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 Edward Ashton, author of new sci-fi thriller Three Days in April. When he’s not being banished to a desert island, Ed can be found at edward-ashton.squarespace.com.
Ed, 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.
Thanks for having me. My name is Edward Ashton. I’m a writer-slash-cancer researcher living in Rochester, New York. I think I’m a pretty good candidate for a trip to a deserted island. I’ve solo hiked about 1,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail, so I’m pretty well accustomed to being alone. Also, I was once attacked by a bear. I did not, in fact, wind up wrestling her, but I still don’t recommend the experience.
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 idea for Three Days in April actually came from a really innovative cancer therapy my lab was working on. Without getting too spoilerey, it occurred to me that with a bit of tweaking, the technique we were using could be put to much less altruistic ends. That said, this book would be a great desert island read. It’s got genetic engineering, tons of exploding things, laughs, love, and a healthy dose of shameless pro-Swedish propaganda. What more could you ask?
Sounds brilliant! I’m looking forward to reading it. Great cover, too.
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?
That’s an easy one: Spaceling, by Doris Piserchia. I read this book for the first time when I was eight or nine, and I’ve probably re-read it a half-dozen times since. Not only is it a super trippy adventure with a spunky, dimension-hopping pre-teen heroine, it actually involves her being trapped on a desert island at one point. It doesn’t make the whole desert island thing sound like a lot of fun, now that I think about it, but I guess it’s too late to worry about that now, right?
Yep. No turning back. But at least you’ll have a fictional character to commiserate with. 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 know it’s a complete cliché, but this one would have to be Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. Bryson somehow manages to make trudging through two thousand miles of rocks and trees sound like a zany adventure. He introduced me to the Appalachian Trail, which led to many blisters, a few really kick-ass pictures, and one unfortunate bear attack. The AT also provides the setting for some of my best short fiction – one of my friends calls those stories my hikepocalypse series.
Nice. You have a whole sub-genre of your own! 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.
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman. There’s a reason Peter Falk and Fred Savage have such a great time bonding over this book. It’s the chicken-and-dumplings of the book world.
It really is a great comfort read! 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 …
Ugh – I really, really hate to admit this, but ... The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. I picked this up because it was lying around my house, I was leaving on a business trip, and I had nothing to read on the plane. I wound up having to lock myself in my hotel room for the last four chapters so that my colleagues wouldn’t see me bawling.
Aw, you big softie :-) 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’m definitely going obscure with this one: Dying of the Light, by George R. R. Martin. I’m not actually a huge fan of the whole Song of Ice and Fire franchise, but Dying of the Light grabbed me the first time I read it, and it’s stuck with me ever since. There’s a poignancy and a sadness that runs through every page of the book, but (unlike The Fault in Our Stars, I guess) it never tips over into melancholy. Also, the hero winds up sacrificing himself for a woman who doesn’t particularly like him. So, there’s that.
You’ve got me intrigued with that one. I’ll have to check it out! 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 …
Song: “Just Like Heaven”, by The Cure. This is the only song I’ll still dance to.
Film: The Princess Bride, so I can watch it while I’m reading the book.
Other item: a machete, because coconuts don’t milk themselves.
Very wise. 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.
Does it have to be barren? Because Oahu is really, really nice.
Well, it’s a bit too populated for these purposes, but you can have an uninhabited copy of it in the middle of an uncharted ocean, if you like. So that’s it – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Thanks for the opportunity.