Going away from home to write is always a productive exercise for me. This has been borne out by the last two weeks which I have spent in Shetland, and the week before that, when I was at the inspiring Moniack Mhor Scottish Writers Centre near Inverness.
I love writing at home too. It’s just that there seems to be a different kind of clarity when I’m far away or in a new setting, especially one as light and graceful as Shetland.
On day one, in Lerwick, the clear waters of the harbour set a special tone of lucidity that I found was echoed in my writing time during this trip.
Here, near one of the older buildings in Lerwick, we stared down through the sea to the stones beneath. These deep inlets lie near ‘lodberries’ – a word from Old Norse which meant a sort of jetty where boats could be unloaded.
How did this clarity manifest itself? Well, during these three weeks away I found it easier to do some much-needed work on defining the structure of my novel-in-progress more tightly. I’ve also found the mind-space and inspiration to start several new poems and gather ideas for more, as well as editing a couple of first drafts written back in April when I went on a Poetry Workshop week.
One of the poems I wrote that week was about a tendency that many people have (me included) to throw themselves into life experiences to the nth degree, without having the common sense to stop before they hurt themselves. It arose out of a memory of trying too hard to achieve a certain posture in yoga and spraining my neck as result!
It’s true that one of the messages of that poem is that we could all do with learning how to identify that point at which it might be a good idea to step back, or stop, before the painful straining of muscles or the bruising of feelings occurs.
But it struck me last week, in Shetland, that we also need to celebrate the way such a carefree lack of insight can make us into unexpected explorers, inadvertent adventurers, brave gatherers of experience. A lack of common sense can sometimes take us past an invisible line to a place where we can glimpse what we wouldn’t ordinarily see — the other side of the coin. Maybe this is part of the currency that helps us to barter poetry from life.