Writing is hard. Just ask Nell Stevens, a 27-year-old British graduate student working toward her MFA in fiction at Boston University. As part of the program, she receives a three-month fellowship to travel anywhere in the world to practice her craft, and to the surprise of her advisor, she chooses the sparsely populated Falkland Islands. Located in the South Atlantic Ocean near Antarctica, the frigid islands offer Stevens the isolation she needs to concentrate on her Dickensian novel—which, like her life, features a young English academic who travels to the Falklands. Stevens arrives at Bleaker Island, a small world of rock, sea and sky, and promptly puts on an extra pair of socks.
In Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World, Stevens offers a quirky and engaging account of what happens next. Surrounded by a colony of penguins, a beached whale carcass, caracara birds and a herd of sheep, she spends hours writing in a sunroom so thoroughly transparent she feels part of the weather. She plans her day down to the number of almonds she can eat each morning and the number of words she’ll produce each afternoon.
Despite her rigid plan, the act of writing proves as unpredictable and brutal as the weather. Her isolation compels her to ponder the process of composing. How does one make something beautiful from a string of words and longings, from memories and imaginings and, more practically, from computers and books and piles of almonds? Eventually departing the island with a book—though one very different from her original plan—Nell offers a captivating portrait of the creative life.