Time, at some points and places, stretches. Days seem longer, the mind translates the passage of the sun in ways which are not, perhaps, normal. When I was eight, my family moved to Stromness, Orkney. The month was March, so the daylight was practically the same across the single face of our globe yet, as the months passed and I ventured out to play and explore, to search for lost gold in the burns, plan raft voyages to the Amazon, and torment the bull in the field below Brinkie’s Brae, the evenings grew beyond anything I had ever witnessed.
Time stretched. The sun would be high in the sky, long before I woke, and would still be there when I went to bed. It was as though our relocation had gifted me with unlimited playtime, unlimited potential adventure. This was, of course, before that first, dark, and long winter and subsequent SADness.
For me, as for many of you, I suspect, the last few months have also stretched. Think about this time last year, where you were, what you were doing — it seems half a lifetime away (and yet, strangely, also near enough to touch). I am fortunate, in that I live in the northern hemisphere and, even as I was locked down, the daylight extended. Not by Orkney standards, nowhere near, but each evening was brighter longer, each morning the sun higher in the sky than the previous. Now that the solstice has passed, the days already feel shorter, the screaming of the swifts more frantic, as their insect-snatching hours condense, the moment of departure for Africa ever closer. For this year’s young, they will not land for nearly three years.
Imagine that — sleeping on the wing, never landing, never stopping, constant movement. Nature is ridiculous and wonderful and inspiring.
I try to maintain a healthy balance of positivity in this place, to resist my natural tendency to raise uncomfortable, urgent and, I’d argue, essential questions. At least on balance — asking these questions is important. In the earlier drafts of this paragraph I moved from the joy of nature being so inspiring to the bigger issue, to the damage we wreak and sow. I have edited this out*, it is a long section, all about our place on this planet, living in a tiny strip of breathable gas, on a floating and equally narrow section of rock. I shall think about how best to use this but, for now, I’d just like to reiterate — nature is ridiculous and wonderful and inspiring.
A new month, a new newsletter. Somehow, it is July.
Last month I included a graph, showing how many new subscribers the Book Cave promotion had brought to this newsletter. Here is this month’s updated graph, following another Book Cave promotion, and one over at Story Origin. At the time of writing, I now have 189 subscribers and, as such, I think a short reintroduction may be in order.
Hello, my name is Alex and I write things; I can’t help it. I am at the point where I am moving from freelance work and social media management to an increased focus on my fiction and my goal is to make all my money this way, as soon as possible. To this end, I have a Plan and, remarkably, I even seem to be sticking to it.
In 2017, on the eve of my 40th birthday, I left my home nation of Scotland to see more of the world, to push my limits and take the time to experience cultures other than my own. On the way, I met my fiancée, with whom I live in the south-west of Portugal, moving here just before we were locked down. This has made my pandemic experience interesting, learning the ways of a new-to-me nation in a time where the normal is denied and dangerous.
Along with my fiction (which can broadly be classed as fantasy), I write about nature, about our place within this world, about history, archaeology, travel, culture, and bushcraft. Amongst other things. As I have already mentioned, I try my hardest to keep things positive here although, with the world being what it is, it can at times be hard.
I would also like to make this crucial point — this place, this newsletter, is a safe place. It is inclusive and welcoming.
And I hope that, at times, I make you think and ask questions of your own.
This month, I am a part of a group promotion at Story Origin. This is a fantasy-specific promotion, with over forty books available for free download. I have to say — although I am always reluctant to judge a book by its cover, there are several here which look quite beautiful and very tempting indeed (and tempted I shall be). Do have a look, there’s likely to be a number of titles you may want to read!
June was a busy month, with work, making gifts (and carving a certain ring), and with just trying to fit things into an increasingly tight schedule. July promises to be busy too, although I am hopeful I will have more time to work on the third and fourth novellas, and their attendant bonus tales. I have set a deadline for them both to be out there in the world, knowing how much I still have to do on each, but I will not be announcing dates until these deadlines are certain.
One thing I shall be doing — for both the unpublished novellas (at least one of which is better described as a short novel), and for my already-published novella, Death & Taxes — is enabling review copies to be requested, probably via Story Origin. If this is something you are interested in, keep an eye open for announcements here. Bear in mind that each of these three books are normally only available in exchange for cold, hard cash currency, so this will be a good opportunity to get your hands on a copy for free should the cost be an issue. Watch this space.
