Charles Paget Wade Before Snowshill giveaway

The first print run of my book CHARLES PAGET WADE BEFORE SNOWSHILL is almost sold out.

I’m giving away two of the last remaining copies via Goodreads, below. Click the ‘Enter Giveaway’ link in the widget below to enter. It’s free and open to anyone in Great Britain.

I think you might need to be a Goodreads member but I’m not sure. And if you’re not already, Goodreads is pretty great – it’s last.fm for books.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Charles Paget Wade Before Snowshill by Paul Capewell

Charles Paget Wade Before Snowshill

by Paul Capewell

Giveaway ends October 01, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

If you’d prefer to read on Kindle, click here to pick it up for £1.99. Thanks!

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“A physical book is difficult.” – Craig Mod

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Every six months or so, Craig Mod (he of subcompact publishing, books in the age of the iPad, and a thousand other things) comes along and does something that makes me sit up and pay attention. Or start scribbling thoughts down. Or plan. Or dream. It’s very much as though there is an audible *ping* when an essay of his appears, as though it is a call to arms.

His latest piece, Let’s talk about margins, discusses the subtly important details involved in the layout and design of physical books:

A physical book is difficult. If you haven’t made one, it’s tough to imagine just how difficult it is. Every detail requires deliberation. There are many details. I will spare you an enumeration. But believe me when I say, if you think about them all before you start, you will never start. The rabbit hole is deep. The truth of any craft.

Huh. I’m reminded of that essay on photography along the lines of, I think, Photography is easy, photography is hard. However, in Mod’s discussion of book margins, quoted above, bookmaking is just hard.

And yet, paradoxically, every time Mod tells me (and, okay, everyone else who cares to listen) how hard this craft is, it only strengthens my resolve to give it a go.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ebooks, page layouts, book design and publishing recently. Friends have been encouraging me along the way. Nodding encouragingly. Offering to collaborate. I ride the waves of my inspiration, enthusiasm and energy. I spend whole days forgetting to eat a proper meal because I’m too absorbed in an idea. I get distracted. I spend hours on some small thing, and then I get frustrated. But it’s a learning process, and I push on. I continue to learn. Things continue to come into focus. I understand more, and I see more and more of the bigger picture.

One of my biggest recurring inspirations, though, is whenever Craig Mod sits down to write something about that whole subject. Something about his understanding of the process just hits me for six. When he talks, I listen.

On publishing projects that lack hard cash, but still exude care and attention, Mod writes:

“We may not have had the money to print on better paper, but man, we give a shit.” Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence. Giving a shit is the best feeling you can imbue craft with. Giving a shit in book design manifests in many ways, but it manifests perhaps most in the margins.

This is true delight in the details, right here. Not just a fan’s appreciation of the results, but a deep, nuanced understanding of the entire process, gleaned from years of study, collaboration and involvement in the many steps along the way.

Actually doing something. Actually making something.

That slow, gradual process is what enables people like Craig Mod to truly delight in these kinds of details, and then be able not just to pass on nuggets of wisdom, but solid bars of gold which deeply affect the reader: slabs of raw insight which encourage the next person to take up the challenge, and make a thing of their own.

Onwards.

“Not a travel guide but an elegy” – Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You’re holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock.

I recently finished reading Edward Abbey‘s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. First published in 1968, it’s a memoir of his time spent working as a ranger in Arches National Park, Utah, in the 1950s and ’60s.

By all accounts, Abbey had a bone to pick with the development of public land in the United States, and the annual onslaught of the American public on its own National Parks.

In Desert Solitaire, he describes, in a series of enjoyably lengthy vignettes, the kinds of work he undertook as a park ranger, what life was like in that vast wilderness, and describes with masterful prose several excursions he underwent while living in this remarkable place.

Photo: National Park Service
Photo: National Park Service

We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it’s there.

His writing includes many rants, for example about America’s beautiful scenery being wrecked by those who wish to ‘experience’ it while never leaving their gas-guzzling cars.

