A 17th of February Resolution
As I draft this, outside the study window the snow is settling, small flakes gripping the gravestones and moss, creating micro-drifts on the roof beside me. Yesterday, we went across the valley and climbed a short distance, to find fresh snow; Ailsa was pulled around in the sledge and we built a small snowman, using dead and dry oak leaves for a unique hairstyle. At one point, Ailsa leant in and gave the snowman a kiss and a hug, then spent a moment rubbing her cold nose. For some reason, this tiny parcel of time felt larger, as though there is an important lesson contained within those seconds.
As I edit, the snow is but a memory and the sun warmly radiant on the red tiles and white lichen outside my window, gravestones casting shadows which patrol east, once the sun is high enough to hit them. On Sunday, three weeks after the vignette above, we had our first barbecue of the year. Spring feels close—too close—a false spring yet also, I fear, a harbinger, a reminder that the snows can no longer be expected, that extreme fluctuations in our temperature range are the new normal, the unexpected as expected.
In between those two dates, we went up the mountain, one way and another, along a lake shore whose breath could be seen rising from the water, snows deep and seemingly, silently ancient, as we pulled Ailsa on a sled, and also up, up, up to the ski station at the top of our road, to let gravity take a turn pulling. She had her first wipeout, hitting a hidden icy ridge beneath fresher powder, mother and daughter bouncing out and into the snow. Both are fine now, although a little cold, grazed, battered, and shaken at the time.
This letter contains multitudes, somewhat akin to the letters I used to share, before I began to focus and plan with more care. It is longer than my usual recent fare and, as such, I have split it into two.
Today’s missive shall be a little more varied. With photos of snow. (It’s probably going to be too long for some email clients, so open it up in your browser to see everything!)
In December, I applied to take part in a group promotion over at Bookcave, but did not find out I was accepted until partway through this month. Add to this a busy month full of applying for freelance projects and jobs and, as such, this is far later than I would have liked to have shared this promotion. Usually, I am very much on the ball with this, and I do feel guilty that there is barely any time (hence the subtitle of this letter) for readers to find new stories. Sorry.
Each book in this promotion is offered by their respective author for free, in exchange for an email address so do have a peek—this is a multi-genre giveaway, not just speculative fiction, but all manner of books. There’s also the chance to win a $30 ebook giftcard.
(Speaking of fiction, for some weird reason, although I have used The Library here on Substack to find stories and see what others are sharing, until very recently I completely forgot to send details of my own works available on the platform. This is now remedied. If you haven’t looked at the The Library, it is a fantastic resource, and I am very grateful it exists.)
In 2023, I altered the trajectory of this letter, increasing my posting, focussing on what I share, and making each post considerably shorter. Instead of long, multi-segmented letters, full of many different facets of my life and interests, I have reached a point where the rhythm, the frequency, and the topics shared are to be expected.
Wednesdays is Edges and Entries, which discusses the between spaces in our world, boundaries and openings, those places where things blur and mix, where we often feel differently to those we pass from and to. I am currently discussing coastlines and, each week, I share a piece of non-fiction thought, some questions, a photograph from my personal collection, then a short piece of fiction. This series is free to read as I send it and for some time after. Older posts are due to be paywalled—perhaps after six weeks, or after a change in focus (this series began with discussion and photographs of doors and is now currently considering coastlines), I have not yet entirely decided.
Fridays, I send out my weekly episode of serialised fiction. At the moment, I have just begun to share my fourth story, A Clean Death, a dark fantasy tale featuring an assassin, her apprentice, and the man they are contracted to kill.
An assassin, her apprentice, and one final murder. A city where it is law to wear a mask in public. And someone—or something—hiding in the shadows. Something which wants them to fail. Fatally.
Each story I share is free to read as I serialise it—after, it shall be paywalled with downloadable ebook options soon to be made available.
Which leaves Ancestral, Wild Empowerment (AWE), my series centred on how we can look at the world through the eyes of our hunter-fisher-gatherer ancestors and, through doing so, receive a powerful sense of calm, a vastly deepened sense of respect for nature, and a strangely comfort through understanding and using their skill- and mind-set.
Originally, I had planned to send this on Mondays, but I am increasingly leaning towards Tuesday (or even Thursday?). The second season of AWE is due to start soon, with the entirety of the letters sent to paying subscribers, and a preview available for others. This second season will focus on the word ‘mapping’, a mapping as seen through those ancient eyes.
Do you have a preference for the day this is sent out? If so, let me know in this poll or in the comments, thank you.
(Sorry, yet another) Word of the Year
I’m sure you’ve seen many other letters and posts about words or themes for the year. This is something I see increasingly, which is good in one sense, and bad in another. If all people do is select a word, tell everyone, then fail to follow through on enacting this, what’s the point? It’s as bad as a New Year’s resolution, which rarely work. Better to pick a 17th of February resolution, or a 15th of October, something that only matters to you, something which makes it all the more personal and, therefore, enlightening.
