I take them only rarely. The tree blossom and pollen is easing, which I am grateful for; there were a few sneezy days earlier in the spring.
In many ways, it would have made more sense for France to have locked down in March, before the start of the better weather tempts people out, and blankets them in a false sense of security. As it is, we had a week where temperatures were pushing into the higher 20s °C (80°F), then this week they dropped back down to a few degrees above freezing, with snow flurries and bitter winds. I suspect things will get warmer again soon, however.
Being locked down means it is unlikely we’ll be able to find a house to rent before May at the earliest. We managed to look around two properties, just before the lockdown arrived, each with a tale to tell.
The first was advertised as being suitable for those who love nature and peaceful surroundings, which sounded perfect. However, upon arriving for our viewing, we were met by a working farm, with two pens of hunting hounds, baying and barking and yapping. Cockerels and chickens called and chucked, and our parking spot was blocked by a tractor and trailer. A warm and humid pile of manure sat about ten metres from where we’d eat outside, gently steaming and scenting the area. The best part (or, technically, worst part), was that the master bedroom’s only window opened INTO the barn where the cattle stayed. Not exactly what you would call fresh air… Needless to say, we didn’t take that one, but we did laugh about it.
The second place we viewed was better, no farm and surrounded by woodland and pasture, mountain and birdsong. The location was perfect, the view splendid, the fact it was on a south-facing slope excellent. Outside was surrounded by piles of, well, I hesitate to say rubbish, but… here was the place where the children’s scooters and plastic toys went to die, there a heap of pallets and broken wood, beyond a bench and weights, gently rusting back into the earth, piles of broken hookah pipes at its base. Admittedly, there was a lot of land to play with and, apparently, we could do what we wanted with it. There were swings for children, trees, and even a swimming pool. The mess was hard to see beyond, however. The inside — a ground floor of a traditional mountain house — was nothing special, but it was heated by a wood stove, and we could have made it work. Leaving, I was initially around 70-75% in favour of taking it. The rent was good, the landlord said we wouldn’t need all the paperwork other agencies required (difficult, when you’ve spent some years outside a country, moving around and, in my case, are of a different nationality), and the location perfect.
As we were heading down the switchback road, descending to the valley below (the house was at precisely 1000 metres: 3280 feet), Aurélie braked, as a massive dark shadow leapt from the hillside above us, directly into our path. The rocky roadside was at least two metres higher than the car, and the road itself around four or five wide, yet the wild boar nearly cleared the whole. Nearly, as it crashed to the tarmac in front of us, very closely in front of us, skidding on its belly, before bouncing back to its feet and taking off down the mountain at speed.
Clearly a sign, of some sort.
We talked about the house, we talked about the mess, the view, the not-really-perfect and the perfect. Then, later that evening we decided to take it, Aurélie calling and arranging an appointment to sign. We had been the first people to call back, which seemed fortuitous. However, when we went to sign the contract we waited, and waited for the landlord to show. He didn’t and, it turned out, wouldn’t have. Apparently, despite being delighted we would take the apartment, he had still managed to show people around the following day, signing someone on the spot instead and not letting us know.
In short, it was annoying, irritating, and terrible business behaviour but we are also well aware we perhaps had a lucky escape. I suspect he would not have been the best landlord, and we would have had a host of problems — and the next time we see a wild boar flying away from a property at speed, we will know exactly what that sign means. Pigs do fly, apparently.
Writing / Death In Harmony
The third of the Tales of the Lesser Evil (technically, the fifth, if you include the bonus tales, Dust & Death, and A Clean Death) is with the A-team, and I’ve already had some feedback. There will be some minor edits, and the bonus tale will need finishing, along with all the other things needed before publication (including a new map!), but I am still hopeful it shall be published in April. May at the latest. He says. Watch this space.
Death In Harmony is the tale of one character, at two pivotal times in her life, memories and events entwine, all wrapped in a neat blanket of terror. It is a wild ride, breathless in parts, with little chance of jumping off for a rest. This was deliberate — the original plan had been to briefly reference the backstory, those memories which impacted upon the story being told. However, it soon became obvious that this would not be as effective as actually also telling that story, so one novella became two, intertwined, linked by the character and echoes of similar events. Fear is very much the theme here, fear across time, and how echoes of the past so often play upon our present.
The bonus tale is, at this point, completely unnamed (as in, I really haven’t a clue yet, other than it’ll have the word ‘Death’ in it and no, Tim, Death By Chocolate is sadly not on the table). It features the same character, set between the two entwined tales of Death In Harmony, and it is essentially a good ol’ fashioned Monster of The Week tale (a term stolen from X-Files fans). It also introduces a key setting for the forthcoming longer works, a setting which is pivotal to the whole and, thus far, has only been mentioned in passing. There’s also a volcano, magic, and lots of music, drums, and dancing.
I am also in the process of releasing the French translation of Dust and Death, entitled Mort et Poussière. As with its English language version, this shall be a free bonus tale, available to those who own Une Seule Mort (Only One Death). For those of you who may already possess this, I’ll be updating the ebook with links to the download location for this bonus. I’ll also be sending out a French newsletter with further details, when the book is ready. It is actually the newsletter creation which is holding this up, as I need to include a link to it in the ebook, and it is currently also being relocated from Substack, all of which takes time.
(Similarly, with Only One Death, Death and Taxes etc — I’m updating each of these with the new newsletter link, and also updating the maps, splitting them between two pages [east and west], so as to ensure detail is preserved and easily visible in a portrait format, rather than the landscape currently used.)
Within the next month or so, you should also expect news about print versions of The Tales of the Lesser Evil. Things are afoot, and I’d like to have this complete by the time Death In Harmony is released (also releasing it as a print copy option). This is the original reason the maps have been rebuilt, as having two sheets instead of one makes sense. Watch this space for more details of this, soon.
There might be another newsletter this month but, equally, there may not — I have a lot of work to do, and no further new promotions for a few weeks.
Starting tomorrow, the ninth of April, StoryOrigin goes out of open Beta, which means I will be paying to use it. This is a good thing. Evan, the brains behind the platform, has so far not asked for a penny, yet has helped many writers and even more readers to connect and share their works and the books they love. Although free is a good thing, so is paying creators for their work, and Indie software developers are no different. I am exceptionally grateful that he allowed StoryOrigin to be used for no money at all, for so long — and am very glad I can now pay him a (pretty small, to be honest) fee to continue to use the platform.
Seeing as I will now be parting with cash to use StoryOrigin, I intend to use it even more than I already have, try and build up more reviews, more sales and even a sprinkle of time-limited giveaways. I have also yet to use the newsletter swap feature, simply because I have yet to look through the newsletters of other authors on StoryOrigin to find one I like, but this is something else I’d like to do in the coming months. I have a few more ideas too and will, no doubt, share them here.
For now, I’ll leave this here, and hope it arrives in your inbox. I have tested the unsubscribe link, and I have tested the ability to reply to me — and both work. I would prefer you say hello to goodbye, but that is entirely up to you! If you do want to respond, or comment, at present it is best to simply reply directly to this message. I suspect in the coming months further features will be added to Revue, but a comment system is not yet live.
Lastly, if you do enjoy my words, please consider sharing them with others you think would similarly appreciate them. The more readers I can reach who actually want to hear from me, the better. Thanks for reading and, as ever, stay safe and enjoy the spring (or autumn, for those of you in the southern hemisphere — also a magical season).
(The photos are all mine, all of mountain or hill streams in Scotland or France.)