Finally, stories.

Four of them, in fact.

Well, I made it.

After a series of delays and setbacks, I have finally managed to publish the first couple of novellas, along with their attendant bonus stories/novellas.

This is just a note to tell you this. I shall copy the various blurbs for each, share their covers and include some links to where to find the books. At this point, they are all ebooks only, with paperback, print-on-demand, to follow at some point in the future.

Pour les lecteurs francophones : bonne nouvelle! La traduction française du premier livre, Une Seule Mort, sera très prochainement disponible en ligne.

I still have a lot to do, such as build pages on my site for each novella and story, release Une Seule Mort (the French translation of Only One Death), create a French updates letter on Substack, then there’s all the marketing, lots of marketing… But, for now, I’m relieved to have reached this stage.

These novellas have had a very long genesis, with my ideas altering as I drafted each story until they finally made sense as a whole. There will be blog posts to write about this but, for now, these Tales of The Lesser Evil can be seen as introductions to characters, places and ideas that will be crucial in a longer work to come. Watch this space. (And please, share share, share!)

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To the stories…

Only One Death

After travelling for years, Dhinal hopes he is close to discovering how to save his people. Along the way, he has collected a ragtag band of misfits, all of whom harbour secrets of their own. The latest member of his group, Strings, is running from something, her dreams haunted by flames and terror. Together, they arrive in the bustling city of Eastsea, seeking a guide to the legendary Amethyst Mountains.

Kees is tired of the city. She longs to seek solitude in wild places, far away from the noise and stench of others.

Both Kees and Dhinal know the wilderness does not care about you, it simply exists. Whether you live, or whether you die, is up to you, to your companions and to sheer chance. Winter is whispering in the high places, dangers-unknown abound in the forests, and fractures begin to appear in the group itself.

The truth, Dhinal knows, is that there are many ways to die, but only one death. Yet this journey will test them all, in ways they could not possibly imagine.

This was the first story I crafted in The Lesser Evil. It had previously been intended to be a standalone novella, a play on the standard fantasy quest. However, it sparked ideas, as words often do and, before too long, I was writing…

Death & Taxes

Fea Little: the largest city still standing in the Interior, the City of Mazes, the Crossroads of the North — trade centre of a vast area. Where there is trade there is money, where there is money there are taxes and, where there are taxes, there are tax collectors.

Which is where Merie comes in. Nominally in charge of collecting tax for The Petals, for too many years her work has been undermined by others; any trust she once possessed went up in smoke, the night her husband burnt alive.

Pol is an effective member of her team and his niece, Little Pepper, is terrifying in her ability to kill. But Merie does not trust them; the pair may simply be better at hiding their secrets.

Merie has a plan. A plan she has worked on for years. It all comes down to one night, one final job, and then she will be free. If it goes well. If not, she shall leave her four children without a parent.

Merie knows that no plan is foolproof — especially when the night is full of those who want her murdered.

This tale was the one I began, knowing how it would feed into a longer work. In one of those blog posts I mentioned earlier, I shall go into more detail about why I chose to pursue this business model for these stories. One reason was simple — do you ever read something and find a paragraph where a character’s motivation, where their spark for doing something crucial, is explained with a sketch of a backstory? I wanted to write those backstories first. Several authors of fantasy (and other genres) will write a longer work, then go back to write prequels to fill in these blanks — think of these as similar, pre-emptive blank-filling. These also meant I got to play with time and the past in a way that was easier than including these events in a novel

Another part of The Plan was to make the first tale free, permafree, for those into the jargon. This is designed to act as a lure, a gateway drug as it were, BUT I thought I’d go one step further. As well as the permafree Only One Death, I decided to add a further lure, a free story with each and every novella.

The first such, available with Only One Death, in exchange for signing up for this very newsletter is:

Dust & Death

After four years away, Dhinal is nearly home, carrying with him the means to save his people. He also brings Strings, who is hoping to find a home of her own. Together, they prepare to enter the hidden canyon city of Av.

Strings has had many months to prepare herself, but everything she thought she knew is going to be thrown into question — and what they discover in Av changes everything.

