The Sense of a Storm
Echoes and Foreboding
It comes not through taste or sight, sound, or touch, or scent, but through something other, another one of our senses the majority somehow forget we possess. It is a pressing down inside, something foreboding, ancient, deep and utterly, utterly untamed.
The clouds build, towers of moisture tumbling and billowing, trying to outdo one another, ever higher, faster and faster. Their bases widen, their tops level and they begin to move together, energy gathering, a meeting of lovers, their dance electric.
Here, in the glacial valleys of the French Alps, it is a time of storms. My head often hurts a warning, my brain whispering of coming downpour, sometimes long before I even notice the genesis of the clouds. Then azure skies are darkened, summer glare disappearing into dim murk and sudden, swift, gunmetal grey. My head continues to be tightened within atmospheric vice; wine helps, paracetamol surprisingly less effective.
Then the first distant rumble is felt through the air, through the ground, inside my chest. Another. And another. Before five minutes have passed, the mountains funnel the storm, echoing from cliff-face to cliff-face, ricocheting from building to building, cracks and booms, or the deepest bass you could possibly hear, rolling, loud, long, at the very edge of hearing.
They say that the buildings of Grenoble and this corner of Isère are utilitarian, simply because how could they possibly compete with the surrounding beauty? Yet the same, otherwise nondescript, sheer surfaces of tower blocks and modernity come into their own during a storm, channeling the sound, adding reverb and returning the same thunder from an entirely unexpected direction. The effect is powerful, a reflection of the sheer thumping beauty of the storm itself.
Then the gap between peals lengthens and the centre of the downpour moves away as quickly as it arrived. Thousands of litres of water have been dumped in the valley and on the steep slopes all around the city. This all feeds into the Isère — a river of considerable power and danger, never placid — which, in turn, flows to the mighty Rhône.
Yet, even with the funnelling of storm along the valley, this is not the end. Often, the shape of the earth itself will play a surprise hand of its own, the clouds bouncing — a mountain and storm pinball — back into the direction from which it came.
Then it is spent, and the air is fresh, my head recovered, the loam and soil rich in my nostrils, puddles and pools begin to gently steam in the summer warmth and birds bathe and drink their fill.
I love storms, no matter where I am. It is the same sensation as when I climb to a high place, or stand in the shadow of a wonder of nature — I feel small and, by feeling small, I grow.
Here we are in September and I am in France, arriving a third of the way through August, via Lisbon. We flew into Lyon, the first time in a ‘plane since January and the days of pandemic and, I have to say, I felt safer than I thought I might. A day after arrival, however, our return flight home from Nantes was cancelled and it looks like there are no replacements for at least a month. Such is life; we shall simply have to reroute. I have now lost track of how many times flights have been rearranged.
Fortunately, where’er I travel I carry my means to work: pen, notebook, laptop, mechanical keyboard (yes, full sized, I just can’t type as well or as fast on chiclet* keys), mouse, and phone. And my brain. This latter object is often the one which fails me, tiredness due to translation, due to simply being among others, pushing me to an early bed.
As I draft this, I am currently working (standing, of course) not too far from Grenoble, but soon I shall move into the mountains which surround this valley, then return downhill to head northwest, not too far from Mont Saint Michel (as I edit this piece, I am in freshly-arrived in Normandy, having also edited on the TGV to Paris yesterday. Writing is truly time travel.) The photos in this newsletter are from the week in the mountains. I already miss their sense of scale.
There will be another newsletter this month — this one grew a little too unwieldy for one, and I decided to subdivide. Expect it midway through September.
As you probably know by now, I expend energy when I am with other people, no matter how well I know them, or how much I enjoy their company. I am a battery which needs to recharge away from others. For many years I was unaware of this balancing act, unaware that I needed time to recover. I learnt the hard way, exhaustion and subsequent misery the result.
I recently read an interesting twitter thread which I think links to this, here (it is well worth a quick read):
When I decided I was going to take this author-writer thing seriously, I made a conscious decision to be aware of my own limitations, give myself breathing room and space to live. This was one reason I decided to head off on a feral life, to slowly explore this world of ours, learning about other people, places, nature and culture. Travel teaches patience.
In this age of pandemic, the traditional book tour is no longer currently a possibility — but this was something I already knew I could not do. The energy I would spend meeting people, talking publicly, would be too much. I’m firmly of the belief that, primarily, readers want their favourite writers to actually write, and I would have lost too much of myself with public events, slowly burning out, fizzling away until words no longer arrived. If I was somewhere Other on the globe, then this would not really be possible.
Saying no is something that is hard for me but, the older I get, the better I get at it. I am glad I never pushed myself to finish projects when I was younger as, looking back with the benefit of age, I know I would have encountered difficulties, failed to prosper, and subsequently wilted too soon, had I actually succeeded back then.
