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 Jacqueline Pye, author of children’s book Millie the Detective and the Diamond Ring, and the dark short story collection Bottles and Pots. When she's not being banished to a desert island, Jacqueline can be found at www.jacpye.com and jacpye.blogspot.co.uk.
Jacqueline, 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.
Ah, the secret stuff to start with. Well, I’ve always had a naevus (small tangle of tiny veins) on my left ring finger. I once asked the GP about it; he said, “It’ll be a useful identifying mark if you’re ever found drunk in the gutter.” Luckily this hasn’t yet been necessary. There’s also a phobia about anything smoking-related – one of the stories in my next collection is called … “Smoker”, just to show that I can write the wretched word. I once fell in love with a long-dead aristocrat whose pic I saw in the National Portrait Gallery, and with the (then) living Adam Faith. I try to keep well away from bears, the live kind at least, and it wouldn’t be too hard to get the better of a shark though as an animal-loving wuss I would be gentle.
As an animal-loving wuss myself, I can appreciate that! And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
People, their behaviour, phobias and fears often inspire. I tend to see a short story in mundane events; for example, our future neighbours have had a beautiful magnolia tree cut down, and I thought, what if one person wanted to keep it, but the one that didn’t somehow came a cropper in the cutting down of it? It’s the core of a new story. My stories are usually dark and often creepy, and they sometimes play on common fears although there is minimal bloodshed! I would hope another castaway might choose Bottles and Pots because (a) there are stories of varying lengths so it can be read ‘as and when’, in between shinning up trees for coconuts and making berry stew, and (b) it might make the stranded reader thank his/her lucky stars that there aren’t other people around!
Sounds wonderful – I do like a bit of darkness. 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?
This has featured on your castaway blog before, I know, but the Winnie-the-Pooh set of four volumes by A.A. Milne is such a great and adorable collection, and surely every child identifies with at least one character. (I’m Piglet.) It also, at times, tackles childhood fears, for example the Brownie who hides behind the curtain. If not them all, then the first, Winnie the Pooh, please.
Certainly. Oh, and I’m Eeyore. Nice to meet you :-)
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.
This is the late Victor Kiam’s Going For It: How to Succeed as an Entrepreneur (1986). Before reading it I had always been employed, drifting along in my canoe, but it made me realise that I could take a set of oars and go in the direction of my choosing. So I chucked in my job and went self-employed, as part of which I started writing a newsletter for teachers of children with special needs. Circulation soon built up, and when it reached teachers in over 500 schools I passed the project on to a team of three. It’s Special Needs Information Press, and is still flourishing today. The change in my work strategy was hugely rewarding; I kept to it and never regretted it for a minute. Thanks, Victor.
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.
It’s rare for me to reread a book, but the one I’d like to take is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It’s not a cosy book, but so satisfying. At the end, like probably all its readers, I thought, “Ah, so that’s what that was all about.” But even knowing the ending, it easily stands repeated reading.
I like Owen Meany too. You can tell Irving plotted the hell out of that thing before he wrote it! 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 …
Very few detective novels have made it onto my bookshelf. I can be quite a lazy reader and don’t always pick up the subtle clues, but I always loved Ian Rankin’s Rebus stories on TV and decided to give one of his novels a go. Doors Open caught my eye, and it was a really exciting and enjoyable read. Unusually, I had all the characters sorted very early on.
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.
How about The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver? I know it won the Orange Prize for Fiction 2010 and is hugely successful, but I’d like its magic to keep entertaining future generations. Like Owen Meany, it’s sort of circular and I do find that very pleasing.
Ah, that’s another highly acclaimed book I haven’t read (really not keeping up with my reading at the moment). I will seek it out. But for now, we’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. And 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 …
This is fun. A miserable song or piece of music wouldn’t be helpful, do you think? (Albinoni, I’m thinking of you here.) A great mood-lifter would be The Andrews Sisters singing The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B. Impossible not to sing along and dance around the sand, and there’d be no-one to make fun! Film: The Sting, the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid one. So clever, so well-acted, and some great laughs, too. The other item would need to be one that entertains long-term somehow, in case you never told anyone where I am. Of course my laptop and wifi would be nice, but otherwise the laptop with my two favourite games, LinkLines and Flight Control please.
Done. 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.
In the centre of the Mediterranean would be good, though maybe mundane. Decent weather, palm trees to use for shelter and nuts, plenty of planes to watch, and hopefully … jellyfish!
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.