In a land of dust, there are some things best left buried, but Dhinal and Strings must venture deep below the desert, to his people’s biggest secret. What they discover makes the horror that forced Dhinal to leave his people pale into insignificance.

And some secrets strain the balance of the mind; fear is one thing, but what Strings shall learn goes far beyond fear — it shall test her bond to Dhinal and her very sanity itself.

This is the shortest of the stories — after all, you do get it with a free novella. In total, if you part with your email address, then you get the 23k words of Only One Death and 14k of Dust & Death. I think that’s more than a fair price.

The final story, the bonus tale for Death & Taxes, is also my personal favourite. I think. Maybe.

A Clean Death

Pepper has one more name on her list, just one more death to tick off then she can go home, but this final murder will be anything but easy. She has three days until the city is cut off and she is trapped for winter, three days to find her prey. And finding one man in Youlmouth — where it is law to wear a mask in public — may prove too much, even for her skills.

Hedda has trained for this ever since she can remember, yet the question remains — does she have what it takes to snatch away a life? Does she have what it takes to make Pepper proud?

This death is not a simple task, but events have a habit of overcomplicating the already-complicated, and what Pepper and her apprentice shall discover is beyond anything they could possibly comprehend.

There are things the world does not know, things that live only in stories and whispers of rumour.

Things that want Pepper dead.

And where can you find these?

Pretty much anywhere you can get ebooks.

One of the webpages I need to build is a links page, with everywhere you can find Tales of The Lesser Evil. I shall also talk about my decision to go wide, rather than follow the Amazon-only route so many seem to prefer, but not now. Here’s a short list. (I’m leaving off a few of the other online bookstores and those still processing at time of press but, if you have a favourite that is not listed below, have a search — Only One Death and Death & Taxes might well be there. Also, some of the links below may take you to the wrong locational store [eg .fr, for example], but I’m sure you can figure it out.)

Dust & Death and A Clean Death can be found as links in the ebooks themselves.

Only One Death:

Amazon (and at .ca, .co.uk, .fr etc )

Apple

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Scribd

Smashwords

The price is the same everywhere — 0.00.

Death & Taxes:

Amazon (and at .ca, .co.uk, .fr etc )

Apple

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Scribd

Smashwords

The price of Death & Taxes is set the same across the different shops, with small currency variation to get a nice figure in each location. $2.99 or £1.99, for example.

In total, adding together the word count of the four Tales, I calculate you get roughly (!) 80161 words for the price of a coffee (or less, depending on your coffee). Not bad, eh? The forthcoming two novellas (and bonuses) are even longer and will be priced similarly.

And that’s it, more or less. I’ll no doubt mention these again, several times, so apologies in advance. If you enjoy fantasy stories, especially diverse ones where things are not always as they seem, then you might want to give these a whirl. If you enjoy them do please leave stars and a review hither and thither! And do please pass this on to anyone you think might enjoy the books and/or newsletter.

Share Not A Travel Writer

(This newsletter is brought to you from Bilbao, more on this in a couple of weeks…)

Apparently, it is 2020.

In which there is snow.

The silence of snow is thick and cushioned, the light diffused, reflected, refracted, contradictory. Twigs, branches and trunks are blanketed on one side only, crystal-white creating contrast, highlighting their twisting shapes, calling out their identity to those who know their coded winter pattern.

The sky is gunmetal and thick, brown at the edges, rusting clouds silently slipping lower throughout the day, with occasional tickles of flakes tessellating where they fall.

Here and there are the traces of those who have already passed, footsteps telling tales we trackers delight in — this the nursery of tracking, as with wet sand, the details are beautiful, each trail a story clearly written. We can take these and learn, understand where to look in spring or summer, how the animal moves to avoid a fallen tree, or to step over — or on — a branch. Whispers of a past, with another living thing at their end.

The mountains are a place I adore. Here, in the Alps, the seasons are constantly changing, each major quarter of the year broken down into smaller bites. Winter woodland snows are a delight, something magical, always carrying a hint of Narnia.

If a lamppost had appeared along the trail I followed, I would not have been surprised.

Hi.

And ha, ha and thrice ha.

