I'm off camping this weekend, onto Exmoor. That's a smallish upland in the west of England, for those who don't know - small, but wild in places. I'll likely see deer, wild ponies, trout in the streams and an otter if I'm very lucky indeed, but probably no other people. Best of all my phone doesn't get a signal there. It's complete isolation.
I need that, now and then. A disconnect from the world. I was on an Outward Bound course when I was 17, in the Lake District, during which we were sent on "Solo", a couple of days stranded alone on a mountain. It was meant to teach us how hard it is to manage alone, and so remind us how great it is to be part of a team. Unfortunately I didn't feel that. Instead of missing my team I revelled in being left to my own devices, and afterwards found myself accused of not being a team player.
Well, damn, you needed Solo to work that out?
I suppose writers often are loners. Spending hours hunched over a pad of paper, or these days sitting at a PC desk, isn't going to be much fun if you spend the time craving conversation. We have to enjoy our own company, very often. But I think as well that this modern world is so crammed full of ways to communicate that many of us, writers or no, can find ourselves slightly overwhelmed by it. Not so very long ago you could only be reached by letter or land line phone. Now we have mobiles, tablets and laptops, with email and video chat available on all of them. A lot of us tweet constantly, which drives me mad. Now imagine being cut off from all that, unable even to pick up a signal on any of your devices. What would you do with your time?
If the answer is that you'd feel restless, bored or frustrated, then stay home and watch the reruns of The Simpsons. Again. If you might feel slightly liberated, like a drained battery given a chance to charge... well, you're a bit like me. And would have done just as badly as I did on Outward Bound.
Of course, I never completely disconnect: I'm one of those people whose brain never shuts down. Every night I have to remind myself to relax, often several times, before I can sleep. So I'll be up on the moor thinking about how to resolve a plot issue in Troy II, or trying to knit a decent new idea into an older thought that might mesh with it... for a while. After a day or so the mind lets go. There's nothing productive for it to do so it begins to do... nothing. Given a few weeks of that most people go a bit mad, like the prophets in the Bible who spent months in the desert and came out babbling about gods or demons. But just a few days is incredibly refreshing.
So anyway, I'll be gone for 3 days, if all goes as I hope, through all of Easter weekend. If I come back dribbling on about being talked to by demons, I suppose we'll know why, eh?