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 Diana Jackson, author of The Riduna Series (the first two books of which are Riduna and Ancasta). When she's not being banished to a desert island, Diana can be found at dianamj.wordpress.com.
Diana, 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.
I love my own space and company ... ideal for a desert island, I should think, and although I fear spiders, I’m ok if I can see them, so darkness might be a problem. I remember a night in the South American rainforest and I had to nip out to the loo. I shone a little torch on the floor before stepping gingerly out of the net-covered bed and I also lifted the toilet seat to check underneath. In the morning we found teeth marks in the soap ... there were no doors or windows, you see, but it didn’t seem to bother me as much as creepy crawlies. Dropping keys down a drain is another of my irrational fears, but that wouldn’t cause a problem, would it?
I also have dimples in my cheeks when I smile ... have done since I was a wee child.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
Both Riduna and Ancasta explore the theme of exile, both self-imposed and otherwise, and also the experience of being left behind. My characters would have empathy for someone banished on a desert island, but my novels would also be a bridge in the mind for anyone who loves the Channel Islands UK and the south of England; a link with home or a place, like myself, they treasure dearly.
These places of my childhood inspired me, as did my family history and stories which have been passed down to me. This might inspire a reader to remember tales of their own family and maybe scribe them on papyrus leaves, for posterity.
Ooh, I like that idea. I think I’ll have to start getting all my exiles to do that, then combine their stories into a volume of Barren Island Memoirs :-) 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?
It’s got to be A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, which was almost certainly read to me when I was little. I can still gain pleasure by reading it. I like to have a game attaching the most appropriate character to friends and colleagues. Everyone has an Eeyore in their lives, or a Rabbit, don’t they! I’d never tire of it!
Absolutely … though I suspect I’m probably the Eeyore in my own life! 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.
Skallagrigg by William Horwood left a lasting impression on me and made me look at people in a different light, especially those with disabilities. It’s a novel I find quite grounding. I’ve read it many times but I still cry buckets, and yet it’s heart-warming too. You’d have to read it to understand but it’s certainly a very special book. It certainly changed the way I taught each individual child or student over the years.
I did a little online searching after you mentioned this book, and it sounds awesome; I am definitely going to seek out a copy. 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.
It has to be the Bible. I confess that I haven’t read much of it recently but it’s full of stories (love, murder, battles, historical events, parables, loss ...), truisms, song, poetry, pleas for help, thankfulness ... Yes, I think it would keep me occupied and be a comfort too.
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 …
Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim by Peter Owen Jones because it’s witty and thought-provoking and can be savoured by reading each letter at a time and by thinking what I would write if it was me, for example, letter to mum, letter to the Prime Minister, letter to God ... after Peter’s ideas it is full of another endless number of possibilities. It was a birthday present, is a signed copy and I treasure it.
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.
It’s so hard to choose this one. I was inspired to write by reading the classics in my teens. Probably Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, because it doesn’t have the ‘happy ever after’ feel of say Jane Austen, or the familiar landscaping of say Thomas Hardy, but it speaks to me of all sorts of human emotions pertinent to life. It explores the real power of love, both constructive and destructive, and should never be forgotten, in my opinion.
I have to admit, I’ve never been a great Hardy fan, but tough call choosing between Brontë and Austen! Anyway, 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 …
A song? A bit of a cliché but the song would have to be Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. This track is timeless. I don’t believe it would date or I would ever tire of it. If I was marooned for years I think my rescuers would be inspired by it too.
A film? There are lots of classics but to inspire me for my writing I think I’d take Sliding Doors. What would have happened if I’d caught that train, taken that job opportunity abroad, befriended that person on Facebook, spoken to the person sitting next to me on a flight or even been picked up by that fisherman I saw in the far distance. I love the anticipation that life has choices but in taking one route there may be a whole other life which just might have been!
Another item? This has to be a pencil, which I’d use sparingly. I’m sure I’d find something to write on.
Done – and we’ll even make it an everlastingly sharp one. 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’d like to be on one of the small uninhabited Channel Islands, Burhou for example, which I’d share with the puffins in spring and summer, but since this is fantasy then I’d whisk the whole island to somewhere with a temperate climate ... say off the coast of Madeira, where it rarely goes much higher or lower than 70 degrees.
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.