Welcome to another interview-with-a-twist in the Barren Island Books series! The rules remain the same: guests imagine they’re being exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. But the twist is, these guests aren’t authors but fictional characters.
My interviewee this week, because I couldn't quite resist, is Alyssia Gale – the protagonist of my very own WIP Dawn Rising. Alyssia has lived in a home ever since the age of ten, when she suffered an accident that killed her parents and left her with severe memory loss. Now, at seventeen, she is experiencing increasingly dark and vivid dreams that threaten to overshadow reality: dreams in which she takes on one of four alternate identities in a completely different world. We caught up with her at Woodleigh House, the home where she's lived for nearly eight years …
Alyssia, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Like … what you enjoy doing. Who or what is important to you. How you spend an average day.
Really? Do you want me to write an essay about what I did on my holidays as well?
OK, fine. I enjoy painting. Sometimes I imagine things that cry out to be captured on paper. I go running quite a lot. And much to the disgust of certain classmates, I read books.
Who is important to me? No-one. No-one who actually exists, anyway. As for what … I'd like to find out the truth about my past. But after nearly eight years, I guess that's never going to happen. So let's say … let's say freedom. I hate feeling trapped.
My average day is pretty boring. I get up, I go to school, I come back here to Woodleigh. I eat and I sleep. I dream.
Rinse and repeat.
You mentioned your dreams. Can you tell us more?
Oh, they're just dreams. I don't really want to talk about them.
Talking is kind of the point of an interview.
Fine. You asked for it.
In my dreams, I'm someone else. Actually, one of four someones. In a completely different world. All just my twisted imagination, of course. Clearly I read too many fantasy novels. But it feels pretty real. And sometimes bad things happen and there isn't anything I can do to intervene and – just ask the next question, OK?
All right. As you know, the idea of this interview is to choose the five books that you’d take into exile with you. We'd normally ask for a favourite childhood book, but in your case it had better be the first book you remember really enjoying.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's the book they gave me when I was learning to read for the second time – they thought I'd like it because of my name, you know? And I guess … well, that's how life felt to me at the time. As if I'd fallen down a rabbit hole and found myself in a place where nothing quite made sense. I still feel that way sometimes.
Of course, Alice got back out of the rabbit hole in the end. Whereas I'm stuck here.
I believe you're currently studying English Literature at school. For your second choice, which is your favourite of the books you've covered in your English classes?
Hamlet. Does that count as a book? Well, it's going to have to, anyway. I hate the way we analyse modern literature to death – it always seems like we're reading more into it than the author intended. But with Shakespeare you have to analyse the language to understand it, and that feels … better, somehow. Like solving a historical puzzle, instead of … you know, making up a bunch of pretentious crap.
Anyway, Hamlet. I like him because his problems are all in his head, and I get that. "I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."
Talking of bad dreams … for your third choice, is there a book you turn to for comfort or distraction when you wake up after a nightmare?
Not exactly. If it's been a really bad dream I'll want to forget it as quickly as possible, but at the same time I can't stop thinking about it. I feel … guilty, I suppose.
Because I couldn't stop the bad thing from happening to whichever imaginary person it happened to. See, this is why I don't talk about the dreams. Anyway, I can't read when I get like that, so I do logic problems or crosswords. Anything that forces me to concentrate on something else.
You mentioned that you read a lot of fantasy novels. So for your fourth pick, which book is your very favourite in that genre?
I started reading fantasy soon after I re-learned to read, because I thought it would help me understand what I was dreaming about. And now, sometimes, I see parallels between the books I read and the things I dream. But I'm never sure which came first. It's like that thing about life and art, you know – which imitates which?
Anyway, I guess my favourite fantasy novel in that respect is The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. It shows that something can be true, whether it's real or not.
And finally, is there a book that you didn't expect to like, but ended up really loving?
Sort of. It's a poem. We were given a poetry anthology in English class, and I was sceptical because, you know, poetry. But there was this poem … it wasn't one of the ones we studied, but I stumbled across it when I was flicking through the book. 'A Dream Within a Dream' by Edgar Allan Poe. You know it? "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream." Yeah. That.
Now you’ve chosen your books, we’ll also let you select one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice to take to the island with you …
If I can take a whole album, it would be Fallen by Evanescence. But if it can only be one song, I'll choose 'Bring Me To Life' from that album. I heard it on the radio while I was still in hospital after the accident, and it's only grown on me in the years since. I feel like I'm still waiting.
To be brought to life.
My film would be Pan's Labyrinth. Like The Book of Lost Things, it has two levels of reality.
For my item, I'd take my necklace. Not that it would be at all useful. But it's the only thing I have left from before … before the accident. You could say, in a way, I was born with it. So I might as well die with it too.
I mean, I am going to die on this island, right? You didn't say anything about returning from exile. And that's fine. A person could do worse than live out her life alone.
Well, I'm glad you like the idea. Many thanks for joining us, Alyssia. (And many thanks to any readers for indulging my self-indulgence.)