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 Gerrard Cowan, author of The Machinery - out today from Harper Voyager! When he’s not being banished to a desert island, Gerrard can be found at gerrardcowan.com.
Gerrard, 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’m a writer from Ireland, currently living in London. I am illogically fearful that my book is awful and I will get found out – hang on, maybe that’s logical?! I would punch the shark then blame it on the bear.
Oooh, cunning! 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 Machinery is a story about a country whose leaders are chosen by a machine, until the machine breaks. I’m not sure if there are any direct inspirations.
When I wrote the book I was probably reading more non-fiction than fiction: biographies and history, etc. I’m very interested in politics and history, which probably accounts for the political elements in the novel. I think it would appeal to people who like their fantasy gloomy, weird, and with a dollop of Machiavellian intrigue!
Sounds wonderful :-) 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 Complete Works of Shakespeare. No, that is a lie. I absolutely loved the Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis when I was a child: it’s an obvious choice, but I think they were really the entry point to me for the whole genre.
There's no denying they’re a classic! 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 don’t think a single book inspired me to become a writer. However, when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time playing Games Workshop games and the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, which were created by the same people. These had a big impact on me, and inspired my love of fantasy as much as The Lord of the Rings did.
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.
Well, it’s got to be The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of the few books (or trilogies) that I can happily reread. Actually, I haven’t done so in a while: maybe I should go to this island …
Absolutely! We're here to provide overworked authors with the opportunity to relax and revisit their most-loved books. This isn't at all an excuse to get all my rivals out of the way so everyone will buy my books instead. *shifty eyes* 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 say The Ark by my fellow HV writer Laura Liddell Nolen. I don’t normally read YA, but I’ve been reading the works by the other authors who came through the HV digital-submissions process, and I really enjoyed this one. It’s the story of the last day on Earth, and the main character has to get on one of the last ships to leave the doomed planet. I think this book could go far.
Agreed, The Ark is great! 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.
The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake, particularly the first one, Titus Groan. I would say these are my favourite works of fiction. They are tremendously weird and inventive, and deserve to be held in the highest esteem.
Right. We’ll get those 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 …
Hmm. I will take the Massive Attack album Mezzanine, which I’ve listened to now for over 15 years without once getting sick of it. I haven’t listened to it nonstop for 15 years, just to be clear!
I will also take The Matrix, which is my favourite movie, because … well, because it is just the best.
Finally, I’ll take my kettle. I couldn’t get by without tea and coffee. Erm, but you’ll let me take tea and coffee, won’t you? And is there an electricity supply on this island? And milk?
Nope, nope and nope. But tell you what, we'll give you a magic refilling cup of hot drink made to your exact specification. The only catch is, you have to pick whether you want tea or coffee …
Definitely coffee! It got me through some long writing and editing sessions!
Everlasting coffee it is, then :-) 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 went to Sardinia about ten years ago, and I loved it – let’s go back to Sardinia! Ok, it’s not very remote. But this is my interview!
Hmm. We’ll allow you an exact copy of Sardinia but without any other people on it. Seems fair. So that’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
About the book
For ten millennia, the leaders of the Overland have been Selected by the Machinery, an omnipotent machine gifted to their world in darker days.
The city has thrived in arts, science and war, crushing all enemies and expanding to encompass the entire Plateau.
But the Overland is not at ease, for the Machinery came with the Prophecy: it will break in the 10,000th year, Selecting just one leader who will bring Ruin to the world. And with the death of Strategist Kane, a Selection is set to occur …
For Apprentice Watcher Katrina Paprissi, the date has special significance. Life hasn’t been the same since she witnessed the kidnapping of her brother Alexander, the only person on the Plateau who knew the meaning of the Prophecy.
When the opportunity arises to find her brother, Katrina must travel into the depths of the Underland, the home of the Machinery, to confront the Operator himself and discover just what makes the world work …
About the author
Gerrard Cowan is a writer and editor from Derry, in the North West of Ireland. His debut fantasy novel, The Machinery, was published by HarperVoyager UK in September 2015. It is the first in a trilogy.
His first known work was a collection of poems on monsters, written for Halloween when he was eight; it is sadly lost to civilisation.