I’m extremely pleased to be writing that my latest book, In the Pines, has been published by Influx Press. In the Pines is a novella, which tells the story of the narrator’s lifelong relationship with the forest through a series of fragmented sketches and short stories. It is also a collaboration, with the photographer (and my good friend) Eymelt Sehmer. The book includes a series of her collodion wet plate photographs, using a 170-year old technique which required her to take a mobile dark room into the forest to develop the images on site.
The stories and the photographs contained in the book are linked. Sometimes, Eymelt went into the forest with one of my stories in mind, and came back with an image inspired by it. Other times she came out of the forest with a series of pictures that triggered something in my imagination and out came another story for the book. We will be launching the book on the 20 November at Eymelt’s gallery in Berlin, where she will also be exhibiting the photographs. If you are in or around Berlin next week then we would love to see you.
Otherwise, if the book is of interest then you can get your copy via Influx Press or through your local bookshop. If you are not close to a bookshop or are being careful with shopping right now, Bookshop.org is a website where you can both order online but also support a local or independent bookshop. You can find all my books, including In the Pines, here.
I wanted to write this last week, between my 15th and 16th half marathons for the Pahar Trust Nepal’s #30for30 fundraising campaign, but events got the better of me. So here we are, with sixteen runs down and another fourteen to go and I have to say that – for the most part – I’ve been really enjoying these weekly long runs.
One of the main reasons has been the company. On most of the runs I have been joined by my good friend Jim for at least some of the way, and I’ve also run a half marathon with Neil and Charlotte. Unfortunately, the restrictions here in Berlin have limited me to only being able to run with one person per week, but I am hopeful that by the time we get into the twenties it might be possible to run with a slightly larger gang.
But the support I’ve had over the past sixteen weeks has not only been from these three out on the streets with me, but also from everyone who has donated via my Justgiving page and sent me words of encouragement and support, and especially Alan and Tim from the Pahar Trust Nepal who have sent me supportive emails and a lovely fundraisers medal to mark the halfway point of the campaign. I have medals from running that include a full marathon in the forests of Brandenburg, the Mauerweglauf along the Berlin Wall Trail, and numerous half marathons and 10km runs in Berlin, Liverpool, Dresden and Leipzig, but I think this is the one that I will treasure the most.
Right now the Pahar Trust Nepal is well on the way to their #30for30 target of £50,000 and our little community that has supported me in my half marathon efforts have already donated (at the time of writing) £1,785. When I started the fundraising back in December I set an aim of £200 – my target now is ten times that (and secretly I’m aiming for more – see below). Thanks so much to everyone who has supported so far, and if you feel like encouraging me for the runs to come, you can do so here on my Justgiving page.
The Important Bit:
But what’s the money going to be used for? I thought I would use the halfway report to go into a little more detail on the Pahar Trust Nepal’s work and in particular their early years education projects, as this is the main focus of the #30for30 campaign. On their website, there is an overview of the importance of early years education by Sue Green, the Pahar Trust Nepal President:
“A child’s brain develops more than at any other time during the first five years of life and the experiences that a child has during this time shapes their brain development. The basis of a child’s social behaviour, capacity to learn, ability to problem solve, communication skills and motivation skills develop during these early years. Without appropriate age related stimuli and loving care development will be inhibited…” (Read the rest of Sue’s post here)
On the website they also present a couple of case studies, to give anyone who supports the Pahar Trust Nepal the chance to understand how the funds raised via the #30for30 campaign and through their other activities will be used. This includes a story from the Thaprek School in Tanahun, where volunteers visited in 2019 to support the refurbishment of the school to provide an improved Early Childhood Development classroom, a new kitchen and dining area, and a safe, reliable water supply.
The team repainted the classroom to make it brighter and more engaging, installed new furniture and learning resources, and constructed a new toilet so that children did not need to go outside – especially beneficial during the monsoon season. The improvement works cost around £4,200, and the impact for the children was clear to the teacher, Muniraj Gurung, who said:
“The new room has provided much more space for the children to play and they have lots of learning materials to use now. We are also able to provide snacks to the children which is good. We have seen an increase in attendance and we are almost full which is good for the children. They can play with each other and learn many things while playing. They are improving their habit of helping each other also. I would like to thank the donors for their support because before there was a very narrow room; there weren’t many things to read and play with. Now we have a room and resources which makes the children happy and their learning becomes even more meaningful.”
Each penny that we raise for the #30for30 campaign will go towards projects like the Thrapek School, and even modest amounts make a massive difference. For example…
£20 could provide a bag and educational materials for a student £100 could repaint a classroom £500 could provide new resources such as stationery & toys £1,200 could provide new flooring, a whiteboard & furniture £3,000 could provide the complete refurbishment of an existing room
I don’t know how realistic it is, but if by the end of the thirty weeks and the thirty half marathons we can get close to the £3,000 needed to complete refurbish an Early Child Development classroom then it would certainly make every one of 632.7 kilometres worth it, and all the aching muscles that come with them!
You can find out more about the Pahar Trust Nepal, sign up for regular newsletter updates and discover more details about the various projects they’ve undertaken and supported over the last thirty years on their website: Pahar Trust Nepal.
I am extremely proud to report that we have just launched the fourth edition of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. Long-term readers of Under a Grey Sky will know that I am the editor-in-chief of Elsewhere and founded the journal in 2015 with the incredibly talented Julia Stone as the Creative Director. In the journal you will find writing, interviews, photography and reviews all relating somehow to the topic of place, and one of the most striking elements I feel are Julia’s illustrations which can be found throughout.
