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 Evangeline Jennings, an author whose work veers from YA to erotica and on to harrowing tales of bloody revenge. She’s a founding member of the Pankhearst collective, and will shortly be publishing an anthology of themed short stories and novellas by collective members called Cars & Girls. When she's not being banished to a barren island, Evie can be found at www.facebook.com/evangeline.jennings and
revangeline.wordpress.com. You can read about Pankhearst at pankhearst.wordpress.com.
Evie, 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.
I’m a parent, and my biggest fear is failing in that role. I don’t think that’s illogical. If it wasn’t for that terrible and wonderful responsibility, I’d probably take to exile like a duck to a cliché. Although I’m not agoraphobic, I could hide away in my apartment indefinitely, provided my local grocery store delivered and the power didn’t go out. L'enfer, c'est les autres.
My biggest personality disorder, of many, is that I can’t leave well enough alone. Show me a red door, I have to paint it black. Point me at a neat pile of leaves and I have to kick up them for the sheer hell of it all. To steal a phrase from Bill Shankly, I like to drop hand grenades.
I’m also a very big fan of a certain radio show that is absolutely nothing like Barren Island Books. I have more than twenty episodes lined up on my iPod at the moment and I revise my own list of eight records roughly once a month. Hey, you never know when Kirsty might call.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
I’m an unagented, largely unpublished author – there are a couple of short stories out there if you know where to look – and I don’t think I’ve written anything yet that even my own family would take to a desert island. But I do think I have that in me. I know that sounds ridiculous and conceited but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe in myself.
My first novel Puta might be that kind of book but I still have work to do with it and I became so consumed with other projects during 2012 that I’ve barely looked at it for a year. I’m planning to reopen it with fresh eyes very soon.
My inspirations? There are some social and political issues I feel very strongly about – child abuse, the sex trade, and the continuing global oppression of women. So those often inform what I write. But I find inspiration anywhere and let it run away with me. Starshy, for example, is an improvisation on Orcs and Elves and Punk Rock and Superstring Theory that I started on a whim. And I wrote a short story recently that was entirely inspired by a pub lunch here in Austin. The muted TV was showing footage of a massive forest fire and the sound system was playing the Human League. The power of Phil Oakey compelled me to begin my forest fire story with the words “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar …”
So. Yeah. I’m all over the place.
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 devoured books as a child. Still do. I used to hide behind the sofa, up against the radiator, and read for as long as I could get away with it. My favourites for a long time, I’m almost but not quite ashamed to say, were the old Enid Blyton stories. I inherited a box of them from a neighbour when I was five or six, and I still have those books today. Five on a Treasure Island was probably my biggest love for at least a year.
But if I have to pick just one, it would be The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis. Every time I read it, I find something new. And I treasure it most of all the Narnia novels because it came so far out of sequence in the series and answered all kinds of questions, and that – to me – made it very cool. Like that moment in Pulp Fiction when you find yourself back in the diner. With less swearing.
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.
A toss-up between The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and American Psycho. I was maybe eight when I started reading Agatha Christie and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd immediately opened up a whole world of possibilities in fiction. Brett Easton Ellis reinforced this lesson when I was fourteen.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the more important book. But American Psycho is longer, and has more sex and violence. So, for a desert barren island, I’ll take Brett Easton Ellis.
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.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I can’t believe I’m not picking PG Wodehouse or Terry Pratchett, but the last of the Potter books meant and continues to mean a lot to me. I grew up with those books and characters – as have the children in my life – and it will always be a pleasure to sink back into their story and see them guided to a happy ending.
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 …
On The Beach by Nevil Shute. After a stay in hospital, I was recuperating at a distant relative’s distant beach house. There were several shelves full of books, none of which I would have chosen, and I read almost all of them. On The Beach has been a favourite ever since. It’s inexplicably stupid, but I used to wish I was Moira.
One day I shall steal the concept of On The Beach for a YA syfy novel. And when I say steal, I mean pay homage to. Obviously.
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.
There are so many wonderful books I could pick here, but I’m going to go completely out on a limb and say The Book That My Internet Friend Lucy Middlemass Is Writing Right Now. She’s a marvellously gifted writer and she has Important Things to say. You’ll have to have it airlifted to me when it’s published.
No pressure, Luce.
Right. We’ll get those books packaged up ready for your journey (except the fifth one, which will arrive as soon as we can get our hands on a copy). 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 …
Music – As I said, I do my list for Kirsty Young once a month, so this is almost easy. Despite the temptation to pick something longer, like “Kashmir” or “The Ring Cycle”, I simply have to have “Roadrunner” by the Modern Lovers. This version. It’s mankind’s greatest single cultural achievement.
Movie – I’m a big fan of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. Ditto Zeffirelli’s Romeo And Juliet. But in the end, it has to be Doctor Zhivago. It’s just so beautiful and sad. And beautiful. And sad. And long.
Luxury – I have a very nice toiletry kit that I kept as a souvenir from a flight on Emirates I took maybe five years ago. It has absolutely everything I’d need on a barren island to keep myself clean, and fragrant, and free from unwanted body hair. So I’d like a magically self-replenishing version of that, please. If it’s not too much trouble.
I think we can probably manage 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.
I have a distant memory of a science fiction book in which a man was castaway on a moon – or something – with a glorious view of two gas giants that dominated his sky. That would do very nicely. Failing that, the Maldives.
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip.
And thank you. When can I leave?
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.
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