Welcome to Barren Island Books, the author interview series that’s in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. You know the rules by now: my guests are exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with those books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Auston Habershaw, author of epic fantasy novel The Iron Ring (Part I of the Saga of the Redeemed). When he's not being banished to a desert island, Auston can be found at aahabershaw.wordpress.com.
Auston, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
Know this, Smith: he who you banish to this island will return one day, oh yes. You think me finished? Ha! You speak to Auston Habershaw, He of a Thousand Talents, who once performed as a pirate at 6 Flags, who fought rats in the basement of a vermin-infested bed and breakfast, who rode a pedicab in the grueling summer heat to transport portly gentlemen to cupcake shops at the very top of Beacon Hill in Boston—and some mere island is to give me pause? Someday, a day when you least expect it, I shall emerge from the sea that you thought protected you from my wrath. On that day, there shall be a reckoning. Count on it.
Other than that, I am a college English Professor working in Boston. I actually did all of those odd jobs up there (and more besides) during my quest to become a writer before finally listening to my mother and teaching for a living. Now I can write in the summers and over break and get paid a decent salary at the same time, which is rather life-changing, I must say.
And the moral of that story is that you should always listen to your mother :-) Now, what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
The Iron Ring and its series, the Saga of the Redeemed, is the culmination of decades of world-building in countless notebooks I’ve kept ever since high school. That said, it isn’t a Tolkien knock-off—this is a quasi-Renaissance world undergoing a kind of magical industrial revolution, where enchanted items and sorcery are as common as science and technology in our own world. In terms of tone and feel, I like to keep the action fast, the tone wry, and the characters larger than life. In large part, I think a lot of that was inspired by the James Bond films and novels—big bad guys, antihero good guys, dark conspiracies, and always just enough comic relief to keep the whole thing fun.
I’m looking forward to reading it! Now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
Well, as I am supposed to be on a desert island, how could I pass up Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island? I adored that book as a kid—I read it over and over and over. Long John Silver remains one of my favorite characters of all time, and I have imagined myself in Jim Hawkins’ shoes so many times that the prospect of being exiled on a desert island without that book is almost unthinkable.
You know, I’m surprised no-one has ever chosen Treasure Island before on Barren Island Books, given how thematically appropriate it is! Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
Hmmm … that’s a tough one. It’s really hard to isolate just one book that made such a large impact. TH White’s The Once and Future King has always held a very special place in my heart. There’s just so much in that book—it’s about growing up, it’s about being an adult, it’s about losing what you’ve worked for. It’s tragedy without cynicism, which is a rare thing these days. I probably learned a lot of storytelling from that book, or at least as much as I did from anywhere else. Yeah, let’s go with that one.
For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
This one’s easy: JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I’ve read that book dozens of times throughout my life, and it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside when I read the words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” It’s like a direct line back to my childhood, curled up on my bedroom floor, reading under the skylight.
Perfect! Now I feel all nostalgic :-) Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
I was amazed at how much I loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. That’s a simply beautiful book in a genre (mainstream literary) that I usually don’t especially love, despite my status as an English professor. The character’s voice is so perfectly realized and his struggles so subtly revealed that it’s a master’s course in writing. Wonderful stuff.
And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
Neuromancer by William Gibson is one of the best novels of the 20th century—as prescient as it is poetic. It’s a book that contains the postmodern problems of identity and humanity as well as warning of the perils of technology and corporate greed. It’s just plain brilliant and I think everybody should read it.
I admit, it’s on my TBR pile. Maybe I’ll bump it up to the top :-) Anyway, we’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. And since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
I’ve got enough mental stimulation—let’s be practical, here. Give me a good Swiss Army knife in excellent condition. I carry one of those everywhere I go right now, and I am always finding ways to use it. I think that would really save my bacon in exile. You know, up until I escape and seek my revenge, of course.
So let me get this straight. You’re planning to hunt me down as soon as you get off the island, and you want me to give you what amounts to a multi-bladed weapon …?
Yeah, OK. It’ll make it a fair fight, at least. You may be He of a Thousand Talents, but I am She of a Thousand Ways of Running Away. Be warned.
And with that in mind, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
Hmmm … anywhere, huh? Well, most of the other worlds I can think of have a great many more pirates and man-eating creatures than our own, so let’s just go with somewhere in the Caribbean. White sand beaches, turquoise water, plentiful coconuts, palm trees—yeah, that almost sounds relaxing. I might not need to seek my vengeance after all.
Ah, thinking better of it now, are you? Coward! Blaggard! Er … I mean, that’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Thank you, and you’ll obviously rue the day you crossed me! But thank you!