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 is Grizelda the off-white witch, star of Have Frog, Will Travel – the latest and craziest instalment in the Banned Underground series by Will Macmillan Jones. I can tell you two things about Grizelda, which may or may not be related: one, she is definitely the smartest, wittiest and most entertaining character in the Banned Underground series; and two, she has a tendency to turn people into frogs if they say anything she doesn't like. We caught up with her on her way back from getting her, um, vintage broomstick serviced for the hundredth time …
Grizelda, thanks for joining us – and may I just say, I love your boots. You're the first real witch we've interviewed here on Barren Island Books, so we'd be grateful if you could tell us a bit about it. What are the best and worst aspects of witchcraft?
It’s no good tryin’ to get on me right side, or me left side for that matter, by bein’ nice about me boots. We both know that I didn’t want ter do this, it were just that he kept on badgering me, and threatenin’ to have something horrid happen ter me in the next book that got me in here. Probably he’d let those blasted musicians have another gig in me garden again. Last time it took six months for the grass ter grow back properly, did yer know that? No I bet you didn’t. That’s not something he lets on about in them books, is it? Everyone goes round saying nice things to him about making them laugh, and we have to do all the cleaning up after. Talk about The Tyranny Of The Keyboard. So there’s the worst thing, right there. Having some strange bloke – and they ain’t much stranger than him, let me tell yer – follow you about with a notebook, making up what are total lies about things yer might have done and threatening to grass you up ter your prissy faced coven leader if you don’t agree to provide him with more stuff for the next book.
Mind you, it’s not all bad. Sometimes he lets me get really bad, and then it’s good. Havin’ quality professional skills really makes a woman something in a community, yer know? Well, probably you don’t know, but never mind that. It’s never too late for you to learn some, they say. But I’m a bit good now with that exotic frog spell. And knowin’ I might use it makes a big difference ter how the counter staff in me bank treat me, I can tell yer. And her at the supermarket doesn’t try and mess about with me change either. Well, not anymore, anyway.
And what about when you're not frogifying people? Do you have any unexpected hobbies? Who do you spend most of your time with?
Who do yer think I spend me time with? My husband, Ben, of course! He knows better than to be somewhere else when I want to have some company. And I’ve more friends than you’d realize, too. I’ve been seeing a lot of that Gloria recently. She’s all right fer a dragon, and I feel a bit sorry for her. That boyfriend she has isn’t the most reliable – what with him being a bass player that’s only ter be expected, of course.
Now, as you know, the idea of this interview is to choose the five books that you’d take into exile with you. Usually we start with a favourite childhood book. To be honest, I can't imagine you ever were a child, but let's go with it. Which book did you enjoy most when you were young, and why?
Er, is this a trick question? Actually I liked that Grimm’s fairy tales. Although I did see that them in it had the same trouble with their author like what we get. I mean, didn’t yer feel sorry for the way he treated that poor old lady? Getting her banged up in an oven, just because her benefits were late coming through again an’ she’d been struggling ter get a decent meal for ages. You shouldn’t be allowed to treat characters that way, and the next time you talk to him yer can tell him I said so! Not that he’ll listen, but they never do, do they? I don’t suppose your bloke listens to you unless yer holding a frying pan, does he?
Depends what I'm doing with it at the time, I suppose. Now, we've already touched on the fact that you have a legendary fondness for, let's say, promoting understanding of the amphibian life by forcing people to experience it firsthand. But of course, there's much more to your powers than that. So for your second choice, what is your favourite book with a magical element to it?
What, I have to think of another book? I am so going to be having words about this. Someone lent me one of them Harry Potter books once, and I did read it until I realized it weren’t meant to be a text book, so I never finished it really.
Thirdly, all that spellcasting can get pretty tiring. Which book do you choose when you want to put your feet up and relax?
I don’t. I much prefer a newspaper. Usually I go for the Financial Times.
That’s … an unexpected choice, if you don’t mind me saying so.
Look, it’s big enough to go nicely over me face when I want a snooze in an evening. It don’t show the dirt much if I sneeze, and when I’ve done with it I lend it ter the fridge, because she likes to keep an eye on the share prices of the Utility Companies on the Stock Exchange.
You rub shoulders with a lot of people who the unenlightened might consider to belong in the realms of fantasy – dwarfs, vampires, dragons, trolls, the Dark Lord, and so on. And of course, that means you know what they're really like. For your fourth pick, is there a 'fantasy' novel out there that you consider gets it right in that respect? (Not including those of which you are the star, of course.)
Well, it’s not as easy as you think, you know. Lots of them authors work hard at this sort of thing, and actually use their imaginations, making stuff up properly. He is too bone idle to do that, which is why there’s a lot of real life in our stuff. But another one like him is that Tom Holt, with May Contain Traces Of Magic. Clearly another lazy git.
And finally, your fridge is known to be, er, interesting. Can you tell us about your favourite cookbook or other culinary-themed work?
That’s easy. That Macbeth book has all you need ter know about cooking for a witch in a hurry, so I took the best bits out of it and added them as notes ter that Delia Smith’s Cooking fer One. Although I have to admit that I did need to go and have a word at the local supermarket to make sure that some of the more exotic ingredients were on the shelves. Obviously they was easy to get when that Spokeshake bloke were writing. Shows how this modern society has gone backwards in consumer service really, don’t it?
Yeah, I have to admit I have trouble getting hold of eye of newt at my local Tesco too. So 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 …
Island. What island? What do yer mean, take to the island? It’s bad enough being totally blackmailed into doing this interview without having to go and sit on me own on some deserted rock! How am I going ter get my work done then, you young flibbertigibbet? Answer me that! No you can’t, can you! Well you just lissen ter me, young lady! …
Many thanks for joining us, Grizelda. And I have to say, you're not as scary as you're made out to be. Why, I got through the entire interview without being turned into a rivet Rivet RIVET –
*interviewer hops mournfully away*