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 Jack Colman, author of historical fantasy novel The Rule – released by HarperVoyager today! When he's not being banished to a desert island, Jack can be found at twitter.com/_jackcolman.
Jack, 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. I’m 28 (just), I live in Poland, and not once in my life have I come up with a half-decent answer to this kind of question. There’s not going to be anything mind-blowing in here, I’m afraid. In the words of Garth Marenghi, “I'm one of the few people you'll meet who's written more books than they've read.” At least compared to other authors, it seems. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go.
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 Rule was born during one teacher’s personally disastrous Law lecture, in which he mentioned ancient societies that were governed by only one or two basic laws. I spent the majority of the lecture sketching out the story, and the majority of my first-year study leave writing it. Someone might choose to take it into exile because, in paper form, it has a reasonable number of pages which can be used to start fires.
Very practical. Though in that case, they might be better off with War and Peace :-) 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?
Mariel of Redwall by Brian Jacques. His were the first proper books I started reading when I was a kid, and this one was my introduction to the series. I recall really liking the opening: a shipwrecked mouse washed ashore with no memory, who fights using the knotted piece of rope that once tied her to the deck.
I was a big fan of the Redwall books when I was younger, too. Heroism, adventure and all those wonderful feasts – what’s not to like? 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.
My Friends The Stars by Jack Colman (Snr), or The Right Thing? by Richard Colman. I should probably declare an interest here, since these books were written by my relatives, but it’s because of that connection that they had an impact on me.
The first is my grandad’s autobiography, covering his time as a pilot during WW2. It really gave a young me an appreciation of the character and bravery shown by those who were born only a few decades before us.
The second is a book my dad recently wrote (predominantly for the family, but you can find it on Amazon) about a life spent being an individual in a profession where it was safest to be part of the group. His values, and the battles he had to endure in order to live by those values alongside his career, made a big impression on me and made me very proud.
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 Sword in the Stone – The Legend of King Arthur, adapted by Peter Oliver and illustrated by Rex Archer and Lynne Willey. I’m not sure I really have a ‘comfort book’, but this is one I’m very sentimental about. I was given it for Christmas one year as a kid. It’s full of the stories of the Knights of the Round Table, along with amazing illustrations on every page. For years I would look through it every night before I went to sleep. When I’m trying to write a scene, I sometimes still bring those pictures to mind even now.
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 …
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Strange, I know, to pick such a famously good book as an ‘unexpected treasure’, but this is one that really wasn’t my style at the time I started it. The writing amazed me. I’d never seen anyone use English so well before. When I think about how bad I am at foreign languages, I can barely believe it was written by a non-native speaker.
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 Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. This is the first (and only) book I ever took out of the school library. I had no idea what it was about; I chose it solely because it had a massive knife on the cover. I read it, then The Amber Spyglass, and then went back to the start for Northern Lights, and have revisited them plenty since. Putting aside any message behind it, it’s just great storytelling.
Definitely! If you’re only ever going to borrow one book from the school library, you could do far worse than Philip Pullman. 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: Tunnel of Love by Dire Straits. A masterpiece. I remember me and my wife air-guitaring to this on a near-empty dance floor at about 5am on our wedding night (I think).
Film: The Last of the Mohicans by Michael Mann. Great acting, great script, great scenery, great soundtrack. One of the few examples of a film that is better than the book.
Item: A seaplane with a full tank.
That sounds suspiciously like cheating to me, but we’ll let you get away with it. 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.
That big one in the North Sea, just to the east of Ireland.
I said remote island … oh, fine, I’ll send you to this handy parallel universe where Britain is uninhabited (as far as anyone knows … dun dun dun) and completely inaccessible by sea due to the hordes of enormous man-eating sharks. Of course, it won’t stop you using the seaplane, but we can’t have everything.
And with that, you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!