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 Laura Liddell Nolen, author of young adult sci-fi novel The Ark – out now from Harper Voyager. When she's not being banished to a desert island, Laura can be found at www.lauraliddellnolen.com and on Twitter @LauraLLNolen.
Laura, 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.
Oh, my goodness, BEAR, definitely. Have you seen Jaws?! So much no.
Let’s see, I grew up in Mississippi with my two younger brothers, who also love everything sci-fi and superhero-related. Speaking of which, here’s my dirtiest secret: my favorite X-Man is Jubilee. There, I said it. I hope my brothers are still speaking to me now.
I’m irrationally terrified of blasting into space, so of course I wrote a book about it. My main character has all the bravery I lack! It’s one thing I love about her.
So let’s talk about that book. What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
The Ark is a story about redemption. In that sense, it was inspired by The Count of Monte Cristo, and by all the fun I had reading and watching sci-fi adventures growing up.
Char Turner, my main character, has screwed up so many times that she is no longer eligible for a place on an Ark, a massive bioship designed to protect Earth’s survivors. When the last spaceship is about to leave Earth during a deadly meteor strike, Char is stuck in prison. Her only remaining hope is that her family will visit her before they leave, so that she can apologize to them for all the pain her decisions have brought them. Her goodbyes turn into something much more complicated, and Char decides to try to break out of prison and stow away on a spaceship, even knowing that if she succeeds, she’ll be relegated to life as a criminal, fugitive, and noncitizen, in hopes that one day her family will forgive her.
I wrote The Ark out of horror and fascination with hypothetical apocalyptic events and the breaking down of polite society during a paradigm shift. And there’s romance, too, since love is sweet and painful and inescapable even in the madness of the end of days.
I’ve got to tell you: I’ve read The Ark since it was released last week, and I loved it – but the ending is killing me! I hope there’s a sequel coming soon. 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?
It’s so hard to choose just one. Unless that one is Jackaroo, by Cynthia Voigt.
I’ve always been drawn to the story – innkeeper’s daughter becomes masked vigilante: win – but in recent years, I respect Voigt even more for her subtle commentary on gender and not-so-subtle ideas about class-related struggles such as literacy.
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.
That’s a tough one! I hate to stick with the obvious, but as a lifelong fan of sci-fi, I have to say 1984. I originally read it for a grade school assignment, and I’ve tried to read it every other year since. There is so much going on that it’s like a new book every time.
As far as a book that had a huge impact on my social life – and I do realize I’m cheating here by giving you more than one answer – I could name any of the Star Wars extended universe novels. There’s just something about toting around a copy of The Truce at Bakura that’s going to set you apart in junior high, and not in a good way. But those books were my first introduction to pulpy, mass-produced sci-fi novels, and they really did help me see the world in a different light. There’s a scene in one of them where Luke tells Leia that even though she never trained as a warrior, she’s accomplished so much good through her career as a diplomat that she’s actually a Jedi, too. There are plenty of life applications to a lesson like that.
Absolutely! And I admire you for carrying those books around at all. I was a Star Wars kid, too, but a closet one :-) 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 really love The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner. It’s got everything I love in a good read: adventure, fantasy, a highly lovable, underdog protagonist, and a twist ending. The villain’s demise isn’t quite as satisfying as I always want it to be, and that’s probably good, too.
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 …
Ha! I have to say Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. It’s not sci-fi or fantasy, and it’s definitely unlike anything else I’ve gotten my hands on. But it’s a gripping, unconventionally beautiful story about a “troubled” genius and her family. I love the way it portrays Bernadette’s love for her daughter, who doesn’t actually struggle to find her place in the world the way Bernadette thinks she does. The central mystery is so sticky that I’m literally incapable of putting it down until it’s over, even now, when I know how it ends!!
And it’s hysterically funny, on top of all that.
Sounds good! 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.
Harry Potter. Just a tiny, limited-release fantasy yarn some bookstore clerk recommended to me once. I doubt you can find a copy of it these days. Maybe try eBay.
Huh. That’s certainly an obscure choice ;-) We’ll get those five, no, six 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: I better say “Purple Rain,” so I get as many minutes of awesome music as possible.
Film: Nothing too serious, as I’ll need something to take my mind off the heat and the constant struggle to find food. Probably Mulan.
Other item: My husband Will. We could both use a vacation.
That’s probably cheating, too, but it’s too romantic for us not to allow 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.
I am not sure there’s any place on Earth better than the [American] Gulf Coast. Send me there!
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Thanks, AFE!! Much obli– oof, didn’t realize we were leaving so soo–