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 Christina Lewis, author of wonderful children's series The Cheese Pirates. When she’s not being banished to a desert island, she can be found at galleonbooks.com.
Christina, thanks for joining us! With my two young children rapidly becoming interested in books, I'm always on the lookout for great children's fiction, so it's lovely to have you here. 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.
Thanks for inviting me to join you! My name is Christina Lewis, and aside from my work as a professional writer and editor, I train horses and cats. Yes, cats. The one cat I have right now knows dog tricks - like sit, shake, and beg. If I had more time and were, say, shipwrecked on an island, I'd love to have Frosty with me so that I could teach him more tricks! Also, I'm an award-winning artist and jewelry designer, so as long as I had access to berry juice and shells on the beach, I'm sure I could keep myself entertained. Of course, I'd also find ways to write stories on an island, even if I had to carve each letter with a rock and chisel!
I'd rather punch a shark than wrestle a bear. Especially on an island. Because on an island, I'd be stuck with the bear until I could teach him dog tricks.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
The Cheese Pirates was an out-of-the-blue lightning strike of an idea back in 2005. A friend asked me about my day, and I spontaneously made up a wild story about mice sailing around my kitchen in plastic butter tubs and fighting with knives and forks over the cheese in my fridge. I called them The Cheese Pirates. The idea stuck with me, and I began to develop it into a series about seamice three years later.
Tillamook Bay, Oregon, was - in and of itself - one of my greatest inspirations. What a rich history! While they didn't have pirates, exactly, there were rumrunners who hid their fortunes along the Oregon Coast - including, rumor has it, Tillamook Bay. People still hunt for buried treasures there to this day.
Tillamook Bay also features a lost city that literally slid into the ocean, sort of Atlantis-style, and a haunted lighthouse, along with a colourful Native American heritage. The trophy-sized King Salmon draw fishermen from all over the world, and a giant fish like that is the perfect sea monster for a company of seamice. Birds of prey, sharks, large dungeness crabs, and several species of octopus - basically kraken - join the PiRats in Tillamook Bay to make for an increasingly dangerous cheese trade.
The response to Cheddar Island has been outstanding! If you like easy beach reading, swashbuckling adventure, and classic pirate movies and literature, you'll love The Cheese Pirates: Cheddar Island. Reviewers have compared the book's highly developed world to a Pixar story, and they call it "the book that parents and grandparents give to their kids, then steal it back!"
According to these reviews, if I don't hurry up and release the sequel this year, I'll have a mob after me! The third book in the series is scheduled to be released in 2016. There are a few other surprise projects in the works that are coming out in short order, but those are top-secret!
Oooh, intriguing! I must say, I loved The Cheese Pirates: Cheddar Island as soon as I read the first part on Amazon, and I'm really looking forward to my children being old enough to enjoy 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?
My favorite childhood book was, hands-down, The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. It was given to me as a gift when I was eleven years old, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Ms. Banks is SO good. She could make you believe that somewhere, somehow, there really is a boy with a magic cupboard who can bring his toy figurines to life. Her very realistic style of storytelling, and the charm of the characters, made her one of the authors whom I have studied the most. I never dreamed that, one day, I would be able to share my own story with Ms. Banks. She gave The Cheese Pirates: Cheddar Island a glowing endorsement, which was such a huge honor.
If you'd let me sneak another childhood favorite into my shipwrecked luggage, I'd choose Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. That was the book that first made me cry, at age seven. When I figured out that Anna Sewell was a real person, just like me, I started writing my first stories.
You could probably sneak anything past me at the moment, because I also loved The Indian in the Cupboard as a child and so I'm still busy being impressed that Lynne Reid Banks endorsed your book :-) 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.
I'd probably have to go with The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was such a masterful storyteller. He permanently altered the way I see the world and the people in it, and reading that book was the most incredible literary journey I've ever undertaken from my armchair.
Believe me, I wouldn't want to be stranded on an island without that book! If I could piggyback a couple of other Tolkien classics, I'd bring along The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, too - just for the sake of studying the highly crafted world and the rich legends of Middle-earth in greater detail. I would also continue learning to speak the fictional Elvish language, Sindarin.