As you may remember, I told you my novellas would be out before this newsletter and how I would be mailing you further details as they happened. Clearly, they did not.

The reasons for this are (mostly) two-fold.

Firstly, this is all new to me, the process of preparing a series of novellas for publication is something for which I have no frame of reference. True, there are many guides out there on the internet, checklists, examples, how-tos. But I am too much of a perfectionist to allow half-finished items out into the world. I have to be happy with the outcome — or how can I expect you, my reader, to be happy? There have been setbacks and hold-ups, research to be done, problems to be overcome, but I am getting there, just more slowly than anticipated.

Secondly, you may remember me mentioning how I had succumbed to flight-germs? Well, over Christmas this steadily got worse, with increasing fever, coughing, difficulty breathing and a constant feeling of icy-cold inside. There were a few other symptoms, but it was the fever, tearing-cough and weakness that hit me hardest. By Hogmanay, I was bedridden, unable to go out — barely able to make it less than a hundred metres to the hotel lounge. As it was, I certainly made the most of the Christmas present hotel. Sigh. (Looking back, the person I sat next to on the flight from Bangkok was definitely coughing.)

I am still not entirely 100% now. There is a tightness in my chest, as though something has been torn and is still repairing. If I push my muscles, lift and carry heavy things, I can do it, just not as easily as I would like. I’m mending though.

What this illness meant was that I could not work on other work — could not make my hours up and, therefore, fell behind. January has been a month of catching up, the time I had expected to be using to upload the novellas instead divided between these two things.

I’m getting there. And all good things come to those who wait.

You’re probably sick of maps by now, but here’s a more up-to-date version of the one I shared a couple of months ago.

Reading.

For the above-mentioned reasons, this has been another month of fewer books read than I would like. At my worst, I simply could not read. Which was not pleasant. Especially when I was laid there, thinking of all the time slipping away, which could have been filled with stories.

I finished Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik; I found it slower to start than her excellent Uprooted, but I did enjoy it.

I then moved on to Rosewater, by Tade Thompson, a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. It did not disappoint. The setting, 2066 Nigeria (not “Africa”, as I keep reading; it’s firmly Nigeria), was masterfully crafted, the characters deep and believable and the story itself strong. I enjoyed it immensely and I am looking forward to reading the other two in the trilogy.

At present, I am currently reading Trail of Lightning, also set in the near future, this time Dinétah, home of the Navajo. Rebecca Roanhorse does an incredible job of combining the elements of this tale: climate apocalypse, monsters, Gods, legends, and magic of a sort. As with Rosewater, the depth of knowledge behind the people and place gives the story a surety and freshness many others lack. Nearly finished this, and I am also looking forward to the others in the series.

To finally have these books (and others), after years and years of white Euro/American-centric fantasy and science fiction, is wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, I love those fantasies set in Lord of the Rings-esque medieval fiefdoms, for example — but variety should be easier to come by, and I think that, finally, this is slowly becoming the case. There is still a long, long way to go, but there is hope.

Watching.

Remember the fever I mentioned (several times now)? Well, the morning of the very day I ended up confined to bed we went to see Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. This meant, in my slightly-delirious mindstate, that I feel like I dreamt it. I shall have to rewatch at some point, as it feels fluffy and woolly around the edges, something whispered whilst I slept. Maybe that’s the dark side?

Other than this, I finished His Dark Materials and have started The Witcher. I loved HDM, thought it was a great production with fantastic performances and I cannot wait until the next season. I think The Witcher is better than some of the people I’ve spoken to have said. I think the problem here is that too many go into it expecting a new Game of Thrones — which it is not. I have Things To Say about this, but now, here, I neither have the time, nor space. Instead, have a look at the always-engaging Kameron Hurley and her twitter feed — my thoughts (so far, still to finish the season) align quite neatly with hers. Also, it amazes me how many had no idea it was a series of books, long before it was a game. I suppose it explains some of their confusion.

Nature.

I have been enjoying the little winter birds here in France, seeing old friends and new, such as the mésange huppée — or crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus), which I have only ever seen in the Highlands in Scotland — they are not common across the UK.