We have had a great response to previous editions, including nice reviews and quotes from the likes of Robert Macfarlane and Monocle magazine, and we have published some very talented writers that it has been an absolute pleasure to work with. In Elsewhere No.04 I have two essays; one on the subject of memory, literature and memorials on the streets of Prague; and one on memory, nostalgia and landscape on the headland of Rhoscolyn. Aside from my feelings about the journal as a whole, I am very proud of both of these pieces of writing. Here are a couple of brief snippets from both:
From Teufelseestraße the path leads through the winter woods for only a few metres before it begins to rise. Although we have come across to the other side of Berlin to climb a hill, in this the flattest of cities the steepness of the slope still comes as something as a shock to the system, not to mention the thighs. As we walk it is clear what this hill, the 99 metre Drachenberg, is made of. Beneath the young trees that guard its slopes, poking through the crumbly top-soil, is the rock of the mountain. Here it is granite. There it is marble. A slab of concrete. Red brick.
The Drachenberg and its neighbouring Teufelsberg (120m) were created out of the rubble of the Second World War. The latter hill is made up of an estimated 400,000 bombed houses, and buried underneath it all is the remnants of Albert Speer’s Nazi military training school. Pre-war Berlin is what these mountains are made of and as we walk towards the “tree line” and the open plateau at the top of the Drachenberg, it feels as if the history of those countless buildings is clamouring for attention at our feet and at the base of those bare trees. Continue reading →
Regular readers of Under a Grey Sky will know that I have spent the past six months or so working with my good friend Julia and an increasing band of walkers, writers, photographers and illustrators on a new quarterly journal of place. Above you can see the digital-only, half-size ‘zero’ edition that we created as part of our crowdfunding campaign to give people a sense of what the journal will be like when the first print edition is released in June 2015. Please have a look and a read, and if you think that this is a project you think you would like to support then I would be extremely grateful if you could visit the crowdfunding campaign via the link below, pre-order issue 1, take out a subscription, or one of the many other options complete with exclusive goodies that we have put together. It is an exciting project, and I am really confident we can create a wonderful print journal that will showcase the work of some fantastic writers, musicians, artists, illustrators, photographers and more… but we need some help to get us to the start line, so anything you can do to get us there would be really appreciated.
Yep… it is that time again. Under a Grey Sky will be taking a little break for the next month or so, as we recharge our batteries, think about what we want to do with this project moving forward, and of course, to have some more adventures beyond the front door that we can write about here. Our plans will take us on a road trip through Germany, some time in the steephead valleys of the Jura, in France, and who knows what else closer to home? We hope all the readers and contributors to Under a Grey Sky have a great summer, and many thanks to all of you who have continued to read, write and comment over the past twelve months.
For a week I was in Japan – or was it six days? I count back on my fingers to try and piece together the chronology of a trip that even now, only a couple of weeks later, is something of a blur. It is okay, I tell myself. Just try and write it up, and you will find the through line; you will be able to chart a clear path through your notes and make sense of all the sights and sensations of those six days… but it has not worked like that, so we will go this way instead: fragments of a city to which I cannot wait to return…
Walking through the lakeside village of Pieskow in Brandenburg is a lesson in history through architecture. There is the grand manor house, with a garden that sweeps down to the lake, high fences to keep out the riff-raff, and mysterious initials on the doorbell where – in a more humble abode – there would be a surname or even two. There are the classic, single-storey Brandenburg farmhouses arranged around cobble courtyards. There are prefab blocks from the GDR-era, once belonging to a holiday camp, now abandoned in the woods. Further along the shore there is a functioning holiday camp, built after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the style of Swedish or Danish boathouses… all wooden decks and stoves to keep out the cold. And there is the village church, of uneven brick and a tiled roof, the tower looking out over it all…
…we can hope, because that might mean we get a little snow with the holidays. Under a Grey Sky will be cuddling up under a warm blanket by a lake for the next week or so, with service resumed in the New Year. So all that is left is to thank everyone who read and contributed to the site over the past twelve months. During this, the second year of Under a Grey Sky, we welcomed a lot of old friends to these virtual pages but also many new ones as well. No-one gets paid and we are extremely grateful to everyone who has shared their words and images with us.
On a personal level, Katrin and I have once again found that Under a Grey Sky has not only been a great place to collect our words, our thoughts, and what we capture through a lens, but also inspires us to get out the door and look for new adventures. This year we made it over to the United States as well as a couple of trips to England, but we have also enjoyed many smaller trips out from Berlin, up to the Baltic sea or the Oder river, the lakes and forests of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg, or even days exploring corners of our city both familiar and otherwise. Over the two years of the website it has definitely proved to be kick-start to get us out the door on a Saturday morning…
Hope you have a great couple of weeks and we will see you on the other side.
Autumn appears to have arrived in Berlin with the start of September, although the weather is supposed to turn fine again for the coming weekend, which is good because I happen to be leading a “Hike the Berlin Wall” tour for Slow Travel Berlin on Sunday and it would be nice to do it in pleasant sunshine rather than in a blustery shower. I first made this walk – alone – almost exactly a year ago, and although I had long planned to turn it into a guided walk for Slow Travel Berlin circumstances (and the elements) conspired against the inaugural walk until August of this year.
Five people joined me for the walk from Griebnitzsee to Wannsee and I believe we all had a good time. It is a walk that combines some of the most beautiful corners of Berlin and Potsdam with some fascinating stories from the history of both cities… and at around 15 kilometres in length, you certainly feel as if you earned the beer that is waiting at the end of it.
There are still some places available for the guided walk on Sunday 8th September, and it costs €15 per person. If you would like more information, or even to book, then head over to the tour page on Slow Travel Berlin and all will be revealed.