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 Will Macmillan Jones, author of The Banned Underground series. When he's not being banished to a desert island, Will (or rather his characters) can be found at www.thebannedunderground.com, and information on his other work is at www.willmacmillanjones.weebly.com.
Will, 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 along, AFE. You are a secretive soul yourself, and too good at asking the questions. I’m a fifty-something single parent, and a lover of blues, rock and jazz. And, unsurprisingly, a fan of reading. I’m still chained to the day job at present, but the wide open spaces of a career change beckon seductively. As does poverty …
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
Well, with me, it’s a combination of the music and the high places of the world that inspire me to write. Most of my books are set amongst the hills and fells of The Lake District and North Wales. With the scenery comes the music. Put the two together, and my imagination is off and running. But why would anyone take my books away with them? Because I am writing simple, entertaining escapism. Jokes, fun, sometimes a chill down the spine for variation. I love entertaining, and this is my way of doing that. One review recently commented that I tell a lot of old jokes, mixed in with the new. And why? The old jokes are the best – everyone knows where to laugh.
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?
A favourite childhood book. Wow. Just one? One that springs to mind – and unsurprisingly I still own it – is The Flying Bike by Donald Smee (1961). A not-too-well-off boy buys an old cycle, and finds it can fly. He ends up with a brand new racing bike at the end of the book, but somehow for me that would have been a poor swap … And, of course, Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree books. Yes, still got those, too. 1951, my copy of The Magic Faraway Tree. It’s older than I am and it was still the fourth edition. I wonder which edition is in print today? And at the age of eight, my school introduced us to The Hobbit. There’s a pattern emerging here, isn’t there? Imagination, fantasy, and a subtle merging of our own reality with something a little different. It’s probably the explanation for the way I write my fantasy. It’s been in there since my childhood, peering around a corner of my mind, waiting to be let out …
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 the easiest question of the lot for me. Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. It’s an extraordinary work, easily one of the best sci-fi/fantasy books ever written. It won every award going on release. But it had a huge effect on me and my life, because it was my first introduction to religious themes, and was directly responsible for my becoming a Buddhist that year, aged 16. And of course a vegetarian. My middle-class and mid-aspirational parents were bemused to say the least. And confused. My close friends do tell me that the approach to life I learned then – and am still learning now – can be seen in everything I write, if you know me well and look carefully. All right, one said it once. When he was drunk.
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.
Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. Bach is a pilot of note, even did some stunt flying in some WW1 movies, but is also the author of several books on flying – another passion of mine – and on life. Whenever I’m feeling a bit low, or life pressures are getting to me a bit, this book can help restore a sense of perspective about what’s going on. Most people have heard of his book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and this book takes those ideas and moves a little further on. Oh, and it’s got biplanes in it too. Win-win.
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 …
This might surprise a few people, but I’d pick The Naïve And Sentimental Lover by John Le Carré. It isn’t a spy novel. Honest, go and look. It’s about the life collision between a wealthy businessman and a once successful but now struggling author. Stunning, and so much resonates with any of us who have picked up a pen and stared at a blank sheet of paper before filling the page with words.
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.
It has to be Lord Of The Rings, doesn’t it? It has everything. Full stop. I was terribly tempted by Sir Terry’s Soul Music as it combines my passions of music, fantasy and fun, but as I’ve only one choice LOTR has to be there. My parents bought me a hardback three-volume set in 1971, and that’s a treasured possession. That’s made me think a little. I’ve moved house a few times, but books and records have survived all those traumas, divorce, separations, everything. Hum.
I guess whatever else happens in our lives, the books we love stay with us – which is why they make such great companions on a barren island! Anyway, we’ll get your chosen 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 …
One song? Stairway to Heaven. Zeppelin are, for me, the most complete band we have seen. This one song captures so many of their moods. Dazed and Confused is actually my favourite song of theirs: but I’d want something a little more positive, a bit less bleak, on a solitary, remote island.
A film? I’m a bit stuck between Blade Runner – enigmatic, a visual feast, and so emotionally charged – and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Wild, cynical, anarchic, full of great actors and brilliant songs.
One other thing: my beloved Les Paul guitar. Finally, I might have time to learn to play it properly!
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.
Somewhere warm. Getting older, I feel less tolerant of the cold these days. The Med would be nice, wouldn’t it?
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.