As with the introductory paragraphs, one of the highlights of the last month was heading up into the Alps for the day. The snow meant there were fresh tracks to be followed, picking my way over the chaos of branches and trees downed in a storm late last year. (I was also pleased to see the wall and terrace that was constructed in the warmer months of 2019 is still standing and, indeed, looking like it has always been there.)

I saw tracks of fox, of feral cat, of two species of deer, and of badger, as well as watching a golden eagle glide over the ridge above, considerably lower than in summer to make up for the poor visibility. It was a good day.

What animal tracks can you see?

Ending of Sorts.

At the time of writing, I am in France, where I will be until some point in the next two weeks, when we cross over into Spain, heading west and south. This route is via Valence, Toulouse and Bilbao but, other than this, the precise details have yet to be finalised.

Since the last newsletter, I have shared time with family and friends, in Scotland, England and France. Although my Christmas and New Year were not exactly perfect, it was lovely to be with people I love, to share joy and happiness. Especially with my niece, little Auri, who, at eleven months, was experiencing Baby’s First Christmas. With two dogs, a baby, and nine adults, it was rather fun, chaotic-at-times, but fun!

Sunset on the EU, taken just after leaving Edinburgh. When next I return to the UK, it shall be Brexitland.

I hope you too have had a good festive season and are avoiding winter illness better than I did. I am very much looking forward to being in one place for a time, to get into a routine and put together some consistency — indeed, this is the word I have chosen to represent 2020 — consistency. (I want to write more about this ritual, choosing a word for the year, and perhaps shall do soon.)

This does not mean I shall not be travelling. I shall. There are trips and adventures already planned (beyond the fact I shall be living in Portugal, itself an adventure, especially with the terminal idiocy of Brexit), including a couple in France, one in Scotland, and the potential for one in Morroco towards the end of the year. Watch this space.

Inside a snow-wave, breaking against the stone. Love this pic.

Consistency, for me, means getting into a rhythm I can keep ticking along — a rhythm that encompasses my writing life, my work-life balance, my fitness and health and all those little things that go into this. I am excited about the food in Portugal, about the culture, about cooking more, finding fresh ingredients and perhaps growing some herbs and vegetables too.

I have a long list of blog posts I want to write too, and I am looking forward to crafting these and, speaking of craft, I am also planning to use some more of my time to work on various hands-on projects, involving making things, repairing things, altering things. Mostly bushcraft-related and, no doubt, you’ll see photos. Consistency and experimentation in time-management, routine, and habit should propel this year forward.

I expect it to be a rather interesting year indeed: with the four novellas of The Lesser Evil and their bonus stories/novellas/practically-a-novel-in-two-cases all coming out on wide-release, across several self-publishing marketplaces, with the first novel in my related series The Greater Good being finalised, edited and trimmed and altered, with several ideas for other income-streams to be put into place, and with a new home to be sought and lived in. Busy, but full of joy — that’s how I envisage this year.

Finally, I shall leave this here and return to trying to finish the novellas (they are edited, formatted and virtually ready for upload — all I need to do is polish a couple of pages of the front and back matter and keep testing and sharpening the .epub and .mobi files, before uploading and marketing). I would say they will be out before you get the next newsletter, but I’ve said that before, haven’t I? Instead, let’s see what the universe throws at me, shall we?

Farewell Asia, Hello Europe.

My, aren't you dark and cold?

Here, in the town at the end of the world*, where the railway and road run out of room and the sea has a beginning, the light is always magically special. This is the land of skies and seas, of wind and weather. The clouds here are a language of their own, telling stories as old as the very air itself. At this time of year, the sun barely manages to pull herself above the long line of the horizon — she is tired and needs her sleep after seemingly-endless bright summer parties when she provides enough daylight to read outside all the night through.

Skeins of geese and swirls of starlings are flung into the air, decorations of constant movement, reminders that not all sleeps in the winter. Occasional hen harriers, merlin, and short-eared owls fly low, using the land as cover, the river to guide their passage. The waters of the sea themselves are a blue so subtle as to be almost silver, or perhaps grey, then they are azure for but a moment, before another wave carries them along a spectrum of cold, colours of perfect pastel clarity.

