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 Frank Kusy, author of Rupee Millionaires and the Ginger series of cat books (the first of which is Ginger the Gangster Cat). When he's not being banished to a desert island, Frank can be found at grinningbandit.webnode.com/authors.
Frank, 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’d like to think of myself as adventurous, but I’m not. I’m cautious. Okay, I’ve spent half my life travelling (mainly to India, as a businessman/travel writer) but I’m happiest sitting on my futon with my cat watching EastEnders. Illogical fears? Well, I used to keep a huge plastic spider on my pillow when a child (to ward off any real ones that might crawl over my face whilst sleeping), and I still have a recurring nightmare that I’m jumping off the Titanic and being chopped into tiny pieces by the propeller. Unusual birthmarks? Only one, and fortunately out of view! I’m a Buddhist, so not allowed to wrestle bears/punch sharks, but I’ve always wanted to ride a dolphin. Does my desert island have dolphins?
Yeah, but you want to watch them. They bite. Now, let's talk about your own work. What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
Rupees was inspired by my mother. She read and helped with the first draft, which was just a travel diary of my first few years doing business in India. Then, very sadly (and traumatically), she died on my wedding day … and the book took on a much darker tone. I guess that’s when I began to grow up and write more ‘serious’ stuff – the diary became a ‘rites of passage’ novel with ten years of comic-tragic ‘human revolution’ thrown in. What would make someone else choose to take it into exile? Well, it’s got a killer hook: what not to do with a million pounds in India!
You've got me interested, anyway! 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?
I was eight when I first read Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, and I was so besotted with it that I wrote a sequel called Toad’s Dilemma (yes, really). The character of Toad – fat, pompous, vainglorious and Micawberish in the extreme – has always appealed to me since I am none of these things (except fat) yet somehow wish that I was. A friend sent me a birthday card recently which said ‘Frank was always aware of his alter ego’. It had a picture of me juxtaposed against Ginger the Gangster Cat … Ginger is my interpretation of Toad!
Haha, I have to admit, Toad is my favourite Willows character too :-) 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.
The book that impacted on me most – just out of university – was Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. It has a very ‘diary’ feel to it, and is wickedly, wickedly funny … in a dry, wonderfully tongue-in-cheek way. Just the thought of that bit in the railway carriage, with that stinky ancient cheese driving everyone out of it, brings a smile to my face. The first time I read it, I decided ‘Enough of Toad. I’m going to write wickedly funny diaries!’ The result, ten years on, was my first published book (a diary) called Kevin and I in India.
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.
This is a no-brainer. I like to laugh, and the only book that does it for me every single time – no matter how down I am feeling – is J.G.Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur. This one is not a diary, it is a hilarious observation of a group of Raj colonials losing all their airs and graces (and their cutlery too) against the backdrop of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Compared to their experience, anything I might suffer on a desert island would be a picnic!
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 …
Hmm … this is tricky. I’m a Gemini, and if I don’t like a book after three pages I put it back on the shelf. An exception was Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock. I read three pages in, wasn’t grabbed at all, but found myself coming back to it. The story of a man going back in time to discover Jesus, and then slowly finding out that he IS Jesus, had me hooked. I’ve been fascinated by time travel ever since.
Sounds like a fascinating plot; I will have to look out a copy. 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.
Blimey, missus, I have TWO! If forced to choose (sorry, Joseph Heller, Catch 22 didn’t quite cut it), I would have to say Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. This is a beautiful book, one that is destined to change the lives of anyone who reads it. It got me into Buddhism, and it inspired me to get out into the world and get as much life experience as possible. They say that knowledge is power. It isn’t. The wisdom that comes from experience is. I would like to think that Siddhartha would still be teaching us this a hundred years from now.
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 …
Aaah, you’re all heart! My one song is Mister Blue Sky by ELO … possibly the happiest, most uplifting tune ever written. I’ll be dancing all over the island! My film would be Groundhog Day … I LOVE Bill Murray, and I would get up on the island every morning imagining that it was a repeat of the day before and wanting to try/learn something new … even if it was just how to separate coconuts. As a last luxury, I would have to have a hammock – no way am I sleeping on the ground with all those creepy crawlies!
One spider-proof hammock, coming right up :-) 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.
Ooh, another tricky one. Do I want to be rescued? If so, somewhere that has internet. If not, somewhere with a plentiful supply of sausages. I could eat myself to death in a week. Seriously, though, somewhere off the coast of southern Thailand – the rock formations are beautiful there and I could stave off boredom by climbing them!
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Thank you. Can I have my hammock now?
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.