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 Dee Harrison (who also writes as Jim Darcy), author of the Firelord's Legacy series (the first of which is The Firelord's Crown). When she's not being banished to a desert island, Dee can be found at www.fantasywriter.co.uk.
Dee, 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.
Well, I’m now at that age where a two-seater sports car is looking a good option – no room for booster seats needed or space in the boot for more than a weekend bag. I am a specialist assessor and teacher of dyslexia and other literacy difficulties. I can’t imagine a life without books, reading and, of course, writing, so I do my utmost to remove those barriers which prevent others from enjoying them too. I love history and when I taught Primary I would entertain the kids with all the best gruesome bits long before Horrible Histories got in on the act.
I have an inexplicable fear of rust which is ... inexplicable, really.
I enjoy my own company so a remote island would be quite an exciting prospect but only as long as I could tame some local creature to read the books to.
Bear punching and shark wrestling would not be my hobbies of choice although, as a student of Aikido, I would warn them to be sure they really mean to take me on. I’m not scared of snakes but spiders freak me out – hence making them the villains in my latest Mirrorsmith tale.
Oh, and I am a lifelong collector of bookmarks – especially free ones.
Very civilised of you – I usually end up using old receipts or sweet wrappers :-) 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 was brought up in Nottingham, UK, on stories of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest. This led to an interest in Medieval history, which I went on to study at Nottingham University. The myths and legends of the Middle Ages fascinated me but I could never find enough to read. So, I decided to start writing my own stories grounded in historical ‘authenticity’. I hope my books are ‘a jolly good adventure read’ that entertain, inform and bring you characters that you can involve yourself with.
Sounds great! 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?
The one that springs to mind is Ursula le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. For some reason this tale of young wizard Ged and his trials and tribulations caught my imagination. The story is a quest, to find a shadow, but also explores questions of what it means to be true to yourself and face your deepest fears. It seemed to speak to my childhood experiences. I, too, like Ged, came from a poor background and went to a school based on my abilities but was picked on by some of the others because I was not ‘one of them’. I didn’t end up letting loose a nameless thing into the world though.
Earthsea is a childhood favourite of mine, too; it's one of those series you can find something new in each time. 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.
There was one year when I was in my mid-teens, I went on holiday with my best friend and her family. They had hired a very small caravan and, unfortunately, it rained for virtually the entire week. I ended up buying books from the campsite shop and my eye was caught by a very striking cover. It was The Sleeping Sorceress by Michael Moorcock. Well, it knocked me out! I never knew such books existed and I was hooked on fantasy after that. I loved the pared-down style; the outlandishness; the brooding, amoral hero (Elric) and his symbiotic relationship with the runesword but, above all, the undercurrent of friendship and respect between Elric and his companion, Moonglum. After that, I wanted to write stories like that too and explore such amazing worlds. The Firelord’s Crown is dedicated to Michael Moorcock.
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.
I am a sucker for a good Regency Romance and you can’t do better than Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer. Handsome heroes, flighty heroines, black-hearted villains, frothy ball gowns and a happy ever after. No matter how down-hearted I am, this always picks me back up.
Excellent, another Heyer fan. That's two in a row ... we're on a roll! 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 …
In the 1970s I was on a tight budget but still a voracious reader. I had already gone through virtually every book in my local library and was reduced to sorting through the rejects in the local thrift shop. I came across one with a weird, quite off-putting cover, to be honest – but needs must, so I purchased it out of desperation. It was Hiero’s Journey by Sterling E. Lanier. What a revelation! Just proves that you never judge a book by its cover. It’s set in Canada 5000 years after the Death – a nuclear event. The hero is Per Hiero Desteen, a priest, exorcist and senior killman who communicates telepathically with his morse (giant moose). There are mutants, kidnapped princesses, an evil enemy bent on world domination and a quest. Maybe it’s a little old-fashioned now but it’s still a great read and all for the princely sum of 10 pence.
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.
As you know, I’m part of the writers’ community on Harper Collins’ Authonomy website. I have come across very many books there that have been a pleasure to read. In terms of future classics there are many possibilities on there but, in terms of children’s classics, one that struck me was Mr Unusually’s Circus of Dreams by Sharda Dean. It’s about Ruby, whose mother is killed in a circus accident and who has to live with her austere aunt. It has many of the childhood clichés, such as the wicked aunt, but woven so skilfully that it enraptures just like the magic and mystique of the circus. I believe it’s going to be published and I really do think it has the potential to become a classic children’s book.
Right. 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 …
For music I would take Ravel’s Bolero as I find it a mesmerising piece that I often have on in the background while I write. It was also loved by my late father and brings back many happy memories of him.
The film I would take is The Last Samurai. I am not generally a Tom Cruise fan but I forgive him much due to this film. Featuring a flawed hero who learns to live and love again through an understanding of ‘bushido’ and the way of the Samurai in 1870s Japan, this film has great music and gripping action sequences played out against the history and culture of a changing Japan. Wonderful.
My other item of choice would be an enormous box of Earl Grey tea, leaf or tea bags, I don’t mind. I can survive anything as long as I have my cup of Earl Grey in the morning!
Tea it is, and we'll even throw in a pot so you can make it over your campfire. 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.
I would choose an island in the archipelago of Earthsea. I could make friends with an otak (and any resemblance to the wails in my Mirrorsmith books is purely coincidental!) I would also know that I was part of a world where magic works and mingles seamlessly with sun, sea and sand. Bliss.
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.