This icy winter sea is, like all waters, a mystery — cloaked and ready to change at no notice at all. The storms in this corner of the world can be legendary, ripping away an entire beach and depositing it elsewhere, wrecking ships year in, year out, bringing secrets from the deep and hiding others in their place. It is good to be back in the north, good to be reminded all life is in flux, change is constant and change is good. We merely ride the wind, we do not control the steed.

Hi.

Here is your second newsletter. I had hoped to send you something sooner, something with links in, something where I had quietly persuaded myself that, yes, it was time to let the first two novellas go out into the world — as close to “finished” as I could possibly get. Nothing is ever finished.

However, time did her thing and spirited away hours and days, filling them with all the hugs and laughter and food and companionship of a long goodbye. We are now in Scotland, a world away from Chiang Mai but with our hearts full of memories and joy of a place that will always be close to us. And no, it did not rain since the last newsletter (it was, however, rather cold at night, warranting hats and socks!).

In short, I did not manage to upload the novellas as I had hoped. They are [— this close —] to completion, just some minor edits on one of the bonus tales, some final formatting and then uploading to where they will be sold. Watch this space — you’ll be the first to know when they are live. For now, here’s another sneaky map…

I would like to be able to tell you that I am enjoying the fresh clear air of this corner of the world, but I have succumbed to the dreaded metal-tube-filled-with-germs that is a long aeroplane ride back to Europe. The Bangkok to Frankfurt leg of this journey was taken on an Airbus A380-800 — I don’t usually get too excited about planes themselves, but this behemoth was a comfortable thing of double-decked beauty. I never sleep well on planes, and this was no exception, but at least I did not feel like a sardine.

Reading.

Remember the title for last month? Well, I did indeed make a terrible mistake/omission. In my list of books I had read and inspired by this twitter thread with James Mayhew, I somehow foolishly forgot to include Moominvalley in November, by Tove Jansson. This was read specifically in November and sandwiched between Tripwire and The Starless Sea. It is a book that utterly resonates with the season (as does Moominland Midwinter and, indeed, much of Jansson’s work — The Summer Book being an extraordinary case-in-point), a book full of yearning and loss, with a faint sense of dread throughout. It tells us a lot about ourselves and our relationships with others and the world at large and is the only book in the series where there are no actual Moomins. I think the best word to describe it is ‘melancholic’, which, in my view, is not a negative sensation/emotion in any way, shape or form. I shall soon read Moominland Midwinter too, but this shall wait until I see more snow.

This month has not been as prolific in reading matter, for the aforementioned reasons. Also, The Starless Sea is a long and chewy book, started just before the last newsletter was sent out.

As such, the only other book I have read this month is the one I have nearly finished:

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Click the link to learn more but, essentially, this is Rumpelstiltskin reworked — and it works well, with the darkness and light of all true fairy tales.

Watching and Listening?

(I realise I have also had no time to think of more fitting titles for these subsections.)

This month has mostly been about His Dark Materials, which I am enjoying. We also went to see a few films at the cinema, before leaving Chiang Mai. The Cave tells the true story of the rescue of the boys’ football team trapped by rising floodwaters in the north of Thailand in June 2018. Some of those featured in the film were playing themselves, so the acting was, at times, not exactly stellar — but the production was good and honest and, in my opinion, gave an excellent introduction to northern Thailand: the people, the land, the culture and the bureaucracy. Definitely worth a watch.

Knives Out is, in a word, marvellous. No need to overladen you with details but I do think it was perhaps my favourite movie of the year as far as pure entertainment goes The script and cast were spot on — if you like Agatha Christie-esque tales, this is for you.

One final thing to mention is the fact we ensured we watched Blade Runner in November 2019 — when the original 1982 movie was set (as it happened, we actually watched Blade Runner 2049 first, then the other, which wasn’t as jarring as it sounds).

As far as listening goes, this has not been a month full of new music — time really has chewed into all the things. Earlier on, I did continue to listen to Portuguese artists, but mostly I only listened to whatever was being played in the background: Mandolin Orange, Paolo Nutini, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, Kaleo, and Passenger for example. Each link here takes you to a youtube video for a specific song.

