Season 2 Episode 8: Understanding Isolation

In this episode I experience utter isolation in Dunari. I examine the relationship between isolation and world building. And the Strange but True tells the story of the Lavun Guild’s disastrous attempt to introduce an ‘Instant Isolation’ spell to the people of the City of Bones.

This episode is sponsored by Island Fire, distillers of the finest ‘firewater’ from the Northern Isles.

Key Takeaways:

How to understand the relationship between isolation and understanding your world.

How to get a free bottle of booze

This episode is sponsored by Island Fire, distillers of the finest ‘firewater’ from the Northern Isles.

Because it is matured for fifty years in special bone casks, Island Fire is expensive. So expensive, in fact, I’d never spend the money on it. They offered Ganhook a free bottle for this episode’s sponsorship rights. He wanted it. I wanted it. So . . .  once again. This episode is sponsored by Island Fire, creators of the finest ‘firewater’ from the Northern Isles.

I’ll let you know next time how it tastes.

Now, on with my story.

I knew something was wrong when I woke at 7:52 and the bed was still comfortable. You see, those days, due to the fact that I slept on a sentient bed, my idea of a lie in was the last precious minutes before 7 AM.

After seven, the bed would toss me out of it.

Now it was 07:52, and the bed was warm and cosy and quiet.

Anxiety fluttered through my stomach. In a world where everything could potentially kill me, I had developed a healthy suspicion of anything out of the ordinary. At this hour of the morning, a restful, calm bed was certainly out of the ordinary.

Had my watch broken? Was it my birthday? Or was today some special Dunari holiday, and this was a surprise treat?

No. My watch was still ticking, and unless I had slept for over 10 months, it wasn’t my birthday. And had it been a special Dunari holiday, the cat or the stick would have mentioned it many times.

They love talking about holidays – though they never took any anyway.

Actually, I had no clue how Shinytop, or any ghost for that matter, ‘could’ take a holiday. But that was irrelevant right then.

I said, ‘Shinytop, what time is it?’

My words echoed off into silence.

Now, this was odd. Normally Shinytop would be waiting for me to wake so he could start chatting. No reply was odder than a restful bed. I opened my eyes. Shinytop wasn’t even there.

‘Hello!’ I called, swinging myself out of bed. ‘Anyone there?’

I distinctly remember hearing the thud of my heartbeat against my chest then. I mention this because I had never heard it sound like a distant, rhythmic banging before. It sounded like a fist banging against the wooden door.

I didn’t call out again. I was afraid of what might answer.

Had some terrible disaster occurred? Had the fortress been invaded? Was I dreaming?

Mum had said a few times you can’t see yourself in a mirror during a dream. So, just to be sure, I checked myself in the mirror.

I looked scared.

I put on my Iron Maiden T-shirt. If there was anything waiting outside, the sight of Eddie the Head’s grisly skull might rattle them enough to give me a few seconds to bolt.

Leaving my room, I headed for the kitchen.

The echoes of my footsteps sounded louder, and the way they carried off ahead of me made the corridors feel longer and emptier. The stairs felt steeper, too. And when I reached the kitchen, it was abandoned.

A letter sat beside a loaf of Shell Valley bread. A full loaf, I’ll add, which only increased my suspicions because I usually only got a few slices every morning.

The note read:

We have left for the day to entertain ourselves. The compound is yours. All doors are unlocked. The protection spells are deactivated. But only for you. The compound will react to anyone else.

Enjoy your day.’

Although I recognised Ganhook’s handwriting, I wished he had signed it. Leaving it bare made it sound impersonal, another sign of how he distanced himself from me.

Nevertheless, a surge of elation rushed through me. I was alone. I had the compound to myself. I could do what I wanted.

Disappointment soon edged out the elation.

All my friends had gone off to do something, and left me alone.

It was the first time I’d been utterly alone since I’d arrived in Dunari.

Didn’t they care?

Suddenly, the world with all its silence felt unreal, like I really, really was dreaming.

I’d seen a science fiction movie once about a woman who went into a coma after a bad accident. She inhabited a crazy fantasy world within the coma, a kind of living dream created by her mind to occupy her thoughts while she recovered. And as she recovered, the fantasy world and characters she met within it, disappeared bit by bit.

Was something similar happening to me?

Had I suffered some dreadful accident in Dublin and I was in a coma and Dunari was some figment of my imagination. And now all the characters were disappearing, and soon the world would disappear, and I’d wake up in a hospital with a bunch of nurses, doctors, and my parents clustered around me.

Just one good look around the kitchen convinced me I wasn’t in a coma.

No mind could have created as weird a place as this.

Just to be sure, though, I had to find something—even if it was only a cat ghost—to talk to.

I went down to the entrance leading to the Seventh Relic complex. Ghost Cat Number Seven was always there, guarding the red door. I’d fallen into the habit of visiting her when I needed to get away from the others. There was something relaxing about the interplay between her and her paw that intrigued me.

The corridor was empty. The door was there, of course. But even if Ganhook’s note said I could go where I liked, I wasn’t going to try to pass through it, though, because my ghost might be the next ghost assigned to guard it.

I searched the compound for the next hour, but didn’t find as much as a scrappy ghost cat to talk to. Even the recycling room was empty.