But he will just as quickly turn his pen to describing the subtle majesty of the world around him with a beautiful elegance I’ve rarely found in other writing. Whole paragraphs float past you like Country Diary entries from the Guardian, bordering on romantic poetry.

But while Abbey’s words could be read as romantic, he is very much a realist; his words merely do justice to the unique environment they portray.

I’ve loved reading Desert Solitaire. I’ve spent the past six months or so dipping in and out of it: I caught up with old crotchety Edward as he cleared up after another wave of irresponsible tourists; headed into the big, alien city with him to stock up on food; or trotted off with him on a multi-day hike through unnamed canyons with only pinyon nuts and raisins in our pockets.

The tourists have gone home. Most of them. A few still rumble in and ramble around in their sand-pitted dust-choked iron dinosaurs but the great majority, answering a mystical summons, have returned to the smoky jungles and swamps of what we call, in wistful hope, American civilization. I can see them now in all their millions jamming the freeways, glutting the streets, horns bellowing like wounded steers, hunting for a place to park. They have left me alone here in the wilderness, at the center of things, where all that is most significant takes place. (Sunset and moonrise, moaning winds and stillness, cloud transformations, the metamorphosis of sunlight, yellowing leaf and the indolent, soaring vulture.…)

Desert Solitaire is rather like Thoreau‘s Walden in many ways. But one of the more palpable themes of the book is a sense of change. The scenery Abbey describes is of an America coming to terms with easier access to its beautiful National Parks and the perceived need to exploit the same natural features that make them so unique. He writes about exploring Glen Canyon before the dam, and everywhere his writing is littered with a subtle sense of foreboding, of great change, just around the corner.

But at the same time, his descriptions are of an America set in stone, where change takes millennia to be affected by the elements, and eventually understood and valued by its inhabitants. And that’s what makes the ever-present threat of change so heartbreaking. But Abbey can only explore, observe, reflect, and report.

Everything is packed, all my camping gear stored away, even my whiskers shaved off. Bald-faced as a bank clerk, I stood in front of a mirror this morning and tried on my only white shirt, recently starched. Like putting on chain mail. I even knotted a tie around my neck and tightened it in the proper style—adjusting the garrote for fit. A grim business, returning to civilization. But duty calls.

Further memoirs and autobiographical writing of Abbey’s seem hard to come by, so I’m branching out into his more prolific fiction work. The Monkey Wrench Gang opens with a rather wonderful depiction of the sabotage of a new bridge being ceremonially opened over Glen Canyon…

Below is a list of my out-of-context, largely useless Kindle highlights from Desert Solitaire. They’re mostly passages that left me tingling, filled with wanderlust, laughing, daydreaming or mournful. If nothing else, they ought to give you a flavour of some of Abbey’s best turns of phrase.


Continue reading ““Not a travel guide but an elegy” – Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness”

Microadventures – Alastair Humphreys’ new book

Writer, explorer and adventurer Alastair Humphreys has written a new book called Microadventures, and it’s out today.

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Alastair’s concept of microadventures – “a tiny little adventure that’s close to home and easy on your pocket” – pushed me last year to see how far my bike could carry me and all I would need for an overnight stay somewhere. Although the overnight bit isn’t essential to a microadventure, it certainly adds to the feeling of getting away from it all.

I had had the urge to get out and do that kind of thing for a while – I’ve long been a fan of walking, camping and, more recently, cycling. But it was reading Alastair’s blog posts and seeing his photographs that really showed me that it wouldn’t take much to take the next step and really have a tiny little adventure of my own.

It’s probably pretty clear how much of an inspiration Alastair has been on me and my outdoor activities over the past twelve months!

I wrote about some of my own microadventures last year:

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…and I’m planning on more this year. I quite like how the term microadventrue can be tweaked to fit whatever you can manage and afford. It could just be taking a different route home or exploring that place on the map you’ve been intrigued about for a while. Or it could be something slightly more zany, like Al’s walk round the M25 in winter

Meanwhile, I’m really looking forward to Alastair’s book thudding onto my doormat. I’m a big fan of his words and his pictures, and it was about time he collected his thoughts and put them all into the definitive microadventure book.

