When does the healing power of isolation become a punishment?

As I write this, the sun is setting beyond the storm clouds of the Med. The sea is shadowed, restless and insistent — if I lean just right through my sickroom window, I can see it, the narrowest glimpse of the shore, the sea tearing at cliffs of pale limestone with its dark fingers.

For us, it was not the most festive Christmas. Nor did January 1st bring the reset that we so desperately needed. Not long after arriving in Malta in early December, both my partner and I fell ill yet again — a lingering respiratory infection that came at the exact wrong time.

The cold hit me especially hard. A day before we were supposed to fly back to Barcelona, I went to the doctor short of breath, with pain in my neck and ears. The doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I could not fly.

So here we are, still sick, still in Malta, still healing.

It’s hard for me not to think about the long tradition of people retreating to island realms in order to recover from the wounds of the world. From Arthur taken to Avalon by Morgan Le Fey, to Odysseus washing ashore on Calypso’s island (especially appropriate given Malta’s claimed connection with the nymph), it seems that if you want a place to rest up, recover, and maybe get an offer of immortality, your first step is to find an island — preferably one with a sorceress or minor goddess in situ.

Stories for a Deserted Island…

But there’s a darker side to this literary tradition. While throughout mythology and legend, men tend to retreat to islands in order to heal — for women, more often such isolation is imposed as a way to contain their power, out of consequence for magic or madness or misdeed. Madeline Miller’s Circe, for example, is banished to Aeaea for all these reasons and more, while Miranda in Shakespeare’s Tempest grows up isolated due to her father’s political downfall.

I suppose I’m also thinking about this a lot as I finish up edits on my YA fantasy novel, now tentatively titled Deathsong. Much like Miranda or Circe, my protagonist, Song, is kept alone on an island far removed from the rest of society. But is it for her own protection? Or is it to control her?

When does the healing power of isolation become a punishment?

In any case, as I’m now about to send the latest draft off to my agent, I’m excited to share a small teaser for the novel with you. You can take a sneak peek at the opening pages. Take a look, and as always, I’d love to know what you think.

Hopefully by the time you read this, I will have recovered enough to make it back to our little flat in Barcelona. Still, I suppose there are worse places to be stuck than in an apartment by the sea, even if my island must continue to weather the storms.


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