Nature.

This month is all about changes — switching from the jungle to wintery Europe, with lower sun, colder weather and the vast skies of Caithness, as I detailed at the start of this message.

From this:

…to this:

(Both pics taken from moving transport, the first a pickup, the second the train to Lyon.)

And now to these skies:

I saw some fascinating things before leaving Thailand, with the rice fields flooded for another crop and the attendant birds which descend to feast on the invertebrates this stirs up. However, the star of the month was this little Himalayan striped squirrel (Tamiops mcclellandii), who was chased by something (a snake, I’d imagine) and took shelter downstairs in the house in which we were babysitting, leaping around and generally causing chaos. Not the best photo, but you get the idea — and I’m not sure if I can post video here or not.

Ending of Sorts.

We are in the UK until January the ninth, when we return to France for a few weeks, before our Portuguese campervan, home-finding, adventure. It has been interesting, telling people we are moving to Portugal — so many people we did talk to have either lived there themselves (providing handy tips and locations to explore) or knew someone who moved there, often from Chiang Mai. It makes me wonder if there is some kind of group on the internet for ex-Chiang Mai Portugal dwellers.

I am still unsure as to the direction of this newsletter — I suspect, once we have a new home and routine, I shall be able to write more articles/blog pieces, which I shall link to here, as well as talk about the process ups and downs of self-publishing and, eventually, traditional publishing.

I shall leave this here, as you shall definitely have another message before the end of another month, with news of the novellas. (I am telling you this partly as another reason for me to ensure the novellas are indeed released — now I have told you, it has to happen, right?)

I do hope you and those you love have a wonderful midwinter holiday season, no matter what you celebrate or believe in. Christmas, for me, is a long process which, one day, I shall talk about at more length, detailing the family traditions and folklore we attach to this time of the year. For now, though, I shall simply send love and kindness — we should always remember that this world of ours cannot ever get enough of either which, in its own way, is an utter joy in itself.

Alex

*The Town at the End of the World is the working title of my second novel. This novel is mostly set here in Wick and contains history, nature, a-house-who-is-a-character, mystery, darkness, the sea, madness, ghosts, magic, terror and, above all, a love story. It shall follow The Care Industry and is set contemporaneously. As The Care Industry is my love letter to the Orkney I grew up in, The Town at the End of the World tells the tale of moving to a town you do not know, nor love, and how time alters all. (The third novel, A Time of Trees, is, unsurprisingly, all about living in woods.)

Ho ho ho.

(Edited for reasons of incorrect Paolo/Paulo spelling…)

A Work In Progress

...and, no doubt, I'll get things wrong. Bear with me.

At this time of year, in this place, the mountain exhales at night. Her breath is cool and descends to the city below, bringing with it the scent of the deep, dark places she hides, of lush flowers and constant decay, accompanied by a whisper of secrets and charms. The nights end still in darkness, when the monks in the temple begin their chants and ring their bell or strike their gong, setting off a daily cascade of soi dogs, each howling their welcome to the day, barking their devotion. The sun rises some hours later, tropical-swift, giving only slightly less daylight than in the middle of summer, framed by the harsh calls of myna birds and the roar of the waking airport.

I shall miss this and I shall not. For I keep these moments close, a part of me as much as any other. Soon I shall say goodbye to Chiang Mai and the little house on the edge of the jungle; soon I shall head to a new adventure and gather up fresh scents and vignettes, populate mind and memory, snippets of lived-experience drifting into my fiction unnoticed, colouring the drab with the paint of what makes us human.

Hello.

This is the very first “proper” newsletter of mine and I am still unsure what shape or form this shall take. For this reason, I shall commence with an apology, an insurance in advance for any missteps on the journey.

I am writing to you from Chiang Mai, where we have recently celebrated Loi Krathong and have yet to experience the rising air pollution of the latter part of the dry season. We have been here for more than a month and it has rained perhaps four times. Maybe five?

