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…)