I first chose a word for the year back at the New Year of 2018. I had been with Aurélie for less than four months and, during that time, we had flown together to France for Christmas, then back to Thailand, for New Year. On the island of Koh Mak, I was introduced to this concept (along with Goddess oracle cards, but that’s another story). That first year, I chose “Completion”, as I felt this applied to several of the strands in my life.
As I mentioned in a reply to the above Note (from the remarkable artist), I keep a list of my words for the year on the inside front cover of every journal I start. Apart from my name and contact info in case of loss, it is the first thing I write in a new journal (followed by page numbers—indexing matters, people!). It is often also the first thing I read when I open the book day after day, simply because to do so reminds me of foundations I am choosing to live by. Each year adds another block to that construction and, each year, I carefully consider the word to come, even as I enact all those (not just the current year) I have chosen.
I am not too picky about when, exactly, I choose the word. Some years I have not chosen something until the lunar new year, others, it was before Christmas. When doesn’t really matter—in some ways, picking an equinox or solstice would make more sense in my head, rather than an arbitrary date on a constructed calendar.
Often, I find the main focus of a word (2019’s “Publish” for example) doesn’t actually come to full fruition until the year has passed (I published four stories in early 2020, literally en route in a campervan to find a new home in Portugal, just before Covid arrived in our lives).
Last year, the word was “Connections”. I had been feeling a little adrift, as I frequented the online spaces I had previously enjoyed less and less. As it is now nearly seven years since I last lived in an English-speaking nation, I was feeling lonely and a little sad—a close friend of mine had died unexpectedly, younger than I, and that severed me from one of the few people who had kept in touch throughout my years of adventures.
Connections made sense—I wanted to catch up with those I have known, and I wanted to make new friends. You can imagine how delighted I was by the arrival of Substack Notes—I have now met some people here who I certainly feel are friends, who I am sure I will one day actually share a physical space with too. So many of the writers (and, increasingly, readers) on Notes are delightful, real, and fascinating people and I thank them (you) all.
This year, I have chosen “Craft”. I almost chose this last year, but decided I needed to work on keeping my brain from slipping down that spiral into too deep a depression instead. Which was wise. It took time and it took effort, but time and effort well spent, and I finally feel like I’m exiting the foggy brain stage.
Craft covers several points I’d like to address this year. Firstly, it is a word associated with effort and hard work. I have a lot to do this year, including creating and sending a book proposal for a more in depth consideration of the time I spent living in the woods and how that shaped certain ideas, ideas I am only just now enacting—I will need to apply myself as perhaps I have never before this year, for this project and others, push myself so far beyond comfort circles as to be in a strange, strange land. To move past my deep fear of success is not an easy thing. Craft covers this.
Secondly, craft applies to editing and the process of making my selection of words better, careful incision after careful incision. This metaphorical scalpel-wielding is the principal focus for my fiction this year. I have long talked about The Care Industry, the first novel in The Greater Good, and I have long intended to finish the edits on this book and send it off to agents. It is time to do this.
Thirdly, craft can just mean work—and I need to do a lot of this, finding, pitching, querying—as much as I hate the term—hustling. I’d love to be in a place where I can use all my time to actually create—rather than chasing and chasing work—but that is unlikely to happen, for a wee while, yet. With some craft, however, perhaps later this year, it will. That is the plan, at least.
Fourthly, craft can be applied to the amount of effort I need to put into my health and well-being, physical, emotional and mental1. I’ve fallen into bad ways, when it comes to this—equating time spent on the self as time not spent working when, in reality, this work is essential to making the other work better, deeper, more effective and smart.
Finally, craft can also (perhaps obviously) mean crafting objects and items. I have intended to make more things for some time now, but it always gets put off and put off, in much the same way as tending to my health seems to be pushed to the side. I have projects planned using wood, I have sewing projects, I have artistic projects, gardening and plant projects, and I have ancestral skills projects.
Recently, a friend from school who subscribes to this letter let me know one of our year group had died, suddenly. Without this kindness, it is unlikely I’d know of his passing—I miss all those announcements and news from social media I do not frequent. As we get older, we begin to acquire a longer and longer list of the dead and departed, something which—amongst many other thoughts, memories, and emotions—is always a gentle reminder that, if we have things we wish to achieve before we join them, we had really better get on with them.
Craft covers this too.
Personal, Web-Only Posts
I’ve been considering all those personal notes and thoughts I used to share in my monthly letters, when they were thousands of words long and mostly for close friends and family. I have found that many of these are now transcribed into the notes app on my phone (D-Notes), or into my journal—presently shared with no one. In some ways, this is not a bad thing but, in others, I do wonder if some readers might still be interested in them, occasionally, at least?
