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 Andy Livingstone, author of exciting new epic fantasy Hero Born – available now! When he’s not being banished to a desert island, Andy can be found at www.andylivingstone.com.
Andy, 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.
Illogical fears? Easy: spiders. Except that, to me, it’s entirely logical. And it’s not so much a fear as a revulsion. I don’t actually think a spider is going to jump up and give me a doing – that’s pretty obvious, certainly in Scotland. I just feel everything about them is disgustingly repulsive, to the extent that I can’t even look at them, never mind be near them. To be honest, I’m not really fond of insects as a whole, but I accept that they, including the spider-spawn-of-the-devil, do have a job to do, it’s just that I’d prefer not to see them doing it. Or walking to do it. Or even just sitting there, thinking about doing it. It really is just as well I married someone who isn’t a wimp.
I’m afraid I don’t have any birthmarks, interesting or otherwise, but if it helps I do have four tattoos, which are kind of man-made birthmarks. There’s a dolphin with my wife’s name, because, well, we love dolphins; the Motherwell FC crest; the Ægishjálmr, or Helm of Awe (the Norse symbol of invincibility, which seemed to me to be a suitably powerful symbol if I was going to have one); and one of Norse influence that I designed myself with the help of a talented tattoo artist, and which I craftily stole for my book.
Oh, and one of my sons has just become a professional footballer, with the aforementioned Motherwell FC. Win-win situation for me!
Yay! Congratulations to your son! (Good job he didn't land a position with a rival team, eh?) 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 have always adored sport, but having suffered pretty drastically from asthma as a child, I couldn’t run around for long and, luckily, also loved losing myself in another world through a book. Once I, by accident, had discovered The Hobbit, I entered the world of fantasy with wonder and joy, and part of me has never come back out. All of the books I read, fantasy or otherwise, were adventures and, when I went to bed at night, my own imagination would take over and I would lie awake for hours seeing myself as the hero in my own stories. No surprise, then, that when I wrote a book of my own, it would be an epic-fantasy adventure. I don’t have any pretensions to be a literary genius and Booker-prize-winner-to-be – I just write the sort of unashamed adventure that I would like to read, and hope that others would, too.
Well, I for one am looking forward to reading it. I love a good adventure story! 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?
Raymond E Feist’s Magician. There’s just something about Feist’s writing and his characters that appeals to me, and he is the only author whose entire collection I have read. I happened across Magician the year it came out when I was 14, liked the cover, liked the blurb and loved the book. The rest was history. Midkemian history, but still history.
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 has to be the first novel I read on my own: Go Ahead, Secret Seven, which let me discover the ability to disappear into a book to the total exclusion of the physical world around me. I went on to develop an addiction to Enid Blyton’s books, working my way through all of the Secret Seven ones and then moving up to the Famous Five. I read anything I could find with her name on it, even to the extent of borrowing my mum’s friend’s daughter’s Naughtiest Girl in the School books.
I have to admit, I was a Blyton fan myself as a child, but I wouldn't have pegged you as being 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’d probably need cheering up so it would be a toss-up between The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister or Disenchanted, by Robert Kroese, both of which can give me anything from an amused smile to a unstoppable belly-laugh.
Right. Coin toss says ... Disenchanted! (Only because I've never read it and I'm curious.) 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 …
Oh, definitely The Hobbit. I was 6 and my Primary 2 class was in the school library misbehaving. Our teacher told us we had till she counted to 10 to choose a book, after which anyone not sitting and reading would be in trouble. I spotted one called The Hobbit and thought this was such a silly name it would be rebellious and funny in a make-your-mates-snigger-at-getting-one-over-the-teacher-when-actually-you’re-just-an-immature-wee-arse sort of way. After one page, however, I was hooked not just on the language and the story but on the whole new world it took me into, and while I read everything growing up, from Biggles to Dickens and Wilbur Smith to Agatha Christie, I always came back to fantasy at least every other book.
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’ve got to be boring and predictable here: The Lord of the Rings. I know it’s technically three books, but it was written as two books and my version was one big book, so I’m going to use that as my excuse to include it. I once interviewed Terry Pratchett who said it was too black and white for him; all on the good side were good and all on the bad side were evil, and life wasn’t as simplistic as that. It’s true, but there are plenty of other books to give us grey areas, moral ambiguity, internal conflict and antiheroes galore, whereas as an introduction to fantasy, it’s hard to beat. And it has produced countless imitators and inspired countless authors, so it has pleased an awful lot of people. And I love it, so there.
Me too! (And also, jealous that you interviewed the great Sir Terry.) 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 …
Song: I have a wildly and uncategorisably wide range to my musical taste, so my favourite song changes all the time. If you want to know what I could currently listen to on repeat, it would be White Blank Page by Mumford and Sons, but if it is what stands the test of time in a meaningful sort of way, it would have to be Dolphins Make Me Cry by Martyn Joseph, which more than any other song reminds me of my wife (not that she makes me cry nor is even a dolphin, just that we both love it).
Film: There were a few films I watched over and over through my teens and early twenties, such as The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, The Graduate, An Officer and a Gentleman and Ronin, but if I had to choose one (and I do have to, obviously) it would be The Thirteenth Warrior. I love the characters and it also appeals to me that Michael Crichton’s book, Eaters of the Dead, pretended, I believe (I am sure I read it somewhere) to be taken from the discovery of a previously unknown ancient manuscript and got away with it for an astoundingly long time!
Item: A football. As long as I am going to be alone on the island, I can pretend to be Messi and no one will be around to know how far from his genius I actually am.
I'm still reeling from the revelation that your wife isn't a dolphin, but that all sounds fine! 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.
Midkemia. Then Amos Trask could pick me up when it’s time to come home. Perfect!
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!