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 Kelley Grant, author of exciting new epic fantasy novel Desert Rising – recently awarded a starred Publishers Weekly review, and available to read from Tuesday! When she's not being banished to a desert island, Kelley can be found at www.kelleygrantbooks.com or on Twitter @kgrantwrites.
Kelley, 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 have a birthmark, but because of the prophecy I’m not supposed to reveal it (at least not until the first full eclipse while Mercury is in retrograde) lest my enemies track me down. I live in a house in the woods and tend to prefer animal company to humans; though I do climb down and teach yoga and meditation to my chosen people every so often.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
Who wouldn’t want giant temple cats purring on their laps in exile? I’ve always been a lover of mythology, and the deities and temple system in Desert Rising sprang from those Greek gods and goddesses I loved to read about. But through some sort of feline mind control, my cat at that time, Chester, inserted the great temple cats (or feli) into the story. Now the only way to talk to those capricious deities is through equally capricious giant cats. And there are plenty of great characters besides the awesome giant cats (like the troublemaker Sulis and her twin Kadar) to keep a person company on those long barren days.
I love the idea of the feli, and I’m not even a cat person! 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?
Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword. Just thinking about it made me go reread it! Wonderful imagery, a heroine who finds out how strong she really is, great animal companions, a magic sword and just a little bit of romance. Harry Crewe, the heroine of The Blue Sword, created her own destiny and did not back down even when the men in charge told her she was wrong. That was a novelty in fantasy books I read in childhood and it gave me the feeling I could have a destiny and fulfill it. And I so wanted to ride her horse, Sungold.
I might have to send you into exile with recent guest Laura Bickle, who is also a McKinley fan! 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.
There are so many that I can’t point to just one. I would say an early diet of John Steinbeck novels created a love for character-driven novels, which lasts today and moves my writing. He showed me that vivid characters, like the ones in Cannery Row, can live in your memory for decades and invade your dreams.
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.
I love epic fantasy. The heroic journey is my favorite style of comfort reading. Since you are only allowing one book and most epic fantasy comes in three or more to a series, I’ll have to choose Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion. It is that rare epic fantasy that puts a wonderful action-packed journey into a single admirably compact novel. The characters, especially the humble Cazaril, will keep me company those long, isolated days.
As you say, one-volume epic fantasies are rare, so I’m always glad to discover a new one! 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 …
To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. I hated this book when forced to read it in college. I thought the characters were grim and excessively worried. I reread it in January because I have a friend with a passion for Woolf and thought it was brilliant. The characters weren’t grim – they were middle-aged. It was a book I could not understand as a youth, but admired and loved as an adult.
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.
I’d pick The Blue Sword, if I didn’t need another book for my journey! After long consideration of my dozen bookshelves I’ve settled on The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. It isn’t as well known as her other novels but the characters are mesmerizing and the prose is beautiful, each word perfection.
It sounds wonderful. Anyway, 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 …
For music, I’ll take along that guitar I’ve been trying to learn to play – I should have time to practice out there.
Film: Pixar’s Up, for when I want a bit of a sniffle with my fantasy.
Item: a zafu/zabuton meditation pillow combo. All that isolation should be a really good time to practice my buddhist meditations and do a little chanting. Just me, alone with all my thoughts, insecurities, fears … gulp. I’ll either come home enlightened or stark raving mad!
I’m sure you can’t possibly go mad with such excellent books to keep you company :-) 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.
Someplace tropical and green with lots of sunshine and warmth. It’s been a long Ohio winter.
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Thank you for giving me some time in isolation where I can dream and write and, hey, wait – I didn’t ask for a notebook and pen, did I? Sigh.