2. Ash in the forest

Story time!

Welcome to the second episode.
Time for a story in one of my favourite spots among the trees. An excerpt from my first novel, Margins and Murmurations

Also available on Spotify. RSS feed here.


Hi, I’m Kes Otter Lieffe, and welcome to Margins and Murmurations: the podcast. I am the author of Margins, a trilogy of queer and speculative fiction novels in which marginalised characters take centre stage in stories of powerful resistance. I’m also a community organiser, focusing on the intersection of queerness, class and ecology. In this podcast, I’ll be discussing themes from my novels, sharing some stories and having some chats with friends. If you enjoy the podcast, please share it with your mates. I don’t have social media, so this is the best way for people to find out about me. And if you’d like to know more about my work, you can check out www.otterlieffe.com. I hope you enjoy this episode.

Hi everyone. As you can maybe hear, it’s a super windy day. So I’ve come down to one of my favourite spots down by the little brook. And I’m sat under this kind of epic beach tree. Well, a whole bunch of epic beach trees. And one of the things I love about this spot is that it’s so difficult to get here. Like the grass between here and where I live has got so long and half of it is grass, half of it’s nettles. I mean, I basically just live in food and medicine. It’s incredible. And yeah, it’s very high and spiky and the nettles kissed me a lot on the way here. And there are like little routes that humans have kind of made through the grass. And I think the deer also use them. So they come through the little routes every day through the grass and hang out and eat all of our plants and are incredibly cute and a bit naughty and cheeky. So I came through the little path, if we can call it that. And then the water in the brook is super low. It’s basically just like mud and slime at the moment. Lots of dried up pond weed and these kind of like reeds, I guess. I don’t know so much about like river plants, but it’s gorgeous. Just very dry. And as you can hear, I’m surrounded by yellow hammers and baby somethings. There’s a little nest around here. I’ve seen the wood pigeons are nesting and the black kites. So, yeah, seem to have some babies around which is pretty cute. And yeah, there’s some incredible fungi I’m just sat on the forest floor and there are these massive fungi, big bracket fungi. There’s a lot of deadwood here which is just so rare. And I think that’s why it’s so rich as well. It’s just like every bit of dead wood around me has holes from woodpeckers and a whole bunch of little wood lice and all kinds of amazing life because a lot of this area is industrial forest and so, yeah, there’s never any deadwood for all the beings who love deadwood. We do have a lot of woodpeckers around. They’re really cute. Yeah. So I came down to the brook to read you a little story from Margins and Murmurations, my first novel.

Night had fallen, and the forest around Ash’s favourite clearing was deathly still – and with the new moon perfectly dark. She sat amongst the ferns and nettles, breathing in the smells. The dust of dry soil, the perfume of some flowering invasive, the spray of a fox who must have passed by recently. This was her nightly ritual, either at her home or at Pinars, to just sit and connect with the living world around her. It was the moment of day that she felt the safest and the most at peace with herself. It was her time to sit and stop thinking. Tonight, though, she was distracted by her conversations with Pinar. Why does she always smother me? I mean, no wonder I shout at her sometimes. She should know better than to push me. Anyway, it’s fine. I guess she always forgives me. Oh, is that the owl again? Sounds like it’s hunting. I wonder what’s still out here for her to eat. It’s so dry. I don’t know if it’s ever going to rain.

Ash caught her wandering thoughts and brought her attention back to her senses. She dove deeply into the sounds around her, felt their vibration in her skull. A cricket calling. Somewhere to the left, some small mammal squeaking way over near the cabin. She allowed herself to sense the air moving over her bald head and her clothes on her skin to connect with her weight on the ground and the slight prickling of new stubble on her face to inhabit her body. For some, it was such a simple thing that they never even thought about it. But for Ash, like so many trans folk, making friends with her body often felt like the toughest thing in the world.

I have to be better to myself. This old body won’t take much more, especially if I keep journeying the way I have been. If only Pin could understand better what I go through. If I could just control it sometimes and stay in the moment. If only… and suddenly, Ash was standing. She stood in exactly the same spot amongst the ferns. But it was early evening. The sky above the clearing was a spectacular red and orange, and she screwed up her eyes against the sudden change in light. What the hell? Over towards the cabin, Ash could see herself with Pinar pouring steaming hot water over a naked white man, someone she’d never seen before. Huh. This must be the future, then. Pinar was saying a name over and over again.

Jason. Jason. Jason.
A breeze brought the thick scents of rose water and lavender to Ash’s nostrils, and for the second time in the last few hours, she felt sick and dizzy. Her future self, still holding the pot of hot water, looked over at her and smiled. The world spun, and as quickly as Ash realised what was happening, she was sitting again, back in her spot. Wow, that was weird. I wonder who… her heart skipped a beat over at the cabin. She could hear a voice calling her name. It was Pinar. And she sounded terrified.

Well, thank you for joining me and the loudly singing Yellow Hammer for a little story time. As I was telling the story, the light kept changing. It’s a super cloudy day, but then in between the clouds, the sky is really blue and very sunny. And, yeah, it was just really beautiful to see the light playing over the pages of the book as I was reading. I kind of forget about this passage, but a few people have told me that they really enjoyed it and it was nice to read it and actually one of my favourite spots. So I wish you all a very beautiful day, and if you’d like to share this with your friends, that would be amazing. And I’ll be back soon with another podcast. I don’t know what it will be, but this is all a great experiment. So, yeah, let me know how it’s the experiment is going for you, if you’re enjoying it. And, yes, I’ll speak to you soon. Bye.