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 Hazel Butler, author of literary Gothic and Paranormal Mystery novel Chasing Azrael, and also the founder of Aädenian Ink, an independent publisher dedicated to alternative art and fiction. When she’s not being banished to a desert island, Hazel can be found at hazel-butler.com, aadenianink.com and www.thedailyopinion.co.uk/author/hazelbutler.
Hazel, 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 an archaeologist, author and self-taught artist. I’m hoping this island of yours has a long and complex history for me to dig up while I’m there.
I don’t deal well with sharks. I realise most people would be afraid of a shark if they encountered it while, say, swimming in the sea, but I’ve been known to worry about swimming pools and even my own bath water so … I also have a crippling fear of garden gnomes. No idea why. Both have been deeply embedded in my psyche since a very young age and I have no recollection of what caused either. I’ll take the bear wrestling, please! I have one birthmark, in the shape of a fish. I’m told it doesn’t look much like a fish by other people but they see it from a very different angle so I’m sticking to my guns.
And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
Chasing Azrael is a very personal piece for me, as is the second book in the Deathly Insanity series, which I’ve just started working on properly. It was inspired for the most part by my diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder in 2010, and the struggle I had coming to terms with that and what it meant for me. I was in a very unhealthy relationship at the time and it took a long time (and nearly dying twice) to get out of it. The book was a way for me to sort through all of this, so it was very emotional for me. I would hope that it is helpful to other people who find themselves in similar situations, and in particular I would hope it helps those haunted by their past. The ghosts in the novel – in particular James – are a very literal representation of how past relationships and past mistakes can haunt us long after they are over. I think if you’re going to be stuck on a desert island, you need to make damn sure you’re not stuck there with all your regrets and failures.
Wise words indeed. 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?
Oh, so difficult! I read voraciously as a child, my parents read to me often, and as soon as I was able to read myself there was no stopping me. I remember one Christmas when I was about six or seven I checked every Agatha Christie book available out of the library, to keep me distracted from all the excitement (I was always very impatient for Christmas, and never got any sleep on Christmas Eve). But the one I read the most? It would have to be The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I had the book, the tapes, the TV show recorded on VHS, everything. I think I could probably recite most of them at one stage. My love of them hasn’t waned since; I now have a different version of the book and have unfortunately lost the tapes, but I still have the TV show (now on DVD) and all the films. This was a book – or I should say books – that I heard very often and from a very young age, and began reading repeatedly as soon as I could. There’s no doubt it’s one of the main reasons I love Fantasy books so much now. If you give me a choice between Tolkien and Lewis, I’m siding with Lewis every time. Although I love Tolkien and cannot fault his world building, which is simply exquisite, I was never captivated by his actual writing style the way I was with Lewis. I could get lost in those stories for days. I still can. Definitely something you want when stranded on a desert island!
Technically you’re trying to sneak seven books past me there, instead of one, but I’ll let you get away with it because I grew up on a diet of C.S. Lewis too :-) 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 is an easy one to answer for me as it’s Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy (yes, I know, technically three books). I first read these at the urging of a very good friend when I was sixteen and I’ve not stopped reading them – or her other work – since. I fell in love with Fitz, the main character, and have remained firmly in love with him since. He’s so damaged. He’s so heroic while simultaneously being reluctant and at times selfish. The depth of his character has always enthralled me, as has the relationship he has with a certain wolf named Nighteyes. In fact I recently started a new imprint for my publishing house dedicated to Fantasy and Sci-Fi and ended up naming it Astrid Press (Astrid being Robin Hobb’s real middle name), while the debut title to be released for that imprint is an anthology of stories with wolves as the theme, named Nighteyes. I could quite happily read those books repeatedly for a very long time.
Ah, I love Robin Hobb too. Looking forward to the release of her new Fitz novel this summer! 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.
My go-to author when I’m in need of comfort is Marian Keyes. I adore most of her books, there are only a couple I’m not too keen on and those I still like, just not as much. To choose one alone though … oh that’s tough. It’s a toss up between Rachel’s Holiday and Angels … probably the former. I relate very strongly to the main characters in both these novels, and the journeys they each take. I really do love Marian Keyes.
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 …
I’m going with Dark Places by Gillian Flynn on this one. I read Gone Girl when it first came out to see what all the fuss was about and I really liked it. I then went on to Sharp Objects, which I enjoyed, but found quite predictable. Dark Places however was a real shock to the system – I could not predict the outcome. I LOVE books that are impossible to predict, and while there were a few things in this one I saw coming, the actual answer to the riddle of whodoneit and, more importantly, why, really did having me turning page after page. Although I now obviously know the outcome, the characters and places in the novel make it well worth a re-read or ten. Nobody writes damage like Gillian Flynn. Her characters are all hopelessly screwed up in imaginative ways. I found Sharp Objects to be a bit of a stretch in this regard as the issues of the main character and her mother didn’t quite ring true for me. Dark Places was a whole different kettle of the swimming things and I was very pleasantly surprised by it, as I hadn’t had high hopes after the disappointment of Sharp Objects.
Well, you and I have already debated the merits of Sharp Objects, but I think we’re united in our admiration for Dark Places! 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.
Hmmm tricky. I think perhaps Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop, I’m unsure if you can already count this as a Classic but in my opinion it should be. I love it, I find more in it each and every time I read it, and although there is no literal magic in the book, the book itself is magical.
Excellent. 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 …
Only one song? That’s a little stingy. Well it has to be a Within Temptation song and my current favourite is ‘And We Run’, so we’ll go with that one. Film … I think perhaps the first Pirates of the Caribbean. And for my other item it goes without saying I’d take my dog, Dexter.
Of course! Now, just before you’re whisked away, I want to mention the giveaway you’re currently running for people to win a copy of your book. Readers, I’d thoroughly recommend entering this giveaway, because Chasing Azrael is awesome! So here’s the link to it on Facebook: www.facebook.com/HazelJaneButler/
And with that, Hazel, 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.
Can it be somewhere with no sharks, please? An island in the Discworld, with no sharks … or garden gnomes.
Done. So that’s it – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Thank you for having me :-)