(I’m going to put newsletters here, too, from now on…)

Bread and Salt #27

New Year, New Newsletter

And new newsletter provider, too. I had notification at the end of last year that TinyLetter (who have been bought out by MailChimp) were closing – with the ‘kind’ offer from MailChimp to use one of their paid subscription services at a discount, for a while…

There were various providers I could have used. It was very much a case of searching for a GDPR-compliant and sufficiently free service that did roughly what I wanted it to. Substack was always an option, but they have a Nazi problem right now (in that they make money off of Nazi newsletters), and we all know that the correct number of Nazis is zero. So I’ve plumped for Email Octopus, which was recommended by a friend, and it seems to be okay?

Influenza, and why it hurts

I don’t know why (in that I haven’t particularly done the epidemiological research), but the two times I’ve had flu as an adult, it’s been at Christmas. The first was when the children were small (for new subscribers, they are forever hereafter referred to as the Girl and the Boy, despite them both being in their 20s), and I just about raised my game enough to cook Christmas dinner before collapsing in a hot mess in front of the Queen’s Speech. I seem to recall my parents were here, which meant I was entirely superfluous to requirements for child-wrangling duties, but that was just as well.

This time around, I caught it early December, and spent pretty much two weeks in bed, with only brief lucid periods. Considering this coincided with the launch of my much-planned self-publishing project (see below), it wasn’t great timing. I think I did okay, but I can’t honestly remember much about those couple of weeks. Even after I’d started to recover, I found that I ran out of energy very quickly. So the annual Christmas writers’ bunfight (yes, I do cook two big meals for lots of people within one week) only happened because the Boy put all my craft stuff away and helped with logistics on the day.

Christmas Day itself was slightly more organised, but since Cross Country trains don’t run a through-service from Reading to Newcastle any more, I’d had to go down and pick my mum up by car, returning the next day – again, only accomplished because of the Boy being co-driver. We ended up with eight for lunch with last-minute additions, and we could have easily fitted another four without having to cook anything extra. No one died, not even me, but I did realise that I’d managed to drink an entire bottle of wine by myself between the hours of lunch and bedtime. A once-a-year happening, for sure.

It’s now the second week in January. I’m still pretty tired, and I’m cursing November-me for not forking out the £10 for a private flu jab. Usually, I’m called in by the local GPs’ surgery due to my age/being slightly asthmatic, but that didn’t happen (I think it was 65s and over), and I’ve essentially lost a month. I was never in peril, and I didn’t trouble the NHS in any way – my basic level of fitness is good – but if you’re thinking about skipping the jab later this year, remember my tale of woe.

To business, then

In 2020 – the first year of the plague – I wrote two books for two different publishers, one fiction, one non-fiction. Both were very well-received, sold enough copies not to embarrass either me or the publishers, and were (I thought) a solid platform from which to push forward with what I laughingly call my career.

It didn’t happen, and in fact quite the reverse. For various reasons – ill health, burn-out, trauma, disasters befalling close family which needed my full emotional and physical attention – I was very distracted, at the precise moment when it subsequently turned out it was imperative that I wasn’t. Publishing was going through (probably as a response to Covid) one of its periodic retrenchments, and I found myself, along with a lot of other B-list writers, on the outside. When the smoke cleared, I was standing in the metaphorical no-man’s land, and for all the reasons previously stated, I did nothing.

Sometimes it’s important just to concentrate on what’s happening around you, and I’m fortunate enough not to be in a position where what little I earn makes that much of a material difference to the household budget – I earn my keep in the physical and emotional labour I perform. So I guess it was okay to do nothing for a while, and do all the other necessary things.

For a while, though. I’ve always been drawn to the Tolkeinesque idea of emulating the Creator God by indulging in acts of sub-creation. Not sub- as in sub-standard, but sub- in the context of using the tools I’ve been given to fashion new things. I not only enjoy writing, I have a need to do so. And, slowly, I started doing something that ended up becoming the Floodlands novellas, which I very much enjoyed doing and will continue to enjoy expanding on and around.

I’ve also managed more recently to write a space opera-type SF novel – one that inevitably deals with both hilarious misunderstandings between cultures and terrifying aliens bent on taking over the galaxy, with added critiques of colonialism and class. It’s with my agent, and something may come of it.

But here’s the thing – I’ve managed to, at least in part, learnt to let go of the cachet of being a Published By the Big 5/6 Author. Sure, the money was nice, although my advances hit a high mark back in 2010 and have been going down ever since. It’s not so much discovering that there are other ways of being a writer, as taking my own advice. I delivered an essay at Greenbelt back in 2012 (!) where I pretty much predicted all of this, only I didn’t think it would apply to me, idiot that I am. (essay is here – https://bookofmorden.co.uk/essays/money-flows-to-the-author/).

For now, I’m content to be where I am. Obviously, I have books to sell, and if you’d like to buy them, then I’d be grateful. The cats require kibble and, increasingly as befits their advanced age, warm places to sleep. They’re fifteen this year! If (as described by a review) ‘non-epic’ fantasy is your thing, then get you hence to https://bookofmorden.co.uk/fbp/ and order something. Single novellas are £4.99 or equivalent currency where you are, £29.99 for six in a lovely hardback. And thank you if you’ve already bought something!

Two mostly black cats curled up on a bed


Running, and why it hurts

Some of you will know about my 2023 running challenge – entirely confected, but it ended up having its own momentum. I’d managed over 1000km in 2022, and one of my online friends suggested I join a group that aims to complete 1000 miles (that’s 1609km in new money) in a year. Because I’m mainly powered by hubris, I thought “well, how hard can it be?”

It turned out to be surprisingly straightforward. I was already out three times a week: two sessions with running club, and the Saturday parkrun, which if I ran to and from the start of each, would normally get me to the 30-40km a week mark. Throw in an extra long run of 10km or more, and I’d be home and dry. But only if I was consistent, and didn’t slack off.

I started strong (over 100 miles in the first month) and kept on going. Despite missing the odd weekend, and August holidays intervening, I was perfectly on track to finish early December. Then, of course, I got the flu. And with 4.5 miles to go, I took to my bed.

I still had that 4.5 miles left on December 31st. I put on my running kit, and did my slowest 10km of the year. I could have celebrated, but I felt like death, and shortly afterwards had to contend with simultaneous coughing and hiccoughs: which if you’ve never done it before, is an interesting and acutely uncomfortable experience.

I’ve yet to decide whether to try it again this year. It’s already the 10th, and I’ve got just 18.5km on the clock because I’m exhausted a lot of the time. I’m rather hoping that I’ll feel more like my usual self soon, but even now, I’ve got some catching up to do. It shouldn’t be a chore – I run because I enjoy it, the freedom, the outdoorsness of it, the changing seasons and weather, and above all, because it makes me feel better about myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Also, being fit is its own joy (even if it doesn’t look like that when I’m actually out running). I’m very aware, especially after the last few years, that those of us who are ‘temporarily able-bodied’ are one accident away from catastrophe, so I’ll continue to take pleasure in what I can do with this old body of mine.

Exhausted runner


That’ll probably do for now. Any problems with the newsletter, or comments on the content, please get in touch via thefreezonecollective@gmail.com