If you’re looking for that extra kick to get out and do something extraordinary, check out Alastair’s website for tips and details of adventures he’s been on, or better yet, grab a copy of his book. If you’re quick, he’s also offering an extra free book or DVD to people who purchase his book from Amazon – see his blog post for details.

Bookcision: Export/Download Your Kindle Highlights

When highlights are created on any Kindle device, they are synced up to Amazon’s cloud. These are then visible at kindle.amazon.com, but there is no reason to believe that Amazon will continue to provide this service forever, and our ability to work with text in that hosted browser-based environment is limited.

We wanted a way cleanly to download our highlights onto our local computers, so we created a bookmarklet that permits one to excise highlights from the book’s kindle.amazon.com page.

via Bookcision: Export/Download Your Kindle Highlights.

In the interests of, well, tinkering with little tools made by smart people on The Internet, I decided to export my highlights from a book I read recently.

I mentioned yesterday how I’ve been enjoying highlighting interesting passages from Michael Palin’s diaries on my Kindle. This, being from a large book, is now quite a long list of highlights – usually a reference to a project of his, a place he visited that rang a bell, or just a particularly sweet or poignant observation.

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More concise is my collection of highlights from Leigh Alexander‘s recent book, Breathing Machine. Leigh is a videogames journalist, and after reading a few of her pieces on Animal Crossing and some other stuff, I found that she’d recently released a short collection of memoirs recalling her childhood, adolescence, and the holding hand that videogames and the Internet provided her throughout.

Basically, if you’re a human being of a certain age (late twenties, early thirties?), and you grew up with computers and the burgeoning web, you’ll probably get a kick out of Leigh’s book. You can actually listen to Leigh reading an excerpt of her book via Soundcloud if you like – I recommend it. It’s always good to hear an author read their own words when they’re autobiographical.

I’ve used the above Bookcision tool to export my highlights of Leigh’s book, which can be found below. I’m not too sure what use these highlights may serve to anyone who isn’t, say, me, but I figured I’d try out the tool anyway. Out of context highlights might not even make much sense, but the lines tickled or interested me for whatever reason. Enjoy:

Breathing Machine, A Memoir of Computers

by Leigh Alexander, Thought Catalog

The first time I ever heard and remembered Beethoven’s Ode To Joy was at the start screen of one of these games, blaring at me from the tinny speakers. I’m not ever going to forget that.
LOCATION: 20224 – 20424

It was the broken games I truly loved. They all had weird version numbers (1.1.3?), and were stamped all over with the aliases of dejected bedroom weirdoes asking you to mail in five dollars, sometimes plaintively, sometimes cynically.
LOCATION: 20738 – 20973

The more legitimate games had copy protection: they shipped with special red plastic lenses, or code wheels, or guidebooks with letter puzzles, and you needed them to unlock the software. This felt like its own kind of mystery-work
LOCATION: 22744 – 22975

I watched it all happen: grinding plastic teeth, the pages still gleaming with black spit.
LOCATION: 24969 – 25059

I pulled a map of Manhattan out of my grandmother’s National Geographic magazine, and pasted it on the wall of my playroom. I printed out screenshots from Hotel Caper, and made pretend dossiers of the villains I would chase down once I arrived there.
LOCATION: 25523 – 25780

The marketing to kids around video games had begun to take a distinct turn, then: glossy magazines full of bright laser grids, skateboards, spiked hair. Raaaadical. We believed in the neon-nineties vision of the future, where we were basically just about to get hoverboards and become heroes.
LOCATION: 25905 – 26204

It was in our plans, our notes, our basement boxes full of junked motherboards. The plans felt real.
LOCATION: 26786 – 26886

My dad let me have a hand-me-down Powerbook laptop when I was eleven or twelve. The thing I remember most about this machine (besides its role in keeping my innermost thoughts, my diary, across years of secret and now-defunct Word docs), is how when I stroked its screen with my fingertip, a bright prismatic comet would appear, a temporary wound opening up and leaving a fading, smoky contrail in its place.
LOCATION: 28323 – 28745

its role in keeping my innermost thoughts, my diary, across years of secret and now-defunct Word docs),
LOCATION: 28471 – 28574

things I didn’t really understand: viruses, made by impossibly-distant master architects.
LOCATION: 30218 – 30321