Continue learning ... interesting, so you already know some! 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.
One of my favorite classics is The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Her brilliant Sir Percy Blakeney is the father of modern superheroes, and he does it all without any special powers. He's a master of disguise and an incredible strategist. In addition to all the danger and intrigue, what a romantic tale! The love between Sir Percy and the stunning actress, Marguerite St. Just, is powerful and heroic. They both had to fight so hard for each other.
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 …
The Princess Bride definitely caught me by surprise. Talk about breaking established literary rules, all pirate-like! It takes a genius to break those rules and pull off a great story regardless, and The Princess Bride accomplished all that and much more. I couldn't stop laughing! It had all the best elements - adventure that spans over lands and seas, outrageous comedy, romance, daring rescues ... and, of course, pirates!
Of course :-) 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.
I'll go with an obscure gem. A few months ago, you interviewed author Christi J. Whitney for her YA book, Grey. WOW, what a story! I was privileged to be part of the development process for the book, and I knew years ago - as I know now - that when people start finding out about him, Sebastian Grey will take the world by storm. Ms. Whitney's colourful tale of gypsies and mysterious shadows is filled with danger and intrigue, the hopeless romantic longing for a beautiful girl who is just out of reach, and a devastating self-discovery. Grey is one of those rare stories that grabs your heart and tugs it, hard. I'd definitely bring it to my island and read it over and over. Better yet, if I could have Amazon deliver the next two sequels for Grey after they are released, I'd be quite happy on my island!
Well, since Christi is a publishing sibling of mine, I guess I can probably manage that :-) We’ll get those five, er, ten books packaged up ready for your journey. 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 …
Hmm. You may not be heartless, but you do make this difficult! My father is a professional musician, so I have eclectic tastes in music - and I listen to a wide variety so I don't get bored with it. If I had to choose just ONE piece of music, it would have to be something that wouldn't easily drive me off the island!
I'm very fond of the prog-rock band, Genesis. My favorite Genesis album is And Then There Were Three. My favorite song from that album is Say It's Alright, Joe. It has a lovely melody, and the lyrical imagery is powerful - "There were kings who were laughing in the rain, and they told me I'd come here to lead the parade; and the colours were changing, the sky was in ruins, and the lights were all shining on me and on you ..."
That one line - "The sky was in ruins" - has captured my imagination for a very long time.
One movie! Again - decisions, decisions. The 1994 version of Black Beauty is the best horse movie - or animal movie of any kind - that I've ever run across. The story, the directing, the picture, and the Danny Elfman score are all superb. Alan Cumming voices Black Beauty, and he truly captures the personality of the horse. It's remarkable.
As for the item ... I'd ask for a castle. (Who knows? I could be stranded on an island with an abandoned castle!) It would provide shelter from fierce ocean storms (which would probably be the reason that I was shipwrecked in the first place), a cool cellar to store the food, and a nice, quiet spot to write. Who wouldn't want a castle by the sea?
Besides, the castle's previous owner might have left a few critical items behind - pots and pans, various tools for hunting and fishing, paper, and writing implements. The bare necessities of life! All I would have to do is design an HD stereo system with palm-frond wiring and coconut speakers so I could play my ONE song, and then I'd have to carve a DVD player and a flatscreen out of a stone cliff by the ocean. At nightfall, I would sit in the sand with my coconut shell full of popcorn and watch Black Beauty by torchlight. Outdoor theatre at its finest!
It sounds wonderful, and I'm impressed by your enterprising spirit! Now, before we whisk you away, 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.
Well, no place is perfect. Middle-earth has an awful lot of dragons, and there is something about a huge flying beast swooping down and breathing fire that kind of ruins a writer's inner calm. Valinor, on the other hand. I could live in a castle on a Western island near Valinor, listening to the distant songs of Elves while reading all my books ... and writing new ones!
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Any reviewers who review The Cheese Pirates AND contact Christina by email at email@example.com will receive a personalized special limited-edition, hand-numbered 4x8 card (as shown) from Captain Pepper Jack!
The Cheese Pirates: Cheddar Island on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk