View Full Version : Have you ever lived on an island?

08-16-2016, 09:48 AM
I'm brainstorming a setting for my next novel and leaning toward coastal Maine in winter, specifically a small island that either houses a tiny population or is owned by a single family. If anyone has experience living on or visiting an island--particularly one that experiences cold weather in winter (snow, ice, winds, etc.)--I'd love to hear about it.

Thanks. :)

08-16-2016, 10:16 AM
I live on a pretty small island that gets cold and snow and stuff in winter. There are a couple million people here with me though, so it may not be what you're looking for.

08-16-2016, 10:26 AM
I live on a small-ish island (10 mile/15 kilometer diameter) with about 15 thousand people. We don't get a ton of snow in the winter, but the winds are razor sharp, and the wind chill factor is brutal. Every year there's at least one storm that makes me feel like the house is going to collapse, although it's also an awesome experience. I like to go out on the porch, and I always wind up laughing at how unbelievably strong the wind is. It's a reminder of how terrifying nature can be.

The sea gets rough with the strong wind, too, and the ferries from the mainland to our island are often cancelled. When that happens the supermarkets run low on food, which is 1) a little worrying if it goes on too long and 2) kind of interesting, because going to the supermarket feels like a post-apocalyptic experience. Sometimes the waves get as high as 8 meters, and the sea walls are only 6 meters high, so again, nature be scary.

Let me know if you have any specific questions.

Maggie Maxwell
08-16-2016, 04:49 PM
Look up the island of Monhegan. It's a small island in coastal Maine, 12 miles offshore. Only 75 people live there year round. I only made a day trip there last year, but it's got a few art shops, a few small restaurants, a microbrewery, amazing hiking trails, and daily boat tours to see the animals and scenery around the island. As a tourist ground in the summer, you could probably easily get people to talk to you about the living situation in winter.

08-16-2016, 04:50 PM
You might want to read Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, which is a series of interconnected short stories with an island setting off the coast of Maine. It's an old book (first published in the late 1800s) so the writing style is a trifle antiquated, but the descriptions of the people and places are still powerful.

I lived on Oahu for four years, but I doubt my experiences there would be helpful. ;)

be frank
08-16-2016, 05:05 PM
Hey, I live on an island too! It's about the size of the continental USA, has a population of ~ 24 million, and a big honking desert in the centre...

Um, never mind.


08-16-2016, 05:30 PM
I think there are several novels and books about the islands off Maine. Also look for books by lighthouse keepers.

I haven't lived on one, but have cruised the area. In winter, snow isn't a big problem. It tends to blow right off the island, and the sea temperature keeps them right around the freezing mark. Fog can stay around for several days and make it impossible to move. Wind and waves can also make it impossible to move. You'd want at least a thirty days supply of food and fresh water at any point.

Winds are frequently gale force or stronger. As described, it will blow right though you. Weather like this can last for several days at a time. Houses have to be very solid. The habitable islands have to be high enough so that water can't flow over them. Some days, even though you know that, you'll feel like your house is going to float away.

If you want extreme weather, that's what you'll get. If you want isolation, that also is what you get.

Jim Clark-Dawe

King Neptune
08-16-2016, 05:35 PM
I have known people who lived on islands off Maine, but I have not yet had that privilege myself. Winter and Summer the biggest problem is logistics, getting things or people from the mainland. You might spend a few days on one. Rents probably aren't all that high in Fall or Winter.

08-16-2016, 10:09 PM
Keep in mind that there are islands and there are islands. Size matters, as does distance from shore. Knew a woman who worked as a caretaker/house sitter on an island in Maine. It was about five acres, Rockport area (at least I was in Rockport when I met her) and only a hundred yards or so from the mainland, but with no bridge access. At low tide you could wade ashore, otherwise it was a boat. No ferry service here, but the owners, who lived in NYC or somewhere, had several boats and a small boat house.

The owners were only out to the house in summers, pretty much left before school started. She tended to their needs, some cooking and housework, and any maintenance she would schedule with the needed contractors. Bottom line was that she got free lodging and a small allowance, she worked as a writer and photographer (why we met), and had almost nothing to do on the island in the winter. No ice, it was salt water, but cold and somewhat wet and storms could keep you from taking the boat anywhere for several days. No internet back then, but power and phone came from cables to the mainland, so rare power outages might be the worst. Except for the isolation.

