What is The Crow's Nest?
If you haven’t already looked at it, I would suggest you head to the ‘Start Here’ page I have crafted, as this is the quickest and easiest way to find out what each of those tabs mean on my Substack.
I am one of that micro-generation of people who experienced an analogue childhood and digital adulthood. Sometimes called Xennials, sometimes ‘The Star Wars Generation’, this duality had a definite impact on how I see the world. I am as comfortable in the deep woods as I am on the internet.
I am Scottish. Technically I was born in England, in a now dead and disappeared county, but my family moved to the far northern islands of Orkney when I was eight and I grew up there. Scotland remains the closest thing I have to a home and the small port of Stromness the closest thing to a home town.
I write for a sort-of-living and travel and live in places where the small amount of money I make from my words goes further, new experiences and cultures adding extra flavour and detail. I am currently based in the French Alps, sharing a home in a village in the woods with my wife Aurélie (we met in Chiang Mai, Thailand), and our daughter Ailsa, born in 2021. These important things — daughter, wife, and village — all feed into my writing. We will head off on further adventures at some point but, for now, this is a good place to pause.
My Home on the Internet
I have a website (UPDATE FEBRUARY 2024—I do have a new site, but have yet to build it. My old site has been retired—I was receiving the same number of hits per year as this Substack receives in a week. Which made little financial sense) but, increasingly, I feel Substack is my internet home. I learn so much here and share wonderful conversations with other writers and readers: it is a good place to be.
The Crow’s Nest represents a writers’ notebook of sorts, but it is also full of things I think others will find useful or interesting. Whether you like fiction, discussion of liminal spaces, how we fit into the extraordinary and vast picture of nature, or want to read about real adventures, there is something here for you.
Unless otherwise mentioned, all photography you see in my letters or on my Substack site is mine.
Much of my work is initially free, but some is only available for paid subscribers, perhaps archived after a certain period of time, or perhaps exclusive immediately. I like to offer value to everyone, but I also know my work is worth paying for.
To receive these dispatches from the intersection of fiction and non-fiction, especially from the perspective of time, nature and liminal places, please do consider becoming a subscriber: I really appreciate it, thanks.
The History of this Letter
This part of the About page is not required reading. I have added it in case those of you who are considering a change in your direction on Substack can chart the history behind what you see here now. Things weren’t always so clearly ordered…
I have been sharing a letter here on Substack for over four years. Originally, it was a place to share things between friends and family members, let them know about my adventures, and where I was in the world.
I was living in northern Thailand when this letter began, before moving to The Alentejo, Portugal, where we weathered the first year of Covid, then relocating to Isère, France, where I am currently. I spoke of these homes in my letters, and other, earlier ones—Lincolnshire, Orkney, Yorkshire, Caithness—beginning to add in new levels to my letter.
When I first published some fiction, this place became a natural home to talk of this, whether the process of writing or publishing, or about the stories themselves.
I added names to my list, names of complete strangers who would give their email address in exchange for a free tale or two.
I talked of nature and the natural world. I talked of bushcraft, of weather, travel, culture, archaeology and history, food and drink, nomadism, of home, of the wind and the stories she blows, of the sea and the pull of the waves.
Throughout all these differing themes, I talked of kindness, of caring, of happiness, discussing how we can use these to lift ourselves and out fellow humans.
I added in discussion of the books I read, the games I played, gifts I crafted, even the exercise and fitness ideas that kept these old joints from seizing up.
The newsletter grew and grew. Sometimes, it would be around five thousand words long, full of the photos I wanted to share and heading after heading of subjects.
This was unwieldy. It was too long, too diverse.
I told myself that what I was doing was demonstrating how many different things actually go into fiction. How each facet of myself was boiled, distilled, squeezed into story.
But the problem remained—it was too long, too diverse.
This post, from when I first changed the name of my letter, has more of the background, and how I envisaged a path ahead for The Crow’s Nest. It also has pretty pictures of beachcombed treasures.
In 2023, I decided to begin to take this seriously, look at different ways to potentially make money from my letter, and how to approach it professionally. When Substack launched Notes, that felt like the right time to begin this process—I knew that the idea of Notes would rocket engagement and ease of discovery, quickly making the Substack model of business essential to the creative.
Substack made—and makes—a lot of sense. I thought of it as the blogs I had crafted decades ago, only with the opportunity to actually make money without selling my soul to advertising. The vast majority of my new subscribers are coming from within the Substack network, and I do not see this changing any time soon. I have almost given up sharing on other social media sites—they are places set up to encourage people to scroll and stay on a platform, after all.
I have tightened, refined, and polished what is on offer here, splitting up the topics I shared into different sections. I have introduced a paid option, archiving and paywalling older posts, and I have plans to include downloadable ebook options for my fiction and Ancestral, Wild Empowerment sections.
And, perhaps most of all, I am enjoying this process.
It is slow going. It is sometimes difficult to see progress as I would like, but I am also very happy with the trajectory.
I know that what I offer has real, true value—and I know that there are people who are willing to pay for that. This has been an important realisation.
Story, whether fiction or fact, is a powerful message and medium. If I can use words to make people think, all the while telling an engaging tale, then everyone wins. I am not a lawyer, a soldier, an activist—this is how I fight the good fight. Through story.
I hope you will join me.