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 Sammy H K Smith, author of In Search of Gods and Heroes (coming soon from Kristell Ink) and Anna. When she's not being banished to a desert island, Sammy can be found at www.sammyhksmith.com.
Sammy, 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.
Well, I’m definitely not a shrinking violet. I’m a marmite girl and often speak my mind without thinking. My favourite phrase is ‘I’m as subtle as a brick to the face’ – and this sums me up perfectly. I also tend to over-share at times and don’t consider my audience. I think it comes from coming from a large family (I’m the oldest of 9). It tends to give a lot of misplaced confidence and expected acceptance.
Wait … I don’t think I’ve actually said much about me. OK. Right. I live and work in the delightful county of Oxfordshire, and I started writing two years ago as a form of cathartic healing following the death of my beloved nan. In under a year I had the first draft of In Search of Gods and Heroes completed and tentatively I posted a snippet on Authonomy. This led to lots of wonderful new friendships and a world of writing that I never knew existed. I met my now friend and editor who polished up the book to something I’m incredibly proud of.
In January last year I started Anna as a writing exercise to help my grammar and punctuation (I’m not the best!) and started to steadily write 2k a day. In September I met with an agent in London (LBA) who is now working with me on the final edits before submitting out to the big bad world of publishers – fingers crossed!
While writing Anna, my editor and I formed a friendship and working relationship, and together with a third business partner and editor we have started a small independent publishing house – Holland House Books. I manage the fantasy and science fiction imprint, Kristell Ink. It’s been a great experience, and I’m loving every minute of it. I won’t turn this into a plugging/spin interview, but yeah … I think we’re doing it right – investing money and time into our books rather than churning out rubbish.
Subject change time!
Hmmm, I don’t think I have any illogical fears – just the usual in fact. Spiders, heights and – ok, this might be semi-illogical – knives. I hate handling sharp knives, they make my knees and toes feel like jelly. I have no birthmarks, but I have got a bionic foot full of metal pins and a plate – does that count? It’s not an interesting story though …
Interesting or not, a bionic foot sounds like a pretty cool thing to be able to drop into conversation! Anyway, can you say a little more about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
Damn, I’ve sort of answered the first part of this above … with everything I write, I write for love and myself. I’ve written some erotica short stories, some adult fantasy about Toothfairies and Trolls (yes, really), fantasy and science fiction. I love writing – and while some of it perhaps isn’t great, some isn’t too bad at all! I think that’s the most important thing – write for yourself. If other people like what you write, then great! But if not, who cares? You have a story/novel for you to enjoy for years.
OK, if someone was exiled then I would give them Anna to read. It’s a story of one woman’s fight for survival in a damaged, socially regressed world where might is right. Stripped of her identity, Anna is a persona adopted by a woman who has lost everything, but who blames herself for each and every loss. The key with Anna is her strength. She’s not physically large, nor is she violent or aggressive – her strength is internal.
Anna sounds like an awesome character. 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?
Childhood favourite – OK, I thought about this long and hard, and it was a tough choice. There was The Hobbit, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Thornbirds (yes, really, I read it when I was 10 and cried and cried!) … but my absolute favourite was John Christopher’s Tripod Trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire). The first time I read Mr Christopher’s books I was lost in his science fiction world. He created a dystopian society whereby humans were ruled by aliens and controlled by metal mesh caps fitted to their skulls and brains. The thought of the world as we know it being destroyed, humans reverting back to preindustrial eras and yet standing up to oppression and slavery inspired me and fired up my imagination. I thoroughly recommend these books, I love this author.
PS – I can take the trilogy … can’t I? I mean … if it’s an omnibus edition …
I have the trilogy in one volume myself, so yes you can! 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.
Oh crikey. Err … damn. This is a tough one! There’s so many books in so many genres! OK, I think I’ll have to go with one of Jacqueline Carey’s novels. I’m torn between Kushiel’s Dart and Banewreaker. Ms Carey is a poet and artist. Every page draws me in and I *have* to read more. Kushiel’s Dart is epic fantasy at its very best – well thought-out pantheons of gods, history to the land, societal structures and characters to die for; whereas Banewreaker shows a writer how to take a well-loved and well-known book plot and make it your own. She’s an inspiration for sure!
Eeek … I’ll have to go Kushiel’s Dart – especially considering I have ‘Love As Thou Wilt’ tattooed on my foot!
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.
Hmmm, toughy! I’m going to have to go with The Lord of the Rings. Yeah I know, another fantasy book, but it’s perfect. Tolkien is the grandfather of fantasy and reading his books makes me incredibly happy. He’s up there with Ms Carey in my world and reading about hobbits, hairy feet and food always cheers me up …
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 …
The Hunger Games. I read the books after I saw the movie and while the ‘hype’ was still whirling around like a maelstrom. I thought the trilogy might be another Twilight Saga – no, I’m not being derogatory, but I really thought they would be mediocre books loved by fangirls mooning and sighing over hunky teenage boys. I’m glad, very glad, that I was wrong. I loved the first book, and books 2 and 3 were definitely worth a read. A YA trilogy that explores strength of character, depression, loneliness and love in a stark and cruel world: wonderful stuff.
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.
Oh blimey, hmmm. You like thinking up tough questions, don’t you? Gah! I’m going through so many books in my mind and for some inexplicable reason, nothing is jumping out at me other than Euripides’ Medea: a philosophical story of a woman’s betrayal, her downward spiral into madness and vengeance, and the pride of man. It’s a classic Greek tragedy and I adore it.
Right. 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 …
Can I cheat? Can I have a TV series? It has to be Battlestar Galactica (the 2004 version) – I’m a BSG nut and seriously, I couldn’t live without it (slight overexaggeration!).
If not, then I’d like to take Serenity (movie) with me. I love Firefly and it was one of the best things on TV. I’ll happily watch the movie over and over again …
Wait! No … what about Inception, Drive, Stardust, Tangled … arghhhhh.
Difficult decision, I know. Still, you haven't picked a piece of music or an extra item, so I guess we could let you take both Serenity and Battlestar Galactica to make up for it …
Yes, please. The soundtracks are pretty awesome and can be my music!
Excellent. 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.
Mount Olympus please – Zeus can then kick me out and dump me somewhere!
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
No no – thank you. It’s been emotional. Ciao!
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.