In the end, she was bored half the time and potentially suicidal the rest. She needed people and was planning on leaving as soon as she found somewhere else.

I have a friend who lives on an island in Florida, also no bridge but they have a small airport and he has a plane, as well as boat. About two dozen people live out there year round, and he works four days a week on the mainland. He simply flies over, takes his car out of the hanger he rents and puts his plane in, and goes off to work. He's single now, children have moved all over the country and his wife passed away a decade or so ago. He loves the semi-isolation, spends his off time fishing and puttering around the house. There is a ferry, and a ton of day visitors, so he has plenty of people to meet. He spent 20 years in the Navy long ago, sailing around on a destroyer, and he says the island is just a big destroyer for him.

So, pick the type of setting you need and then write it. For Maine, there are plenty of references, and a good reason for a week's research driving the coast and eating lobster. :)


08-16-2016, 10:38 PM
I stayed with some friends on a small island just outside of Kake, AK but I don't think it fits your setting. They lived in a big camp they had set up while they were tree planting. There was a logging camp on the other side of the island. There were bears and not much else. It was great fun.

08-17-2016, 03:35 AM
An interesting island you may wish to consider checking out is Mackinac Island in Michigan. It's a big tourist spot in the summer -- lots of people, lots of stores selling fresh fudge. In the winter, however, the population drops to a few stalwart souls.

What makes it different from the islands others have mentioned (besides location) is the fact that there are no motorized vehicles (save some emergency vehicles, I believe) on the island. In the summer, people get around on horses and bicycles.

It's where the movie "Somewhere in Time" was filmed.

08-17-2016, 06:57 AM
Wikipedia has a list of Maine's islands -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_islands_of_Maine

I think they're all small communities and I don't think there's anyone is living on an island by themselves. Most of the communities were families, but I don't think that's as much the case now. A lot of people have bought into this. There was just a lighthouse and house for sail in the Boston harbor area.

There's a lot of difference between a destroyer size population, an aircraft carrier size population, and a PT boat size population. Most people seem to be either lobstermen, or artists or dealing with tourists. Farming seems to have disappeared. It's a rugged existence, but the people who like it tend to love it.

Jim Clark-Dawe

08-17-2016, 08:28 AM
Have you ever lived on an island?


08-17-2016, 09:21 AM
Yes.I can't help picturing Crocodile Dundee: "That's not an island. This is an island." :D

08-17-2016, 10:36 AM
In my dreams.

I live near a lake with many small islands and would love to live one.

King Neptune
08-17-2016, 05:30 PM
JCD provided a wonderful list, but I think that you should look at where they are also. Casco Bay has plenty of islands of various sizes,and it is relatively accessible. Farther Downeast there are also many islands, but they are not as easy to supply or get onto. But the accessibility, or lack thereof, may a factor in your story.

08-20-2016, 07:17 AM
Thank you all for your input and suggestions! :) I've picked up a few books and bookmarked some sites and videos.

Isolation is definitely going to be a factor, and thus transportation. Does anyone know how the mail system works in these sorts of circumstances? And would it be at all realistic to have a character hitch a ride to the island with the mail boat?

08-20-2016, 07:45 AM
Yup. Three years on the Isle of Britain.


King Neptune
08-20-2016, 06:30 PM
Thank you all for your input and suggestions! :) I've picked up a few books and bookmarked some sites and videos.

Isolation is definitely going to be a factor, and thus transportation. Does anyone know how the mail system works in these sorts of circumstances? And would it be at all realistic to have a character hitch a ride to the island with the mail boat?

Generally, the mail comes on the regular supply boat. How often there would be a supply boat would depend on how much the merchant thought he could make and on the weather, and such boats carry passengers; some of them are regular ferry boats.
And there are many other sites.

08-23-2016, 12:22 AM
I live on an island. It's called Britain :greenie I also lived in Bahrain, which is a much smaller island, but a lot more tropical than you're after. (it is in fact not quite tropical AFAIK it's just a tad north of the Tropic of Cancer.)