In other interesting book news, I will also soon be experimenting with print on demand (POD). Good old-fashioned hard copies, also known as ‘books’. My current thinking is to bundle Only One Death, Dust & Death, Death & Taxes, and A Clean Death together, with attendant maps, then bundle the next two tales and their bonuses at a later date. A quick check suggests that this means the first printed book will be around 80k words, which makes it a decent length. At the rate of the edits and drafts, the second compilation will be rather longer. Again, watch this space!
Although I still have these last two (for now) novellas/novels of The Lesser Evil to finish, my thoughts are already returning to the first novel of The Greater Good, still presently entitled The Care Industry. This novel is, technically, almost finished, with just a final edit before sending it out to agents. However… Events in reality (is this the real world? Is this just fantasy?) have already caught up with the fictional events of The Care Industry, which I like to call a novel of the pre-apocalypse. As such, I am at the point where I need further revision, to perhaps bring in some ideas I had originally entertained but subsequently scrapped as being too far-fetched, too ridiculous. Ideas which have now come to pass in our ‘real’ world. This is an interesting conundrum and one I am rather looking forward to.
For those who haven’t followed me for a while, The Care Industry is the tale of John, who carries a dark past, as he returns to where he grew up in the far north of Scotland, in order to try and move beyond events which have left both physical and mental scars. He works in a retirement home, where a new resident causes quite a stir; Bessie is old, very very old, and perhaps even older than that. There are whispers that she understands things beyond the ken of mortal man, whispers that she may in fact be the only living spae-wife. She Knows things: about the wind, about people, about John, and about what he shall face. And she has answers, if only he can find the questions and listen.
This book, the first in a series, is filled with Orcadian folklore and deep myth, with the effects of violence on the individual and on society, with the difficulties inherent in always believing your senses, with despair and hope, loss and love, and, ultimately, what IS the greater good? Also, it features action, adventure, London, nature, scary crypts, and, quite possibly, magic.
The book which follows this (running contemporaneously), still tentatively entitled The Town at the End of the World, is a love story between a man of our time and a woman who has been dead for long, long years. Part ghost story, part romance, part examination of mental health, place, family, and loss, it is also in need of a polish, but much has already been crafted. It may also include, quite possibly, magic.
The third book, A Time of Trees, needs more work, and more research. It is set in the Mesolithic of what is now called Europe, with a framing tale in the here and now. It tells of beginnings, of our ancestral relationship with nature, of shamanism, a not-very-fast-but-still-exciting canoe chase, of murder, of awakenings and meetings and, most definitely, magic.
There are other books planned, some parts of which are planned, some scenes and chapters sketched and tested but, for now, I think teasing the first three is enough. I think they are already very good indeed and, with more work, could be truly excellent.
It is probable that you shall hear from me again this month — this is the ‘proper’ newsletter (more on this seemingly-chaotic publishing schedule soon), but I intend to share further thoughts and words, along with more promotion. In the meantime, do have a look at the free fantasy Story Origin selection, it’s always good to read something new and, don’t forget, you can always buy Death & Taxes, should you wish. It really doesn’t cost very much and the bonus tale attached to it, A Clean Death, is my favourite of the four I’ve already published. After all, who wouldn’t like a tale about a young woman worrying about her very first job, which just happens to be killing someone?
The photos in this newsletter are from the first time I spent months living alone in the wilderness. Each showing the progression of my wilderness home. Some of you may have already seen these but, in September, it shall be ten years since this life-changing event, and I am considering how best to mark the occasion. For now, I’m intending to slip in a few photos here and there, to whet the appetite.
*Interestingly (for me, and perhaps, me alone), I have edited out a considerable number of paragraphs and sections from this newsletter. Unlike the previous one, this was done simply for flow and clarity. I wanted this newsletter to focus on my work, and I think I succeeded in this.
Editing — and writing — is like this, sometimes you struggle to find enough, other times the cup overflows. I think there is an important lesson for life here, but I need to think about what, exactly. Needless to say, in a future missive, you will probably encounter these currently missing paragraphs. Let’s say they’ve gone on an adventure, but shall return at precisely the moment they are needed. As is the way of words, and adventures. And adventures are good.