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 Emily McKeon, author of adult, young adult and children’s fiction; her first published children’s book is Who Will Dance With Me?. When she's not being banished to a desert island, Emily can be found at theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.co.uk and thewidewritingworldofemilymckeon.blogspot.co.uk.
Emily, 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, although I’m slightly worried about how this whole interview ends. The island will have at least a palm tree, right?
Since you’re asking about illogical fears, I’ll tell you the scariest thing out there are wood chippers. My husband makes fun of me, but those things are terrifying! Ever see the old episodes of Friday the 13th? The one about the cursed wood chipper brought their evilness to light. Then Rumble in the Bronx and Fargo cemented it. Watch out for wood chippers!
I’m also a living embodiment of Charles Dickens’ work. People from my past have a habit of popping up in my present with people I’ve only just met. My husband loved Dickens, but hated how everyone always knew each other. He said it wasn’t realistic. After a couple months with me, he realized that those strange connections/encounters really do happen. I’m just waiting for my connection with someone super rich to manifest itself.
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 write all over the board, and inspiration is just as diverse. Most of my children’s books are inspired by my own two kids and things they do or say. Other times my work starts with a word or phrase rattling around in my brain that I need to make sense of, or a dream. I take my inspiration where I find it.
That being said, my work covers a lot of different genres and ages. I like to read anything I can get my hands on and my writing tends to reflect that.
Great, 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?
Wow, this is a hard one. I was hardly ever without a book as a kid, even at my own birthday parties. Several I read over and over. Stuart Little by E. B. White is probably the one I read the most. I still pick it up every now and then. My original copy is worn down and missing a few pages now, so my brother bought me the Complete Works of E. B. White for my birthday one year.
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.
Again, picking one is hard. I can’t even remember when I decided to become a writer; it’s something I’ve always done, starting with crayons and drawing paper. Books leading to my current life were a combination of a play and a series of children’s books.
It started with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and my (now) husband needing help with building sets. Since it’s my favourite play, I jumped at the opportunity to help this stranger out. Over the course of building the sets, we bonded over our shared love of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. Strangely, it led to us dating and eventually marrying.
You know, when I asked you if there was any book that led to real-life romance, I certainly wasn't expecting it to be Redwall! 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.
Can’t I bring my whole library? Please? No? OK, I generally re-read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain when I’m not sure what I feel like reading, but need to read *something*. (They count as one book, right?)
Well, technically no, but OK :-) 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 …
I’m going to go with Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. If you haven’t read it yet, go do it now. Don’t get discouraged by the first part of it, it’s written that way for a reason. Trust me on this. It all makes sense when you get to the second half. I had someone tell me to finish it and I’m so glad I did. Since then, I’ve told two other people the same thing when they were getting ready to give up on it and they ended up 5-starring it. The build-up is so worth it.
Go. Read it now. Then we’ll discuss.
As an admirer of Code Name Verity myself, I'll second that sentiment! 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.
Another hard one. I’d say Code Name Verity, but I already got that one. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is one I think a lot of people will benefit from reading. It’s hard to get through because it forces you to look at yourself and your own beliefs and feelings towards death and terminal illnesses and having to be a care-taker. It also helps to know you’re not the only one experiencing those thoughts and feelings.
Excellent, another Patrick Ness fan :-) 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 …
Piece of music? I’m currently on a Jukebox the Ghost kick and keep listening to ‘Spiritual’ and ‘Man in the Moon’ on repeat. Wouldn’t say no to some Mika, though. Maybe ‘Popular’?
Film, which I hope I get something to play it on, would be Court Jester. If you can’t find it, I’ll take Princess Bride instead.
If you’re giving me sheet music and not the actual CD and CD player (or iPod/MP3) for the music, I’ll need my clarinet. Otherwise, lots of paper and pens! I’ll need to have some stashed all over the island. My husband will be glad to have them out of our house. I think he’s tired of finding random scraps of paper all over the place.
Mr Smith would sympathise. 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 like warm weather, but don’t mind it being a little cool now and then. Perhaps somewhere slightly north of the equator? Near Hawaii?
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.