Shetland in August. Today I am wearing jeans, socks, a long-sleeved shirt and I won't go outside without my Patagonia wind-stopping fleece that I bought to brave the Prague winters six years ago. It is simply unimaginable to me that most of the people I know in this world are stuck amid lethargy-inducing heat and humidity today, while I am snuggled in a crazy busy café, belly full of fresh seafood chowder and a vanilla latte.
My first week was full of surprising sunshine, with the small exception of a Sunday with torrential rains, but I was busy writing so didn't leave the flat anyway. I should have explored more with the sun out, but I had work to do. The flat is on the second (and top) floor of a Shetland NHS building, one of five junior doctor flats that house the short-timers around here. The good stuff: the back door is about 25 feet from the North Sea coastline, which is strikingly beautiful. It's a two-iPod song walk to the gym, the town center, and the library. And it's dirt-cheap and has freebies like electricity and digital cable. It will be fine for the few months I hang my hat on the nonexistent coat rack by the door. (It's a bit lacking in things like furniture. And no internet access for at least 2 more weeks. You don't realize how dependent you are on the internet until you don't have it.)
Shetland hasn't shocked me as much as I had expected. It looks a lot like eastern Kansas surrounded by water. (This isn't as mad as it sounds.) The landscape is gently rolling green hills and fields that extend beyond the horizon. There aren't many trees. The sky lasts forever and the clouds dance in layers, playing hide-and-seek with the sun. But the sea is the undermining focus of everything on the island. Fishing nets lie outside every house; they're used to cover the garbage bags so seagulls won't go through all of the trash. There are more boats than pubs. Life depends upon the ferry schedules.
Lerwick is not unlike a fishing village anywhere in the world – weathered faces, genuine smiles, a pace of life that mimics the moods of the sea. There are numerous curry houses and a few traditional restaurants. The haddock used for basic fish and chips is some of the best I've ever tasted. There are a few pubs, some that feature traditional music from the islands – think Scottish/Irish/Norwegian and lots of fiddle. The cafes are bustling with people, the shops simple but tasteful. I found a health food shop today. It's still the honeymoon period – when finding a small gem like a health food shop can make my day just that much better. Talk to me when it's November and there are 5 hours of daylight, those hours likely featuring rain and wind like I've never experienced before.
And the best thing so far is that I've finally got the novel to a place where I am ready to pass it to friend/editors to peruse. I'm going to quote my lexical hero, Papa Hemingway here: "The most essential gift for a writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit-detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it." My shit-detector has sadly been on pause for the past few, well, years, and somehow I've come up with some absolutely (as they say here) shite writing. There are gems of ideas that are passable, and some are even quite good, but there was a lot of shit to wallow through, especially in a novel that I finished whilst slaving away at a boarding school, my mind usually partitioned into thirty pieces, one of which was writing. It was fine, but hopefully now it has more of that sparkle needed to sell. Still a lot of work to do. Shetland is probably one of the best places for me in this regard - few distractions.
So that's what this blog-thing will be, for awhile: a combination of notes from an island in the North Sea, writing notes, and potentially the make or heartbreak associated with trying to make a first novel work. Anyone who writes knows that it is a labor of love that requires diligence, passion, and undying belief in what you're trying to tell the world, even if it's just a small story to take people away from reality for awhile. I'm scared to death, and that feels exhilarating.