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 Paul Freeman, author of Tribesman. When he's not being banished to a desert island, Paul can be found at www.tribesmanseries.blogspot.ie.
Paul, 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, AFE. I’m pretty boring really, well, aside from being a warrior, time traveller and zombie apocalypse survivor. Still, I’ve got to earn a living somehow. While I’m not wielding my sword, or looping through the Universe or even running screaming from a horde of flesh-eating undead, I live in Dublin, Ireland, where thankfully there are no sharks or bears.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
Tribesman is an epic fantasy adventure. I think every writer wants to write a book they’d love to read themselves and for me fantasy is all about escapism, but it has to be real. For a reader to believe in your characters they have to feel what they are going through, the emotions have to be raw, both the good and the bad. Tribesman is not a story where good and evil are clearly defined. In places it’s dark and unforgiving. The landscape is harsh and brutal, but you will live it. So far the reviews have been consistent and positive. Book 2 will be out shortly.
Season of The Dead is a zombie apocalypse story, written with three other writers: Lucia Adams, Sharon Van Orman and Gerald Johnston, all great writers. If you haven’t already, you should check out their work. The book follows four separate threads during the one event as four individuals survive the apocalypse. It will be published by Spore Press later this month.
Great, 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?
Oh, I have two here, but I can’t take one, because I actually can’t remember who wrote the version I read (hey, c’mon, I was only a kid). I was home sick from school one day and had to stay in bed, so I started reading a book, The Adventures of Robin Hood. I remember being in tears at the scene where he shoots the arrow into the woods and asks to be buried there. But, as I said, I can’t remember which version I read, it’ll have to stay behind. So, I’ll take The Hobbit. The Hobbit was my gateway book, the book that led me onto the much harder fantasy I’m addicted to now. My eyes were opened to whole new worlds to be explored, with elves and wizards, and dragons! Oh, the adventure. You never forget your first time.
Indeed – I can vividly remember gazing at the cover of my copy of The Hobbit before I read it for the first time, wondering what might be inside! 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 a hard one. Trying to choose a book that had the greatest impact? There are so many. What fantasy writer has not been influenced by Lord of the Rings? It would be easy to choose Tolkien, but I’ve already selected The Hobbit. Another book that made me think about books and fantasy in particular is a book called The Hallows, by Michael Scott (I believe it has since been rewritten and called The Thirteen Hallows). I was in my late teens, I think, when I read it. At the time I was getting really frustrated with fantasy books and authors: each one seemed to be just trying to rewrite LotR, they all stuck to a formula which was becoming increasingly boring and predictable. Then I found this gem, it was dark, it was based on myth, I loved it … But I’m not bringing that either, the book I’m going to bring is Legend by David Gemmell. The man changed the way fantasy was written, he raised the bar. Okay, it may have dated since, but I’ll guarantee you that all of the modern, great fantasy writers have read David Gemmell.
Good choice! I haven't come across Michael Scott's book, so I'll have to check it out. 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’m going to choose The Last Kingdom, by Bernard Cornwell, because I’m not going anywhere without some Bernard Cornwell. It is set in the time of Alfred the Great and follows the fortunes of a fictitious character, Uhtred. An English boy captured by the Danes and raised as a Viking, he changes sides again to become a reluctant follower of Alfred. For action and adventure, for me, Bernard Cornwell is the undisputed king. Whether he’s writing about the Napoleonic era, Agincourt, or the struggle between Saxon and Danes, there is no finer writer at capturing the spirit and soul of an era.
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 …
Yeah, again, it’s hard to choose here. I’m going to take The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The book is so incredibly powerful, you can feel your guts churning as each page is turned. The emotions are raw and visceral. Maybe not one to cheer me up when a storm blows in over the island, but a great read.
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 actually don’t have to think too hard for this one, A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry. It is set during WW1. Willie Dunne is a lad from Dublin who joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Like a lot of people, if not most, at that time, he’s naïve and ill informed to the ways of the world. While he’s fighting for the British Army, the Easter Rising of 1916 is taking place at home. The story behind this book is compelling, but the style of writing is what makes it. It’s poetic and emotion churning. A really great read.
That's another new one on me – I do like it when BIB guests help me discover great new books! So, we’ll get your five chosen 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 …
Okay, well for the film I’m going to cheat and sneak in the boxed set of Game of Thrones, if for no other reason than I didn’t mention George RR Martin yet, the man’s a genius. Only one song? Jesus, I’ll be sick of hearing it by the time I get rescued. I’ll take Wish You Were Here, by Pink Floyd. And another item? Can I have some sunscreen please, I have very Irish skin to be stranded on a desert island.
A wise choice :-) 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.
Oh, I see what you are doing here. Be careful what you wish for. So, I could choose to go to Westeros, because that would sound really cool, but then I’ll get there and discover the reality is not as romantic as reading a book, and someone will slap a collar on me and make me a slave, or I’ll be shipped to the wall and realise it’s bloody freezing up there. I’ll choose somewhere nice and warm where they have a massive supply of German wheat beer and fancy fruit, please.
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.