09-26-2016, 01:39 AM
Tristan Da Cunha & Pitcairn are my 'go to' islands. Also Bouvet, and Chatham Islands, and those sub-Antarctic dots off New Zealand with the whaler graves from 1900, very scary. South Georgia for my new-age utopia.

Justin K
09-26-2016, 10:12 AM
I live on an island that has a post office that does not deliver. Everyone picks up their stuff from the window or their p.o. box. It's serviced by a plane daily except in bad weather.

09-26-2016, 10:18 AM
Hey, I live on an island too! It's about the size of the continental USA, has a population of ~ 24 million, and a big honking desert in the centre...

Um, never mind.

*Cue 12 page debate on whether a continent can also be an island*

be frank
09-26-2016, 10:22 AM
*Cue 12 page debate on whether a continent can also be an island*

Girt by sea, mate. Girt by bloody sea.


09-26-2016, 10:40 AM
Girt by sea, mate. Girt by bloody sea.

There'll be blood in the straits, I'm warning you!

09-26-2016, 10:49 AM
Probably not what you're looking for but I lived on a river Island (in the Thames) for a couple of years. The snow wasn't any worse than the rest of London but at very high tides the whole island would be under a foot of water.

The one thing I can tell you that may be relevant is that there is an overwhelming sense of community on an island. By far the biggest electoral consistuency in the UK is the Isle of Wight due to what they call island spirit and on my little island (about thirty houses) everyone knew everyone and looked out for them. Every year we would have a party and barbecue for the islanders. There is a chain ferry linking the island to the mainland but pub visits and shopping were nearly always by boat.

09-26-2016, 01:03 PM
'Island spirit' is ghastly and oppressive, writers know that. We need prairie to be free.

A child, I looked across to bohemian millionaires sat on Ravens Ait [island, river Thames] imagined recording studios, piles of white powder. Now kaftans, scent of joss are memories, and too late for me.

The IoWight - where I also have personal experience, discrimination at the hands of elders of Yarmouth Yacht Club. If there were ash trays, commodore, I would use ashtray: my defence to the committee, great fail, long time ago. Very hostile tories. Prisons in the interior and also the prison guards in the little houses.

Tristan has 300 people, 5 surnames - Wilson, Jones, Brown, Scotch and Giuseppe. The Giuseppes suffer for 300 years, their solitary van circles the rump ninety times a day, no customers for a 99.

Pitcairn worships the founder, virgin daughters dragged to town council for 'electoral registration.'

With big islands - Australia, the notorious, and complete absence of middle class people, very frightening if you want library, or the lost Smiths album, in bootleg. Discovering friends might become nightmarish in desert, broad shoulders on all the fringes.

The British Isles: Saxon child at a school of Angles, harried for a large frame, my big bones and breasts. One day, will find those tormentors, wave my book [the anthology chapter] in their faces.

09-26-2016, 01:14 PM
Australia, the notorious, and complete absence of middle class people

Well, heavens - I hope you mean that nicely...

09-26-2016, 01:18 PM
I am grievously offended on behalf of the good people of Tristan da Cunha.

09-26-2016, 01:19 PM

Yeah, it's folk myth rubbish - commonplace snobbery thing, only playing...

...you must know that?


Tristan's very interesting, as is the controversy with St Helena's unusable runway. On youtube there's clips of jumbos failing to land in the crosswinds. Very exciting for nerdtribe.

09-26-2016, 01:23 PM
Yeah, it's folk myth rubbish - commonplace snobbery thing, only playing...

Snobbery's wasted on Australians... ;)

09-26-2016, 01:26 PM
Mccardey - already i've been outplayed by a grandmaster. I will return to writer.org, tail between my legs

10-11-2016, 02:46 AM
Girt by sea, mate. Girt by bloody sea.


I wonder how many Australians came here just to say this very thing ;) I sure did! hahaha

When I lived in England I heard some really interesting stories of the Shetland Islands. Only 16 of the 100 Islands are inhabited and there are some that are only populated by 1 or 2 people. Sounds cold, isolated, beautiful and windy! If you have a good search you might be able to find some good inspiration :)