When I finish the final edits of The Care Industry, acquire an agent, then an editor and publisher, remind me of this, will you? I am a writer who wants to write. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
I have a lot of work to do this month and next (note to self: when do I not have a lot of work?). It is a busy time for paying, freelance work, but also for my own projects. I need to fix my website, finish the edits for the third novella (which, as I’ve mentioned before, is now actually an accidental novel) and its bonus (also unnamed), start and complete the digital production of the map and cover for this novel and the free bonus, format and build the .epub and .mobi files, upload and distribute, then market. It’s a lot of work, especially since I hope to have another novella and bonus completed and released before Christmas, with a box set/anthology released at the same time or shortly after.
If the Back to School feeling of Autumn (or Spring, for those of you south of the equator) makes you feel you want to start reading something new, then this month Only One Death, the first of the Tales of The Lesser Evil, is a part of a group promotion entitled “September First-in-Series Fantasy Reads”. This is full of new things to read and, best of all, they’re all free. Just follow the link.
As I discussed recently, I intend to begin building my review team in the coming weeks and months, each of whom will receive free copies in exchange for an honest review. This is quite a large project in and of itself and has already raised a few issues. Since I talked about this, I have had a few replies, some genuine and useful, their names and emails added to the list for the upcoming review copies, but I have also discovered that paying for reviews is also a thing. But why? Why would I pay?
I’m already giving away a book, something which has taken many, many hours of work, why would I then pay to have it reviewed? It certainly needs to find its readers, its people — the whole point of review copies, reviewers, and subsequent algorithms, of course — but I know there are plenty of people out there who would love to read a book for free, in exchange for their thoughts. The irony is that these ‘pay me for reviews’ messages are from people who review industrially, widely, across all manner of books and, as such, the chances of me getting a better review are therefore not quite as good. The Lesser Evil are fantasy novellas (and novels), they are not young adult, they veer towards the darker side of fiction and, as such, will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m fine with that — they just need Their People. And those people will get a free copy if I think they fit but, I’m sorry to say, I cannot afford (nor do I want) to pay them. (I do understand the economic arguments of pay-to-play, I also do not mind people paying reviewers to climb up their ever-increasing To Be Read pile, that’s not a problem. I also understand the argument that traditional media pays people to review, and I do not hold anything against other authors who can afford to pay. Everyone makes their own decisions, chooses their own path, when it comes to writing and publishing, and who am I to argue? I simply plot my own route.)
It is hard, in this day and age, to discuss certain ideas without others immediately leaping upon you, denouncing your views and thoughts in the public arena. We live in a time of echoes, reverberations of the past bouncing back into the political playbook of today. There are those amongst us who now believe politics is and always has been us versus them, rather than a meeting of minds, debate, and then a consensus and way forward as it should be.
Even now I am guessing there may be some of you reading this paragraph and being repelled, pushed away, even if, perhaps, you enjoyed all my other words. The mention of the P word does that.
But there comes a time to nail ones colours firmly to the mast, even if they upset others.
My fiction is, and always will be, political. Fiction is a medium for me to share thoughts and ideas in a format which others find palatable and, indeed, delicious. Those who believe politics should be kept out of fiction have not been paying attention, ever, especially in the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This is how it is done, we turn ideas into story, rinse and repeat. For many, many hundreds of years.
I believe in fairness, in kindness, in equality for all. I believe in imagination, in love, in science and our ability to overcome problems through discussion and brainpower. We are an extraordinary species, and it upsets me that too many of us waste what little time we have before we return to stardust. We should all be questioning what we do in life, our choices and paths, and whether they enhance us as a whole or not. And, if not, considering how to change, how to grow. Great things can be vast, but they also operate at a micro scale, small joys are easy to share, tiny transgressions of happiness easy to conceal.
Division and destruction are not in my nature but, and this is a big BUT, that does not mean I am weak or powerless. This is too often the assumption of the bully, of those who seek to shout over others. The meek, the quiet, the thinkers — we are the ones you do NOT want as your enemy.
Kindness is something which is too often co-opted these days, cash-value added to all; we should only be kind if we receive something in turn. Perhaps it is time we started to seriously question this, to question how we can flourish as a species, how we can progress, not against the planet, stripping its resources with no thought to the outcome, but with our home, with nature. I think we can do this, I think we can make the changes necessary — but I am also prepared to accept others will attempt to block this, for reasons of division and power games, for reasons of money and hatred of the other.
For this reason, I think it is important we try our hardest to stand tall, to call out injustice, to lend a hand when someone else needs lifting up, to form a barrier against those who see the tide of us versus them as the only way, link arms and stand firm. At times, we may feel we are alone in an otherwise overwhelming tide of darkness, but we are not.
For it is not just the valleys of the Alps which harbour gathering clouds. Everywhere around the world there is a sense of storms, echoes of dark pasts. I just hope we are ready for the moment they break, able to find shelter and weather the changes to come. For me, well, I’ll keep writing, keep sneaking message after message into my stories and work. Sometimes, like this newsletter, this will be overt, most of the time, however, you won’t even notice until it is too late.
Story is a spell, and thoughts and words the ingredients.
*Upon checking the spelling for ‘chiclet’, I have now learnt why they are called thus. For the non-Americans amongst us, apparently there is a brand of candy-coated chewing gum there called Chiclets, which are a similar shape. Who knew? Certainly not me.