This newsletter shall be broken into manageable chunks, easily digested or skipped, at least that is the plan. I may, over time, come up with pretty subtitles, but that might take a wee while. I definitely like the idea of an initial vignette, a small setting of the scene before launching into business.

Then there shall be this, a brief introduction. If I write like this, it shall be easier to keep ahead of myself, schedule a moment to craft one part whilst juggling other things. At least, that’s the plan. I am also well aware I have a habit of too many words. This initial newsletter shall definitely be long, as I shall try to introduce each potential section (work-in-progress, remember?), as briefly as I can.

As detailed here and touched upon here, I shall soon (very soon) be self-publishing the first of four novellas. Actually, this shall be the first two novellas, each with a bonus tale (which are also more-or-less novellas themselves). I shall also be publishing the French translation of the first novella.

This has been a long process and, in some ways, I shall be glad to see the end of it — in other ways, however (being too much of a perfectionist), I am well aware I shall never truly see the stories as finished. To counteract this, I am attempting to look forward to the second pair of novellas and bonuses and, especially, the final editing of my first novel and drafting of the second.

For the purposes of this letter, this paragraph will be relatively brief. This is simply because I expect to send another note when these tales are ready to be published, just so you know — maybe you’ll want to read them? If you enjoy fantasy fiction and like characters that are perhaps not exactly the usual, then these stories might be for you.

Oh, and the first one shall also be free.

As a bonus for here and now, here’s a work-in-progress, a not quite finished map. All such stories need maps.

Non-writing News.

The big, non-writing, news is that we are leaving Thailand for exciting pastures new. After a Scottish Christmas, English New Year, and French early/mid January, we will drive from France in the campervan (I say we, those of you who know me also know that I do not drive, so poor Aurélie will be driving), heading west, then south, then west again, our destination Portugal, where we will explore and look for a new home base. Initially, we were thinking of the Algarve (and Tavira, for example, still looks like somewhere to investigate), but we are increasingly leaning towards the Silver Coast and the area around Lisbon, both north and south — especially if it is on the railway route. Different birds, different foods, songs, scents and weather. All those things that make travel and adventure what it is. Watch this space. Any hints, tips, ideas or thoughts, hit reply to this message and do share — all notes gratefully received.

Reading.

This month (since this is your first proper newsletter, I’m taking this date as the 1st of November, until today), I have read a total of four novels and two novellas. In order of reading:

Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Gideon The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

The Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Tripwire (Jack Reacher 3) by Lee Child

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I have enjoyed all these — I have become that person who won’t finish a book they are not getting anything out of, something that when I was younger I vowed not to do, but life is short and there are too many good stories available not to enjoy your reading time.

Of the above books, my personal favourite was the first, The Ten Thousand Doors of January. In my opinion, it has everything a story needs, in just the right order and portion size, it is beautiful and engaging, powerful and tender, and definitely worth tracking down and devouring.

I usually have a couple of non-fiction books on the go at any one time but, this month, I have mostly been using that time to read and research articles and blogs (and watch vlogs) about living in Portugal. Last month I read Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire by Roger Crowley, an at-times horrific book (due to the content, the horrors man visits upon man, not due to the craftsmanship of the book itself), but also undeniably fascinating. I have also been reading Living With Earth: 20 Years of Building Earthen Homes by Hand, by Jon Jandai and Margaret Reents. This is a book I helped upload to Amazon and, if you are at all interested in either or both learning how to build homes from the earth or/and reading about a different way to live, this comes heartily recommended. (It will also be available as a book-book, soon!)

Watching and Listening?

In future emails, I may also share what I have been listening to and what I have been watching too, what was seen at the cinema, for example, and being within easy public transport distance of a cinema will definitely be an important consideration for our Portugal location. I used to keep an anonymous tumblr account in which I recorded everything I listened to — looking back at this is interesting, showing mood, showing development of thought etc. I suspect, however, this might be more interesting to me and not you? Although seeing as the initial concept for this newsletter was that of a writers’ notebook, maybe these things are essential? Work very much in progress. (BONUS: as I type this I am currently listening to and rather liking Buraka Som Sistema, in my ongoing research into all-things-Portugal. Cultural immersion, you know?)

