Welcome to Barren Island Books, an interview show in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. Every Thursday, I will be exiling my latest guest 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 these books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Deb E. Howell, author of Healer's Touch. When she's not being banished to a desert island, Deb can be found at deberelene.com.
Deb, 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.
Ha ha, I love this question. But I also hate open questions like this, so I’m glad you give me guidance here! First up, I’d definitely go for punching a shark over wrestling a polar bear – way more chance of success! My most absurd fear is also one of the most common. Yep, good ol’ spideys. And I know I have no reason to fear them as much as I do, especially here in New Zealand where so few of them are poisonous, but I do. Totally irrational. No unusual birthmarks, sorry.
What else might people like to know? I’ve already let you know I live in New Zealand. I studied Zoology at university and carried that on into post-graduate, but no, I haven’t done anything with it, directly anyway. Love animals. Mostly like people.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
I saw something recently that said before we start writing a novel, we start with the desire to write a novel, and then we come up with an idea and then we start to write … Well, in the case of Healer’s Touch, I didn’t do this. I started to write first. It was the desire to write something that started the whole thing. Then came the ideas, and finally the desire to turn it into a novel. So, I can tell you now, it was written with a passion for the characters and a need to tell their stories.
When I started writing it, I had been watching a lot of The Young Riders TV show – you know, attractive men and horses … what more does a woman need? My passion for the Wild West setting was reignited. I went on to watch The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (probably the main inspiration for the Steampunk angle, although I had noticed I was already dancing around the edges of that genre) and Deadwood (also a fab show). While writing, I read things like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander/Cross Stitch, Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes and Brent Weeks’ The Black Prism. I think my writing has grown through my exposure to all of these works.
That sounds like a brilliant mixture of influences! So 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?
Easy. Who’s A Pest? by Crosby Bonsall. First off, my cousin gave his copy to me. Why? Who knows? I recall being told it was his favourite book. So why he would give it to his cousin who lived at the other end of the country, and who he saw rarely? I don’t know. But it’s a fab wee book that I always enjoyed reading … and didn’t get, at all; until I was older and trying to find my copy so that I could read it to my own son. He’s only two and still too young for it, but I was determined to have it when he was old enough, so I ended up buying a second-hand copy off Amazon – I was that desperate. I’m sure my other copy is around …
But now as an adult, I get it. It’s a book about judging people. And ourselves. There’s the line in it “No one ever thinks he’s a pest” … as a child I didn’t get it (probably because I’m a girl and the use of the pronoun “he”). But it’s right … we don’t look at ourselves often and go “Wow, I’m such a pest”. Perhaps we should …
Sometimes I wonder if I did, in fact, get it … I just didn’t realise on a conscious level.
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.
Oooh … so difficult. There could be many, and it’s terrible that I can’t mention them all … But I am going to have to say Ian Banks’ The Crow Road. That was the book that, when I read it, I became a Reader. Not that I hadn’t read books before that. I had read my brother’s fantasy novels. And I had read children’s books, The Brothers Grimm and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the like. But for some reason, I never considered myself a reader. I guess it just didn’t strike me as anything other people didn’t do. At high school, though, I met a girl who had parents who were prolific readers. And she was a prolific reader. I felt slow and dumb by comparison. One day, in the school library, I picked up The Crow Road, though, and suddenly, I was a Reader. I mowed through many more of Ian (M.) Banks’ books (yes, I got into his Sci Fi, too). I especially loved the edition of The Wasp Factory I bought, with all the negative reviews … some of them were truly, truly horrid. And the book is awesome!
Then got onto Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and I was away …
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.
OK … This is hard to pick … Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon, or The Black Prism by Brent Weeks … hmmm … hmmm … I think I have to go with The Black Prism. If I don’t have the time to read (which I suppose I would on a desert island, but still …) I could just gaze at that cover … And both books give me the pleasure of a character crush, so …
Ah yes, it's always an added bonus if you pick a book with something (or someone) nice to look at on the cover! 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 …
Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch. I picked this book up off a $5 table outside a small bookstore. Why? I don’t know. I just felt like buying a book, and $5 seemed like something I could handle putting down on an unknown. But then it took me awhile to read it. Finally, I decided since I’d bought it I had better … and it was good! Really not remotely my “usual” genre – though I’m still a bit wishy-washy on that … I love Fantasy, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve read my share of Chick Lit (looking at you Marion Keyes) – but really enjoyable. Lovely characters. And I cared. That always matters. Totally surprised.
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.
You mean I can’t pick any of the above? Seriously … all of the above! This one is seriously hard to pick … It could easily be any of the books above, or other books by those authors … I have such a small “library”, and I could pick nearly half of them to push at people and say “READ THIS!”. But – so I can get the most bang for my buck – I’m going to pick The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a Trilogy in Five Parts). That’s right. The Omnibus. Boo-ya!
A comedic, but insightful, look at our universe and our place in it. A good place to start.
My Hitchhiker's is the omnibus edition, so I can't argue with that! We’ll get those five 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 …
One song? … One. Song?! (sulks). Do I go with the one I’m listening to now: If This Is It by Our Lady Peace? My favourite band. One of their most lovely songs from their latest album? Or do I pick Quatre Mains by dEUS? The sexiest song I have ever (and I mean that) heard … Gah! If I can take a whole album, Our Lady Peace’s Curve is an easy winner. But … uh … Noooo! Don’t do this to me! Seriously. I need my music. I’m so taking an MP3 player, with some decent storage … full … ha! At the very least, my Healer’s Touch “soundtrack”, which has both those songs … (okay … stress levels easing now … yeah … that would work).
Film: I suspect it would have to be Mrs. Winterbourne … about the only romantic comedy I adore.
Item: a notebook (a big, thick one … just in case this is a long exile), with a pen tied to it …
Don't think I didn't notice you trying to sneak an MP3 player AND a notebook onto the island! We're going to have to confiscate the MP3 player, I'm afraid, but since we don't want to drive you into a music-deprived frenzy, you can keep the entire Healer's Touch soundtrack. (And, by the way, we're very curious to know what else is on it …)
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.
Oh my. Choices choices. Right … I’m just going to pick somewhere … and I’m going to pick Seers’ Island, from Brent Weeks’ The Lightbringer series. Two reasons.
1. A certain Prism might find me …
2. It’s in a book … which means it will be in a library or two … which means it’s part of ‘L-space’ (Discworld fans will get this), the coolest place to be …
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
If you are an author and would like to take part in a future edition of Barren Island Books, please get in touch with me via the Contact page.