I quietly fell in love with the cloistered and quickly-obsolescing Powerbook, disconnected and safe.
LOCATION: 30636 – 30736

I loved experimenting with it. I could make those robot-voices say anything I wanted, without fear of reprisal, which was new.
LOCATION: 31182 – 31308

Many of the adventure games of my childhood knew that your average person, wrestling with an invisible system, would eventually type vulgar words, and so contained provisions to chide you if you cursed. The strangely-pitched robot voices had no such reservations.
LOCATION: 31309 – 31572

I found a primitive old program somewhere on the Powerbook called America Online. An early version, maybe even the first one. I knew it was for getting to the Internet, though I didn’t know exactly how, what. I was dimly aware it needed some kind of connection to something else, and that I couldn’t just load the program from where I would be bundled with my machine in bed. This did not, of course, stop me from trying. I believed in magic, of course, and wasn’t technology as mysterious as fantasy? The stuff of sprawling paperback novels where the veils between worlds blurred, and you could become a hero in a strange land just by accidentally touching something, by being in the right place at the right time, by knowing the right word to open a previously-unseen door. I’d breathlessly load the America Online program on my monolithic Powerbook, in the dark of my room. Three pictures would pop up on a loading screen: a skeleton key, a logo, and… a globe, maybe? I can’t remember. In my memory they become coarse alien buttons, indigo unreality. I know for sure there was a vein of lightning that moved from one icon to the next, always stopping before reaching the final third. ERROR. I knew. I knew something was missing, but I continued to try regardless. I knew the difference between the real and the imagined and chose to ignore it. What if I pressed something at exactly the right time? What if I found a hidden panel of some kind on the hardware itself, like the time I found a terrifying reset-knob within a pinhole on the Powerbook’s back, pressed it with a paperclip and evinced a dissonant chiming song that I’d never hear again? What if I held my breath, what if I counted, kept my eyes shut. What if I prayed. Nothing worked. Because I had no connection, that image of a key struck by digital lightning would always be where my adventure would end.
LOCATION: 33352 – 35399

before reaching the final third. ERROR. I knew. I knew something was missing, but I continued to try regardless. I knew the difference between the real and the imagined and chose to ignore it. What if I pressed something at exactly the right time? What if I found a hidden panel of some kind on the hardware itself, like the time I found a terrifying reset-knob within a pinhole on the Powerbook’s back, pressed it with a paperclip and evinced a dissonant chiming song that I’d never hear again? What if I held my breath, what if I counted, kept my eyes shut. What if I prayed. Nothing worked. Because I had no connection, that image of a key struck by digital lightning would always be where my adventure would end.
LOCATION: 34602 – 35399

Dialing modem. A sequence of guttural, choking shrieks, a hiccup, a pause, some single eye in the hardware fluttering as if it contained an insect. Shrill chirps, a nebulous staticky monster croaking to get out. Just when you think it’s done, it screams again.
LOCATION: 35808 – 36089

I’d be crouched by the modem in the dark. It’d be late. It’s not that I wasn’t supposed to be awake. I was 13 years old, and no one could really tell me when to go to bed. I’d started nurturing the spark of an idea in my casing that no one, really, ought to tell me anything, anymore.
LOCATION: 36917 – 37236

The first time I was allowed to use Internet newsgroups, it was like suddenly noticing it was dark enough to see stars. All at once, a startling array of possibilities seemed to erupt in front of me.
LOCATION: 37719 – 37918

Flee back into late-night, then, my little hands strangling a shrieking and green-eyed modem-animal, smothering it with blankets and pillows so that no one would hear it and send me back to bed. It connects. The part that was missing when I was younger is now present,
LOCATION: 40029 – 40304

At the crux of my adolescence I was delilah@alexander.terranet.com. I could never-ever forget it, the secret name that let me interlope among Usenet boards like rec.arts.poetry, alt.music.nirvana, and rec.arts.sailormoon.
LOCATION: 40883 – 41156

Stand in front of the fridge, a monolith that sighs in your face. Engage the microwave. Eat too much, guiltily, standing up, half in and half out of cabinets, ravenous teenage appetite knitted tightly with the pains of all kinds of growth. Meticulously leave no sign of your presence; erase your data, no debt to be accountable for later. Run up the stairs, two at a time.
LOCATION: 42657 – 43029

The modem screams and howls as always, but there’s no one to hear it right now. There’s just you, watching the tiny rectangular window that promises you a connection is being made. Dialing, establishing, testing, whatever the phases, you hold your breath.
LOCATION: 43225 – 43494

You opened your little Eudora mailbox and prayed for something to be there. You usually had one piece of mail. Sometimes two. On a good day there would be three, and you’d meditate with anticipation upon the black bar that stuttered along, telling you about download progress. 1 of 3. 2 of 3. 3 of 3.
LOCATION: 43562 – 43869

A trawl through Google Groups’ uncomfortably long-lived archives while researching this book reveals that young Delilah took the title of alt.destroy.the.earth with an excess of seriousness and chastised everyone involved.
LOCATION: 44235 – 44464

Through the rec.arts.poetry board I met an older man, 30 or 31 years old, if memory serves. At the time, such an age seemed incredibly old, such as to give me pause. Nonetheless I chose — nobly, I felt at the time — to overlook such mortifying superficialities and pursue what felt like a romantic correspondence with this fellow poet, who was so old. Surely a fellowship in Internet poetry was more important than anything else.
LOCATION: 45672 – 46142

I had a little reservation, though — what if my new Internet boyfriend was, like, old like my Dad? At fourteen, thirty-something seemed like practically my Dad’s age! What if, I wondered, he had gray hair? Surely his body wasn’t the smooth, abstracted elfin landscape of my dolls and my fantasy comics; at his age, surely there were paternal ruffs of hair and flesh. Maybe even a beard.
LOCATION: 46683 – 47117

Eventually the fellow poet and I began to escalate into arguing about something. I can’t remember why, and I can’t remember what it is I said, only that he chastised me for being immature, and I replied something to the effect of, “well, of course I am, I’m only fucking 14.” To his credit, he was mortified, apologized profusely, said something like he “meant no disrespect,” a sentiment that confused me at the time. He said he’d thought I was “at least in college,” and as I distinctly recall, he wrote, “me and my middle-aged ass.” Well, I thought, and now you know, and everything is all right and we can go back to saying sweet things to one another, and a little note from you in my Eudora Mail inbox after school. But the fellow poet stopped replying.
LOCATION: 48237 – 49127

Several months later, Old Guy surfaced on the poetry newsgroup again, presenting something I read distinctly as a whimsical love poem. It referred to his “whiskers” (aha, I thought, I was right about the horrible old beard), and contained the phrase “hop all over your back.” I read the poem closely to see if it might be about me, Delilah, but no evidence presented itself.
LOCATION: 49666 – 50068

I liked the college student better, anyway. Recently I had the sudden whim to Google the first and last name of the romantic poet, which I still remember. I found the very grey-bearded author of a lot of pro-life books with web copy focused on “taking responsibility for the sex act.” It can’t be the same man. It just can’t. I also Googled the college student. Now he’s a music journalist. Wicked.
LOCATION: 50457 – 50930

When is the last time you said “www” out loud, ‘double-yew double-yew double-yew-dot.’ Unironically. World Wide Web. The phrase is so quintessential to the lexicon of the modern West that it’s funny to go hey, wait, let’s pin that down — World Wide Web. Some spider-kin network that spreads around the entire world. How far did the Internet’s fuzzy-legged arachnotendrils reach when I was 14? 16? Not the whole world. Not even every house I knew in suburbia had the Internet, at first. That phrase, that innocently-spoken World Wide! was a promise of potential, not reality.
LOCATION: 51334 – 52039

And the early Web was a simulacrum of reality, a dim Western fantasy of virtual space cobbled together from chunky, artifacted graphics. You browsed the web with Netscape Navigator, like a starship captain (modern browsers still bear the rust taste of frontier spirit, with names like Explorer, Safari). Primitive chat lobbies were called things like The Meeting Room, the Lobby, the Cafe, as if you were always, always entering a real place, there to meet real people.
LOCATION: 52060 – 52529

Sign my guestbook, they begged. Guestbooks. Little virtual visitor’s logs. At one time it seemed almost every website had one. Now, none of them do.
LOCATION: 53516 – 53671

Exploring these spaces was half luck, half skill. You found the sites you wanted by ambient clicking, a zen-like pilgrimage through forum signatures and sidebars. Or you could use primitive search engines, of which there were many: Lycos. Metacrawler, dominated by a graphic of a giant hairy spider, Dogpile, Excite, Infoseek, Alta Vista.
LOCATION: 53692 – 54030

Each service would return a different sequence of results than another, and so you would visit all of them in sequence, type in what you wanted to find, never able to expect the same recommendations.
LOCATION: 54051 – 54250

before I realized it was pronounced GEO CITIES, like cities of the globe, and not Geocities as in rhymes with curiosities.
LOCATION: 54896 – 55028

(Uniform Resource Locator, and if that isn’t a Holodeck-era acronym I don’t know what is)
LOCATION: 55251 – 55354

You can remember the first truly horrific image you ever saw online, can’t you?
LOCATION: 63156 – 63242

A man wincing, his face pinched and deformed, seeming to warp against the barrel of an executing gun. A woman spread out in a bathtub, gripping her stockinged thighs, a fount of amber bile arcing as vivid as carved stone from one of her orifices to another. Thirty seconds of a .avi file — a naked woman on all fours blinking doe-like from a dark hotel bed. No, wait, a young girl. Younger than young. Oh, my god. Sick. Sick.
LOCATION: 63263 – 63695

Did you seek it out, the sensation of the bottom dropping out from your guts, the wondering is it real and can they really and who the fuck? Did you stumble into it entirely by accident, or through the sin of completely unguarded curiosity?
LOCATION: 63716 – 63977

Just a picture of me, smoking, late teens, fully clothed, was pornography to someone. My socks were worth money. This is what I had learned about men and sex from the Internet by the time I had graduated high school.
LOCATION: 76339 – 76555

Internet boyfriends and girlfriends, intimacy with the convenience of distance, intimacy that never has to be challenged by the responsibilities of reality.
LOCATION: 79691 – 79847

I wrote other students’ papers for them in exchange for baggies of weed, and spent what felt like an interminable length my life on a quaint campus, in a tiny room, online, all the time.
LOCATION: 80595 – 80788

In the gaps between playtimes, you could occasionally glimpse all our comparatively-powerless, childlike lives: Old enough to drink, but still living with our parents, or with someone who acted as parent. I knew far too many teenagers getting money and gifts from adults they knew online, via arrangements that seemed passionately dysfunctional and dark and beyond my ken.
LOCATION: 84669 – 85041

By the new millennium our idea of wizardry had little to do with capes and wands, and everything to do with black leather, wearable tech, and the glamour of lightning-fast fingers weaving spells across glass and light, or the kind of cascading ASCII sigils, green-glowing on black, that I remembered from my childhood devotionals to the Apple ][e computer.
LOCATION: 87551 – 87907

The first computer-centric kids’ cartoon I can remember was ReBoot, which started airing when I was adolescent, featuring the stunning innovation of CGI animation, the first show of its kind. People “went in the game,” became characters, lived humanoid lives inside of mainframes.
LOCATION: 88239 – 88540

The first thing people make in an online world, when they can make anything, is a house. In Second Life’s heyday, West Coast millennial dream homes sprouted all over the place like mushrooms: Seaside modern architecture with swimming pools, glass fronts, arcing ferns, natural wood. In a place where any ideal can be built, a depressing aspirational median emerges. Inside the house, all users put a chair. Why, Yee poses, do virtual worlds need chairs if virtual bodies never need to sit down?
LOCATION: 98671 – 99172