Nature.

As I mention in this twitter thread, Gerald Durrell figured prominently in my formative years. The Amateur Naturalist was — and is — one of my favourite books and his Corfu trilogy of autobiographical novels likewise made a big impression. (Semi-? or is all autobiographical writing by definition semi-? Does the act of remembrance, coupled with the creative mind, twist facts to fit a narrative? Probably. But, this is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination — we ARE stories, after all.)

As an aside, linking back to above, one thing we are currently working our way through watching — and thoroughly enjoying — is The Durrells. I loved the 1980s version of My Family and Other Animals (and own it on DVD), but this adaptation is also magnificent. I only recently learnt that Theo, in real life, had a daughter a couple of years younger than Gerald, who went with them on their exploratory expeditions. In the books and the television series, she is never mentioned, nor is the fact Theo was married.

I digress. Nature is crucial to who I am. I have spoken about this before, on several occasions, and there is not really time or space to do so again here. Instead, this shall be a regular section detailing a brief encounter with nature, something that came into my life and enriched it.

This month is the turn of this moth. I very nearly squashed it, as it was initially hiding within my flipflop in the dark. The case of the moth in the flipflop in the nighttime. Not having field guides and easy access to identification books has been tricky for me (Aurélie realised how important this was to me some time ago and gifted me a Birds of Thailand book) — I think this is Daphnis nerii, or the Oleander hawkmoth, but I’m not certain.

I cannot leave this paragraph without mentioning the fact I am editing this newsletter from Chiang Dao, with a stunning view of one of my favourite mountains on earth, surrounded by shoals of butterflies and the hum of a thousand thousand insects. The night here is cold, the day bakes. I am lucky to be here, at this moment, in this place, even as I gently brush the tiny ants from my keyboard, discouraging them from trying to search within. Everything here is eating something or someone else. It is the way of the jungle and an essential, simple lesson in our interconnectedness.

Ending of Sorts.

I think, for this letter, this is a good place to begin to wind things up.

Once upon a time I read a useful piece of advice from, I think, Neil Gaiman (and I am definitely paraphrasing his advice here). He was asked to pass on something writers could directly implement to help boost their craft and explained how his output had increased considerably when he stopped writing emails. This has definitely been the case for me — all those words I used to share in two-or-three thousand word missives are now reserved for my other writing and, crucially, I find the creative energy I used to input into these is now saved for my work. That said, I sometimes miss longer emails, some occasionally sneak out, true, and I suspect this newsletter might well become a surrogate for those missed missives. It is a letter, after all.

I hope something here has been of interest? If you did enjoy it (or, for that matter, even if you hated it) and you know someone else who would also enjoy it, by all means, do forward this newsletter. And, if you did hate it, there’s an unsubscribe button just below! I suspect the next newsletter shall have a lot more about my fiction.

Finally, any thoughts or things you wish to share, you can always reply to this. I will certainly read everything I receive, but I cannot promise I shall send a long reply, for the reasons explained above!

Take care, spread kindness and I’ll leave you with this thought. When I was exercising yesterday, swinging my kettlebell, I listened to the pounding beats of The Prodigy, as I have done for more nearly thirty years now. Only relatively recently have I also discovered their music neatly fits my exercise routines. As I cooled down after my workout, I was suddenly hit hard by the remembrance that Keith Flint, the dancer and singer of The Prodigy, took his own life earlier this year. I’ve seen a number of bands in my life and the best gig I ever witnessed was The Prodigy in 1995. Young Alex even clambered onstage at the end of that gig, along with several others, all dancing, all happy. The security were irritated, the band, less so. Keith moved among us, shouting over the crunching bass of the final encore, passing on a handful of words to each stage-invader. By all accounts, this was in keeping with his personality, at odds with the stage presence that terrified certain sections of society in the 90s. A good man, someone who loved nature, whose death surprised those who knew him and those who just watched from afar. We do not know what passes through the minds of the people around us — sometimes a simple word of kindness, a reminder that they are not alone, this is enough to help. Maybe remind someone they are loved?

Enough of my rambles. Until next time.

Alex

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