I got so lonely, I almost entered The Space just to hear a few of those lavun advertising spells chattering away.

I’ll admit it was a shock to be abandoned.

But it forced me to think about things.

And as I wore the soles of my shoes out wandering the compound looking for someone or something to talk to, I thought a lot about what was going on.

Not only had I been given the freedom to do what I wanted, I’d been allowed to view Dunari entirely from my perspective. There was no cat or stick or spirit to tell me what was what. I had to make up my own mind about things.

Oddly, this made me feel simultaneously dumb and smart. Dumb because I realised that I didn’t really know what anything around me was. Smart because I was handling it.

The isolation also made me realise that nobody in Dunari was obliged to help me. They owed me nothing. But I, however, owed them everything.

Instead of me being a normal person in an alien world, I realised that I was the alien in everyone else’s normal world.

Perhaps instead of complaining to my friends about being abandoned, I could show them some appreciation for all their help, and the only way I could do that was to cook something.

I returned to the kitchen.

Although I could have cooked up some exotic Brogant or City of Bones recipe, I found enough ‘normal’ vegetables and a bit of meat for a Dunari version of an Irish stew. I opened the kitchen door to allow the smell of it waft into the hall and greet the others when they returned.

As night fell, and the stew bubbled away, I went out into courtyard. A yellow slip of a moon was high over the Rail Tower. Our moon. The real moon, I mean. The same moon I’d so often studied through my telescope back home.


While home felt ever so far away, looking at the moon always reminded me that home was closer than I though.

I sat watching the moon, and thought about my parents, and waited for the others to come home.


Isolation is not the happiest subject to discuss. It is essential, however. If you want to fully immerse yourself in building your amazing world, you need to experience all emotions connected to it.

Sound strange?

Maybe not strange. Uncomfortable. Everyone experiences isolation. Humans are as much social animals are solitary ones. When you’re in a creative process, you are mostly alone. You need to be. Otherwise, the process isn’t yours. It’s diluted.

It’s just you and your world.

You spend much of your time in your fantasy world?

That’s about as isolating as it can get.

And if you try to explain it to others, it’s more than likely they won’t get it until you have a finished product.

Even then, they might not find it interesting anyway.

When you’re in your world, you’re exploring your imagination. It’s a place you populate with the most amazing things and people. But it can be lonely. The only support you can create for your characters (or yourself) in your world, comes from your perspective.

That’s how originality forms.

When I’m in Dunari, even with friends, I still felt incredibly isolated at times. It’s a different dimension. Who wouldn’t feel isolated?

To immerse yourself in your world, you need to feel the strangeness of the world, all the elements that make it unique. Whatever form the world takes – a game, art, fiction—it’s your vision. Nobody else’s.

When you’re exploring your world, what do you hear beyond the echoes of your footsteps?

Think of a time you felt isolated – going to a new school, staring a new job, being home alone or wandering a wilderness. Everyone experiences isolation at times.

Isolation is a fantastic way to train your imagination.

If you want to experience instant isolation, just pop in ear plugs. Voila! The world has changed.

For a deeper experience, you don’t need to travel 10 million light years to another planet, or live like a hermit depending on your friends to leave food outside your cave every day.

Just find a quiet place in nature. Maybe start with a forest.

This is another world, a place that belongs to other creatures—animals, birds, insects, and maybe a leprechaun or pixie.

Your arrival will have disturbed this world, but as you settle yourself, the world will settle around you. Study your surroundings. Be aware that you are being watched. Actually, everything is watching you, because you are in ‘their’ world. You are a potential danger.

How isolating is that.

Or if the weather’s bad, find a basement, church, or an abandoned building. It doesn’t matter where it is, as long as it’s silent. Allow your mind to adapt to the silence. You are utterly alone, cut off from ‘your’ normal day-to-day world.

Once you have mostly eliminated your known world, you are in a blank world.

Look out the window. Look at the door. Look into the shadows.

If this was your secondary world, what could be there?

Only don’t get too relaxed. If you fall asleep and dream strange dreams, you’ll get a shock when you don’t awaken in your own bed. Then again, this could be a good thing. There’s nothing like a good shock to get your imagination churning.

And you don’t need to be alone to experience isolation. It can also be very, very isolating to be in a crowd—or to experience a different culture.

Step outside your comfort zone (your social comfort zone), I mean.

Go to music event—preferably by a band you don’t even like or know. Who is all around you?

Another tribe, that’s who.

You’ll be surrounded by a bunch of people who, right then, have absolutely nothing in common with you.

That’s isolating.

But it’s also stimulating. It makes you adapt your thinking and how you react to what you’re experiencing.

Being isolated, of course, can be a negative experience, too. Have you ever been frozen out by friends? Or been deliberately isolated–perhaps online. Or been downright ignored by someone in a shop?

These are horrible experiences.

They’re also experiences that can be used in your world building to create different scenes and characters and introduce things that everyone will relate to.

Isolation can be beautiful, too. It can suggest things to you, encourage imagination to create, by filling the isolation with positive things.

At the end of the day, there’s really nothing like a bit of ‘alone’ time.

Sometimes, whenever the world around you gets too much, your imagination is the best place to retreat to.