Letting Go of the Hermit-Writer Fantasy

Category: Writing

This is my house. How jealous are you on a scale of one to ten? If you're on eight or above, I reckon you might have hermit tendencies.

I remember a holiday in Norfolk, when I was about twelve, when we took a boat out to an island bird sanctuary. There was a guy there who was living in a hut on the shore, working for the RSPB. I think he had to put rings on the birds' legs and then count them or something. Anyway, I thought – I want that job. I just couldn’t imagine anything better than living alone on an island in a hut and writing. I wasn't that bothered about putting rings on birds' legs, but I was fully prepared to do it for the hut and the island and the isolation and the writing.

I've been obsessed with huts my whole life and two years ago I finally realised my childhood dream by becoming a full-time hut dweller. It’s not Walden, by any means – I have electricity and running water (most of the time).  A washing machine, even. The view from my living room windows is stunning: sea, hills, sky. The house is right on the shore and when the tide's in, the water comes up to the doors of my basement and it feels like being in a boat. The first year I lived here, I couldn't walk into the living room without becoming mesmerised by the view, the ever-changing light on the water. I'd stumble out of bed in the morning and catch sight of it and just stop in my tracks. It was hard to believe that I actually lived here. I spent a lot of time on my own that year, and developed deep, meaningful relationships with the local wildlife, particularly a wee mouse who moved in with me and became so friendly that we eventually had to have a discussion about boundaries, personal space and that kind of thing. That's her on my last blog post, looking unbearably cute.

The intensity of that first year has faded a bit, but there are still times when I have that feeling, as if I'm dreaming. It also feels less isolated and remote than it did initially, and I've started to fantasise about being more isolated and more remote. Several people have suggested I read A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland, in which Sara describes her mission to live in ever deeper silence and solitude. I haven't read it yet though, as I worry that it might encourage my already quite pronounced anti-social tendencies. I think that solitude has a lot to teach us, and I haven't completely let go of the hermit-writer fantasy, but I have started to see that it is just a fantasy. I've done a fair amount of writing here, but not more than I have in any of the other places I've lived. If you have a strong desire to write, you'll do it where-ever you are: you don't need the perfect hermit hut or endless solitude. In fact I think that endless solitude might be quite counter-productive for writing. I think we all need input, stimulation, interaction, one foot in the world, if we're to have anything substantial to write about.


Tat Usher

Tat Usher received a New Writers Award in 2008.