As an example, I almost didn’t share the above piece about my word of the year, merely writing a version of this for myself, an act of clarifying my word choice. Another example would be the fact it has also been a long time since I shared the things I have read, or listened to, or watched.
What I don’t want is to create more pressure for myself, whether to add these things back into a monthly post (ironically, such as this one), or to have any form of Substack schedule on top of that I already possess. That would be too much.
As such, I think I shall be adding a new section to my Substack to house these thoughts, and this section will be web-only, with no letter sent out. I already share at least two (soon to be three, again) emails a week—and the last thing I want to do is annoy readers by sending too many things (and don’t forget—it is entirely possible to unsubscribe from different sections here on Substack, perhaps you don’t want the fiction, but want to keep reading my Edges and Entries? Or vice-versa? Not a problem!).
These blog-like posts will possess no schedule, nor will be they be advertised or marketed anywhere, beyond merely appearing in the relevant section and, perhaps, in a round up email, every few months. I’m also undecided as to whether to paywall them, or a part of them, or not. I’ll let you know, when I do.
I like to look at the passage of time through music. For example, 2024 marks thirty years since the following albums (or mixes, in one case) were released:
Anarchy, CrazySexyCool, Dog Man Star, Dookie, Dummy, Grace, His ‘n’ Hers, How To Make Friends And Influence People, Jimmy Eat World, Lifeforms, Live Through This, Monster, MTV Unplugged in New York, Music for the Jilted Generation, No Need to Argue, Oakenfold’s Goa Mix, Pisces Iscariot, Protection, Pulp Fiction Soundtrack, Second Coming, The Downward Spiral, The Holy Bible, Turbulent Indigo, Universal Mother.
I only heard some of these albums in 1994, yet each has had many listens since then, some, many, many listens. In those days, I had no money to spend on music, so had to rely on taped copies from friends or listen to the radio. I can’t remember when I last found a new song or artist via the radio.
I remember that this was the first year I really began to take note of my eclectic tastes; I was seventeen in the May of ‘94, and I realised I didn’t just have to like one style or type of music, but was allowed to enjoy as many as I did, as I set the rules, no one else.
This was the year that Cobain died, a defining moment for those of my generation, one which which stuck with us; even those friends who did not particularly care for the music of Nirvana felt how, with his death, something changed.
Thirty years seems a long time and very little, all at once. When I consider that those of my current age in 1994 would have been viewing the music of 1964 the same way, this makes me feel connected to our past in a manner which is a strange comfort. I am glad I have lived that time, and I am glad I have had music as a part of the process of living.
I have meant to talk more about my epic reread (or, technically, first read, for some of the later volumes) of The Wheel of Time (WOT). I shall get to this at some point—Aurélie is still reading them, although she’s nearing the endgame (of 15 books, 4410036 words, 148 different points of view, and 2787 named characters).
One thing I will say is that the process was rather exhausting. Since finishing, late last summer, I find I am selecting a majority of books which are much shorter or, if longer, of a limited series. Even then, I’ll read the first book in a series and move on to another author, rather than immediately finish a trilogy, for example, as I did before the epic WOT read. This is also one of the reasons I didn’t sign up for’s slow reads of War and Peace and/or Wolf Hall—I felt tired, simply unable to commit. I suspect this is also a side-effect of the mental exhaustion and fog I’ve been pushing through last year.
Books I have recently enjoyed include:
Starling House, by Alix E. Harrow
Spear, by Nicola Griffith
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson (my annual reread),
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C.A. Fletcher
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee (reread)
The Bone Shard Daughter, by Andrea Stewart
Jade City, by Fonda Lee
The Unbroken, by C.L. Clark
I have also been doing a lot of research, reading and working out why, exactly, my brain does the strange things it often seems to do. A few examples include:
ADHD 2.0, by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey
The Mountain is You, by Brianna West
Different, Not Less, by Chloé Hayden.
In short, I’m looking at my brain and trying to find the patterns and triggers which lead it—and, by extension, the rest of me—into certain routines, lulls, peaks, and troughs. I’m gaining some interesting potential answers.
This post has sat for some weeks, unloved and gathering metaphorical dust. Sometimes, there is simply not the time to finish things when we would like—life does have a habit of getting in the way. (And apologies for any typos or errors, I ran out of time for a final read-through.)
As such, do please have a peek at the group promotion I mentioned, to at least go some way to assuaging my guilt at not sharing it here sooner.
Normal service resumes tomorrow, with the 24th weekly edition of Edges and Entries (how did it get that many already?).
Thanks for reading, take care of your good selves.
As I mentioned, this is something I have recently been working on, with intent and care and lots of reading, note-taking, and rigorous, honest self-assessment. I have a lot of notes and a lot of thoughts on this, and, as such, will probably share something about it at a later date.