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 Simon Paul Wilson, author of the twisty and surreal young adult novel Yuko Zen is Somewhere Else – a quirky tale of love, loss and what might have been. When he’s not being banished to a desert island, Simon can be found at spwwriter.weebly.com.
Simon, 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 an English guy who went travelling around Asia and found his second home in China. Definitely a turn of events I didn’t see coming! Two things people need to know about me are my addiction to Doctor Who and that I’m a total music geek.
I think sharks are rather awesome, but would punch one if it was about to see what I tasted like.
My fear of going to the dentist is quite logical, in my opinion. Sadly, my phobia of snails is not.
As for birthmarks, the back of my neck always looks like I’ve been slapped.
Snails, huh? Well, we can't guarantee a snail-free island, but we'll do our best. Now, what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
I often describe my writing as quirky fiction. My characters are always a little kooky and live in worlds where weird things often tend to happen. However, I do believe my characters are easy for readers to relate to and the worlds they inhabit are believable.
My time in Asia has greatly influenced my writing. I like the slow build-up that Japanese and Chinese authors often use. In my opinion, this enables us to get to know the characters in a deeper way, so when their worlds start falling apart, we really feel for them and want to keep turning the pages to find out what will happen.
I also like to keep my readers guessing. Both End Credits and Yuko Zen is Somewhere Else have many twists and turns in their plots. Reviews so far suggest I have kept readers guessing until the end. Mission accomplished!
My most sincere wish is that people read my humble scribbles and feel they have been taken on a journey. The road may get a little bumpy sometimes and may make the reader want to sleep with the light on, but I hope they enjoy the ride.
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?
I was initially going to say The Hobbit, but then I thought about it and decided to change my answer to A Wizard of Earthsea.
Back when I was at primary school, my English teacher gave me his copy of The Hobbit to read. This was the book that first sparked my interest in the fantasy genre and reading in general. Then, when I was 12, my English teacher got the class to read A Wizard of Earthsea. That was it for me. I knew then there was no going back and that I’d be a book nerd forever!
Although I haven’t read it since, Earthsea has stayed with me. I can remember the plot clearly and still have the same images of the shadow in my mind as when I was a slip of a lad. Have to say, I’m now quite excited to have the chance to read it again!
Sounds like you had some great English teachers! And I assure you, you'll like Earthsea just as much as an adult :-) 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.
Norwegian Wood. I picked it up in Waterstones one day because the cover caught my eye. I started it that night and didn’t put it down until it was finished. It was this book that opened my eyes to Japanese literature. The following weekend, I went out and bought Sputnik Sweetheart and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I’ve been a huge Murakami fan ever since.
Norwegian Wood was also the book that gave me that final push I needed to start writing. It was a real inspiration to me. I’ve read it five times so far and it never fails to move me.
A few readers have likened my writing to Murakami’s. I can think of no bigger compliment.
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.
Good Omens. Every time I pick that book up, it has me howling with laughter. Like with Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman is one of my literary idols. I do like Terry Pratchett too, especially anything with Death as the main character.
Just thinking about Good Omens has put a huge smile on my face and the urge to listen to Queen!
Got any old tapes in your car? ;-) 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 …
Perdido Street Station. One of my friends was always raving about China Mieville and how good King Rat and Perdido were. Thing was, the way my friend described them to me made them sound like something I wouldn’t enjoy. Stuck for something to read, I decided to give Perdido Street Station a try. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, because after the first chapter, I gave up. A year later, I picked it back up again and fell in love with it!
I think China Mieville’s Bas-Lag novels are fantastic. I know I am not alone in wishing he would return there for another novel. Until then, Perdido Street Station will remain my favourite of his books, partly because it has large sections featuring The Weaver, which is just a genius creation.
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.
For my instant classic, I want to choose a book I read last year that just blew me away, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Seriously, this book had me from the off. Having been to Thailand numerous times, I found it easy to visualize Bangkok with its pumps and levees keeping the sea at bay. How all the threads came together in this story was just brilliant. Emiko, the windup girl of the title, is a character who had me wishing that I had come up with that idea!
Honestly, I can’t recommend this book enough.
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 …
My piece of music would have to be Time Flies by Porcupine Tree. It’s a great song, quite long, and I think it would help lift my spirits when the sun goes down and I have no light to read by.
Movie. Hmmm. That’s difficult. I’m going to go with Spirited Away. It’s my favourite Studio Ghibli movie and brings back many happy memories of my first ventures into Asia.
Other item? I’m going to be a big softy and ask for a photo album filled with pictures of my wife and son. :-)
Awwww. Nothing wrong with that! 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.
Somewhere off the coast of Thailand would be nice!
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!