I was sitting on a beach in Shetland last week, feeling happy. I’ve always loved islands – I used to live in Shetland once upon a time and I’ve camped on most of the other Scottish islands over the years, most recently Orkney, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Islay and Jura. Much closer to home, I’ve been to the Scillies a couple of times too.
I like the way that being on an island makes you feel separate, and yet more aware than usual of how joined up you are. The poet John Donne famously wrote:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
Sitting on that beach, eating a cheese roll, with not another soul anywhere in sight, no roads, no houses, I felt aware of all the people who had made my lunch for me; the farmers who made the cheese and grew the wheat, the miller who ground the flour, and the baker who baked the roll; the person who put it together, the delivery driver who brought it to the shop and the garage that supplied his diesel. The people in the factory where the packaging was made; the woman behind the counter who took the money and wished me a lovely day.
On islands, I think of all the people at home I’m personally joined up with, my friends and family, whose love holds me and makes me feel safe in the world. I think of my neighbours, my postman and village shopkeeper, all the people who are part of my life, day to day, and my agent, editor, fellow authors and workshop participants, who are the fabric of my working life.
Writing is a little like being on an island. You sit there on your own, creating stories and developing ideas, but that makes you even more aware than usual of how joined up you are with other people, because you’re writing to be read. When I write, I’m creating connections with a network that’s much wider than the people I know personally; it’s even wider than the network of people I’ve never met, who created my cheese roll. Anyone in the world might stumble upon my book or blog post. As you are reading this, it’s made a brief connection here between me and you.
Thank you for reading 🙂