Bread and Salt #28

Too much stuff, too little day

For someone who has no formal working hours, I seem to do an awful lot of work. I realise that might be the reason – those who have a 9-to-5, or whatever hours our corporate slavemasters now deem to be appropriate to keep the proletariat in their place, might see their non-work hours as set aside for other tasks than work – but I end up moving more or less seamlessly from one job to the next until bedtime.

There are the usual domestic duties for sure, many of which are honoured in the breach, although obviously cooking and shopping and laundry are paramount. There are the things I do that (should) earn me money, namely writing, but as I mentioned in Bread and Salt #27, the bottom has fallen out of my particular market. Then there’s a significant amount work for the local re-enactment group, which is mainly unpaid, but incredibly time-consuming because much of it, by necessity, is done by hand.

There are my caring duties – usually one week in five or six down at my mum’s, and that’s not getting any less, plus all of my local responsibilities. The Boy has just taken on an allotment, and I have a portion of it to grow stuff that I can choose, which is lovely, but the previous tenant left it in what can only be described as a hell of a state. Tonnes of debris, some of it toxic, a lot of it just plain difficult to shift. Plus brambles and nettles and docks, all of which need getting out of the ground before they start growing again. The seasons turn, and they do not wait.

I think what I’m trying to say is, about the only time I feel I can devote to me, is when I go out to run and, I’ve been ill, and I’m a bit injured, and I’m finding even that difficult. The weather has been grim: cold, wet, really wet, astonishingly wet, and then we have floods. Hopefully, all of this is just the tail end of some winter blues, but I’m beginning to get stretched thin. Some kind of cloning technology is required.

Writing my way out of this mess

Is not easy. The more time I devote to writing is less time I can give to other things, even though I know that this is what I ought to be doing. I’m struggling to connect with my agent – unanswered emails are never a good sign – so I feel I’m very much on my own here.

However, there is good news here. The Fall of Belhaven has breached 35,000 words, which I’m estimating roughly is half-way. And it’s … a bit more full-on than I anticipated. Sure, the title is a bit of a spoiler, but I’ve managed to startle myself on how it’s all unfolding. Parts are genuinely grim, if not actually horror. I’ve always described Ember as ‘a fantasy Doctor Who’, but we’re firmly in 70s Pertwee territory here. I don’t have the luxury of reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, either. All Ember has is his wits, his sword, his luck, and a little bit of magic. He knows he can’t save the city, but he might just be able to save something out of it.

Meanwhile, sales have slowed down, possibly due to me not being quite as diligent at publicising the books (see above for time constraints): it turns out that I shift more copies when I bother to present them to the public. Who knew?

There are also ebooks of the novellas in the pipeline. Getting everything together is proving … yes, I know. I’m getting on with it. There will be extra features bundled in with them – I’ve written some mini-essays, and I need to do maps too.

Moreover, the ideas keep coming. I’d like to do some short stories (and potentially some longer works) set in the far south, with Brun as the main character, but there’s also an arc brewing where I get to introduce the lizardkin. They’re sweeties, but they do tend to explode when you kill them.

So, sure. Why not? Let’s keep on going and see what happens.

Badly drawn sword in red and black

Obligatory ‘buy my books’ plug

I have wares, if you have coin. There are five individual novellas at £4.99 (or local equivalent from Lulu), and a compendium of all five, plus a bonus novella for £29.99 (or local equivalent from Lulu). Postage extra, but selling from both my own page, for UK customers, and through Lulu for non-UK folk, means I can minimise the p&p costs – international postage, especially to the USA, can be a bit steep. Trying to produce an affordable line of decent quality books was one of my goals, and thanks to modern POD publishers, I can do that without a ruinous upfront outlay.

If you head over to all the books are there, along with the instructions on how to pay for them via PayPal. Don’t forget to select one of the postage options!

Five lovely novellas

Running up that hill

Other metaphors are available. I’m still finding running hard work. Of course, some of it is supposed to be hard work. Take, for example, this past Tuesday which was hill reps. Gateshead is not East Anglia, and we have to make an effort to avoid hills, so we do end up running up, and down, a lot of them. I also live on top of one of the hills, so every run ends with a climb. They also say (I’m not sure who ‘they’ are in this context, but we’ll go with it) that a hill rep is as good as a sprint.

Okay, again I’m not going to break any records any time soon, not even my own, but it wasn’t terrible. I tried to take it fairly briskly on the warm up run, which was 4km, and concentrated on stretching out my stride, which is where my real problems lie at the moment. It seems that the two weeks of being in bed in December have shortened some of the essential muscles and tendons between thigh and groin and I don’t even know how that happens. The human body is weird.

Before the flu, I felt perfectly comfortable at a 5:30-5:40min/km pace, and now it hurts to go that fast – not that I don’t try, but it takes considerable effort and gritting of teeth. My watch (it’s an older Garmin, but it does the business, and it doesn’t monitor my heart rate, for which I’m grateful) tells me that my stride length has essentially shortened by 15-20cms, each and every stride. I was happily doing 1.15m, now I’m below a metre, for the same number of steps per minute. So of course I’m slower, pretty much 20% slower, or a minute a km. I have also, inevitably, put on a bit of weight: as an example, in October 2023, I (according to my watch) burnt off 14,000 calories running, and in January 2024, 5000. Without altering my intake of food at all, and also Christmas and those mince pies etc…

I’m trying not to beat myself up about it. I will get faster, and I mustn’t push it or I’ll injure myself, not be able to run, and put myself back at square one again. I’m trying a few stretching exercises each day, and thanks to everyone who’s suggested yoga and pilates, but I cringe internally at the thought. Due to council cuts, my local swimming pool has closed, and I object to driving to a more distant pool just to swim, and I know that sounds stupid, but I’m allowed irrational decisions once in a while. It’ll be fine.

Meanwhile, in the crafting emporium

I didn’t have ‘make something for the local castle for actual money’ on my 2024 bingo card, and yet here we are. A bit of noodling at the computer, and one trip to B&Q, and behold my works, ye mighty. It’s not as originally planned, because things rarely are: the top plate kept on slipping round, so there are wooden pegs to keep it in place (but not enough to stop it from being removed and the stand folded flat for storage). But all in all, very pleased with the way it turned out. I’ve even whipped the rope ends and given the wood a couple of coats of oil.

I also had some spare oak plank lying around – don’t we all? – and I’ve made a laundry paddle for one of our group for her laundry display. Given it’s just a shaped piece of wood that I cut out with a jigsaw and sanded with my angle grinder, it’s one of the quickest builds I’ve done, but it turned out to be one of the most satisfying. You can get a proper swing behind that!

Otherwise, it’s sewing up sacks and starting (and not making – there’s a pile of wood on the floor) to make an ‘authentic’ food storage crate. We’re getting there, slowly. There’s still a stack of clothes to make: some are half-finished, others not even that. I ought to get a shift on, but… sigh.

Oak washing paddle
Armour stand in pine

Other stuff

I’m asked about the cats which feature in my newsletter and social media feeds. These two fine bois came from an unexpected litter, via my local fruit and veg shop (me and the owner of the cat’s mother were both customers). They’ve been with us for very nearly fifteen years now, and they’re starting to show some signs of slowing down. They can still leap up to a desk, though, and can’t half shift through a just-opened door, especially if its to one of the forbidden, allegedly cat-free rooms beyond. Neither started off as particularly vocal, unlike our previous cat which you could hear from one side of the house to the other, but they’ve developed a sort-of language now of meows, mirps, and squeaks. It’s quite endearing, and of course we talk to each other and no one thinks it’s weird.

They very much my companions and I like them better than most people. They are blessedly uncomplicated (eat/sleep/ask for scritches/mooch) and I envy them.

Two mostly black cats curled up on a sofa

That’s it for this month. Please note the new email contact for the newsletter – – which you might like to add to your whitelist so future issues don’t get marked as spam